EHR

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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flying cadeuciiThe American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), sometimes called the Stimulus Actwas an $831 billion economic stimulus package enacted by the 111th Congress in February 2009 and signed into law on February 17, 2009 by the President.

It included $22 billion as incentives to encourage adoption of certified electronic medical records in hospitals and medical practices. The rationale behind the policy directive was clear: system-wide implementation of electronic medical records enables improvement in diagnostics and treatment coordination, fewer errors, and better coordination of patient care by teams of providers.

Almost immediately, the medical community cried foul.

Their primary beef: the cost to implement these new systems would not be recovered by the incentives.

Similarly, physicians pushed back on the conversion of the U.S. coding system from ICD-9 to ICD-10. They did not question the need for the upgrade: the increase from 19,000 to 68,000 codes is necessary to more accurately capture all relevant clinical aspects of a patient’s condition and align our data gathering with 20 other developed systems of the world where ICD-10 is already used.

That health insurers, medical groups, hospitals and others must use the same coding system that reflects advances in how we diagnose and treat seems a no brainer. But some physicians pushed back due to costs and disruption in their practices.

Last week, physicians won a battle: the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced it was delaying the deadline for implementation of ICD-10 for a year, to October 1, 2015.

Continue reading “Health Information Technology: Sorry, There’s No Turning Back!”

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At HIMSS 2014, the health information technology’s (HIT) largest annual confab, the bestest-best news we heard from a policy perspective, and maybe even an industry perspective, was the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) dual announcement that there will be no further delays for either Meaningful Use Stage 2 (MU-2) or ICD-10.

Perhaps we should have immediately directed our gaze skyward in search of the second shoe preparing to drop.

As it turns out, CMS de facto back-doored an MU-2 delay by issuing broad “hardship” exemptions from scheduled MU-2 penalties. To wit: any provider whose health IT vendor is unprepared to meet MU-2 deadlines, established lo these many months ago, is eligible for a “hardship” exemption.

Few would disagree with the notion that it’s unproductive to criticize policy without offering constructive ideas to fix the underlying problems.

Here,  the underlying problem is easy to define: it is in point of irrefutable fact fundamentally unfair to penalize care providers for their vendors’ failings—especially when the very government proposing to penalize them put its seal of approval on the vendors’ foreheads to begin with.

CMS’s move to exempt providers from those penalties is correctly motivated, but it seeks to ease the provider pain without addressing its cause.

Instead of issuing a blanket exemption for use of unprepared vendors, CMS should:

  1. Waive penalties only for those providers who take steps to replace their inferior technologies with systems that can meet the demands of the 21st century’s information economy;
  2. Publish lists of health IT vendors whose systems are the basis for a hardship exemption, along with an accounting of how many of those 21 billion dollars have been paid to subsidize those vendors’ products; and
  3. Immediately initiate a reevaluation of the MU certification of any vendor whose products form the basis for a hardship exemption.

This proposal might seem bold, but if we’re truly looking to advance health care through the application and use of EHR, then what I’ve outlined above simply represents necessary and sound public policy. Current practice rewards vendors whose products are falling short by perpetuating subsidies for those products.

The federal government should stop paying doctors to implement health IT that cannot meet the standards of the program under which the payments are issued. That’s just a no-brainer.

An EHR should not be a federally-subsidized “hardship.”

Continue reading “Congratulations, Doctor, On Your Federally-Subsidized “Hardship””

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The photo says it all.

The green notebook and pen represent the latest and greatest health IT innovations used by the hospital nurse to record my wife’s health information in the hours before her surgery to re-attach a fully torn Achilles tendon.

(Apologies for the cheeky intro and to my wife and anyone else for any HIPAA violations I may have committed in the capturing of this image).

It’s not that the hospital does not have an electronic health record.

They do – from a vendor widely considered a leader in the industry: Meditech. Same goes with the physician practice where she receives all her care and where her surgeon and primary care doctor are based.

They too have an EHR from another leading vendor: NextGen.

The problem? These systems are not connected. Thus, confirming the not so surprising news that health data interoperability has yet to make its debut in our corner of the NYC burbs.

Fortunately for my wife, she is well on her way to recovery (a bit more reluctant to juggle a soccer ball with her son in airport passenger lounges, but nevertheless feeling much better…and mobile). By everyone’s estimation – hers, mine, friends who suffered the same injury and friends who happen to be doctors – she received high quality care.

What’s more, we feel the overall patient experience at our physician practice and the hospital was quite good. That said, I cannot help but ask myself a series of ‘what ifs?’

What if…we forgot to mention a medication she was taking and there was a bad reaction with medication they administered as part of the surgery or afterwards?

What if… the anesthesiologist or surgeon couldn’t read the nurse’s handwriting?

What if the next time we go to the hospital, it is a visit to the emergency room and the attending clinicians have no ability to pull any of my family’s health records and we are not exactly thinking clearly enough to recall details related to medical history?

Continue reading “What A Green Three Ring Binder Says About the State of Meaningful Use and Health Information Exchange”

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SMART C-CDA infographic -- click to enlarge2014 will see wide-scale production and exchange of Consolidated CDA documents among healthcare providers. Indeed, live production of C-CDAs is already underway for anyone using a Meaningful Use 2014 certified EHR.

C-CDA documents fuel several aspects of meaningful use, including transitions of care and patient-facing download and transmission.

This impending deluge of documents represents a huge potential for interoperability, but it also presents substantial technical challenges.

We forecast these challenges with unusual confidence because of what we learned during the SMART C-CDA Collaborative, an eight-month project conducted with 22 EHR and HIT vendors.

Our effort included analyzing vendor C-CDA documents, scoring them with a C-CDA scorecard tool we developed, and reviewing our results through customized one-on-one sessions with 11 of the vendors.

The problems we uncovered arose for a number of reasons, including:

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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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