This may come as a surprise for people with business degrees:
Doctors don’t really care when a test was ordered. We care about our patient’s chest X-ray or potassium level the very moment the test was performed. We also don’t care (unless we are doing a forensic review of treatment delays) when an outside piece of information was scanned into the chart. We want to know on which day the potassium was low: Before or after we started the potassium replacement, for example.
In a patient’s medical record, we have a fundamental need to know in what order things happened. We don’t prefer to see all office visits in one file, all prescriptions in another and all phone calls in a third. But that seems to be how people with a bookkeeping mindset prefer to view the world. In some instances we might need that type of information, but under normal clinical circumstances the order in which things happened is the way our brains approach diagnostic dilemmas.
I recently asked my Primary Care Physician’s Medical Records Department for copies of my records covering the last eight months during which I had four office visits, five blood draws, and nine brief email exchanges. I should add that my PCP uses one of the two most popular EMR systems.
To my astonishment, I received 274 pages of digital records (PDFs). I’ve heard of “record bloat” but this was an explosion!
When I analyzed their contents, I found that 59 pages were legitimate documents containing “original” information and data. 22 Pages were Office Notes — or what are often called Progress Notes —applicable to my four visits; 14 were reports of my five blood draws; 23 included my nine email exchanges. In short, they were “normal” — what you’d expect from the number of contacts I had with my doctor and his lab.
But the remaining 212 pages shocked me. They were totally unexpected and, in my opinion, completely unnecessary! They were a slicing, dicing and recasting of the contents of the basic 59 pages! They included 82 pages of “Ambulatory Visit Instructions” (which I was never given), and 62 pages listing my immunizations, meds, problems, procedures, orders, and past medical, social and family histories — all of which are covered in my providers’ Office Notes!
My car takes me where I need to go, but it also gives me pleasure along the way. I have had it for just about ten years now and I have driven it almost 300,000 miles. It feels like an extension of me. Everything about it is just perfect for the way I drive and the things I need to do with it. From the sumptuously cavernous interior to the rugged all wheel drive features and the studded Finnish snow tires, it takes me pretty much anywhere, anytime. Why anyone would want to travel in a car without the sublime pleasure of driving it is beyond my comprehension.
My computers, on the other hand, are things I avoid whenever I can. My work laptop is an awkward Windows machine. Need I say more? Whatever it does happens stiltedly and unintuitively behind layers of barriers and firewalls that make me sign in again and again until I get to a pathetically clumsy EMR.
My MacBook Pro is slimmer and slicker but it gives me no pleasure to use it, I’m sorry to say.
Every word I have written and published – about as many words as I have miles on my car – has been put down on the virtual keyboard of my iPad. It feels more like an extension of my brain. I use it in bed, by the fireplace, in the barn or on the lawn. I can even talk into it without a microphone or any special software. I touch the screen and magic happens: Apps open, fonts and colors change and the world is at my fingertips, wherever I am.
In learning my third EMR, I am again a little disappointed. I am again, still, finding it hard to document and retrieve the thread of my patient’s life and disease story. I think many EMRs were created for episodic, rather than continued medical care.
One thing that can make working with an EMR difficult is finding the chronologyin office visits (seen for sore throat and started on an antibiotic), phone calls (starting to feel itchy, is it an allergic reaction?) and outside reports (emergency room visit for anaphylactic reaction).
I have never understood the logic of storing phone calls in a separate portion of the EMR, the way some systems do. In one of my systems, calls were listed separately by date without “headlines” like “?allergic reaction” in the case above.
In my new system, which I’m still learning, they seem to be stored in a bigger bucket for all kinds of “tasks” (refills, phone calls, orders and referrals made during office visits etc.)
Both these systems seem to give me the option of creating, in a more or less cumbersome way, “non-billable encounters” to document things like phone calls and ER visits, in chronological order, in the same part of the record as the office notes. That may be what IT people disparagingly call “workarounds”, but listen, I need the right information at the right time (and in a place that makes sense to me) to make safe medical decisions.
Today on Health in 2 Point 00, we have SoftBank Money! I managed to beat Chrissy Farr to this piece of gossip by about 3 weeks, but digital pharmacy startup Alto raises $250 million from SoftBank. Medloop raises 6 million euros doing communication with patients, and mental health startup Spring Health raises $22 million as well. Turning to the EMR drama, I also give a rundown on Judy Faulkner’s letter, and explain the cautionary tale that is Practice Fusion & the Purdue opiate promotion. —Matthew Holt
The question of how much time I spend in front of the screen has pestered me professionally and personally.
A recent topic of conversation among parents at my children’s preschool has been how much screen time my toddlers’ brain can handle. It was spurred on by a study in JAMA Pediatrics that evaluated the association between screen time and brain structure in toddlers. The study reported that those children who spent more time with electronic devices had lower measures of organization in brain pathways involved in language and reading.
As a neurologist, these findings worry me, for my children and for myself. I wonder if I’m changing the structure of my brain for the worse as a result of prolonged time spent in front of a computer completing medical documentation. I think that, without the move to electronic medical records, I might be in better stead — in more ways than one. Not only is using them potentially affecting my brain, they pose a danger to my patients, too, in that they threaten their privacy.
As any practicing physician can tell you, electronic medical records represent a Pyrrhic victory of sorts. They present a tangible benefit in that medical documentation is now legible and information from different institutions can be obtained with the click of a button — compared to the method of decades past, in which a doctor hand-wrote notes in a paper chart — but there’s also a downside.
Today on THCB Spotlights, Matthew talks to Mike McSherry about Xealth—which is an “X” not a “Z” as in, the missing variable in health. How did Mike end up in health care from Swype, the touch screen keyboard that is now ubiquitous on all touch screen phones? Find out how Xealth facilitates adoption of a vast range of digital health services by making it easy for providers to prescribe them as well as track engagement levels. Within the complexity of Epic and other EMR systems, how does Xealth fit in?
Nearly ALL of New Zealand’s population of 4.5 billion people have digital health records, many of which hold 10-20 years of patient data. Is this EMR euphoria?! Kevin Ross, Director of Research for Orion Health and CEO of Precision Driven Health, dishes about all the cool things you can do when everyone’s patient data is available to analysis at the population level. Some projects already in the works? A calculator to determine readmission risk and a tool to assist prioritization for triage doctors.
Filmed in the HISA Studio at HIC 2019 in Melbourne, Australia, August 2019.
Jessica DaMassa is the host of the WTF Health show & stars in Health in 2 Point 00 with Matthew Holt. Get a glimpse of the future of healthcare by meeting the people who are going to change it. Find more WTF Health interviews here or check out www.wtf.health.
Facebook is releasing an EMR? Jim Cramer is going to work at Epic? April Fools! On today’s actual Health in 2 Point 00 Episode 76, Jess asks me about the follow up from Health Datapalooza, which ended with the government saying they will be changing the world and that everyone should join them in their initiative to innovate digital health. AHRQ & CMMI ran digital health challenges, and CMMI will be doing an AI challenge for $1 million for startups in the space. Speaking of the government, Seema Verma was in the news for her PR spending and as I said “Evil Twin Seema” and “Good Seema” are joined at the hip and they should “not screw around on the PR front”. In other news, MountSinai launched a digital health institute to develop advances in artificial intelligence and other emerging health care technologies spaces. Clover Health laid off a ton of people, and according to me, they are starting to get serious because running a Medicare Advantage plan is hard work — Matthew Holt
Sansoro Health is a next-gen EHR integration platform for Health IT companies that need a better, cheaper, and faster way to integrate their products into EMR systems. What sets them apart in this crowded space? Listen in to hear co-founder and CEO Jeremy Pierotti paint a picture of perfect-world of interoperability.
Filmed at HIMSS 2019 in Orlando, Florida, February 2019
Jessica DaMassa is the host of the WTF Health show & stars in Health in 2 Point 00 with Matthew Holt.
Get a glimpse of the future of healthcare by meeting the people who are going to change it. Find more WTF Health interviews here or check out www.wtf.health.