The thorny issue of how to automate the patient intake process came up for discussion and, hopefully, eventually a solution, thanks to a Monday meeting of roughly 40 representatives from payers, providers, health information technology vendors, health IT business associations and the federal government's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
“The goal is to make the first experience (going) into your GP, specialist or hospital as simple as buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks,” said Devin Jopp, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange, Reston, Va. His group, along with its sister not-for-profit Sullivan Institute for Healthcare Innovation, convened the meeting to “create an industry blueprint around how to automate the patient intake process,” he said.
“We have created four different work groups that will meet between January and February to work out details,” Jopp said. Pilot projects should be named by then, with a first phase in which patients will be able to carry in a mobile app their demographic and insurance information in a provider-usable format.
By the end of 2015, he said, participants should have studied the second phase, the ability of patients to carry and exchange computable “essential health information,” their medications, a list of allergies and lab test results.
“They're on a good track,” said Debbie Bucci, IT architect with the ONC. “From my perspective, they're really trying to tackle the lofty goal of trying to involve the patient and ease their burden.”
Anyone who's been to the doctor's office and been handed a clipboard and asked to write down their name, address, medications, insurance company—and then handed over their insurance card—knows the problem with the current paper-based intake process first-hand, said Robert Tennant, senior policy advisor for the Medical Group Management Association, one of the meeting's organizers.
“There is nothing more frustrating than giving them your ID card and—what's the first thing they do?—photo copy it,” Tennant said. And if the copying machine does a poor job reproducing the card's smudged patient ID, a staffer may retype the number into the practice's computer system wondering, “Is that an 8 or a 6?” Roberts said. “And the claim gets rejected because there is no member match,” he said. “That takes money, and it costs both the provider and the health plan,” as well as hassles the patient.
The end game for the meeting was to get agreement on how best to develop a “virtual clipboard,” a mobile application that will replace the paper-based documents, medication reconciliation, card scanning and the clipboard itself.
Aneesh Chopra, former White House chief technology officer, also endorsed the virtual clipboard effort, seeing a parallel with it and a coalition announced last week called Argonaut to leverage mobile health technology to improve healthcare IT, interoperability and improved patient access to information.
“These are all independent efforts, but speak to the notion that we want to take advantage of mobile technology to improve the patient experience and outcomes,” said Chopra, co-founder and executive vice president of Hunch Analytics, an Arlington, Va., healthcare data analytics and marketing firm, and a Blue Button booster.
Various efforts have been made to tackle pieces of the clipboard problem – mobile apps for scheduling appointments are in use today. Many provider organizations and even some European countries have tried smart cards to hold patient demographics, insurance and clinical information. For more than four years, the feds have touted the Blue Button technology developed by the Veterans Affairs Department as a way for patients to gather and transmit their records, including prescriptions for medication reconciliation.
Those efforts have been frustrated, Tennant said, by disunity among health plans on which method to use.
Having so many plans represented in the room—Anthem, Aetna, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealthcare and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose office is providing the meeting space—had Tennant almost euphoric.
“It's not a meeting to discuss whether we should do this, but it's a get together of those who said we will do this,” said Tennant.
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn