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Tag: EMR

The Myth of Doctors Getting Overwhelmed by E-mail

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”Email is the killer app of patient portals.”

I heard a variation of that quote when interviewing people for the patient-provider communication chapter of the book I co-wrote (HIMSS 2014 Book of the Year –Engage! Transforming Healthcare Through Digital Patient Engagement). For the organizations who’ve pushed patient portals the furthest into their patient base, email has always been the foundation. In other words, email is the gateway drug for patient engagement which Leonard Kish called the blockbuster “drug” of the century.

Physicians are understandably concerned about being overwhelmed by emails if they provide an option for secure messaging. As healthcare transforms, financial incentives have a big effect on the willingness to take on what many perceive to be “more unpaid work” (forgetting the fact that playing voicemail tag is also unpaid and frustratingly inefficient). Interestingly, the physicians who have given out their phone number or enabled secure email (without remuneration) haven’t found they are overwhelmed by any means. In the case of the groundbreaking Open Notes study, many of the doctors just heard crickets.

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Please Choose One

flying cadeuciiPlease choose one:

The three words blink in front of me on the computer screen.

Please choose one:
Patient is-

Male     Female 

I click FEMALE.

I watch as the auto-template feature fills in the paragraph for me based on my choices.

Patient #879302045

Patient is: 38-year-old female status post motor vehicle accident. Please acknowledge you have reviewed her allergies, medications, and past medical history.

I click YES.

Have you counseled her about smoking cessation?

I click NO.

A little animated icon of a doctor pops up on the screen. His mouth begins to move as if speaking. A speech bubble from a comic strip appears next to it.

“Tip of the day: smoking cessation is important for both the patient’s health and part of a complete billing record.”

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Ebola and the Information Flow Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.34.48 AMThe Ebola crisis in Texas has tested our nation’s health care system in many ways, exposing weaknesses and potential breakdowns. In particular, the incident with the first diagnosed Ebola patient at Texas Health Presbyterian underscores a fundamental issue with information liquidity between providers, their care teams, and across the continuum of care. The ability to share information effectively is critical not just in responding to health care crises like Ebola — but also in delivering great, cost-effective care.

As athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush said in an interview with CNBC earlier this month: 

“The worst supply chain in our society is the health information supply chain. It’s just a wonderfully poignant example, [a] reminder of how disconnected our health care system is. … The hyperbole should not be directed at Epic or those guys at Health Texas. The hyperbole has to be directed at the fact that health care is islands of information trying to separately manage a massively complex network.”

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Hospital at Center of Ebola Outbreak Reverses Its Story

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The Dallas hospital at the center of the Texas Ebola outbreak has changed its story.

Last Thursday, the hospital blamed a poorly designed electronic medical record for the failure to diagnose Duncan when he arrived at the hospital’s emergency room with symptoms consistent with Ebola, including a fever, stomach cramps and headache. According to the initial story, a badly designed electronic health record workflow made it difficult for doctors to see details of Duncan’s West African travel.  Duncan was sent home.  Very bad things happened as a result, as we all know by now.

On Friday, the hospital reversed itself without explanation.

The new statement:

Clarification: We would like to clarify a point made in the statement released earlier in the week. As a standard part of the nursing process, the patient’s travel history was documented and available to the full care team in the electronic health record (EHR), including within the physician’s workflow. There was no flaw in the EHR in the way the physician and nursing portions interacted related to this event. [ Full text ]

In other words: The EMR didn’t do it.

When the EMR story came out Thursday, critics jumped all over it. It did sort of make sense to some people, especially people who aren’t  fans of electronic medical records. The idea that a piece of key information could get lost in the maze of screens and pop ups and clicks in a complex medical record sounded plausible.

A lot of other people weren’t buying it:

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The swiftness of the hasty retreat led some critics to speculate that Texas Health’s statement Thursday provoked the wrath of EPIC, the hospital’s EMR vendor.  Industry critics pointed out that many major EMR vendors, EPIC among them, often include strongly worded clauses in contracts that forbids customers from talking publicly about their products.

After this story was posted, EPIC contacted THCB with a response via email. Company spokesman Shawn Kieseau wrote:

We have no gag clauses in our contracts.  We had no legal input or participation in our root cause analysis discussions with Texas Health staff on this issue.  Texas Health’s correction is appropriate given the facts in this situation.

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Should Wearables Data Live In Your Electronic Medical Record?

Shaywitz of EldredThe great promise of wearables for medicine includes the opportunity for health measurement to participate more naturally in the flow of our lives, and provide a richer and more nuanced assessment of phenotype than that offered by the traditional labs and blood pressure assessments now found in our medical record.  Health, as we appreciate, exists outside the four walls of a clinical or hospital, and wearables (as now championed by AppleGoogle, and others) would seem to offer an obvious vehicle to mediate our increasingly expansive perspective.

The big data vision here, of course, would be to develop an integrated database that includes genomic data, traditional EMR/clinical data, and wearable data, with the idea that these should provide the basis for more precise understanding of patients and disease, and provide more granular insight into effective interventions.  This has been one of the ambitions of the MIT/MGH CATCH program, among others (disclosure: I’m a co-founder).

One of the challenges, however, is trying to understand the quality and value of the wearable data now captured.  To this end, it might be useful to consider a evaluation framework that’s been developed for thinking about genomic testing, and which I’ve become increasingly familiar with through my new role at a genetic data management company.  (As I’ve previously written, there are many parallels between our efforts to understand the value of genomic data and our efforts to understand the value of digital health data.)

The evaluation framework, called ACCE, seems to have been first published by Brown University researchers James Haddow and Glenn Palomaki in 2004, and focuses on four key components: Analytic validity, Clinical validity, Clinical utility, and Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI).   The framework continues to inform the way many geneticists think about testing today – for instance, it’s highlighted on the Center for Disease Control’s website (and CDC geneticist Muin Khoury was one of the editors of the book in which the ACCE was first published).

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Stop the War on the Emergency Room!!! (Fix the System Failure)

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There’s a war being waged on one of America’s most revered institutions, the Emergency Room. The ER, or Emergency Department (ED for the sake of this post) has been the subject of at least a dozen primetime TV shows.

What’s not to love about a place where both Doogie Houser and George Clooney worked?

Every new parent in the world knows three different ways to get to the closest ED. It’s the place we all know we can go, no matter what, when we are feeling our worst. And yet, we’re not supposed to go there. Unless we are. But you know, don’t really go.

Somehow, we’ve turned the ED into this sacrosanct place where arriving by ambulance is ok, and all others are deemed worthy based on their insurance rather than acuity. If you think I’m wrong, ask any ED director if they want to lose 25% of their Blue Cross Blue Shield volume.

But its true. I hear ED physicians openly express disappointment in people who came into the ED and shouldn’t have.

It’s just a stomach bug, you shouldn’t be here for this… Or, it’s not my job to fill your prescriptions…

Some history

The Emergency Department is a fairly modern invention. The first EDs were born of two separate, though similar, aims. At Johns Hopkins, the ED began as the accident room, place where physicians could assess and treat —wait for it —minor accidents.

Elsewhere, in Pontiac Michigan and Northern Virginia early EDs were modeled after army M.A.S.H. field hospitals. They were serving more acute needs.

Today, billing for emergency department visits is done on the E&M Levels where level 1 is the least acute (think removing a splinter) and level 6 is traumatic life saving measures requiring hospitalization (think very bad car wreck). Most EDs, and CMS auditors, look for a bell curve distribution, which means there are more level 3 and 4 incidents than most others. While coding is unfortunately subjective, solid examples of level 3 visits include stomach bugs requiring IV fluids, a cut requiring stitches, and treatment of a migraine headache.

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Actually, I Love My EMR …

One of the spinoffs of being an oncologist is that you do not to take the world for granted.  Each morning, I walk around the yard and smell the morning breeze. I am thankful for my children, my wife and my own health.  I am thrilled, if occasionally skeptical, to have the opportunity to pay taxes in a Country that I love.

So, who would believe I would take our Electronic Medical Record (EMR) for granted?

I know, shocking, isn’t it?  How could I overlook a key factor in the success of our practice, ever since we ditched paper records, 13 years ago? Nevertheless, it is true. Day-by-day, the keyboard and screen became just another device, like a stapler, paintbrush or pocket comb.   I began to use it out of simple necessity, and neglected to sit in awe of its power and glory. I ask the geeks of Silicon Valley to forgive me.

We have been binary in our office for a long time, but not in our main hospital.  In the office, everything flows by electron, but at the hospital we have been using a kind of EMR-light, call it E-decaf.  Maybe we turn on the machine to check a few labs, order the occasional test, and perhaps send an email.  Thus, even though the docs of our practice spend more than a hundred-fifty hours a week on the wards taking care of 60 patients a day, we were still paper-binder-chart-bound.

But, last week it happened … we crossed the Rubicon … in a blinding flash of bits and bytes, clicks and clacks, copy and paste, we went full-on-no-holds-barred, every-piece-of –data-for-itself electronic and converted to the EMR.  It was glorious!

In the hospital, I had long gotten used to the appalling inefficiencies of the crayon and papyrus world.  First,  find the chart ( good luck… I am sure I have lost a year of my life hunting ). Then, read the prior notes ( which for many doctors, including yours truly, is impossible ).  Find the labs.  Find the X-ray reports.  Check the images.  Call the lab and radiology for the labs for the results that you could not find.  Seek and then check the vital sign clipboard.  Read the I&O record (different clipboard).

Now, there’s time, barely, to see the patient.

Then, painfully, ridiculously, illegibly, write down what you just found, repeating everything you also wrote yesterday (except what you forget or can’t read, which is probably critical) and then put the chart back in the rack (maybe), so that the next doctor can start this whole process over again.

You think I am kidding? Exaggerating? Not the tiniest bit. What I described is what every doctor using chisel-stone-tablet records does every day with every patient and if you have a lot of patients in the hospital it takes a very long wasteful time and is guaranteed to result in error.  Ask any doctor to pull any binder at random from any chart rack anywhere and read it carefully and there is an almost 100% chance you will find a mistake in that record.

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