Tech

Tech

The Electronic Medical Record and the Patient Narrative

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It’s been a long time since I wrote a post.  My life, you see, is incredibly dull and boring.  There has been so little to write about that I’ve been at a loss.

No, actually that’s a load of crap.  It’s become a fantasy of mine to have such boredom.  In reality, my life is as un-boring as it could be.  It’s like the part of a story where everything is in flux, where little decisions have huge consequences, and where the inflection point between a comedy and tragedy is located.

So how’s my new practice going?  In some ways things are going about as well as they could.  My patients are amazed when I answer their emails or (even more surprisingly) answer the phone.  ”Hello, this is Dr. Lamberts,” I say.  This usually results in a long pause, followed by a confused and timid voice saying something like, “well…uh…I was expecting to get Jamie.”  Yet I am often able to deal with their problems quickly and efficiently, forgoing the usual message from Jamie to get to the root of their problem.  It’s amazingly efficient to answer the phone.

Financially, the practice has been in the black since the first month, and continues to grow, albeit slowly.  The reason for the slow growth is not, as many would predict, the lack of a market for a practice like mine.  It’s also not that I am so busy at 250 patients that growth is difficult.  In truth, when we aren’t rapidly adding new patients, the work load is nowhere near overwhelming for just me and my nurse.  In that sense I’ve proved concept: that it’s not unreasonable to think I can handle 500, and even 1000 patients with the proper support staff and system in place.

Which brings us to the area of conflict, the crisis point of this story: the system I have in place.  The hard part for me has been that I have not been able to find tools to help me organize my business so it can run efficiently.

The Email I Want to Send To Our Tech Guys But Keep Deleting…

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Dear Tech Guys:

So today I’m doing anesthesia for colonoscopies and upper GI scopes. Nowadays we have three board-certified anesthesiologists doing anesthesia for GI procedures every single day at my institution. I’ll probably do 8 cases today. I will sign into a computer or electronically sign something 32 times. I have to type my user name and password into 3 different systems 24 times. I’m doing essentially the same thing with each case, but each case has to have the same information entered separately. I have to do these things, but my department also pays four full-time masters-level trained nurses to enter patient information and medical histories into the computer system, sometimes transcribed from a different computer system. Ironically, I will also generate about 50 pages of paper, since the computer record has to be printed out. Twice.

No wonder almost everyone I know hates electronic medical records! I don’t know anything about computers, and I don’t know what systems other hospitals have. I may be dreaming of a world that doesn’t exist or that world is here and I haven’t heard about it. Nevertheless, here’s my wish list for a system that doctors would actually want to use:

1. Eliminate the User Names and Passords: You can’t tell me that in this day of retinal scans and hand-held computers that there isn’t a better way to secure data. What if each person had their own iPad that you only have to sign into ONCE a day that automatically signs your charts. If you’re worried about people leaving them sitting around use a retinal scan or fingerprint instant recognition system.

2. Eliminate the Paper: If you’re going to have full-time people entering data for you, why print it out? It’s on the computer for anyone to access.

3. All Data Systems Must Be Compatible: You can’t have patient data entered in one place that doesn’t automatically import into another place. If my anesthesia record can’t talk to the hospital OMR, I have to RE-TYPE everything in, which is completely ridiculous.

4. Everybody Has to Use the Same System: Everybody, state-wide. Right now, electronic records from a nearby hospital are not available at my hospital, even though the two hospitals are right across the street from each other.

5. Don’t Make Me Turn the Page All the important information about a patient should be on the first page you open when you look up a patient. I shouldn’t have to click six different tabs. Specific to anesthesia, all the relevant data about the patient including what medications they have received during the case should be automatically displayed on the screen when you start a case. Specific to primary care, all the latest labs and data, recent appointments with specialists, current med list and anything else the doctor wants to see commonly should be right on the first screen.

Do Our Cells Have Their Own IP Address Yet?

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In the future, implanted chips will have the ability to stop food absorption when caloric intake reaches 2200. Cells in our forearm will be able to monitor our glucose levels and adjust our insulin appropriately. These implantable cells or “chips” have their own IP address with their own circuitry that is connected to a network 24/7. Through this network, cells communicate with real-time super computers to synthesize the next step for an individual’s body. If Dr. Anthony Atala can utilize 3D printers to create a new kidney, then it is only a matter of time before we can incorporate the circuitry within an organ necessary to monitor its function wirelessly.

This was the future I was challenged to paint in my talk at TEDMED 2012 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. With the conclusion of  TEDMED 2013 last week, I ask myself, where are we one year later?

A caveat: The following are simple overviews on novel technologies I had been tracking over the past year and does no justice to the many amazing leaps we have made in innovative science and medicine during this time.

An Epic Voyage

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Several months ago, I wrote a blog post comparing customers’ experience with Epic with the Stockholm Syndrome.

I reminded people of the syndrome:

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

Then, I noted:

What is striking about this company is the degree to which the CEO has made it clear that she is not interested in providing the capability for her system to be integrated into other medical record systems.  The company also “owns” its clients in that it determines when system upgrades are necessary and when changes in functionality will be introduced.  And yet, large hospitals sign up for the system, rationalizing that it is the best.

I quoted an article by Kenneth Mandl and Zak Kohane in the New England Journal of Medicine:

We believe that EHR vendors propagate the myth that health IT is qualitatively different from industrial and consumer products in order to protect their prices and market share and block new entrants. In reality, diverse functionality needn’t reside within single EHR systems, and there’s a clear path toward better, safer, cheaper, and nimbler tools for managing health care’s complex tasks.

A year ago, Forbes noted, “By next year 40% of the U.S. population–127 million patients–will have their medical information stored in an Epic digital record.”

It is this last point that we must now address, as I hear from my colleagues in the EHR world—no, not Epic’s competitors– that Epic engages in practices that well help cement that market share for years to come.

User Fees for Electronic Health Records?

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President Obama has released his 2014 budget proposal, which includes $80.1 billion in spending for theDepartment of Health and Human Services (HHS), an increase of  $3.9 billion. The proposed budget for The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) would increase its $61 million budget to $78 million, a 28% increase. The plan also includes a $1 million fee for electronic health record vendors that would almost certainly be passed along to users of the systems.

“In addition to the expanding marketplace and corresponding increase in workload for ONC, much of the work to date has been funded using Recovery Act funds scheduled to expire at the end of FY 2013. Consequently, a new revenue source is necessary to ensure that ONC can continue to fully administer the Certification Program as well as invest resources to improve its efficiency,” the ONC explains in the budget proposal appendix.

In particular, the fee could be used to fund:

  • Development of implementation guides and other forms of technical assistance for incorporating standards and specifications into products
  • Development of health IT testing tools that are used by developers, testing laboratories and certification bodies
  • Development of consensus standards, specifications and policy documents related to health IT certification criteria
  • Administration of the ONC Health IT Certification Program and maintenance of the Certified Health IT Product List
  • Post-market surveillance, field testing and monitoring of certified products to ensure they are meeting applicable performance metrics in the clinical environment

The Story Behind the CommonWell Story

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Arguably, the biggest news story coming out of HIMSS last month was the announcement of the CommonWell Health Alliance – a vendor-led initiative to enable query-based, clinical data sharing. So much has been written about CommonWell that there is little need to rehash what has been said before.

What has not been said, or at least has been sensationalized nearly to the point of irrelevance is the whole controversy surrounding Epic and how they were not invited to join the CommonWell Alliance until after the announcement. None other than Epic’s own founder and CEO, Judy Faulkner, has gone on record stating the Epic was unaware of CommonWell prior to the announcement. Faulkner has gone on to question the motives of CommonWell, in an effort to subvert it, in her highly influential role on the Dept of Health & Human Services HIT workgroup committee.

That was the last straw.

It is one thing to moan and groan at the HIT love fest that is HIMSS, where vendors commonly discount the announcements of competitors. But it is quite another thing to be a part of a highly influential body that is defining nationwide HIT policy and make the same claims over again, especially when they are frankly not true.

Washington’s New Open Source IT Law Could Change Everything. Let’s Count the Ways …

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In these politically polarized times, Americans expect Republicans and Democrats to disagree on every detail right down to what day of the week it is. This is especially true in the posturing hurly-burly of the House, where members can appeal to the few select priorities of a gerrymandered district to win re-election.

So it’s remarkable and unexpected when any legislation exits a House committee with unanimous bipartisan support. It’s even more surprising when the legislation potentially threatens the status quo for established corporate interests—in this case information technology companies.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITAR)—sponsored by California Republican Darrell Issa along with Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, and supported by every member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—threatens to put open-source software on par with proprietary by labeling it a “commercial item” in federal procurement policies. The proposal wouldn’t give open source a privileged position, just an equal one.

ONC Holds A Key To the Structural Deficit

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It’s called Blue Button+ and it works by giving physicians and patients the power to drive change.

The US deficit is driven primarily by healthcare pricing and unwarranted care. Social Security and Medicare cuts contemplated by the Obama administration will hurt the most vulnerable while doing little to address the fundamental issue of excessive institutional pricing and utilization leverage. Bending the cost curve requires both changing physicians incentives and providing them with the tools. This post is about technology that can actually bend the cost curve by letting the doctor refer, and the patient seek care, anywhere.

The bedrock of institutional pricing leverage is institutional control of information technology. Our lack of price and quality transparency and the frustrating lack of interoperability are not an accident. They are the carefully engineered result of a bargain between the highly consolidated electronic health records (EHR) industry and their powerful institutional customers that control regional pricing. Pricing leverage comes from vendor and institutional lock-in. Region by region, decades of institutional consolidation, tax-advantaged, employer-paid insurance and political sophistication have made the costliest providers the most powerful.

What Do mHealth Leaders Need Most From Our Government? Clarity.

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My job and my life intersected in a profound way when my daughter was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Years working in mobile innovation didn’t prepare me for how personally relevant mHealth so quickly became. Her clinical trial at Stanford University, supported by the National Institutes of Health through Congress’ Special Diabetes Program, featured a world-class endocrinologist working alongside software coders, applications developers, algorithm writers, network engineers and other mobile innovators. They were all pushing together for what could be a revolution in diabetes management—the artificial pancreas.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk about my daughter’s experience and share my thoughts on how government can help encourage the next wave of mHealth innovation, when I was invited to testify before Congress on mobile innovation and health care.

America’s leadership in the mobile economy — 40,000 apps and counting in the broad mHealth category — matches America’s leadership at the cutting edge of medical technology.

Mobile devices, wireless networks and targeted applications are enabling better, more seamless and cost-effective care that empowers and informs stakeholders on both sides of the stethoscope.

The virtuous cycle of investment in the mobile ecosystem — from networks, to handsets and tablets, to applications — provides an unparalleled foundation for dramatic advances in the nation’s health and wellness. My message to Congress was to lean in and strike a reasonable and circumspect balance that both protects patient safety and privacy and propels the dramatic, mobile-fueled advances we are seeing through American medicine today.

The True Collaborative Health Record

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I’ve been going about this all wrong.

It’s not my dumping of the payment system so I can focus on care over codes, my use of technology to connect better with patients, or my vision of the “collaborative record” that is wrong. It’s the fact that I am doing this without my most important resource: my patients.

I realized this while driving in to work this past week. My first patient was a tech-savvy guy I’ve known for a long time. Not only does he know me, and knows more than me about technology, he also is a regular reader of my blog (bless his heart)…and he still chose to switch to my practice! So I was looking forward to running some of my ideas by him to see if my thoughts have strayed to the land of silliness (which they often do) or if I am actually onto something. This line of thought led me to think about collaborating with him to work on my IT vision, since he does work for an IT company. My line of thought then careened into the brick wall of the obvious: why just him? I’ve been getting suggestions and offers for help from many of my patients, who are clearly intrigued by my direction and desirous to lend their expertise on the project. So why not involve any of my patients who want to be part of this project?