EHR

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It’s time to think carefully and look at the large systems (human and technical), institutions, and individuals that contributed to Mr. Duncan’s death. Systems should be designed to protect people and prevent human errors. Certainly we rely on the healthcare system to improve our health and to protect our privacy, especially our rights to health information privacy.

Looking at the death of Mr. Duncan, the poorly designed Epic EHR was a critical part of the problem: the lack of clarity, poor usability, hard to find critical information, and no meaningful quality testing to ensure the system prevents critical errors contributed to his death and endangered many others. Why wasn’t the discharge of a patient with a temperature of 103 from the ER flagged?

EHRs are one of several critical systemic problems.

Current US EHRs were not designed or tested to ensure patient safety or privacy (patient control over the use of PHI for TPO).  The Meaningful Use requirements for EHRs don’t address patient safety or ensure patients’ legal rights to control use of PHI. Let’s face it, the MU requirements were set up by the Health IT industry, not by a federal agency charged with protecting the public, such as NIST or the FDA. Industry lobbying resulted in industry ‘self-regulation’, which has failed to protect the public in every other sector of industry. Industry lobbying is another critical systemic problem.

Our public discourse also is a critical systemic problem.  The 24/7 US media drives us to play the ‘blame game’—and look at what happens: it’s a sham. A massive public and social media exercise substitutes for a crucial scientific and ethical oversight process by government and industry to face or examine the systemic causes and key actors—both people and institutions.  We end up with no responsibility being assigned or addressed.  Or the media hoopla and confused thinking leads to the opposite conclusion: everyone and everything is responsible and blamed, which has the same effect: it lets everyone and everything off the hook. Either way, no one and no institutions are to blame.

Continue reading “Ebola, EHRs, and the Blame Game”

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John Mandrola MDIt was a mistake to send the Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan home from a Dallas emergency room after he presented with fever and pain, which were early signs of Ebola infection.

It would be a larger mistake to miss an important learning opportunity. This case demonstrates what I believe to be a major threat to patient safety—caregiver distraction.

Doctors and nurses are increasingly prevented from giving full attention to the important things in patient care. The degree of value-added nonsense has reached the point where delivering basic care has gown dangerous. This morning, in Canada, news of a case of deadly drug interaction occurred because of alert fatigue—or distraction.

I am a cardiologist; I am also a patient. I want the Duncan case to be a turning point, a wake up call, a never event that serves as a spark to improve the delivery of medical care. Right now, all that this case has changed are tweaks to EHR protocols and checklists. We need more than tweaks; we need big changes.

An uncomfortable truth is that medical mistakes are normal. Errors, like this one in Texas, have occurred since doctors started treating patients. The good news is that technology has made medical care better. No credible person suggests a return to the paper-chart era. Yet, it is still our duty to face mistakes, learn from them, and in so doing, improve future care. Being honest about root causes is necessary.

Another truth about medical mistakes is the ensuing rush to inoculate against blame–which always comes. In the Duncan case, initial blame was assigned to the electronic health record. The computer software failed to flag the travel history in the physician “workflow.” (Just using the word, workflow, hints of the bureaucracy problem.) And you know there is trouble when hospital administrators use the passive voice. “Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurse…”

Continue reading “An Extremely Teachable Moment”

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As reported last year at HIMSS and by many online news and opinion sources since, physician dissatisfaction with EHRs is growing. Indeed, while this blog post doesn’t focus on the broader picture, general physician career dissatisfaction is disconcertingly high.

The breakneck push for more and better EHR use as a component of regular medical care is a significant part of that malaise, but it is insufficient as an explanation. For the most part, doctors really don’t like what the health IT industry is giving them to work with. The HIMSS survey proves it, showing that around 40 percent of physicians would not recommend their EHR to a colleague.

One would expect an industry to develop better products and improve usability, acceptance and satisfaction over time. In health IT, the opposite has occurred, with most pointing fingers at Meaningful Use as the culprit for awkward workflows and Rube Goldberg solutions cobbled together so everyone can get paid in a timely manner.

It seems EHRs are taking more time to use rather than less, which was the original goal.

Continue reading “EHR Design: It’s a Matter of Time”

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Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 7.53.02 PMCMS recently announced another change to health IT policy in order to offer healthcare providers greater flexibility. But what will the unintended consequences of this latest change be?

Over the Labor Day weekend, CMS announced that the Meaningful Use Stage 2 deadline will be extended through 2016 in order to offer more options and greater flexibility to providers for the certified use of EHRs.  In the interest of full disclosure, I found the timing to be strange— a rule published over a holiday weekend seems an odd choice, particularly when it is being touted as a benefit to the industry and the impact on healthcare provider organizations and clinicians, alike, is monumental.

Unfortunately, I think the additional flexibility allotted by this rule is the latest example of the unintended consequences of health IT regulations.  In an effort to make things easier and give healthcare providers more leeway, they have, in fact, made the situation unnecessarily more complex.

Agility is not healthcare’s strong suit

It seems at this point, too many options, or waffling between them (for instance the new ICD-10 transition deadline), can be more crippling than stringent regulations, particularly when there is so much on the line.  Healthcare organizations don’t have the wherewithal to vacillate with implementations; they are wrestling with string-tight budgets and constantly shifting rules require large cultural and behavioral changes.  As a result, as Dr. John Halamka noted, health IT agendas are being constantly hijacked by regulatory changes, such as Meaningful Use and ICD-10.

It now seems that hospital administrative teams and physicians again must endure constantly shifting rules that they’ve been coping with for years under Meaningful Use.  As Dr. Ben Kanter, former CMIO of Palomar Health, so astutely noted “A computer system is a tool, just as a scalpel is a tool.  What if a surgeon’s scalpel changed every few weeks?  How is it possible to deliver good care if the primary tool you are using keeps changing on an irregular basis?” Continue reading “Sometimes the Best Choice is the Simplest One”

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flying cadeuciiEverywhere we turn these days it seems “Big Data” is being touted as a solution for physicians and physician groups who want to participate in Accountable Care Organizations, (ACOs) and/or accountable care-like contracts with payers.

We disagree, and think the accumulated experience about what works and what doesn’t work for care management suggests that a “Small Data” approach might be good enough for many medical groups, while being more immediately implementable and a lot less costly. We’re not convinced, in other words, that the problem for ACOs is a scarcity of data or second rate analytics. Rather, the problem is that we are not taking advantage of, and using more intelligently, the data and analytics already in place, or nearly in place.

For those of you who are interested in the concept of Big Data, Steve Lohr recently wrote a good overview in his column in the New York Times, in which he said:

“Big Data is a shorthand label that typically means applying the tools of artificial intelligence, like machine learning, to vast new troves of data beyond that captured in standard databases. The new data sources include Web-browsing data trails, social network communications, sensor data and surveillance data.”

Applied to health care and ACOs, the proponents of Big Data suggest that some version of IBM’s now-famous Watson, teamed up with arrays of sensors and a very large clinical data repository containing virtually every known fact about all of the patients seen by the medical group, is a needed investment. Of course, many of these data are not currently available in structured, that is computable, format. So one of the costly requirements that Big Data may impose on us results from the need to convert large amounts of unstructured or poorly structured data to structured data. But when that is accomplished, so advocates tell us, Big Data is not only good for quality care, but is “absolutely essential” for attaining the cost efficiency needed by doctors and nurses to have a positive and money-making experience with accountable care shared-savings, gain-share, or risk contracts.

Continue reading “The Power of Small”

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Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 2.07.25 PMThe new mantra for the medical practice is upgrade, integrate, and outsource according to the results of the Black Book Rankings™ 2014 Survey. Each year, Black Book gathers over 400,000 viewpoints on information technology through an interactive online survey and telephone discussions. The result is an annual barometer of HIT satisfaction and experiences.

This year, three clear trends emerged for practices looking to stay independent in a changing and challenging time in healthcare. While each trend holds its own unique benefits, it is clear from the survey that many practices are looking to implement all three—upgrade technology, implement integrated solutions, and outsource business functions like revenue cycle management.

According to the survey, nearly 90% of physician practices agree their billing and collections systems need upgrading. Over 65% of those practices are considering a combination of new software and outsourcing services. Here are the trends:

Move to Upgrade Outdated Software

Even with recent changes in the CMS EHR Incentive program, delaying the required use of a 2014 Edition CEHRT, many practices do not currently have an EHR that will enable them to attest for meaningful use. In addition, 91% of business managers fear that the ramifications of their outdated and/or auto-piloted revenue cycle management (RCM) systems, particularly those not integrated to EHRs, will force their physician to sell.

As a result of these challenges and other impending changes like ICD-10, 21% of practices are considering an upgrade of their RCM software within the next six to twelve months, and 90% of those are only considering an EHR centric module.

Practices considering upgrades to cloud-based solutions can see other benefits including reduced costs, seamless upgrades, more flexible access, and reduced concerns around storage and security. Continue reading “2014 Black Book Survey Says Majority of Medical Practices Want Updated Software”

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Health care for veterans has been all over the news.  At the same time, the DoD is moving to procure a replacement EHR system.  So it seems there is no time like the present to review a recent RAND case studies report entitled “Redirecting Innovation in U.S. Health Care: Options to Decrease Spending and Increase Value.”

The case studies include a chapter comparing America’s two most broadly deployed EHRs:  The VA’s VistA and Epic.  The tale RAND tells is not one of different EHR technologies, as both VistA and Epic both employ the MUMPS programming language and file-based database. Rather, it is about how different origins, business models and practices have dramatically influenced the respective systems.  As the report itself says, the contrast offers “useful insights into the development, diffusion, and potential future of EHRs.”

VistA

VistA, “the archetype of an enterprise-wide EHR solution,” supports the Veterans Health Administration, “the largest integrated delivery system in the United States.” Initial VistA development was a collaborative, distributed, grass-roots effort where individual VA medical centers built out new clinical functionality on a common platform.

In the mid 90’s, VistA became the instrument of change at the VA.

The pace and scope of EHR adoption increased dramatically under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, who served as the VA’s Undersecretary for Health from 1994 through 1999.  Dr. Kizer considered installation of a major system upgrade to be a core element in his effort to transform the organization … Continue reading “How Does the VA’s Technology Rate Against Other EMR Vendors?”

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By DAVID DO, MD

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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emr note

EMR Alert – Featuring radiologist note in illegible font color

For the past couple of years I’ve been working as a traveling physician in 13 states across the U.S.

I chose to adopt the “locum tenens lifestyle” because I enjoy the challenge of working with diverse teams of peers and patient populations.

I believe that this kind of work makes me a better doctor, as I am exposed to the widest possible array of technology, specialist experience, and diagnostic (and logistical) conundrums. During my down times I like to think about what I’ve learned so that I can try to make things better for my next group of patients.

This week I’ve been considering how in-patient doctoring has changed since I was in medical school. Unfortunately, my experience is that most of the changes have been for the worse.

While we may have a larger variety of treatment options and better diagnostic capabilities, it seems that we have pursued them at the expense of the fundamentals of good patient care.

What use is a radio-isotope-tagged red blood cell nuclear scan if we forget to stop giving aspirin to someone with a gastrointestinal bleed?

Continue reading “The Medical Chart: Ground Zero for the Deterioration of Patient Care”

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flying cadeuciiDid you hear the one about the CMS administrator who was asked what it would take to delay the 2014 ICD-10 implementation deadline? An act of Congress, he smugly replied, according to unverified reports.

Good thing he didn’t say an act of God.

So, now that CMS has been overruled by Congress, who wins and who loses? Who’s happy and who’s not?

The answers to those questions illustrate the resource disparity that prevails in healthcare and, mirroring the broader economy, threatens to get worse. The disappointed Have-a-lot hospitals are equipped with the resources to meet ICD-10 deadlines and always felt pretty confident of a positive outcome; the Have-not facilities were never all that sure they would make it and are breathing a collective sigh of relief.

First off, it is necessary to recognize that ICD-10 is far superior to ICD-9 for expressing clinical diagnoses and procedures. Yes, some of the codes seem ridiculous … “pecked by chickens,” for example. But people do get pecked by chickens, or plowed into by sea lions, so I believe the intent is positive, as will be the results.

An example: I saw my physician this past week at a Have-a-lot health system in San Francisco and I asked what she thinks of the ICD-10 extension.

“We’re already using (ICD-10) in our EHR and it is much better than ICD-9,” she said. “When I want to code for right flank pain, it’s right there. I don’t have to go with back pain or abdominal pain and fudge flank in. It’s easier and more accurate.”

“If I was still on paper and not our EHR, which I like,” she added, “my superbill would go from 1 page to 10. SNOMED works.”

Continue reading “The ICD-10 Extension: For Whatever Reasons, Congress Did the Right Thing.”

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