EHR

As Meaningful Use 2014 EHRs come online this winter, clinicians across the country gain access the host of new features included in the MU 2014 Certification Requirements.

In this post, we’ll dig into one of these features: EHR-based secure e-mail capabilities that operate using the “Direct Project” specification. (If you’re new to this world: when you hear “Direct Project,” you should think “secure e-mail for healthcare.”)

It’s a party!

In theory, giving every clinician in the country a secure e-mail inbox ought to enable something amazing (and amazingly familiar, for anyone who has used e-mail outside of healthcare): the ability to converse electronically, back-and-forth, in one-on-one or one-to-many discussions with… well… whomever you choose.

… but not everybody’s invited

Unfortunately, the practice hasn’t caught up to the theory. EHRs provide restricted inboxes that allow messaging to some recipients but not others. Why? It comes down to “trust,” which is a broad topic that we’ll treat only glancingly, where it intersects with the technology.

One of the requirements for Direct Project messaging is security, which means (among other things) that messages must be encrypted as they travel. To properly handle encryption, the sender’s EHR software (or Health Information Service Provider) needs to reliably discover the recipient’s cryptographic certificate, extract a public key from that certificate, and use that public key to encrypt each message before sending it out over the wire.

So far so good.

Continue reading “Teach Your EMR to Do Email? Impossible!!?! Unthinkable??? Maybe Not”

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We continue to see progress in improving the nation’s health care system, and a key tool to helping achieve that goal is the increased use of electronic health records by the nation’s doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers. These electronic tools serve as the infrastructure to implementing reforms that improve care – many of which are part of the Affordable Care Act.

Doctors and hospitals are using these tools to reduce mistakes and hospital readmissions, provide patients with more information that enable them to stay healthy, and allow for rewarding health care providers for delivering quality, not quantity, of care.

The adoption of those tools is reflected today in a release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics which provides a view of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program and indicates the program is healthy and growing steadily.

The 2013 data from the annual National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey are encouraging:

  • Nearly 80% of office-based physicians used some type of electronic health record system, an increase of 60 percentage points since 2001 and nearly double the percent in 2008 (42%), the year before the Health Information Technology and Economic and Clinical Health Act passed as part of the Recovery Act in 2009.
  • About half of office-based physicians surveyed said they use a system that qualifies as a “basic system,” up from just 11% in 2006.
  • Almost 70% of office-based physicians noted their intent to participate in the EHR incentive program.

Figure 1. Percentage of office-based physicians with EHR systems: United States, 2001-2013

The report also noted that 13% of physicians who responded said they both intended to participate in the incentive program and had a system that could support 14 of the Meaningful Use Stage 2 “core set of objectives,” ahead of target dates. This survey was performed in early 2013 – before 2014 certified products were even available.

Continue reading “Survey Says: EHR Incentive Program Is on Track”

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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”

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The Massachusetts Medical Society may be the first to notice that Meaningful Use EHR mandates favor large providers and technology vendors. Control over the Nationwide Health Information Network sets the stage for how physicians refer, receive decision support, report quality, and interact with patients. State health information exchanges and policy makers are caught in the cross-fire over health records interoperability. Are the federal regulations over Stage 2 being manipulated to put physicians and the public at a disadvantage?

On Dec. 7, the Massachusetts Medical Society took what might be the first formal action in the nation. A resolution stating:

“That the Massachusetts Medical Society advocate for a more open, affordable process to meet technology mandates imposed by regulations and mandates; e.g., that all Direct secure email systems, mandated by Meaningful Use stage 2, including health information exchanges and electronic health record systems, allow a licensed physician to designate any specified Direct recipient or sender without interference from any institution, electronic health record vendor, or intermediary transport agent.”

Scott Mace’s column Direct Protocol May Favor Large Providers and Vendors is the first to report on this unusual move by a professional society. Full disclosure: I’m a member of the MMS and the initiator of what became this resolution.

Meaningful Use is intended to support health reform by promoting interoperability and innovation in health service delivery. The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is fundamentally a free-enterprise model without single payer or even a public option. Obamacare depends on the market for eventual cost controls and sustainability. Meaningful Use is regulation designed to enable market-driven health reform by reducing interoperability barriers.

Although Meaningful Use regulations have already handed out $17 Billion to drive “voluntary” adoption of interoperable electronic health records, meaningful interoperability is still elusive. Meanwhile, the doctors are chafing about Meaningful Use intrusions and policymakers worry that the regulations will actually increase costs.

Continue reading “It’s Doctors versus Hospitals Over Meaningful Use”

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I want to update you on ComChart EMR’s “Meaningful Use Certification” status.

ComChart EMR will continued to be certified as a Complete EMR for Stage I Meaningful Use. Unfortunately, we will not be able to meet the Stage 2 (or greater) Meaningful Use certification requirements as these requirements are technically extremely difficult to implement.

In addition to the Meaningful Use mandates, there continues to be a never ending stream of new mandates such as ICD-10, PQRI, Meaningful Use 2, Meaningful Use 3, SNOMED, ePrescribing, LOINC, Direct Project, health information exchanges etc.  As a result of the mountain of mandates, ComChart EMR  and the other small EMR companies will have to choose to implement the mandates or use their resources to add “innovative” features to their EMR. Unfortunately, the small EMR companies do not have the resources to do both.

(I suspect this is also true, to some extent, for all EMR companies.)

While the individual people involved in promulgating these EMR mandates (mostly) have the best of intentions, they clearly do not understand what transpires in the exam room, as many of the mandated features confer little or no benefit to either the patient or the healthcare provider.

In addition to a lack of understanding of what is important during the process of providing healthcare, it has also become apparent to me that the Federal and State health information technology agenda is now largely driven by the strongest HIT companies and health institutions; the individual physician is only an afterthought in the entire process.

Continue reading “Open Letter From a Small EMR Vendor To Our Customers and Our Friends In Washington”

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A common and somewhat unique aspect to EHR vendor contracts is that the EHR vendor lays claim to the data entered into their system. Rob and I, who co-authored this post, have worked in many industries as analysts. Nowhere, in our collective experience, have we seen such a thing. Manufacturers, retailers, financial institutions, etc. would never think of relinquishing their data to their enterprise software vendor of choice.

It confounds us as to why healthcare organizations let their vendors of choice get away with this and frankly, in this day of increasing concerns about patient privacy, why is this practice allowed in the first place?

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) released a report this summer defining EHR contract terms and lending some advice on what should and should not be in your EHR vendor’s contract.

The ONC recommendations are good but incomplete and come from a legal perspective.

As we approach the 3-5 year anniversary of the beginning of the upsurge in EHR purchasing via the HITECH Act, cracks are beginning to show. Roughly a third of healthcare organizations are now looking to replace their EHR. To assist HCO clients we wrote an article published in our recent October Monthly Update for CAS clients expanding on some of the points made by the ONC, and adding a few more critical considerations for HCOs trying to lower EHR costs and reduce risk.

The one item in many EHR contracts that is most troubling is the notion the patient data HCOs enter into their EHR is becomes the property in whole, or in-part, of the EHR vendor.

It’s Your Data. Act Like it.

Prior to the internet-age the concept that any data input into software either on the desktop, on-premise or in the cloud (AKA hosted or time sharing) was not owned entirely by the users was unheard of. But with the emergence of search engines and social media, the rights to data have slowly eroded away from the user in favor of the software/service provider.

Facebook is notorious for making subtle changes to its data privacy agreements that raise the ire of privacy rights advocates.

Continue reading “Whose Data Is It Anyway?”

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OMG-to-WTF spectrum

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.

Pain Scale

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”

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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”

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Chicago Cubs fans of a certain vintage will never forget broadcaster Harry Carey’s signature line, “Holy cow!”  Some have speculated that the exclamation may have originated in Hinduism, one of the world’s major religions, whose adherents worldwide number approximately one billion.  Hindus regard cows as maternal, caring figures, symbols of selfless giving in the form of milk, curds, butter, and other important products.

One of the most important figures in the faith, Krishna, is said to have been a cowherd, and one of his names, Govinda, means protector of cows.  In short, cows are sacred to Hindus, and their slaughter is banned in virtually all Indian states.

Medicine, too, has its sacred cows, which are well known to physicians, nurses, and patients visited by medical teams on their hospital rounds.  In this case, the cow is not an animal but a machine.  In particular, it is the computer on wheels, or COW, a contraption that usually consists of a laptop computer mounted on a height-adjustable pole with a rolling base.  It is used to enter, store and retrieve medical information, including patients’ diagnoses, vital signs, medications, and laboratory results, as well as to record new orders.

As the team moves from room to room and floor to floor, the COW is pushed right along. The COW is often treated with a degree of deference seemingly bordering on reverence.  For one thing, people in hallways and patients’ rooms are constantly making way for the COW.  As an expensive and essential piece of equipment, it is handled gingerly.  Often only the senior member of the medical team or his or her lieutenant touches the COW.

Others know that they have said something important when they see the chief keyboarding the information into the COW.  Sometimes it plays an almost oracular role. When questions arise to which no one knows the answer, such as the date of a patient’s admission or the time course of a fever, they often consult the COW. Just as cows wandering the streets of Indian cities often obstruct traffic, so healthcare’s COWS can and often do get in the way of good medicine. Continue reading “Should We Sacrifice Medicine’s Sacred COW?”

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The U.S. government shutdown continues to claim victims.

The latest is HealthIT.gov, the website designed to help doctors and hospitals make the transition to electronic and make better use of health information technology – a key component of Obamacare’s drive to transform healthcare.

The Health Information Technology Office of the National Coordinator posted a brief announcement on the site informing visitors to HealthIT.gov that “information … may not be up to date, transactions submitted via the website may not be processed and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations have been enacted.”

Officials also sent a tweet saying that the ONC regrets to inform us that while the shutdown continues it will “not tweet or respond to tweets.”

This struck THCBist as slightly odd.

After all, if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to communicate with the public in a pinch, Twitter seems like the perfect choice.  We get that government websites are ridiculously expensive things to run. Blogs are considerably cheaper.  Operating a Twitter account — on the other hand — is almost free.  Our brains were flooded with scenarios.  How much could the ONC possibly be spending on Twitter? And for that matter, didn’t the Department of Defense originally invent the Internet to allow for  emergency communication during times of national crisis? Doesn’t a fiscal insurrection by cranky Republicans qualify?

Fallout for the National Health IT Program

While federal officials have issued repeated assurances that the shutdown will not impact the Obamacare rollout, it does look as though there will be a fairly serious impact on the administration’s health IT program.  If HHS sticks to script, only 4 of 184 ONC employees will remain on duty during the shutdown. That makes it sound like activities are going to have to be scaled back just a bit.

If you’re counting on getting an incentive payment from the government for participation in the electronic medical records program, you may be in trouble — at least until the stalemate is settled.  Although ONC has not yet made an official statement,  presumably because the aforementioned Twitter channel has been disabled, leaving the agency unable to speak to or otherwise communicate with the public, going by the available information in the thirteen-page contingency plan drafted by strategists at HHS, it is unclear where the money will come from.

This could be bad news for electronic medical records vendors counting on the incentive program to drive sales as the Obamacare rollout gets officially underway.

Continue reading “Washington In Crisis: ONC Announces That It Will Not Tweet Or Respond to Tweets During Shutdown”

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