My big brother Bill, may he rest in peace, taught me a valuable lesson four decades ago. We were gearing up for an extended Alaskan wilderness trip and were having trouble with a piece of equipment. When we finally rigged up a solution, I said “that was harder than it should have been” and he quipped in his wry monotone delivery, “There are no hard jobs, only the wrong tools.”
That lesson has stuck in my mind all these years because, as simple as it seems, it carries a large truth. It rings of Archimedes when he was speaking about the simple tool known as the lever: “Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth.”
Enter the Electronic Medical or Health Record (EMR or EHR) as it exists in most forms today. As information tools for clinicians, most EMRs have been purchased by administrators who know nothing of patient care or workflow, and most of these EMRs have been reverse engineered from billing and collection systems, because the dollar drives all.
Give me technology which improves my life and that of my patients, or give me death. Medical records must be informative, efficient, and flexible; like the physicians they serve. For me, a medical record does not contain just a collection of problem lists, prescribed medications, and immunizations; it is a noteworthy account of the health care provided to another human being over a lifetime.
Recently, I attended a baby shower of a patient who is now an adult. (I am a pediatrician.) I brought her medical chart wrapped with a satin bow as one of her gifts. I was her physician for many years; my father had taken care of both her and her mother as children. Her growth, development, immunizations, and illnesses were all recorded; but so were 25 years of life experiences, trials, triumphs, and tribulations. The back section contains drawings she had given me, newspaper articles of her achievements, graduation announcements, and her wedding invitation. Obviously, medical records register growth parameters, vital signs, and sick visits; but they also encompass my relationship with my patients.
It is very early. I am running to the ‘clinical decision unit’ (CDU) to see a patient of mine sent in the night before from a local skilled nursing facility. Also known as clinical observation units, ‘obs’ units, or short stay observation units, these units were designed to help decompress busy emergency rooms and divert unnecessary, expensive inpatient admissions. The units are typically adjacent to emergency departments, and usually are run by emergency physicians.
My particular patient was admitted due to an episode of chest pain at her facility. A brief conversation the prior night with the emergency room staff revealed chest pain that clinically was not typical for any of the feared diagnoses of a heart attack, pulmonary embolism or an aortic dissection. An electrocardiogram and cardiac enzymes were also initially unremarkable. Regardless, the patient was elderly and had multiple other comorbidities, and was somewhat confused. I recommended a short stay to allow anything malignant to declare itself.
And so, here I was, at the observation unit, digging through pages upon pages of printed gibberish that clearly had achieved the nirvana stage of meaningful use (for those wondering, that’s after stage 3). Ironically, the most useful piece of information lay in a handwritten progress note describing the episode. I could see why the patient had been brought here to be further evaluated, but after 18 hours of negative biomarkers, electrocardiograms, and no recurrence of symptoms, I felt comfortable letting her go back to where she came from. I told the ER staff… who cancelled her stress test. A stress test? Yes, a stress test had been ordered prophylactically. We practice in a climate where every bad outcome has the potential for litigation – malpractice lawyers would have a field day with the case of anyone going to the ER, being discharged without some type of cardiac imaging study, and having a heart attack. My recommendation to discharge the patient shifts the liability of an adverse outcome from the ER squarely on to my shoulders, and thus, poof goes the stress test.
The electronic health record (EHR) is now used by the majority of physicians during every patient encounter. The EHR has become the most important tool in our “black bag” and precisely for that reason, the EHR must be highly accurate and free of bias. As our most heavily utilized tool, the EHR must also be flexible and highly optimized so as to ensure it does not adversely impact the delivery of healthcare. Unfortunately, numerous surveys have found widespread physician dissatisfaction with EHR design.
The fact that EHR programming code is shielded from objective scrutiny by independent evaluators increases the risk that the EHR will contain errors and bias which could adversely impact our patient’s health, hinder our ability to deliver healthcare, “warp” the design of the healthcare system and drain financial resources from our patients and society.
EHR “errors” are well documented in the literature and are referred to as “e-iatrogenesis” or “technology induced” errors. “Bias” in EHR programming code is not discussed in the literature.
I am an IT geek physician. I have my an EHR which I created and control.
Today, I wanted to understand my diabetic practice a little more, so I dumped all my HbA1c data out of my EHR and into a spreadsheet where I was able to manipulate the data and learn a few things about my practice.
I learned that:
If my patient had a HbA1c ≥ 8, the likelihood that the HbA1c would be < 8 at the next visit is 68%.
If my patient had a HbA1c ≥ 8, the likelihood the HbA1c would be even higher at the subsequent visit is 29%.
If my patient had a HbA1c ≥ 8, the average change in the HbA1c at the next visit was -0.7.
If my patient had a HbA1c < 8, the likelihood that HbA1c at the subsequent visit would exceed 8% would be 15%.
Over the last few years, we have seen large EHR vendors purchase the moderate size EHR vendors, while moderate-size EHR vendors acquire smaller EHR vendors. We can expect to see a further decline in the number and diversity of EHRs as the IT mandates of Meaningful Use 2 and 3 are technically unachievable for all but the most well-endowed EHR vendors.
Along with the decreasing diversity of EHR options, an increasing number of physicians have lost the ability to choose the most important tool in their black-bag, their EHR, as many are now employed by large organizations which tell the physicians which EHR/HIT tools they are allowed to use.
If there was data that “Certified” EHRs, “Meaningful Use,” ICD10 and PQRS mandates had an impact on the cost or quality of healthcare which was commensurate with the IT costs and logistical disruptions, I would be the first to encourage physicians to use the new and proven technology. Unfortunately, we still do not know if “more” HIT is good for the healthcare system and society in general, or if it is only good for the IT industry.
Is 5 too few and 40 too many? That’s one of many questions that researcher David Chan is asking about the clinical reminders embedded into those electronic health record (EHR) systems increasingly used at your doctor’s office or local hospital. Electronic reminders, which are similar to the popups that appear when installing software on your computer, flag items for healthcare professionals to consider when they are seeing patients. Depending on the type of reminder used in the EHR—and there are many types—these timely messages may range from a simple prompt to write a prescription to complex recommendations for follow-up testing and specialist referrals.
Chan became interested in this topic when he was a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he experienced the challenges of seeing many patients and keeping up with a deluge of health information in a primary-care setting. He had to write prescriptions, schedule lab tests, manage chronic conditions, and follow up on suggested lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and smoking cessation. In many instances, he says electronic reminders eased his burden and facilitated his efforts to provide high quality care to patients.
Still, Chan was troubled by the lack of quantitative evidence Continue reading…
Today THCB is delighted to feature an excerpt from Robert Wachter’s much-talked about new book “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age“ (McGraw Hill, 2015). If you enjoy this piece, be sure have a look at the director’s cut interviews Wachter did for the book with Atul Gawande: “Computers Replacing Doctors“, and John Halamka: “Black Turtlenecks, Data Fiends & Code.” — John Irvine
That Epic would find itself labeled a monopoly is in itself an extraordinary turn of events. In 2000, after 21 years in business, the company had only 400 employees and 73 clients, and did not appear on a list of the top 20 hospital EHR vendors. Its big break came in 2003, when the 8 million–member Kaiser Permanente system selected Epic over two far better known competitors, IBM and Cerner. The cost to build Kaiser’s electronic health record: $4 billion.
Today, Epic has 8,100 employees, 315 clients, and yearly revenues of approximately $2 billion. The system is now deployed in 9 of the US News & World Report’s “Top 10” hospitals. In 2014, the company estimated that 173 million people (54 percent of the U.S. population) had at least some medical information in an Epic electronic record.
Epic Founder and CEO Judy Faulkner’s vision, built on several central tenets, has been vindicated many times over. The first principle was that the winning EHR vendor would be the one that solved the most problems for its customers.
While Apple’s App Store has made a modular environment seem feasible and even desirable, most healthcare decision makers want a single product that does everything they need right out of the box (physician notes, nursing notes, drug ordering and dispensing, billing, compliance, and population health) and does those things everywhere, from the newborn nursery to the urology clinic to the ICU.
DocGraph will release an initial dataset will become available on the last full day at HIMSS, and the crowdfund will continue until Datapalooza. This post discusses our underlying motivation for creating a new dataset, as well as some of our goals with its release.
I enjoy and appreciate many aspects of the annual HIMSS conference: the people who run it, the attendees, educational sessions, and keynotes. Further, I find that regional and local HIMSS events are well worth attending. However, I am not a fan of the “big” HIMSS tradeshow floor. The parallels between walking down the “main aisle” at HIMSS and walking down the strip at Vegas creates are striking. The opulence of the Vegas strip and the excess in the HIMSS tradeshow floor both stir a sense of unease and bring up the same questions: “Who is paying for all of this? Is someone getting fleeced? Is it me? If it is not me, would that make the fleecing OK?”
The HIMSS tradeshow floor is a necessary evil because we have, in Health IT, no better way to make decisions about what products we buy. As it stands, figuring out which vendors have the biggest booths at HIMSS is probably not the worst way to make decisions about EHR systems.
The alternative is to hire someone to tell us which EHR vendor fits us best. Probably the most famous provider in this space is the “Best in Klas” service. However, Klas is famous for being payed by both sides of the industry. Klas is paid both by potential EHR purchasers and by those who sell EHR system. Like HIMSS, Klas creates a space for buyers and sellers to meet. I think Klas and HIMSS both do an admirable job trying to maintain fairness and objectivity, given the massive financial biases under which both organizations operate.
Epic Systems, the market leader in electronic health record software (EHR), recently made a quiet but potentially transformative announcement that may finally shake the healthcare industry out of its technological doldrums.
Epic said it is prepared to support the creation of a more open interoperability platform for integration with other diversified healthcare applications. This will attract substantial investment to create software that operates, hopefully seamlessly, within the Epic EHR infrastructure. Expect Epic’s competitors to follow suit, eventually opening up the marketplace of installed EHRs to third-party software developers and the efficiencies of modern, post-EHR technology ecosystem.
Epic’s critics have often denounced the company for selling a mostly closed technology, dampening hopes for the creation of an ecosystem of best-of-breed applications that work together with the EHR to automate much of the care delivery infrastructure beyond patient intake and billing. The value of such an infrastructure is extremely compelling and so the company is under enormous pressure from its customers to become more open.