I’ve been thinking about EMRs, electronic medical records, lately. It’s a subject, despite some professional experience, I don’t feel particularly close to. In fact, if anything, they are a source of consternation.
As an industry insider, I see them as an expensive albatross around our collective neck. As a human centered design advisor, I see them as an encumbrance for both providers and patients.
And, as a patient I see them largely as an opaque blob of data about me with a placating window in the form of a portal.
Which makes me wonder, am I obsessed with EMRs lately?
One of the reasons is certainly my personal interest in technology. And, while I don’t work in health IT, it’s natural to draw some connections. For instance,Wikipedia is consistently in among the top 10 most visited internet sites ( it is currently number 6 ).
And, say what you will about citing Wikipedia, but a 2010 study found it as accurate as Britanica.
Google trusts Wikipedia enough to use it as the primary source for its knowledge graph cards; and we’ve all settled a bar bet by finding some fact where a Wikipedia article is the canonical answer.
The secret sauce for Wikipedia is in it’s roots. Literally, the root of its name, wiki, describes the underlying structure. Wikis were the internet’s a solution to knowledge bases – large repositories of information about a process or thing. Companies had been using knowledge base software for years. Traditionally, a central maintainer, often a sort of corporate librarian, curated information, such as common answers to customer questions, so customer service reps could find it quickly.
Wikis democratize the knowledge base by allowing anyone to edit an entry. If you work for a company which sells widgets and you discover a new way to service the widget, you simply amend or append to the record in the corporate wiki. But what about the corporate librarian, they all cried. Except, no body cried.
It turns out, the network effect and the wisdom of crowds produce richer, more accurate databases of knowledge when the literal barrier to entity is removed. Make it easy for anyone to input knowledge, and the database and its accuracy grow.
And so it came to be, since anyone can edit almost any entry in the largest encyclopedia the world has ever known, Wikipedia is remarkably current and accurate.
So I wonder…what if medical records worked like Wikipedia?
What if, my record lived on some commonly accessible platform; not open to anyone, but accessible by my providers and I? Maybe we have to do some kind of online handshake to mutually access it.
What if we could both edit the record, at the same time? My doctors could put in their notes and I could add my own. Or I could edit theirs. And they could edit mine. Continue reading “What If EMRs Worked Like Wikipedia?”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: Design, EMRs, Nick Dawson, Privacy, Wikipedia, Wisdom of the Crowds
Feb 5, 2014
I’ve recently returned from the 7th ID Ecosystem Steering Group Plenary in Atlanta. This is an international public-private project focused on the anything-but-trivial issue of issuing people authoritative cyber-credentials: digital passports you can use to access government services, healthcare, banks and everything else online.
Cyber ID is more than a single-sign-on convenience, or a money-saver when businesses can stop asking you for the names of your pets, it’s rapidly becoming a critical foundation for cyber-security because it impacts the resiliency of our critical infrastructure.
Healthcare, it turns out, is becoming a design center for IDESG because healthcare represents the most diverse collection of human interactions of any large market sector. If we can solve cyber-identity for healthcare, we will have solved most of the other application domains.
The cyber-identity landscape includes:
proving who you are without showing a physical driver’s license
opening a new account without having to release private information
eliminating the risk of identity theft
civil or criminal accountability for your actions based on a digital ID
reducing your privacy risks through anonymous or pseudonymous ID
enabling delegation to family members or professional colleagues without impersonation
reducing hidden surveillance by state or private institutions
when appropriate, shifting control of our digital tools to us and away from corporations
The IDESG process is deliberate and comprehensive. It impacts many hot issues in health care including patient matching, information sharing for accountable care and population health, health information exchanges, prescription drug monitoring programs, accounting for disclosures, patient engagement and meaningful use, the physician’s ability to communicate and refer without institutional censorship, the patient’s ability to control information from our increasingly connected devices and implants, and more.
Hospitals and health industry incumbents that seek to solve the hot issues raised by health reform are not eager to wait for a deliberate and comprehensive process. For them, privacy and cyber-security is a nice-to-have. Who will pay for this digital enlightenment?
Continue reading “IDESG Is a Glimpse of Our Digital Future”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: Adrian Gropper, Cyber ID, Design, FutureMed, IDESG, Privacy
Jan 26, 2014
Now that consumers can generally make an efficient health insurance purchase at HealthCare.gov and most of the state-run exchanges, we can finally get to the real question.
Are the healthy uninsured going to buy it?
The big health insurance changes Obamacare made to the individual and small group market were arguably done in order to get everyone, sick and healthy, covered in a more equitable system.
To be clear, no one I know of wants to go back to the prior health insurance market that excluded people from being covered because of pre-existing conditions.
But what if most of the uninsured literally don’t buy Obamacare?
Then people will question whether or not all of this change was worth it: Why did those who were in the old individual and small group market have to accept all of the expensive changes, narrower networks, higher deductibles, and fewer choices if the uninsured largely don’t want it?
Are we moving away from a system where only the healthy could buy health insurance to a system where only the sick want to buy it?
Continue reading “To Buy Or Not to Buy”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Design, Exchanges, Healthcare Marketplace, Robert Laszewski, The ACA, uninsured
Jan 13, 2014
When it comes to the health care of a frail older person, families really need a good personal health record (PHR) system. So I am once again preparing to take a look at what’s available, in hopes of finding something that I can more confidently recommend to the families I work with. (To see what medical info I urge families to track, see this Geriatrics for Caregivers post.)
I have — yet again — met a family with reams of paper health records. On one hand, they’ve done very well: at our first visit they were able to show me labs, MRI results, and even some specialty consultations from last summer. They even had a hospital discharge summary, although unfortunately not the one from the most recent hospitalization.
And they’d taken steps to digitally organize, having scanned several key items, as well as created an online space providing shared access to their parent’s information.
So this is better than the situation I often encounter, which is that an elderly person has seen multiple outpatient doctors, has been hospitalized in a few different facilities, and no one has a copy of anything handy. (See why new elderly patients are a killer in primary care? If there is no data you fly blind, if there IS data it can take hours to review it.)
Still, there are clearly many ways a little well-designed technology could improve things for this family – and for the doctors trying to help them.
Here are the problems we have right now:
- Hard to search the whole pile, whether on paper or via the family’s online repository of PDFs. These were not OCRed and searchable until I manually converted them with my own PDF editor, after which I had to upload them to the patient’s chart in my EMR. Now each file is text searchable (for me), but the pile still is not.
- Cannot trend the labs. Figuring out what has happened to this patient’s key lab values over the past year has been very labor-intensive. This remains a problem once the lab data is uploaded to my EMR, because it’s still in PDFs which have to be looked at one at a time. Being the nerdy doc that I am, I’ve spent a fair bit of time creating a note that summarizes the key lab data over time. Ugh. Better than nothing but a far cry from being able to graph and trend the patient’s labs as needed.
- Takes ongoing time and effort to get records from the hospitals and other involved doctors. Kudos to this family for being diligent and persistent in asking for copies of everything they can. But wow, it’s a lot of effort for them, and I can tell you that in my practice so far, I’ve generally had to expend a fair amount of energy repeatedly asking for information from other providers. (And then I’ve had to try to organize all this info which comes in as scanned images via fax. Oy!)
Continue reading “In Search of a Really Usable PHR”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: caregivers, Design, FutureMed, Geriatrics, health records, Leslie Kernisan, PHRs
Jan 11, 2014
Besides the importance of physician happiness when using an EHR, using design principles that maximize user intuition and presentation of relevant information, there is one aspect of health care information systems that should never be overlooked…patient safety.
Scot Silverstein, MD, blogging at Health Care Renewal as InformaticsMD, frequently brings to light issues surrounding health care IT implementations that compromise patient safety. Reading his posts should be sobering and concerning to both medical professionals and the public alike. Like I’ve said, health care IT, in my opinion, is still in its infancy despite the number of years computers have been around and the existence of Meaningful Use legislation.
As a practicing physician as well as a software coder, I’ve used a number of EHR’s (and still currently using a well known EHR by my employer of my part time job) to know how some of these appalling user interfaces affect not just workflow and user happiness, but patient safety.
An example of one design element that most physicians may not be able to identify, ironically, is the one that is most harmful when it comes to patient safety. In this well known EHR, you are presented a medication list for a patient. As a physician, you assume that this list is a current medication list and is up to date. However, the reality is that this EHR system automatically removes a medication from the list when it is determined to be expired even if it should be appearing on the current medication list.
When a physician prescribes a medication from this system, it calculates the duration of usage of the medication based on the instructions, quantity of medication prescribed, and the number of refills. Once the duration exceeds the number of days that has elapsed since the prescription was made, the medication is taken off the current list automatically by the EHR. Now, taken at face value, this sounds like the logical approach to manage a medication list and utilizes the computing power that an EHR will gladly show off as a benefit to physicians.
Unfortunately, the EHR programmers failed to understand that medications are not taken regularly by all patients all the time. In fact, no physician assumes that at all. So why should an EHR make that assumption? Furthermore, there are plenty of treatments that are to be taken only as needed so how can an EHR account for that? Absolutely, impossible.
Continue reading “Why EHR Design Matters”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: Design, EHR, Michael Chen, Patient Safety, Physicians
Dec 18, 2013
So I was at TechfestNW earlier this fall and I had the opportunity to hear James Keller at WalmartLabs speak about the importance of having a minimum valuable (versus viable) product that is tied into the user experience. It is how the user’s emotional response to the application’s interface, which is so important to have, that gives a product meaning.
And this concept (although I admit I completely stumbled upon it) is at the very heart of what makes NOSH ChartingSystem so different. As I have stated on my blogs before and on my Indiegogo campaign site, I wanted to have an EHR that was both intuitive to use AS WELL AS having an interface that was calming and meaningful at the same time. So as an example from the medical world, having a pain scale is pretty good indicator of how user-friendly your application is.
An analogous concept is the OMG-to-WTF scale (see above).
Where does your EMR stand on the scale?
Continue reading “The OMG to WTF? EMR Pain Scale”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: Design, EHR, HIT, Michael Chen, Patients, Physicians
Nov 19, 2013
Remember the Ford Pinto and the AMC Pacer, aka the Pregnant Pinto?
Both serve as reminders of an in era in which the American auto industry lost its way and assumed drivers would buy whatever they put on the lot. Foreign competition, primarily from Japan, filled the void created by American apathy for quality and design, and the industry has never been the same.
Admittedly, the comparison of cars and EHRs is less than apt, but health IT also assumes healthcare will buy what we’re selling because the feds are paying them to. And, like the Pinto, what we’re selling inspires something less than awe. In short, we are failing our clinical users.
Why? Because we’re cramming for the exam, not trying to actually learn anything.
Myopic efforts to meet certification and compliance requirements have added functionality and effort tangential to the care of the patient. Clinicians feel like they are working for the system instead of it working for them. The best EHRs are focused on helping physicians take care of patients, with Meaningful Use and ICD-10 derivative of patient care and documentation.
I recently had dinner with a medical school colleague who gave me insight into what it’s like to practice in the new healthcare era. A urologist in a very busy Massachusetts private practice, he is privileged to use what most consider “the best EHR.”
Arriving from his office for a 7 PM dinner, he looked exhausted, explaining that he changed EHRs last year and it’s killing him. His day starts at 7 AM and he’s in surgery till noon. Often double or triple booked, he sees 24 patients in the afternoon, scribbling notes on paper throughout as he has no time for the EHR. After dinner he spends 1.5 to 2 hours going over patient charts, dictating and entering charges. What used to take 1 hour now requires much more with the need to enter Meaningful Use data and ICD coding into the EHR. He says he is “on a treadmill,” that it should be called “Meaningless Use,” and he can’t imagine what it will be like “when ICD-10 hits.”
My friend’s experience is representative, not anecdotal. A recent survey by the American College of Physicians and American EHR Partners provides insight into perceptions of Meaningful Use among clinicians.
According to the survey, between 2010 and 2012, general user satisfaction fell 12 percent and very dissatisfied users increased by 10 percent.
Continue reading “Darwinian Health IT: Only Well-Designed EHRs Will Survive”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: Design, Edmund Billings, EHR, HIT, ICD-10, Meaningful Use
Oct 23, 2013
Levels of Empathy for the User (i.e. the Patient) for Designers compared with Doctors.
Joyce Lee, MD is a pediatrician, diabetes specialist, and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. She blogs about design and healthcare at joycelee.tumblr.com.
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Design, Joyce Lee, patient engagement, Physicians, Tech
Sep 15, 2013
The original Hipoocratic Oath states:
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.
One modern version reads:
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
The idea here is that a doctor needs to recognize when another practitioner has a skill that they do not, and that they must refrain from “practice” when another person has demonstrable expertise in that area of practice.
It is now 2013. It is time for doctors to stop “writing their own EHR” from scratch. They need to bow out of this in favor of people who have developed expertise in the area.
I just found out about another doctor who has decided to write his own EHR, because he has not been able to find one that supports his new direct pay business model adequately. In the distant past I encountered a doctor who believed that his “Microsoft Word Templates” qualified as an EHR system. This is a letter to any doctor who feels like they are comfortable starting from-scratch software development for an EHR in 2013 or later.
You might believe yourself to be an EHR expert.
Are you sure about that? Are you sure that you are not just an EHR expert user?
This difference is not unlike your relationship with your favorite thoracic surgeon. Or for that matter, your relationship with the person who built your car. The fact that you are capable of expertly evaluating and using EHR products does not mean you are qualified to build one. Just like the fact that you are qualified to treat a patient who has recently had heart surgery or to discern when a patient might need heart surgery does not make you qualified to perform that heart surgery. Similarly, the fact that you can drive, or even repair your automobile, does not provide you with the expertise you need to build a car from scratch.
The ethical situation that you are putting yourself in by developing your own EHR is fairly tenuous. Performing heart surgery without being a heart surgeon, building and driving your own car without being an automotive engineer and a doctor coding their own EHR system from scratch all have the same fundamental problem: You might be smart enough to pull it off, but if you don’t you can really mess up another person’s life. Make no mistake, you can kill someone with a shoddy EHR just as easily as by performing medical procedures that you are not qualified for or by driving a car that is not road-safe.
Continue reading “Why Doctors Should Stay Out of the Business of Building EHRs”
Filed Under: Physicians, Tech, THCB
Tagged: Design, EHR, Fred Trotter, HIT, Patient Safety, Physicians, practice of medicine
Aug 26, 2013
Most people I work with in medicine have never heard of GitHub .
For the unfamiliar, GitHub is an online repository, which is an essential tool used by computer programmers to store their programming code. It has a number of virtues, including giving users the ability to track multiple versions of their code (sort of like remembering all the track changes you ever made to your word document). This is an essential tool for programmers but its value goes beyond its function as a track changes repository, as it is a site that facilitates open source collaboration, given its “social” features, similar to social networks like Facebook or Twitter, in which you follow the content of others or others follow you.
The most amazing thing about GitHub is that many users post their code (their work, their blood, sweat, and tears) publicly on their GitHub profile. Individuals will comment on others code, providing valuable input that the owner of the code can use to improve their work. In addition, can “fork” another person’s code repository, and work directly on the code in their own Github profile to make changes or improvements, sort of like a tag team collaboration. GitHub is the tool to help facilitate large-scale open source collaboration for the software/web programming world (such as that which lead to the Linux revolution).
By early 2012 there were apparently 1.2 million users hosting over 3.6 million repositories. Now that’s collaboration to scale!
So again, you may ask, why should physicians or medical researchers care about GitHub? Because it can have broader application beyond the software/web programming world, as shown by its use among non programmers, who are currently repurposing Github to advance collaborate in their own respective fields. They are posting book projects and transcripts of talks on the site, to encourage conversation and collaboration. One user even published his personal DNA information to encourage development of open-source DNA analysis. It has been suggested that Github could even be used by US citizens to “fork” the law so that they can propose their own amendments to their elected officials.
How might we use Github to democratize the world of medical research?
As researchers we do so many different activities that we perform in isolation, which forces us to “reinvent the wheel” constantly, from drafting of ethics board applications, to creation of research protocols, to the writing of snippets of statistical code or code for web programs.
Continue reading “GitHub: How an Open Source Programming Tool With a Funny Name Could Help Revolutionize Medical Research”
Filed Under: Tech
Tagged: Design, Github, Joyce Lee, medical research, open access
Jul 28, 2013