Workflows are all the rage with EMR people. But doctors, NPs and PAs are smart. Nothing burns us out as fast or as completely as being told how to do things instead of why. We are not circus animals.
Let me explain:
If we had no professional education at all, we would have clinical workflows memorized instead of clinical knowledge. For example, two weeks after starting an ACE inhibitor like lisinopril, order a basic metabolic profile. That sounds pretty straightforward, but if you add up all the possible clinical workflows we would need if we didn’t know medicine at all, that would be a huge burden – a massive amount of seemingly random and senseless rules.
Perhaps it is because I love doctoring so much that I find some of the tools and tasks of my trade so tediously frustrating. I keep wishing the technology I work with wasn’t so painfully inept.
On my 2016 iPhone SE I can authorize a purchase, a download or a money transfer by placing my thumb on the home button.
In my EMR, when I get a message (also called “TASK” – ugh) from the surgical department that reads “patient is due for 5-year repeat colonoscopy and needs [insurance] referral”, things are a lot more complicated, WHICH THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE! For this routine task, I can’t just click a “yes” or “authorize” button (which I am absolutely sure is a trackable event in the innards of “logs” all EMRs have).
Instead, (as I often lament), I have to go through a slow and cumbersome process of creating a non-billable encounter, finding the diagnostic code for colon cancer screening, clicking on REFERRAL, then SURGEON – COLONOSCOPY, then freetexting “5 year colonoscopy recall”, then choosing where to send this “TASK”, namely the referral coordinator and , finally, getting back to the original request in order to respond “DONE”.
I recently interviewed Subha Airan-Javia, the CEO of CareAlign. CareAlign is a small company that is working to fix the clinician workflow by creating a tool for all those interstitial gaps that the big EMRs leave, and now get moved to and from paper by the care team. In this interview she tells me a little about the company and shows how the product works. I found it very impressive
Jonathan Bush has “More Disruption Please-d” himself and is back at it with a new company, Zus (get it…like the father of Athena) backed by a $35M Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz, F-Prime Capital, Maverick Ventures, & Rock Health.
“It’s ‘Build-A-Bear’ for EMR, patient relationship management, CRMs…” says Jonathan, and meant to help digital health startups work around incumbent EMR companies by providing a developer kit of components common to the “middle” of a health tech stack — AND a single shared record backend where all Zus clients can land and access patient data.
The intention is to help digital health startups reduce the time and cost of developing their tech by eliminating the redundant, generic aspects of building a healthcare tech stack in the same way companies like Stripe or Twilio have taken the burden out of writing code to process payments or integrate messaging. Zus intends to be the go-to for code used to make an appointment, create a patient profile, connect to a telehealth platform, etc. And the shared record on the back end? Does that make Zus a next-gen EMR company?? Find out more about Zus’s business model, current client list, and why, exactly, Jonathan believes that NOW is the time that the dream of the shared patient medical record is within reach.
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.