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?
Did 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.”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), sometimes called the Stimulus Act, was 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.
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:
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;
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
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.”
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 ballwith 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?
2014 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:
material ambiguities in the C-CDA specification
accidental misinterpretations of the C-CDA specification
lack of authoritative “best practice” examples for C-CDA generation
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.