HHS Focuses on Flexibility in New Health IT Plan

By Hallie Golden // September 22, 2015

Alex Brandon/AP

The Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t know exactly what technology or even health care will look like in 2020, so fittingly the agency's new 5-year health IT strategic plan is centered on flexibility.

On Monday, the agency released its final Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, which is meant to boost everything from health IT infrastructure to community health. The report lays out the federal government’s current vision for health IT and key future efforts important for the future.

Health IT is quickly transforming. Four years ago, when HHS released its previous plan, the Affordable Care Act was in its early stages and mobile health applications were still in their infancy.

“During the past decade's information age, innovation and technological advancements have been difficult to predict,” said Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a letter accompanying the report. “This plan aims to remain flexible to evolving definitions of health, health care and the technology developments that support them."

The plan is based on some 400 public comments and recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee.

Here are some of the key federal initiatives the plan highlighted as beneficial for federal...

DOD Official to Industry: We Need Fitness Tracking Software, Not New Devices

By Mohana Ravindranath // July 31, 2015


For some military patients, wearable fitness trackers could be the key to a quicker recovery, according to Col. Deydre Teyhen, an official with from the Defense Health Headquarter's Office of the Surgeon General. 

Wearable trackers -- potentially similar to FitBits or Gear Fits --  could help patients with musculoskeletal conditions gauge how much physical activity they can handle without exacerbating their injuries, Teyhen told an audience at a conference hosted by tech association, AFCEA. 

For instance, some patients begin to feel better before their soft tissue heals fully, and start walking around more, which could inhibit their recovery process, she explained. An effective system might send that patient a notification on their fitness tracker to say, "'You've done great, at 1,000 to 2,000 steps a day,' and it gives you a warning ... 'You might actually be doing too much and you might cause a setback.'"

She added, "If you give them that warning in real time, then they can change their behaviors."

When deciding which tracking devices a military system should issue to soldiers, Teyhen said, "the question becomes, is it a one size fits all solution?"

"If we had device-agnostic software, that would allow us to then...

Researchers Building Microchips That Mimic Live Human Organs

By Anne Quito // Quartz // July 6, 2015

Robert Lucian Crusitu/

The Human Organs-on-a-Chip, designed to revolutionize clinical testing and research, bested 75 other finalists in the 2015 Design of the Year by the Design Museum in London. The contenders included the Google self-driving car, Norway’s new banknotes, and Rodarte’s covetable couture Star Wars gowns.

Human Organs-on-a-Chip acts like lab surrogates for actual human organs, like lab test animals. Invented by Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, these special chips, about the size of a computer memory stick, recreate the biochemistry and the mechanical function of human organs in a piece of rubber.

Etched with hollow channels designed to be lined with actual living human cells (harvested stem cells), the translucent chips have specific patterns that correspond with the microarchitecture of a specific human organ. They are flexible so scientists can apply mechanical force to mimic the movement of organs. The lung-on-a-chip, liver-on-a-chip, and gut-on-the chip were reviewed by Design Museum’s award committee.

“Its selection as Design of the Year 2015 also signifies a desire to recognise and award design that can significantly impact society now and in the future,” said curator Gemma Curtin.

Cheaper, faster, more accurate...

VA Demos Prototype for New Patient Record System

By Mohana Ravindranath // June 12, 2015

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital
The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital // Jim Mone/AP File Photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs is designing a new platform that can pull patient records from disparate hospital systems into one virtual place, potentially giving physicians a more complete look at a patient's history. 

The Enterprise Health Management Platform, or eHMP, is still in its early stages. Pilots in a few cities including Portland, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas, are scheduled to begin in July. But during a briefing with reporters Thursday, VA officials were eager to demonstrate progress on the prototype, though it's still buggy -- a pop-up information box lingers after the user moves the cursor away, for instance.

The current version of eHMP is read-only, meaning clinicians can use it to view patient records from VA, the Defense Department and community health partners through an electronic health information exchange. But it's an improvement on VA's current platform -- the Computerized Patient Record System -- because it lets clinicians search beyond files stored at their location, Neil Evans, ‎co-director of connected health at the Veterans Health Administration, said during the demonstration. Currently, a care provider must use a remote-viewing application to access records from other facilities.  

A more integrated system could help care providers see which drugs...

CMS Opens Up Data to Businesses in Bid to Spur Innovation

By Mohana Ravindranath // June 2, 2015

Acting CMS Administration Andy Slavitt
Acting CMS Administration Andy Slavitt // Evan Vucci/AP

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is actively encouraging businesses to build better technology -- using the agency's data.

In a keynote address during the annual "Health Datapalooza" in Washington on Tuesday, acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt announced CMS was for the first time giving businesses access to CMS data, previously only granted to researchers.

Leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services hope these groups can come up with technology that might improve care, possibly by helping health care providers make personalized decisions based on individuals’ data, Slavitt said.

“In taking this step, we are challenging others with proprietary data to follow our lead,” he said.

The agency also plans to update its health data for researchers and businesses more frequently, and in a more machine-readable format, Slavitt added.

“In an information age, it is just not acceptable that the most recent Medicare data available is from 2013," he said.

Slavitt reminded researchers and businesses who are analyzing data to prioritize patient privacy, noting, “progress will simply not be possible without consumer trust.”