David Do


Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.28.54 AMWILD PREDICTION: It won’t be long before every patient has a Twitter feed, and doctors subscribe to them for real-time updates.

This is a time when the demands of being a physician are changing, and we need to leverage technology to maintain awareness of a huge number of patients. There is also increasing need for handoffs and communication between providers.

Here’s the bottom line: how can we improve technology when doctors seem so resistant? They are not happy with their EMRs, and rightly so, because they were built to do too much for too many.

Current system is inefficient

The EMR has become essential for documentation, billing, medical reasoning, and communication, among other things. Currently, documentation is built on a system of daily progress notes. If I consult a cardiologist about a case, he needs to go through each note, containing narratives, laboratory values, vital signs, and physical exams.

A patient with a seven-day hospital stay may have twenty notes that need synthesis to put together the story–this can take hours per patient!

In an age where more providers are involved in a patient’s care (whether due to duty hour restrictions, or the increasing presence of specialists for every problem), this inefficiency is not acceptable.

Continue reading “What an EMR Built on Twitter Would Look Like”

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Recently officials at Oregon Health Sciences University discovered that residents in several departments were storing patient information on Google Drive, and had been doing so for the past two years. They treated this discovery as a breach of privacy and notified 3000 patients about the incident.

While I don’t condone the storage of patient information on unapproved services like Gmail or Google Drive, this incident pretty much highlights the sorry state of information systems within the hospital and the unfulfilled need by physicians for tools that facilitate workflow and patient care.

It says something that the Oregon residents felt compelled to take such a drastic action. I don’t know what punishment – if any – those responsible were given by administrators for their “crimes.” I’ll leave it to readers to make up their own minds about the wisdom of the unauthorized workaround and the appropriateness of any punishment. But I do know that the message the incident sends is a very clear one.

We’re screwing this up. There is really no earthly reason why it should be any more difficult to share a patient record than it is to share a Word doc, a Powerpoint or yes, even a cloud-based Google Drive spreadsheet.

Why the Breach Happened

What’s going on here? Let’s say I admit a patient to the hospital.  Our friend was hospitalized here just last month, and like many patients, he has dementia or is poorly educated, and does not know the names of the medications he takes. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to see what he takes or how he was treated during the prior admission because the records in the computer are there for documentation’s sake and don’t contain any meaningful information. This is clearly a problem for me.

Therefore I will spend time calling outside facilities to gather information and repeat several tests and imaging procedures.

Medical care has become a team sport, and residents have developed systems for keeping track of their patients and communicating to other physicians. It takes some time to think about and process each patient that comes in, to consolidate all the information. Ultimately, I need to boil that information down to a five-minute description on the patient, their problems, the status of their current admission, and what needs to happen before they go home.  We do this in the form of a signout document.

Figure: The signout document has four to five columns and includes the To Do list for each patient.

The EMR does not have a good way to store information in this format, and  additionally I have no way of editing this in real-time to communicate with my
coworkers what still needs to be done. That’s why residents were storing their  signouts in Google Drive.

What providers need here is simple data management. We need to store and access this list from different computers. We need the ability to enter a subset of those data  using a custom form, and the ability to print subsets of those data to create a To Do lists, rounding sheets, or progress notes. Continue reading “What the Recent Data Breach Says About the State of Health IT”

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In Shirie Leng’s excellent post, “The Email I Want to Send To Our Tech Guys But Keep Deleting, Dr. Leng lists a series of problem areas which plague software development in healthcare. Making things better requires taking a closer look at the specs we use. The new-age consumer-focused software companies can build products with outstanding usability because they start and end with the specs.

I have spent time at several academic medical institutions, and their software solutions are very much the same. At one, I was given this five-page table of portals and documentation systems with instructions on how to log in.

The punchline: I’m asked to have a different username and password for each of them.

I give much credit to the physicians who navigate these software applications, including the one that compiled the list I showed above. But physicians have allowed poor design of their technological solutions for too long, and have neglected to demand interoperability from software vendors.

The number of required training hours is a good indicator of usability. (And many of the items on the list come with long training hours.) While physicians have accepted these courses as part of their jobs for years, why should formal training be necessary to operate an EMR? Most of the tasks of ordering and documentation are no more complicated than paying your credit card bill or shopping online.

I’ll only scratch the surface of this usability problem by highlighting several notably poor implementations. I won’t even get into the inefficiencies in ordering and documentation.

My first example is an EMR system that is used to order medications and communicate data with nurses [below]. At a glance, there are no fewer than seven distinct menus on the screen at the same time. In my experience using this EMR, I’ve clicked ten percent of these buttons (and I would estimate that 90% of the work occurs in 5% of the buttons). The poor organization of information leads to lengthy searches for the right information, and often, the unawareness of critical information that is hiding under a nondescript label.

Lesson: Menus should have clear hierarchy.

My second example is a shift-scheduling application [below]. Here is an example of of how applications can invent interfaces rather than using the ones familiar to us. The primary menu is on the left-hand side. Upon clicking on one of these options, the secondary menu is displayed right below the header. The tertiary menu, however, goes back to the left-hand side. The issue here is a lack of consistency and predictability.

Continue reading “How Programmers Think: A Doctor’s Guide to Building a Better EMR”

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