Category Archives: Health IT

Cancer Research and Care Embrace Technology

Oncology is about to take a huge step toward changing the way that cancer is understood and treated with the development of a breast cancer-specific prototype for a rapid learning system in cancer care. This system takes advantage of health IT advances (such as EHRs) in order to connect oncology practices, measure quality and performance, and provide physicians with decision support in real time.

The prototype is part of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO’s) vision for CancerLinQ  a “system that assembles and analyzes millions of unconnected medical records in a central knowledge base, which will grow ‘smarter’ over time,” according to the organization.

Illustration courtesy of the American Society of Clinical Oncology

As part of ASCO’s focus on quality improvement, the protoype will use clinical practice guidelines and measures of the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative to build quality measurement and clinical decision tools. Next, breast cancer patient records and data (stripped of identifying information) imported from the electronic health records (EHRs) of academic centers and oncology practices will be added.

As a proof of concept, ASCO says that the prototype will:

  • provide the foundational information and lessons learned to allow ASCO to move into a full-scale implementation;
  • provide real-time, standardized, clinical decision support integration within a demonstration EHR;
  • demonstrate a set of value-added tools; including a physician’s ability to measure their performance against a sub-set of QOPI measures in real-time;
  • demonstrate the ability to capture data from a variety of sources and aggregate the data using novel methodologies;
  • and create a demonstration which will allow exploration of data in unprecedented ways and generate hypotheses related to breast cancer.

Once the full technology platform is completed, CancerLinQ ultimately is expected to improve personalized treatment decisions by capturing patient information in real time at the point of care; provide decision support to cancer teams to adapt treatment plans to each patient and his or her cancer; and report on quality of care, compared with clinical guidelines and the outcomes of other patients. It’s also hoped that the system will help to “educate and empower patients by linking them to their cancer care teams and providing personalized treatment information at their fingertips.” Lastly, the system stands to be a powerful new data source for analysis of real-world quality and comparative effectiveness, as well as to generate new ideas for clinical research. It’s hoped that in time, this approach can be adapted to all types of cancer.

Kerri Wachter

1 Comment

Filed under Health IT, IMNG, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oncology

ACA: Helping or Hurting Solo Practice?

It won’t surprise many to learn that the age of the solo practitioner has, for the most part, come to an end. Over the past several years, small and solo practices have closed, been sold to hospitals, or merged with larger groups. The reasons are fairly obvious. Declining payments, rising malpractice costs, increasing regulatory burdens, costly new health information technology requirements, and crushing medical school debt have made it difficult for physicians to operate the small practices that once were commonplace around the country.

Now add the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to the mix. At a July 19 hearing of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations, lawmakers questioned whether the health reform law would help or hurt physicians looking to keep their practices small and independent. The answers from the expert panel were mixed.

Gone are the days of Marcus Welby. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain License

The emergence of accountable care organizations (ACOs) will drive more hospitals to buy up small physician practices, Mark Smith, president of the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, predicted. The health reform law heavily promotes the formation of ACOs, which call for physicians and hospitals to work more closely and to share in bundled payments for episodes of care. Mr. Smith said small practices aren’t well-positioned to enter the ACO world if they aren’t integrated with a hospital because the ACO model calls on practices to assume financial risk.

But Joseph M. Yasso, Jr., DO, a family physician in Independence, Mo., who sold his practice to a hospital group 20 years ago, said the ACA’s promotion of patient-centered medical homes could be a lifeline for small practices. Physicians are adapting to the new environment by becoming medical homes and participating in government pilots where they can share in the savings they generate by providing more efficient care, he said.

One thing everyone on the panel did agree on was the need to fix the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula used in setting physician payments under Medicare. No surprises there either.

— Mary Ellen Schneider

1 Comment

Filed under Health IT, Health Policy, health reform, IMNG, Litigation, Physician Reimbursement, Practice Trends, Primary care

Can Cancer Trial Apps Boost Enrollment?

Participation in clinical trials — and cancer trials in particular — is agonizingly low. The National Cancer Institute has estimated that less than 5% of patients participate in cancer trials.  But that could possibly change with the growing availability of applications for smart phones and tablets that instantly link clinicians and patients with ongoing trials.

Screenshot of Lilly Oncology Clinical Trials Resource

Just as the American Society for Clinical Oncology was starting off its annual meeting, Eli Lilly announced that it was launching a clinical trials app.  According to Lilly, the free app is available for the Apple iPad and iPhone, the RIM BlackBerry, and the Google Android. Physicians — or patients — can use the app to search oncology trials that are enrolling new patients by disease state, molecule being studied, study phase, country, state, and keyword.

The Lilly app also links patients and clinicians to resources such as support groups, financial help, and nutritional counseling, for instance.  Because it was developed by a drug maker, it also prominently features a search tool for Lilly-sponsored trials. Other than that, it appears to be very comprehensive and easy to use.

Lilly is not the first manufacturer to venture into a trials app. Last June, GlaxoSmithKline, in partnership with MedTrust Online LLC, launched a similar app that lets users search for trials for all cancer types. Unlike the Lilly app, it does not try to push users towards GSK-sponsored trials. It, too, appears to be very comprehensive and easy to use.

Screenshot of MedTrust search

The National Cancer Institute also has a free app, but only lets patients search for trials at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.  As I attempted to explore the app, however, it crashed multiple times. Not a good omen.

Similarly, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has created an app – but it is narrowly focused only on trials for  acute myeloid leukemia at its member facilities.

iHealthVentures LLC has created an app with the snappy name of “Clinical Research Trials” that allows users to search all of clinicaltrials.gov database. It costs $1.99.

As more Americans turn to smartphones and tablets to manage their lives and health, these trial apps could come in handy. And maybe even save or extend lives by getting people enrolled earlier in protocols that could help them.

Just an aside — OncologyPractice.com has a link to ongoing trials on its website here.  And it has just launched a free app that features the latest news and views in the field.

–Alicia Ault (@aliciaault on Twitter)

Leave a comment

Filed under Health IT, IMNG, Oncology, Practice Trends

Feds Fund Two Cancer Information Apps

It sounds cute and perky, but Ask Dory! is actually an informative app that helps patients find information about clinical trials for cancer and other diseases.

©YANKIN CHAUVIN/fotolia.com

Along with another app, My Cancer Genome, the two recently won $20,000 each from the federal government.

Ask Dory! integrates data from www.clinicaltrials.gov. My Cancer Genome provides “therapeutic options based on the individual patient’s tumor gene mutations, making use of  National Cancer Institute’s physician data query clinical trial registry data set and information on genes being evaluated in therapeutic clinical trials,” according to a statement.

The two apps are part of the rapidly growing field of mHealth – or use of mobile devices for health purposes. Some are calling it an “mHealth bubble,” as thousands of groups large and small are rushing to develop the next great app for diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases, weight management,  addictions, and more.

Seeing the potential benefit for patients and providers, federal officials are providing incentives, and funding initiatives as simple as free text messaging reminders for pregnant women and new moms, to apps like Ask Dory!

“What makes these health IT challenges so powerful is their ability to catalyze the expertise and creativity of innovators both in and out of health care,” said Wil Yu, special assistant for innovation at the  Office for the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which awarded the prizes.

In collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, ONC launched the “Using Public Data for Cancer Prevention and Control: From Innovation to Impact” challenge in summer 2011. The two winners were among four semifinalists who submitted their products to the ONC challenge in November 2011.

—Naseem S. Miller (@NaseemSMiller on Twitter)

Leave a comment

Filed under Health IT, IMNG, mHealth, Oncology, Practice Trends