A recent report issued by the Institute of Medicine – titled “Best Care at Lower Cost” – calls for a dramatic transformation in health care delivery, saying “America’s health care system has become far too complex and costly to continue business as usual.” Its first recommendation (“The Digital Infrastructure”) focuses on the importance of health information systems and highlights a crucial aspect of their development that is too often overlooked – the issue of interoperability. Will the individual systems that are created be able to work together efficiently?
It’s an enormously important issue for health care broadly, and it will determine how effective those systems can be on a national level. At present, health care providers across the country are creating or enhancing their health information systems. In some cases, like ours at Intermountain Healthcare, those systems have a long history; we began instituting electronic medical records 40 years ago. Others are early in the journey. But all are being developed essentially for their own internal needs. Interoperability is low on the priority list.
Five health care providers who have been in the forefront of using electronic medical records have been collaborating on the creation of a Care Connectivity Consortium to pioneer the effective connectivity of electronic patient information across their systems. Those five are Intermountain Healthcare (based in Utah), Geisinger Health System (Pennsylvania), Group Health Cooperative (Washington), Kaiser Permanente (California), and Mayo Clinic (Minnesota). But even that ground-breaking effort, in which I’m heavily involved, will result in a multi-provider network, not a national one.
Most tools used in medicine require knowledge and skills of both those who develop them and use them. Even tools that are themselves innocuous can lead to patient harm.
For example, while it is difficult to directly harm a patient with a stethoscope, patients can be harmed when improper use of the stethoscope leads to them having tests and/or treatments they do not need (or not having tests and treatments they do need). More directly harmful interventions, such as invasive tests and treatments, can harm patients through their use as well.
To this end, health information technology (HIT) can harm patients. The direct harm from computer use in the care of patients is minimal, but the indirect harm can potentially be extraordinary. HIT usage can, for example, store results in an electronic health record (EHR) incompletely or incorrectly. Clinical decision support may lead clinician astray or may distract them with unnecessary excessive information. Medical imaging may improperly render findings.
Search engines may lead clinicians or patients to incorrect information. The informatics professionals who oversee implementation of HIT may not follow best practices to maximize successful use and minimize negative consequences. All of these harms and more were well-documented in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report published last year on HIT and patient safety .
One aspect of HIT safety was brought to our attention when a critical care physician at our medical center, Dr. Jeffery Gold, noted that clinical trainees were increasingly not seeing the big picture of a patient’s care due to information being “hidden in plain sight,” i.e., behind a myriad of computer screens and not easily aggregated into a single picture. This is especially problematic where he works, in the intensive care unit (ICU), where the generation of data is vast, i.e., found to average about 1300 data points per 24 hours . This led us to perform an experiment where physicians in training were provided a sample case and asked to review an ICU case for sign-out to another physician . Our results found that for 14 clinical issues, only an average of 41% of issues (range 16-68% for individual issues) were uncovered.
Although healthcare providers are making progress in adopting health IT, Americans seem to be resistant to change to Electronic Health Records (EHRs). In fact, only 26 percent of Americans want their medical records to be digital, according to findings from the third annual EHR online survey of 2,147 U.S. adults, conducted for Xerox by Harris Interactive in May 2012.
Last month the Institute of Medicine issued a seminal report entitled “Best Care at Lower Cost: The Path to Continuously Learning Health in America.” The report estimates the American healthcare system suffered a $750 billion loss in 2009 from inefficient services and administrative expenditures. The report is grounded on the principle that effective, real-time insights for providers and patients which result in collaborative and efficient care depend on the adoption and use of digital records.
As people are naturally resistant to change, education will be key in gaining support among Americans for the transition to EHRs. If providers can help patients understand “what’s in it for me,” that will likely go a long way in making Americans feel more comfortable with the switch to digital.
Let’s take a look at five ways EHRs directly impact the patient. For these examples, we’ll use a fictitious patient named “Joe”:
- Health Information Exchanges (HIE): HIEs work on the principle of a network – they grow stronger as more participants join. If Joe’s primary care doctor switches to digital, that’s a great step in the right direction. However, it isn’t truly meaningful until his primary care doctor joins an HIE and begins sharing Joe’s patient health history, medication history, lab results, family and social history and vital statistics with his specialists, emergency care providers, and so on. This sharing of information helps ensure that Joe gets the best quality of care, because all of his providers will be in sync and have the most up-to-date information. It also helps reduce the amount of duplicate exams and labs Joe will be asked to give.
In some ways, the Insititute of Medicine is like the famed “Academy” of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Having membership conferred is the ultimate accolade in a field full of brains, competition, money, and ego. A major difference is that the IOM doesn’t give out annual awards for best studies or best theories–the whole institute is comprised of lifetime achievement award winners.
That’s why when the IOM issues a report, it garners a lot of attention.
Their most recent, “Best Care at Lower Cost: The Path to Continuously Learning Health Care in America” attracted the usual spate of headlines:
I’ve looked over the report–it’s been released in ‘pre-publication’ form on their website, and you can read the whole thing. It’s a worth a click over, because even if you can’t slog through 350+ pages, they’ve made several executive summary features (including a top ten list) andgraphics that do a great job of conveying the authors’ findings and recommendations. A few things jumped out at me:
- $750 billion of our collective annual $2.3 trillion health care outlay does not improve health
- we still have far too many errors in hospitals
- too many patients discharged from hospitals are readmitted in less than a month (20%!)
- which points to the lousy job we do ‘transitioning’ people from hospital to home
- communication amongst medical personnel is abysmal
The report uses analogies from many industries. There’s the requisite comparison to aviation, since the safety record of commercial airlines is enviable. But there are also comparisons to hotels, manufacturing, general contractors, engineers, and even ‘mission control’ at NASA. [Health care does not compare favorably to NASA. Doctors should, but are not working for a common purpose like getting people to the moon.]
Here’s a quiz for Patient Safety Awareness Week (and after): The number of Americans who die annually from preventable medical errors is:
A) 44,000-98,000, according to the Institute of Medicine
B) None, thanks to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “100,000 Lives Campaign”
D) No one’s really counting
The correct answer is, “D,” but I confess it’s a trick question. With a slight twist in wording, the right answer could also be “C,” from an as-yet-unpublished new estimate with a unique methodology. (More below.) The main point of this quiz, however, is to explore what we actually know about the toll taken by medical mistakes and to dispel some of the confusion about the magnitude of harm.
Answer “A” refers to a figure in the oft-quoted (and often incorrectly quoted) 1999 IOM report, To Err is Human. The IOM estimate of 44,000-98,000 deaths and more than 1 million injuries each year refers only to preventable errors, and then just in hospitals. The quiz asked about all preventable harm. As the sophistication and intensity of outpatient care has increased, so, too, have the potential dangers.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2011 that the majority of central-line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) “are now occurring outside of ICUs, many outside of hospitals altogether, especially in outpatient dialysis clinics.” CLABSIs are both highly expensive and kill up to 25 percent of those who get them. Even in garden-variety primary care, one analysis found a harm rate of one per 35 consultations, with medication errors the most common problem. To Err is Human was silent about those types of hazards.
Last year, Public Citizen and other groups filed a petition – the second in 10 years – calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take over responsibility for enforcing medical resident work hours from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). This past September, the Obama administration denied our groups’ petition on the grounds that the ACGME is the appropriate entity to handle the issue, an identical argument to one put forward by the Bush administration nine years earlier to justify the denial of our first petition.
Both petitions were filed as a result of the long-standing failure of the ACGME to adequately protect residents from the proven deleterious effects of long work hours. Six years after the ACGME implemented the first limits on resident work hours in 2003, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded an exhaustive 12-month review examining the existing system of medical training and the evidence regarding fatigue, resident physicians, and patient safety. The IOM concluded that the 2003 ACGME rules were not adequately protective and that major changes were needed, including a limit of 16 hours in a row for all resident work shifts.
In response, the ACGME updated its guidelines in 2010, but unfortunately, the new rules failed to incorporate the majority of the IOM’s recommendations. The rules limited medical interns ― first-year residents ― to 16-hour shifts but inexplicably allowed all other residents to continue to work up to 28 hours straight. There is no biological rationale to support the notion that residents suddenly become able to withstand the adverse effects of extended shifts upon completing their first year of residency. In addition, the new rules, in permitting averaging over several weeks to achieve the 80-hour weekly limit, continued the practice of allowing residents to work 100 or more hours in certain weeks.
This week the Health 2.0 team will be at Health Innovation Week DC, and the biggest event there will be the Health Data Initiative Forum. One day, 50 demos, mixing more government and private data than you can imagine. We’ve been helping at the periphery of the Health data Initiative and we’ll be be having a special session talking more about the Health 2.0 Challenge, including our upcoming work running Challenges for ONC. We’re incredibly excited and enthusiastic, but no one is as enthusiastic as Todd Park! Here’s the CTO of HHS telling you about his brainchild, Health Data Palooza–Matthew Holt
Almost exactly one year ago, we launched a vital new HHS Open Government effort: The Health Data Initiative (HDI). The Initiative was publicly launched by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Deputy Secretary Bill Corr, Institute of Medicine (IoM) President Harvey Fineberg, and White House CTO Aneesh Chopra at a forum held at the National Academy of Sciences.
The Health Data Initiative is an incredibly exciting public-private collaboration that is encouraging innovators to utilize data made publicly available by HHS and others to help fuel applications and services that can help improve health and health care. Over the past year HHS has been working very hard to make our data ever more accessible to the public – both publishing brand new data and making more of our existing data machine-readable, downloadable, accessible via application programming interfaces (APIs), free, and vastly easier to find. We’ve launched major new data and information websites (the HealthData.gov community, the Health Indicators Warehouse; and HealthCare.gov).
Equally importantly, we’ve been energetically publicizing our data, through challenges, code-a-thons, and many sessions with innovators of all kinds – educating folks around the country about what data we’ve made available and its potential to help power health improvement. Innovators from across America are taking our data and are using it to build and power an amazing and rapidly growing array of applications in creative and powerful ways to help advance health. This movement has included entrepreneurs and change makers from all sectors: startups, major businesses, nonprofits, public health, health care delivery system, federal and local government, and academia.
On June 9th, 2011 at the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the IoM, we will be holding our 2nd Annual Health Data Initiative Forum (or, as I like to call it, our second annual Health Data Palooza!). Continue reading…
“Can you imagine a time when we fully incorporate mental and dental health into our thinking about health? What is it about problems above the neck that seems to exclude them so often from policy about health care?”
That’s what Institute of Medicine President Harvey Fineberg asked in 2009. On April 8th the IOM released a new consensus committee report, “Advancing Oral Health in America”. That committee’s 2011 response to Dr. Fineberg was essentially—“not this time—change starts here.” I had the great privilege of participating on that committee along with 14 others from a variety of backgrounds and expertise. Certainly, we were daunted by the enormity of the nation’s oral health challenge but also hopeful that there are, in fact, tools and approaches that could begin to make a difference.
The IOM convened this committee based on a 2009 HRSA request for recommendations on a potential HHS oral health initiative. The committee deliberated for almost a year while the long and contentious health care reform debate reverberated. The specific charge for this committee was relatively narrow: to provide strategic recommendations to HHS, specifically, regarding a department-wide oral health initiative. Nevertheless, the national health care reform debate only served to highlight the concurrent need for reform in both oral health as well as health care, overall.
And there were a few ghosts in the mix, so to speak—namely past reports, statements, actions, initiatives in oral health—good faith efforts all—juxtaposed against the harsh fact that the problems remain. More than 10 years prior, the surgeon general issued a landmark report entitled, “Oral Health in America”. It described the poor state of oral health as a “silent epidemic”. Unfortunately and in spite of that warning, that epidemic remained altogether too silent. In fact, arguably, nothing fundamentally has changed in those 10 years. Entirely preventable oral diseases remain prevalent. Oral health is part and parcel of overall health care—but the professions treat them as distinct and separate. Vulnerable groups continue to suffer from disparate oral health outcomes. Continue reading…
What do the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report and the New England Journal of Medicine article on value in health care by Porter have in common?
They call for increasing aggregation of information around individual patients even as they seek to avoid complications for and interference with providers.
Even so, the debate between provider-centered and patient-centered health information exchange is still very much with us. Recent progress with the Direct Project, Blue Button and Kaiser’s donation of terminology suggest a trend toward simplicity and open-source collaboration as essential catalysts for health information exchange.
The next logical step is a PCAST-inspired patient portal.
The essential elements of a PCAST Patient Portal are already available:
- Blue Button success proves that patients appreciate and will adopt enhanced portal features and that providers can readily connect their databases to the portal if the technical and policy requirements are truly minimal.
- The Direct Project shows that combined federal and industry support can produce accessible open source code for bidirectional health information exchange in record time.
2010 is drawing to an end amongst a flurry of activities in the Health IT field. In a few short days 2011, the year of the Meaningful Use, will be upon us and the stimulus clocks will start ticking furiously. In addition to the yearlong visionary activities from ONC, December 2010 brought us two landmark opinions on the future of medical informatics. The first report, from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), recommended the creation of a brand new extensible universal health language, along with accelerated and increased government spending on Health IT. Exact dollar amounts were not specified.
The second report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is a preliminary summary of a three-part workshop conducted by the Roundtable on Value & Science-Driven Health Care with support from ONC, and titled “Digital Infrastructure for the Learning Health System: The Foundation for Continuous Improvement in Health and Health Care”. The IOM report, which incorporates the PCAST recommendations by reference, is breath taking in its vision of an Ultra-Large-System (ULS) consisting of a smart health grid spanning the globe, collecting and exchanging clinical (and non-clinical) data in real-time. Similar to PCAST, the IOM report focuses on the massive research opportunities inherent in such global infrastructure, and like the PCAST report, the IOM summary makes no attempt to estimate costs.
Make no mistake, the IOM vision of a Global Health Grid is equal in magnitude to John Kennedy’s quest for“landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” and may prove to be infinitely more beneficial to humanity than the Apollo missions were. However, right now, Houston, we’ve had a problem here:
- The nation spent upwards of $2.5 trillion on medical services this year
- Over 58 million Americans are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid
- Over 46 million Americans are old enough to qualify for Medicare
- Another 50 million residents are without any health insurance
- The unemployment rate is at 9.8% with an additional 7.2% underemployed
- This year’s federal deficit is over $1.3 trillion and the national debt is at $13.9 trillion