There is a growing group of articulate and engaged patients committed to getting access to all their medical information in order to be better positioned to work collaboratively with their clinical teams. Published studies like the OpenNotes project have consistently shown significant benefits and a lack of serious problems. Health care systems are slow to change and just beginning to understand both the need and value to this more transparent and collaborative approach.
My institution, for example, is not ready (or even interested) in anything approaching opening chart notes to patients. In fact, although our secure portal will be launched in the near future, there was some resistance to making even problem lists, medication lists, lab and x-rays available through the portal.
That need not prevent individuals from contributing to change. A few years ago I began providing every patient with a copy of their office visit note as they left the office after their visit. The intent was for us to do the assessment and plan collaboratively and make sure they have a copy of our (collaborative) plan. Patients have been very appreciative, and use it to share the assessment and plan with family and consultants, and as a reference. A few bring it back at the next visit with notes on it about what they did and what happened.
To the objectors who say that one cannot be honest in a note if the patient is going to see it, I say: balderdash. (Actually, what I say is much stronger…) For one thing (the smaller point) the patient is already allowed to see it if they but ask. More importantly, this argument depends entirely on the principle that the clinician knows best and needs to keep secrets in the interest of the patient. What I have experienced is a variation on the advice I got many years ago regarding relationships: if it’s important, then it’s important enough to be open about and deal with. If you aren’t willing to deal with it openly, you are not allowed to save it up and spring it on your partner (patient) later.
At the end of March, Congress decreed a year-long postponement of the implementation of ICD-10, a remarkably detailed and arcane new coding scheme providers would have been required to use in order to get paid by any payer in the US (“bitten by orca” is but one of the sixty thousand new codes ).
The year postponement gives caregivers and managers a little more time to prepare for a further unwelcome increase in the complexity of their non-patient care activities.
In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, who famously proposed in 1729 that the Irish sell their children as a food crop to solve the country’s chronic poverty problem , I have a suggestion about how to cope with the steady rise in complexity of the medical revenue cycle.
Beginning when ICD-10 is implemented, there should be no patient care whatsoever on Fridays, permitting nurses and physicians to spend the entire day catching up on their charting and documentation, and other administrative activities.
Physicians, nurses, and others involved in patient care already spend at least a day a week of their time on this process now, but it is interspersed within the patient care workflow, constantly distracting clinicians and interrupting patient interaction.
Hospitals are solving this problem with a medieval remedy: scribes who follow physicians around and enter the required coding and “quality” information into the patient’s electronic record on tablets. Healthcare might be the only industry in economic history to see a decline in worker productivity as it automated.
Mrs. B was washing dishes in the kitchen when she heard a thump where her twelve-month-old son was asleep. She ran to him and found her son had fallen from a chair (code: e884.2). He was crying (code: 780.92) and visibly shaken, but did not have overt signs of bleeding, bruising, or trauma. She picked him up and immediately brought him to the emergency room. There, he was triaged by the nurse (nursing report #1) and vitals were taken (nursing report #2). Shortly after the mother and son pair settled into the pediatric emergency room, he vomited once (code 787.03).
The emergency medicine residents came by an hour later to conduct a focused interview, and performed a comprehensive physical exam (code: 89.03). He took care to ask at least four elements of the history of present illness that included location, quality severity, duration, timing, context, or associated symptoms from the event. He performed a complete review of at least 10 organ systems and surveyed the patient’s social history (code: 99223). It was decided that the boy was to be observed in the ED for the next few hours for signs of brain injury or concussion.
No labs or imaging studies were ordered. The nurses were instructed to check for vital signs every hour (nursing reports #3,4,5,6). During the observation period, the boy was found to be active, interacting well with mom, hungry, without signs of lethargy or focal neurologic deficits. When the attending physician came by to evaluate and assess the patient, he agreed with the resident’s report and signed the discharge note. The mother was given discharge paperwork and instructions for returning to the hospital if she noticed any new, alarming symptoms.
This is what Kelly, an emergency department medical coder, gathers while reading an ED admission note. She turns to me and explains that the few lines of attending attestation are the only way the patient can get billed. Kelly types in “959.01” into her software because she memorized the diagnosis code for “head injury, unspecified.” She has been doing this for the last 18 years.
As I listened, she explained that a head injury in a twelve-month-old infant is automatically a level three, so long as the resident documents a review of ten systems, past medical history, and a physical exam. These levels indicate the complexity and severity of the patient’s disease/injury. “It’s all about the documentation,” she says. “If just 9 organ systems instead of 10 are documented, even a critically ill patient could be down-coded to a level 4.”
While we’re busy debating the pros and cons of clinical genome sequencing and tossing around buzzwords like “personalized” and “translational” medicine, I’ve recently caught some health care providers ignoring the archaic skills of communication and common sense. So while we await genome analysis apps on our smartphones and DNA sequence annotators in our doctors’ offices, here are 3 suggestions on how to provide personalized medicine right now:
1. Read the patient’s chart (paper or digital)
2. Listen to the patient
3. Look at the patient
Disclaimer: Today’s blog is anecdotal and non-scientific, but may identify a trend.
My Missing Thyroid
A few weeks ago, I had a long-overdue check-up, with a nurse practitioner. It was my first visit to the practice, which had provided excellent urgent care.
On the medical history form, I described my circa 1993 thyroid cancer in intimate histological detail: papillary in left lobe, follicular in the right.
The NP spent an impressive 45 minutes asking questions and listening to me – or so I thought. During the brief physical exam, I told her all about my thyroid cancer, my daily Synthroid dose, and even brought her hand to my throat, having noticed that dentists get very excited at my lack of a thyroid gland. No thyroid tests needed, said I. My endocrinologist had recently done them.
So I was surprised when, early the next morning, a Saturday, my cell phone quacked.
An excellent chapter in “Medicine in Denial” discusses the problem-oriented medical record (POMR), a comprehensive charting approach that Dr. Larry Weed began developing in the late 1950s.
The Weeds begin by detailing what a good health care record should allow clinicians, and the healthcare system to do. In other words, they start by clearly defining the needs of patients, the purpose of the medical record, and the kind of health care it should support.
Specifically, the Weeds make the following points:
Managing chronic illness often involves multiple interventions that require adjustment over time, rather than a single treatment that results in cure/resolution. This requires tracking of physiologic variables and medical interventions over time.
Chronic care of medically complex patients, especially those with multimorbidity, requires coordination of care among multiple clinicians at multiple sites over time.
For the many people suffering from multi-morbidity, chronic medical problems and their associated interventions often interact. This makes it particularly important that care be individualized, and carefully tracked over time.
Enabling patient awareness, participation, and commitment is essential, with the Weeds noting that “unavoidable complexity must somehow be made manageable by patients who need to cope with what is happening to their own bodies and minds.”
Patient care – and hence the charting of medical data — must be oriented towards a single purpose: individualized medical problem solving for unique patients.
In other words, the Weeds consider the longitudinal, comprehensive, person-centered, individualized, collaborative care of the medically complex patient to be a fundamental base scenario around which we should design healthcare, and healthcare information systems.
I mean ensuring that we all keep up with *everything* on the medical problem list, so that symptoms are adequately managed, chronic diseases get followed up on correctly, appropriate preventive care is provided, and we close the loop on previous concerns raised.
This, I have found, is not so easy to do. In fact, I would say that the current norm is for health issues to frequently fall between the cracks, with only a small minority of PCPs able to consistently keep up with all health issues affecting a medically complex adult.
Here’s another technically easy and culturally hard product: Patient Friendly Orders.
My version of this idea was born when I was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia about 5 years ago. Even though I had previously worked in that hospital, the quality of communication about my care between the patient and the medical team was poor. This got me thinking…
There should be a touchscreen by my bed that lists all the current doctors’ orders.
They’re not hidden in the chart. They’re not explained only in ephemeral conversations that occurred without me present. And of course, if they’re in front of me, they’re going to have to get written in English.
Let’s organize the orders, too. Imagine a loved one is hospitalized for a severe skin infection which also caused his diabetes to get way out of control. He has difficulty sleeping in the hospital and also needs pain control. All the orders — whether for diabetes, infection, sleep, or pain — are organized according to the problem they address. (While doctors’notes are generally organized by problem, their orders are not. I bet if we implemented Patient Friendly Orders, they’d be useful for doctors if only just for this reason.)
When the doctor or nurse or physical therapist comes in, the patient and family can have a conversation about the current plan, with that plan laid out in front of them. They make a shared decision, and the doctor can update the plan on the same touchscreen. “Sounds like a plan,” the patient says while actually looking at it. When you visit your loved one, he can show you the plan, too. If a question comes up about a given order, or why something is missing from the plan, you can make a note on the touchscreen so the medical team knows to address it when they next come by.Continue reading…