Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ONC Care TransITions Convocation – What Happened?

I blogged about the meeting that was to be held on October 14th. Now that it has occurred, with approximately 160 persons attending in person and 300 via webcast, here are first impressions. Some slides from the meeting are posted, with the main conclusions on 13-17 and 24-26.  

  • ONC's purpose in convening this meeting. Farzad Mostashari (ONC) and Todd Park (HHS CTO) said ONC's role was to "unite the tribes" and "let others help” solve a major problem in today’s health care system.
  • Transition between hospitals and post-hospital (PCP, Long-Term Care, Home) was the focus. The consensus was that the current state of affairs is unacceptable. Much of the time there is zero transfer of information from hospital to other providers, particularly public health clinics.
  • Plan of Care. Based on findings from four parallel workgroups, there was much mindshare in support of a shared Plan of Care (PoC). "Shared" doesn’t mean just "exchanged" as in passed along from one provider to another. They meant a collaborative mutually-developed Plan of Care that has input from multiple providers (care team) as well as the patient and his caregivers. This comes with challenges of governance and access control, though I didn’t hear those issues discussed.
    • Are transitions of care more like a "relay race" (hand off the baton linearly) or like a "football game" which is much more interactive all along the way? Some felt that the best we could expect was to improve the handoffs in a relay (vs. dropping the baton by not exchanging at all), whereas others wanted to move more toward a collaborative care model like a football team. Harmonious collaboration requires much clearer definition of roles and responsibilities across many organizations.
    • Some said that the care plan should be approved by the patient, and co-developed, like two people redlining a contract together, rather than thrown over the wall.
  • CDA Consolidation Standard. Doug Fridsma and Jitin Asnaani affirmed ONC's support for the new "single standard" CDA Consolidation. This builds upon but also simplifies the standards that many have worked hard to support, and is convergence rather than divergence. I favor this direction, though the standard is still being balloted, and it will take work to migrate to it.
    • Dr. Holly Miller of MedAllies gave a good example of the clinical need for standards and information exchange which could not only help care transitions, but change the course of the patient's health. She used the example of repeat visits to the ER involving patient falls treated in isolation, vs. the alternative where the PCP is notified, detects a pattern and underlying cause, and intervenes to prevent future falling incidents.
    • Jitin said that 10 HIT/HIE vendors (not named) have committed thus far to the ONC ToC pilots. He said one or two of them would test Consolidated CDA in conjunction with Direct Project. (My editorial comment: Consolidated CDA in its entirety (over 50 sections) is unlikely to be tested in the pilots, but a constrained subset that still needs to be clearly defined should be tested).
    • Jitin also announced the coordination of the S&I Framework, Beacon Communities, EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup (the multi-state effort led by New York), and the State HIE Programs. The EHR/HIE workgroup is outside of ONC, but is cooperating with them.
    • While the focus of much of the discussion was on needs rather than how to do it technically, there was a strong agreement on the need for tight, specific standards.
  • Timeliness and Relevance of Information. The theme of "the right information, when I need it, where I need it" was emphasized often. Not just for providers but for patients. Dr. Scott Young of Kaiser Permanente said that typical Discharge Instructions are not given/explained at the right time and place (which should be where the patient spends most of their time, e.g., at home). Similarly, patient education is often deferred until the end of the hospitalization and are generic, whereas it can and should be started while the patient is in the hospital. Several said that PCP and other providers needed to be notified at the time of admission not just at discharge, because they need to be aware of the situation and given the opportunity to contribute to the care process.
  • Taking Follow-Up Actions. Others said that Patients should not just be told to do things like make appointments: the hospital should actually make them (or help the patient make them) while the patient is still there. Similarly, don't just tell the patient to get prescriptions filled or buy medical equipment: send them home with them! The highest risk to a patient occurs within the 1st 72 hours after discharge, when the patient is most vulnerable physically but also is distracted by other things needing social support (childcare, finances, cleaning the house, taking care of the yard, etc.).
  • Medication Reconciliation. One suggested that the reconciliation process should start with what the patient is actually taking, and then build from there, rather than other people's lists that the patient is asked to verify (because they will tend to say "yes" when asked "Are you taking ____X?" even if they really aren't taking it.
  • Feedback loops were often emphasized. While not defined precisely, I gather that it means feedback to the care team and caregiver about how well the care plan is working, whether desired outcomes/goals are being achieved.
  • Disintermediation. Dr. Bo-Linn, a physician who has practiced for 50 years, said that there must be "disintermediation" because the system can't afford to be so hierarchical and provider-dependent, but that patients must be able to do more for themselves to remove cost from the system. He pointed to examples like ATMs (no tellers), pumping and paying for gas. Making travel reservations is another example.
  • Spread of existing technology rather than new technology. While new technology was encouraged, most felt that the technology exists to do nearly everything that was discussed, and that successes exist in pockets, but are exceptional and seldom replicated. So one of the challenges is disseminating successes and scaling out the solutions that already exist.
  • Getting the Word Out. Health Affairs, one of the leading health policy journals, wants to chronicle innovation as its happening, and encourages submissions. ONC is now funding Health 2.0, an innovative group highly focused on patient engagement. It has sponsored an innovation competition, "Ensuring Safe Transitions from Hospital to Home" which ends on November 16th.
So it was a thought-provoking day that I’m glad I attended. While its intent was to stimulate urgency and innovation, rather than to define standards or regulations, I think it was a preview of priorities that HHS will be focusing on in the future. Speaking of Care Transitions, I’m at the ONC S&I Face-to-Face right now. I plan to blog about the S&I Framework projects that I’m involved in.


  1. Thanks for posting this.

    As someone who is committed to put patients at the center of this discussion, not just as beneficiaries of technology, I am happy to see these discussions.

    It is especially nice to see "Spread of existing technology rather than new technology". Far too much time has been spent lately on new/different technologies versus putting current solutions to work and perfecting them based on experience. Retirement of the Boomers will stress-test the system, yielding good pragmatic course-corrections. We do not have the luxury of time to define new approaches.

    I would like ONC's role to be clarified. Are they a participant or just a motivator? What is their accountability for results?

    Also, how can health care consumers directly participate? The current crop of interest-group advocates is a loud voice, but not necessarily representative.

  2. Thanks Glen for your comments. I think ONC views itself as more of a "motivator" but they also spoke of "levers" including Meaningful Use and payment reform that can incent better handling of transitions of care. Perhaps they will fund some innovations that allow consumers to participate better in their care plans and follow up. That would be consumers participating in their CARE, which is different than how they participate in shaping regulations (which, admittedly, is done mainly through interest groups today).