Author Archives: Karen Blum

About Karen Blum

Karen Blum is AHCJ’s core topic leader on health IT. An independent journalist in the Baltimore area, she has written health IT stories for publications such as Pharmacy Practice News, Clinical Oncology News, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, General Surgery News and Infectious Disease Special Edition.

Designing smart hospitals of the future: What to know

Image courtesy of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

When the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania opened its 17-story, $1.6 billion Pavilion building last October, it marked the culmination of a several-year plan to create a patient-centered building built for the future of medicine. Looking at the facility design can provide journalists with a sense of where new hospital construction is headed and provide plenty of ideas for feature stories.

In the largest capital project in Philadelphia hospital’s history, designers called on features used by Disney to hide from public view core services like linen and trash chutes, and reserve the outside of the building and views of downtown for patients and families, said John Donohue, Penn Medicine’s vice president of entity services, during a March presentation at HIMSS22, the Health Information and Management Systems Society’s annual meeting. 

They also included a new main telecommunications equipment center, 31,000 network ports, and almost 900 Wi-Fi access points, including some just outside the building where staff congregates during breaks in nice weather. 

Each of the 504 patient rooms has a 75” monitor that integrates functions like television viewing and weather with information about the patient’s care plan and names and photos of care team members. Through an integrated pillow speaker, patients can use voice commands to call for a nurse; control the room’s lighting, window shades and temperature; turn on or off privacy glass on side of the room facing the hallway, and work the television or play music. Care providers wear badges that wirelessly transmit their photos and positions to the patient’s digital board. Rooms can be converted to serve as either intensive care unit beds or regular patient rooms as needs change. During the next phase of design, building engineers will incorporate clinical imaging so doctors can pull up patient scans on the monitors in patient rooms when discussing their care. 

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U.S. hospitals brace for potential Russian cybersecurity attacks

A building in Kiev, Ukraine with Ukranian flag  (Photo by Marjan Blan | @marjanblan on Unsplash)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has the potential for trickle-down impacts on U.S. hospitals in the form of cybersecurity attacks. 

While there have been no specific cyber threats to the U.S. to date from the invasion, Russia’s attack on Ukraine — which has involved cyberattacks on Ukraine’s government and critical infrastructure organizations — may impact organizations beyond the region, the national Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said. 

“Every organization — large and small — must be prepared to respond to disruptive cyber activity,” the agency said. Its Shields Up website includes a catalog of free services to help organizations reduce the likelihood of a damaging cyberattack and ensure they are well prepared if an intrusion occurs. It also contains suggestions for corporate leaders and CEOs and a guide to handle responses to ransomware attacks. 

Journalists could find interesting stories by interviewing hospitals about what they are doing to protect their staff and patients, or cybersecurity firms on tips to implement.

The American Hospital Association warned its nearly 5,000 members to increase their defenses against potential Russian attacks and consider blocking internet traffic to and from Russia and Ukraine, John Riggi, the organization’s national adviser for cybersecurity and risk, told Politico.   

“Our organizations are continuously being probed and scanned from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea thousands of times a day, literally, whether it’s a small critical access hospital or the largest systems,” he said in the news article.

Riggi will be a panelist at AHCJ’s upcoming Health Journalism conference in Austinspeaking about hospital ransomware attacks and what hospitals can do. The session will be held from 4:40-6:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.

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Artificial intelligence: a savior for overwhelmed health care personnel?

During the past two years and counting, hospital and health care staff have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic with droves of workers quitting their jobs as part of the Great Resignation. Could artificial intelligence (AI) play a role in helping fill some of the gaps? A recent flurry of stories suggests it could.

Hospitals such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles are turning to AI — computer systems or computerized programs that perform tasks normally done by humans — for help with assorted tasks, according to a story in Becker’s Hospital Review. Cedars-Sinai has employed twin clinical assistant robots to reduce nurses’ daily workload. The robots, which feature heart-shaped eyes that light up or make beeping noises, use AI, machine learning technology and social engineering to interact with clinicians and patients, performing simple tasks such as collecting medicine from the pharmacy. Within six weeks of their implementation last September, they saved clinical teams an estimated 300 miles of walking.

The technology comes at a pivotal time. Roughly 6% of hospitals (329 of 5,540) reporting staffing levels in the nation are experiencing critical staff shortages, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services posted March 2 and reported by Becker’s. Meanwhile, about 17%, or 950 hospitals, are anticipating shortages within the next week. The three states with the highest percent of hospitals experiencing critical staff shortages are South Carolina (26.67%), Kentucky (21.7%) and Nebraska (18.95%).

“Stress has become a serious issue for physicians in recent years,” Robert Budman, M.D., chief medical information officer at Nuance Communications, told Healthcare IT News, in an article on leveraging AI to relieve physicians. “First, physicians have to navigate how to get their clinical work done in a busy day. On top of that, there are administrative burdens placed on them by the government, insurance plans and employers. And then, there’s simply the crush that they are feeling with their workload being exacerbated by COVID-19.”

Some AI technologies can allow health care organizations to alleviate workers’ pressure by anticipating nursing or ED staffing needs, or predicting turnover of beds, or can help address clinical documentation frustrations, Budman said.

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Cybersecurity attacks top list of health technology hazards for 2022

In January, nonprofit patient-safety organization ECRI released a report of the top 10 health technology hazards for 2022. Health IT concerns made up half of them. Reviewing the list — compiled by the organization each year in response to member surveys, literature reviews, testing medical devices in their lab and investigating patient safety incidents — can provide journalists with a good primer on trends to watch. The annual report identifies potential sources of danger the organization believes warrant the greatest attention.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, cybersecurity attacks ranked at the top of the list. All health care organizations are subject to cybersecurity incidents, the report noted: “The question is not whether a given facility will be attacked but when.” A cybersecurity incident could threaten network-connected medical devices and data systems that have become essential for safe and effective care delivery, the authors wrote. “Consequences may include rescheduling of appointments and surgeries, diversion of emergency vehicles, or closure of care units or even whole organizations — all of which could put patients at risk.”

“Responding to these risks requires not only a robust security program to prevent attacks from reaching critical devices and systems, but also a plan for maintaining patient care when they do,” they said.

Acknowledging this concern, manufacturers are more often building in security features to the design of medical devices, said Kevin Fu, Ph.D., acting director of medical device cybersecurity at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health and program director for the Digital Health Center of Excellence, during a ECRI webcast about cybersecurity.

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One journalist explores concerns surrounding teletherapy for psychedelic mental health treatment

Shayla Love

Shayla Love, a senior staff writer at Motherboard (the tech arm of Vice.com), has written several articles about psychedelic drugs used as mental health therapy. One recent story, Psychedelic Telemedicine Has Arrived. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? took a public health turn. In this investigative story, Love explored problems arising from a company offering ketamine — an anesthetic drug that produces hallucinogenic effects — as a teletherapy, sending the medications to people’s homes and offering some guided therapy online. Traditionally, drugs like this and related guided therapy are administered in a medical clinic under the direct supervision of an expert.

In a new “How I Did It,” Love talks about her reporting process and offers words of caution on behalf of vulnerable patients who might pursue this avenue of therapy. (Responses have been lightly edited and condensed.)

How did you find out about this story or get the idea to pursue this?

I have been covering psychedelics in the context of mental health treatment for the past several years, so that topic was already on my radar. I got ads in my Instagram feed for Mindbloom, a company advertising a telemedicine ketamine therapy approach where people can get ketamine sent to their house. I thought that was pretty interesting because many ketamine clinics are opening now. Most of them are in person, so you have to go in to receive either ketamine infusions or pills.  

I was busy then, but it was in the back of my mind that I wanted to look into what experiences people were having with this. A few months later, I saw some clinicians discussing it on Twitter. They were pretty alarmed that people could get ketamine mailed to them, out of concern about people being medically and psychologically supported during the experiences. I went to Mindbloom’s Instagram page and started reading the comments and immediately noticed a lot of negative feedback. I saw people saying things like, “I paid the down payment, and I never got an appointment, and I’ve been trying to reach people for weeks.” A lot of them were logistics-related: “I can’t get ahold of anybody,” “I can’t make my appointment.” At that point, I really wanted to look into it. I started by reaching out to basically everybody who left a negative comment.

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