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Rattled by Cyberattacks, Hospitals Push Device Makers to Improve Security

Exposed

More than 150 million personal health records have been breached in health-care company hacks since 2009.

In stepping up their efforts, hospitals have gone beyond building firewalls and taking other actions to shield their own networks—they have moved into demanding information like the software running devices that manufacturers have long considered proprietary. The requests have generated tensions between the sides.

Medical-device manufacturers including Royal Philips NV and Boston Scientific Corp. have begun adding new features and disclosing more about products—such as which third-party software they contain—to help hospitals protect devices against attacks, health-care and security experts said.

The interconnectivity has given rise to new headaches for hospital executives, worried about the consequences of a hack. Their fears were brought home two years ago, when the WannaCry and NotPetya cyberattacks disrupted operations at some hospitals, forcing the cancellation of some surgeries.

Hospital-technology officials say gaining access to the software running inside devices—and knowledge of its vulnerabilities—would help them build firewalls and other defenses against attacks. The Food and Drug Administration recommended in guidance proposed last October that manufacturers provide software disclosures to hospitals. Partners HealthCare, based in Boston, this year required for the first time that an unnamed device maker reveal its device software as part of their contract, said Julian Goldman, Partners’ medical director of biomedical engineering.

NewYork-Presbyterian, meanwhile, is seeking contracts with device makers that allow independent tests of device cybersecurity, called “penetration tests,” said Jennings Aske, the hospital network’s chief information security officer.

Last year, NewYork-Presbyterian began working with outside consultants to assess the cyberdefenses of the corporate networks of suppliers, including medical-device makers, Mr. Aske said. In 2017, the hospital dropped plans to buy infusion pumps manufactured by Smiths Group PLC after the Department of Homeland Security warned that hackers could take control of the pumps, 

Smiths said it released a fix in 2017. “While we were disappointed with the NYP decision to purchase another system, we are confident in the firmware update and that the pump is safe for patients,” the spokesman said.

Vizient Inc., which negotiates contracts for products and services on behalf of 3,100 health systems in the U.S., added cybersecurity questions for the first time to requests now under consideration for bids across 10 medical-device categories, said Ross Carevic, Vizient’s director of technology sourcing. The questions included whether device data are encrypted and what password procedures are used. Vizient plans to factor the answers into contract-award decisions. 

Philips, a major supplier of imaging, respiratory and other gear to hospitals, often receives such cybersecurity questionnaires, said Michael McNeil, the company’s global product security officer. He said it would be helpful if the requests were standardized in order to make answering them more routine.

Boston Scientific, which supplies products like lasers and catheters used by hospitals in surgeries and heart procedures, said it is facing requests for more stringent password features like automatic time-outs, said Ken Hoyme, director of product security. But password timeouts could interfere during time-sensitive surgical procedures, he said.

The health-care companies, including hospitals, reported 148 hacks exposing personal-health information last year, up from five hacks in 2009. The Department of Homeland Security last year issued 30 advisories about cybersecurity vulnerabilities in medical devices, up from 16 the year before, according to MedCrypt, which makes security software for medical devices.

Device makers say hospitals’ cybersecurity demands can be complicated and bog down sales negotiations. “These contracts are taking more time to negotiate,” said James Kinkela, corporate counsel at Boston Scientific. “The contracting has definitely gotten more complex.”

The attention to cybersecurity follows health-care’s embrace in recent years of digital technologies, from electronic medical records to mobile lab tests. For hospitals, internet-connected devices offer the potential to monitor patients more continuously and closely, and use the data to guide—and improve—care.

“There are struggles right now about who owns which piece of cybersecurity,” said Stephanie Domas, vice president of research and development at cybersecurity consultant MedSec. Hospitals don’t know enough about the security of devices on their networks, and manufacturers don’t always provide software updates to fix vulnerabilities quickly, she said.

Hospitals are pushing medical-device makers to improve cyber defenses of their internet-connected infusion pumps, biopsy imaging tables and other health-care products as reports of attacks rise.

Rattled by recent global cyberattacks, U.S. hospitals are conducting tests to detect weaknesses in specific devices, and asking manufacturers to reveal the proprietary software running the products in order to identify vulnerabilities. In some cases, hospitals have canceled orders and rejected bids for devices that lacked safety features.

Hospitals, after a decade of racing to wire up their medical records and an explosion of internet-connected medical devices, are growing more aggressive with technology suppliers amid pressure to better defend against incursions that could threaten patients and cause costly disruptions. Credit-rating agency Moody’s Investors Service in February ranked hospitals as one of the sectors most vulnerable to cyberattacks.

4 Things Seniors Should Know About Treating Depression

Author: Teresa Greenhill

When we feel physical pain, we reach for ibuprofen or call our doctors for advice. So, why shouldn’t seniors do the same when they are experiencing the physical and mental pain of depression? You don’t need to suffer due to stigma, and you don’t need to take on this battle alone. Here’s what you need to know about getting help for your depression. 

Medicare Can Help with Mental Health Too 

Most seniors know they can rely on Medicare for their annual check-ups and physical health needs. For seniors struggling with depression and other mental health issues, however, Medicare can offer coveragethat can help as well. For example, Medicare Part B offers some coverage for outpatient services, but it may not be enough. So, stay informed about your Medicare plan options and any changes that could impact your ability to seek care for your depression. You may want to research supplemental Medicare plansthat could offer even more benefits for your mental health so you can get the help that you need to feel like yourself again. These plans can also help out with prescription drug costs, which can come in handy if you need medication to alleviate your depression symptoms. 

Asking for Help Is Often the Hardest Step 

Depression is common among adults in America, and yet there is still so much stigmaaround getting treatment. As a society, we have a long history of treating mental illness differently than other health conditions, but that really shouldn’t be the case. The truth is, millions of Americansare dealing with mental health issues every single day, but less than half of those people seek out the help they need. You can reduce the voice of stigma in yourself by knowing that you are not alone and that you are not weak for wanting to get better. Start by searching for a therapistwho can help you get on the road to recovery and develop ways to cope along the way. You can also check to see if your therapist will accept Medicare or if you will need to find another way to pay for your treatment or another therapist that fits your Medicare coverage. 

Social Connection Can Ease Symptoms of Depression 

There are so many things you can do to find relief from depression. You may need to make a self-care checklistto remind yourself to practice basic healthy habits, like taking a shower and eating healthfully. Those efforts can help you stay afloat when you are feeling down, but one of the most impactful ways seniors can ease feelings of depression is to stay socially connected. When you feel isolated, research shows you are more likely to feel depressed, which can cause you to isolate yourself even more. You can prevent isolation and depression by reaching out to loved ones for support or by taking up a new hobby that allows you to meet new people, such as volunteering at a local charity or taking a yoga class. Plus, staying physically active can ease feelings of depression as well, so you will be reaping more benefits for your mental health. 

Addiction Often Occurs With Depression in Older Adults 

Getting help for your depression is a good first step towards taking back control of your life. It’s also important to note that depression and addictionoften occur together. Which comes first is hard to pinpoint, but what matters is that those suffering from addiction address mental health issues during their treatment. Going through treatment can make depressive symptoms worse, so it’s also important to take this into account as well. For seniors, alcohol abuseis very common when there is an untreated mental health issue, such as depression. Since drinking can make depression worse, it’s crucial to recognize whether you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or other substances and seek out comprehensive treatment to help. 

If you’re a senior who is struggling with depression, you shouldn’t have to suffer alone. There are professionals who can help you feel like yourself again and help you see your way out of the darkness. You just have to reach out and get that help for yourself. 

Author: Teresa Greenhill

Ascension’s CEO Anthony Tersigni announced a series of leadership changes

St. Louis-based Ascension revealed changes to its operational structure and leadership amid the departure of three longtime executives in a Jan. 22 announcement.

The changes include the dissolution of Ascension’s solutions and healthcare divisions. The solutions and healthcare divisions were created in 2012 to improve focus and growth for the system’s subsidiaries.

Officials said the decision to eliminate the divisions stems from the health system’s goal to become a unified organization, One Ascension.

In addition to the organizational changes, Ascension President and CEO Anthony Tersigni announced the departure of three longtime executives, and the creation of a new position.

Patricia A. Maryland, DrPH, will leave the organization after a 15-year tenure. She will continue in her role as CEO of Ascension Healthcare through June 30. After her departure, the position will be eliminated.

Executives John Doyle and David Pryor, MD, will retire at the end of the health system’s fiscal year, June 30.

To support Ascension’s integrated health ministry, Joseph R. Impicciche will assume the newly created role of Ascension president and COO. He will oversee Ascension’s healthcare operations and services and report to Mr. Tersigni.

Mr. Impicciche has served as executive vice president and general counsel since 2004.

Johns Hopkins Reaches Settlement with Registered Nurses Affirming Nurses’ Guaranteed Right to Unionize

Nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore are hailing as a critical victory a settlement reached with the hospital which reaffirms the nurses’ guaranteed legal right to unionize, said the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) today.  

“This settlement makes clear that nurses have the right to form a union, we have a right to speak with our coworkers about a union, and Johns Hopkins does not have the legal right to target and intimidate nurses who engage in union activity,” said Alex Laslett, RN. “We are organizing at Johns Hopkins because we know a union affords nurses the protection we need to advocate freely for the best care for our patients.”

The settlement resolves unfair labor practices charges filed with the Baltimore-based National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of the Johns Hopkins nurses by NNOC/NNU. The NLRB found merit to charges that the hospital broke the law by:

  • The creation of the impression of surveillance and unlawful interrogation in regards to protected union activity,
  • Promulgating and/or enforcing a rule barring off-duty RNs access to break rooms, outside patient care areas, in connection with union activity, and
  • Prohibiting Hopkins RNs from talking about the union at work, while permitting other non-work conversations.

The settlement requires that Johns Hopkins Hospital management post signs throughout the facility affirming the nurses’ right to form a union. The signs declare that Johns Hopkins Hospital will not prohibit nurses from talking about the union, will not create the impression that hospital management is watching out for union activities, will not ask nurses about their union sympathies, and will not discriminatorily enforce its policies on nurses accessing break rooms.

Diverting patients from emergency departments with telemedicine can save more than $1,500 per visit.

Telemedicine visits generate cost savings mainly by diverting patients away from more costly care settings, new research shows.

The primary market opportunity for telemedicine visits is the value proposition that they can both expand access to patients while also reducing costs compared to alternative care settings.

The new study is based on data collected from 650 patients who used the JeffConnect telemedicine platform at Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health.

“In our on-demand telemedicine program, we found the majority of health concerns could be resolved in a single consultation and new utilization was infrequent. Synchronous audio-video telemedicine consults resulted in short-term cost savings by diverting patients from more expensive care settings.”

The cost of a JeffConnect visit was a $49 flat fee.

The bulk of the cost savings from the telemedicine program was generated in diverting patients from emergency departments. Each avoided emergency department visit garnered cost savings ranging from $309 to more than $1,500. Cost savings from other alternate care types was below $114 average savings per visit.

“The net cost savings to the patient or payer per telemedicine visit of $19 to $121 represents a meaningful cost savings when compared with the $49 cost of an on-demand visit. The primary source of the generated savings is from avoidance of the emergency department, as this is by far the most expensive of the alternative care options provided,” the researchers wrote.

OFFSETTING INCREASED UTILIZATION
 

About 16% of the JeffConnect patients surveyed said they would have “done nothing” as an alternative to a telemedicine visit—representing potential increased utilization of services. But cost savings outweigh possible higher utilization of services due to telemedicine’s easy access, the researchers found.

“A substantial shift would be necessary to outpace the savings from diversion. Conversely, this population of patients who would have done nothing may represent improved access and incorporation of patients into the healthcare system that might not have participated previously. This might actually prevent more costly care further down the line.”

Medical schools overhaul curriculum to better prepare future docs!

Dr. John Raymond, CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, thinks there is an critical element sorely missing in the training of aspiring physicians: compassion.​ 

Since there is an assumption that all doctors are inherently compassionate and caring individuals, traditional medical education doesn’t outright address its importance in patient care, he argued.

But recently compassion seems to be getting lost as doctors face more administrative burdens and an increased emphasis on clinical productivity. “These pressures can dehumanize medicine,” he said.

Through the National Transformation Network, which officially launched in June, the schools will work together to develop a curriculum focused on three components: character, competence and caring. The network was established with the help of a $37.8 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation, a not-for-profit that funds educational initiatives. The other participating schools include the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, UCSF School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. 

Raymond quickly acknowledged that clinical competence isn’t lacking in medical education, emphasizing that medical schools do an excellent job of equipping future doctors with the scientific background and clinical skills needed to treat patients. What’s lacking is making sure aspiring doctors have the right intentions and mindset to care for the nation’s vulnerable or sick. 

The lack of focus on these qualities during medical school ultimately hinders efforts in the healthcare industry overall to provide care that is more patient-centered. “We need to make (medical school) feel more real and more directly related to the patient,” Raymond said. 

How exactly the National Transformation Network will change curriculums is still being worked out, but there will be a strong emphasis on ensuring students appreciate and understand the importance of compassion to patients, Raymond said. This will likely take the form of more one-on-one time with patients and an emphasis on personal wellness and burnout, which plagues a majority of physicians today.

At the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, slated to open in 2019, students will be asked to come up with solutions to a variety of complex health issues such as low immunization rates or falls in the inpatient setting.

“Part of what we have to do is show medical students how to be leaders of change,” said Dr. Edward Ellison, board member of the school and co-CEO of the Permanente Federation, a Kaiser subsidiary connected to its medical groups.

The students will also benefit from the school’s affiliation with Kaiser Permanente, the not-for-profit health system based in Oakland, Calif., Ellison said. Students are expected to shadow doctors, work in the more than 30 safety-net clinics that are part of the Kaiser system, and visit patients in their homes after discharge. 

Kaiser’s move to open a medical school represents a growing trend in medical education. Health systems are increasingly working with their affiliate medical schools to brainstorm how students should be trained, said Leah Gassett, a principal at ECG Management Consultants with an expertise in medical education. 

“Health systems are recognizing they would like a seat at the table so the graduates are prepared to be effective clinical leaders of their systems,” she said. 

But Ellison said Kaiser’s foremost goal wasn’t to foster a pipeline of future doctors to work at the system—though they expect some students to stay at Kaiser to pursue their residency. Instead, the main driver was a desire to be part of the changes happening in medical education. 

“We want to contribute to the broader evolution of medical education,” he said. “We see this as a way to learn and share outside our system.”

Physician-staffing firm email breach exposes 31,000 patients’ data.

An unauthorized user recently accessed several employee email accounts at physician-staffing firm EmCare, compromising personal information from roughly 31,000 patients.

EmCare said it became aware of the data security incident “recently,” leading to an internal investigation. It has engaged a forensic security firm to determine the scope of the breach, according to a notice the company posted online Saturday. EmCare determined on Feb. 19 that the email accounts in question contained patient data, including some names, dates of birth, clinical information and Social Security numbers.

An EmCare spokesperson said the company is not releasing information regarding when it learned of the breach.

SSM Health’s 2018 net income more than doubles through acquisitions

Early 2018 acquisitions helped SSM Health more than double its revenue over expenses last year. 

While many large health systems saw their profits sink on investment losses last year, the St. Louis-based health system more than doubled that metric. SSM drew $505.2 million in revenue over expenses last year, up from $246 million in 2017. 

That was mostly thanks to nearly $600 million in so-called “inherent contribution” gains in 2018 stemming from acquisitions in Wisconsin. Inherent contributions are reported when the value of acquired assets exceeds the acquired liabilities, according to a 2016 report by BDO.

SSM acquired Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, Wis., and Monroe (Wis.) Clinic from the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes at the beginning of 2018. The deal added four hospitals, four long-term care facilities and multiple outpatient sites to SSM’s portfolio and extended its reach in Wisconsin to northern Illinois. 

SSM has been growing rapidly in recent years, having acquired St. Louis University Hospital from Tenet Healthcare in 2015, and took control of 26 St. Louis-area health clinics in Walgreens stores in 2016.

The health system’s total operating revenue spiked 16.2% year-over-year, from $6.5 billion in 2017 to nearly $7.6 billion in 2018. Expenses rose 15% during that time, to $7.4 billion last year. Net patient service revenue grew 18% year-over-year.

Kris Zimmer, SSM’s chief financial officer, said in a statement that the Wisconsin acquisitions were the primary driver of SSM’s increased patient service revenue last year. Favorable payer and revenue mixes in other parts of the system helped increase that revenue as well. 

The system’s operating income narrowed in the year, however, to $11.2 million, compared with $30.8 million in 2017. Excluding impairment losses primarily on assets at its mid-Missouri locations, SSM’s operating income before nonrecurring items was $124 million in 2018 compared with $40.1 million in 2017. 

SSM certainly wasn’t immune to the stock market volatility that struck most health systems at the end of 2018. It lost nearly $82 million on investments last year, compared with a nearly $243 million gain in the previous year. 

SSM stated that it continues to appeal a CMS determination that it needs to repay the agency for behavioral health services provided at an Oklahoma hospital. SSM had $37.7 million in a reserve fund connected to the dispute last year and $44.5 million in 2017. The health system repaid the agency $10.5 million last year. 

At issue is the fact that the CMS determined it had overpaid SSM for inpatient behavioral health services provided to children and adolescents at the hospital in 2006. An audit determined certain services should have been classified as non-acute residential treatment services, which are less expensive than inpatient care, and the CMS in 2013 determined the facility would need to repay money it provided to the hospital’s adolescent psychiatric program in 2006. Ultimately, SSM said it expects the ruling will be expanded to payments received in 2004 through 2013.

SSM recorded a $107.3 million impairment loss last year mostly related to assets at its mid-Missouri locations. Roughly $6 million was related to assets held for sale in Wisconsin. The system did not record any impairment charges in 2017.

SSM spent $117 million providing charity care last year, down from $121.1 million in 2017. The system also spent $164.5 million last year on community health improvement services, education, research, community building activities and other community benefits, compared with $161.4 million in 2017.