A recent RAND(1) study has concluded that the implementation of health information technology (HIT) has neither effected a reduction in the cost of healthcare nor an improvement in the quality of healthcare. The RAND authors confidently predicted that the widespread adoption of HIT will eventually achieve these goals if certain “conditions” were implemented. I do not believe that there is sufficient scientific data to support the authors’ conclusion nor validate the Federal Government’s decision to encourage the universal installation of “certified” electronic medical records (EMRs.)
As a “geek” physician who runs a solo, private practice and the creator of one of the older EMRs, I believe that I can provide a somewhat unique perspective on the HIT debate which will resonate with a large fraction of private practitioners.
In case you missed it, the shocking news was that health IT companies that stood to profit from billions of dollars in federal subsidies to potential customers poured in – well, actually, poured in not that much money at all when you think about it – lobbying for passage of the HITECH Act in 2009. This, putatively, explains why electronic health records (EHRs) have thus far failed to dramatically improve quality and lower cost, with a secondary explanation from athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush that everything would be much better if the HITECH rules had been written by Jonathan Bush of athenahealth.
Next up: corporate lobbying for passage of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Bill is blamed for Amtrak’s dismal on-time record in 2013.
The actual scandal is more complicated and scary. It has to do with the adamant refusal by hospitals and doctors to adopt electronic records no matter what the evidence. Way back in 1971, for example, when Intel was a mere fledgling and Microsoft and Apple weren’t even gleams in their founders’ eyes, a study in a high-profile medical journal found that doctors missed up to 35 percent of the data in a paper chart. Thirty-seven years later, when Intel, Microsoft and Apple were all corporate giants, a study in the same journal of severely ill coronary syndrome patients found virtually the same problem: “essential” elements to quality care missing in the paper record.
Anyone who understands the importance of continuity of care knows that health information exchange is essential. How are we supposed to cut waste and duplication from the healthcare system and truly focus on patient welfare if doctor B has no idea what tests doctor A conducted, or what the results were?
The predominant proprietary HIT vendors know this, yet have engaged in prolonged foot-dragging on interoperability and even basic data interfacing. Yes healthcare IT is their business, but interoperability is not in their nature.
The proprietary business model makes the vendor the single source of HIT for hospital clients. Complexity and dependence are baked into both solutions and client relationships, creating a “vendor lock” scenario in which changing systems seems almost inconceivable.
In the proprietary world, interfacing with third-party products is a revenue generation strategy and technical challenge; the latter, though unnecessary, justifies the former. When we go looking for the reasons that healthcare is a laggard compared with other industries, this single-source model—the obstacle to much-needed competition and innovation—is a primary culprit.
To be fair, provider organizations, with little if any incentive to exchange patient data before the advent of Meaningful Use, haven’t shown much collaborative spirit either. In the fee-for-service model, why would a healthcare organization let patients slip from their grasp? Health reform is finally mandating needed change, but when will proprietary vendors actually enable the interoperability hospitals and practices soon have to demonstrate?
Recent rumblings from Washington, DC, suggest the feds are losing patience.
Over the next few months, the majority of my time will be spent discussing topics such as care coordination, healthcare information exchange, care management, real time analytics, and population health. At BIDMC, we’ve already achieved 100% EHR adoption and 90% Meaningful Use attestation among our clinician community. Now that the foundation is laid, I believe our next body of work is to craft the technology and workflow solutions which will be hallmarks of the “post EHR” era.
In a “post EHR” era we need to go beyond simple data capture and reporting, we need care management that ensures patients with specific diseases follow standardized guidelines and protocols, escalating deviations to the care team. That team will include PCPs, specialists, home care, long term care, and family members. The goal of a Care Management Medical Record (CMMR) will be to provide a dashboard that overlays hospital and professional data with a higher level of management.
How could this work?
Imagine that we define each patient’s healthcare status in terms of “properties”. Data elements might include activities of daily living, functional status, current care plans, care preferences, diagnostic test results, and therapies, populated from many sources of data including every EHR containing patient data, hospital discharge data, and consumer generated data from PHRs/home health devices.
That data will be used in conjunction with rules that generate alerts and reminders to care managers and other members of the care team (plus the patient). The result is a Care Management Medical Record system based on a foundation of EHRs that provides much more than any one EHR.
My challenge in 2013-2014 will be to build and buy components that turn multiple EHRs into a CMMR at the community level.
A national shortage of critical care physicians and beds means difficult decisions for healthcare professionals: how to determine which of the sickest patients are most in need of access to the intensive care unit. What if patients’ electronic health records could help a physician determine ICU admission by reliably calculating which patient had the highest risk of death?
Emerging health technologies – including reliable methods to rate the severity of a patient’s condition – may provide powerful tools to efficiently use scarce and costly health resources, says a team of University of Michigan Health System researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The lack of critical care beds can be frustrating and scary when you have a patient who you think would benefit from critical care, but who can’t be accommodated quickly. Electronic health records – which provide us with rich, reliable clinical data – are untapped tools that may help us efficiently use valuable critical care resources,” says hospitalist and lead author Lena M. Chen, M.D., M.S., assistant professor in internal medicine at the University of Michigan and an investigator at the Center for Clinical Management Research(CCMR), VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
The UMHS and VA study referenced in the article finds that patients’ severity of illness is not always strongly associated with their likelihood of being admitted to the ICU, challenging the notion that limited and expensive critical care is reserved for the sickest patients. ICU admissions for non-cardiac patients closely reflected severity of illness (i.e., sicker patients were more likely to go to the ICU), but ICU admissions for cardiac patients did not, the study found. While the reasons for this are unclear, authors note that the ICU’s explicit role is to provide care for the sickest patients, not to respond to temporary staffing issues or unavailable recovery rooms. Continue reading…
What’s that? You don’t feel like the recent RAND report, which basically says that a 2005 RAND study financed by GE and Cerner was wildly optimistic in predicting about $81 billion in potential health care cost savings through widespread adoption of electronic health records, qualifies as a genuine hoax, controversy, scandal?
But it does neatly frame what is arguably a unique characteristic of the healthcare industry—a trait that extends to peripheral industries as well. Basically, healthcare is an interconnected environment. Call it the systems theory of healthcare, co-dependency … or just regular dependency. Call it what you want, but there is an interconnectedness in healthcare that we ignore at the expense of national wellness.
Witness key data points provided by the RAND report:
Modern health IT systems are not interconnected and interoperable, functioning “less as ‘ATM cards,’ allowing a patient or provider to access needed health information anywhere at any time, than as ‘frequent flier cards’ intended to enforce brand loyalty…”
Neither are they widely adopted, with an estimated 27 percent of hospitals utilizing a basic electronic record. Without broad adoption, interoperability is far less relevant.
Improvements in quality of care / patient safety and reductions in healthcare costs (which have grown by $800 billion since 2005) are not manifesting with EHR adoption, in part because hospitals and clinics are rushing to adopt mediocre solutions and garner federal funds.
The provision of care is the same as it ever was, even though EHRs are frequently promoted as the optimal tool for a different kind of care.
The reasons for these disappointing stats are readily apparent and unalterably interconnected. Continue reading…
Somewhere between the 20th century Bank ATM and the 25th century Tricorder, lays the EMR that we should have today.
Somewhere between the government-designed Meaningful Use EMR and the Holographic doctor in Star Trek, there should be a long stretch of disposable trial-and-error cycles of technology, changing and morphing from good to better to magical. For this to happen, we must release the EMR from its balls and chains. We must release the EMR from its life sentence in the salt mines of reimbursement, and understand that EMRs cannot, and will not, and should not, be held responsible for fixing the financial and physical health of the entire nation. In other words, lighten up folks …
A patient’s medical record contains all sorts of things, most of which diminish in importance as time goes by. Roughly speaking, a medical record contains quantifiable data (numbers), Boolean data (positive/negative), images (sometimes), and lots of plain, and not so plain, English (in the US).
The proliferation of prose and medical abbreviations in the medical record has been attacked a very long time ago by the World Health Organization (WHO), which gave us the International Classification of Disease (fondly known as ICD), attaching a code to each disease. With roots in the 19th century and with explicit rationale of facilitating international statistical research and public health, the codification of disease introduced the concept that caring for an individual patient should also be viewed as a global learning experience for humanity at large. Medicine was always a personal service, but medicine was also a science, and as long as those growing the science were not far removed from those delivering the service, both could symbiotically coexist.
Today the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the Department of Health and Human Services released a report, here, that is decidedly critical of CMS and ONC oversight of the Electronic Health Record (EHR) subsidy program.
Over the last couple of years there have been growing criticisms of the Meaningful Use program and its disbursement of potentially $30 billion in ARRA funds. I have detailed many of these concerns, such as the overall effectiveness of electronic records, my doubts as to the robustness of the first two Stages of Meaningful Use requirements, the safety record of the technologies, their ability to actually save money, their real-world interoperability, and their general usability in the healthcare workflow, here.
Recently, additional questions have been raised that go to the very heart of the subsidy program. First, the Center for Public Integrity, here, and the New York Times, here, set off a firestorm with allegations of EHR use leading to extensive upcoding. This led to a scolding letter to the healthcare industry from Secretary Sebelius and the Attorney-General, here, and combative words back from some of the addressees, here.
Tomorrow the Presidential election process comes to an end and the advertising will finally stop. We’ll all be relieved. I especially look forward to a quiet dinner at home without robotic election-related calls.
What about healthcare IT? Will differences in the Obama and Romney platforms impact the momentum of Meaningful Use?
Here’s what I believe.
The Obama Healthcare IT platform builds on what we’ve created over the past few years. It will continue to leverage the federal advisory committees (Policy and Standards) to engage a wide array of stakeholders. It will persist the progression to Meaningful Use Stage 3 and possibly future stages. It will embrace certification now the temporary certification process has been replaced with a permanent one. It will support the initiatives of the Standards and Interoperability framework (S&I), although the end of stimulus funds from ARRA means that ONC will move some of the S&I initiatives to private/public partnerships. It will support the current leadership at ONC – Farzad and his delegates such as Steve Posnack, Doug Fridsma, and Judy Murphy.
The Romney Healthcare IT platform notes that Healthcare IT is an issue which has broad bipartisan support. No one argues that a foundation of healthcare IT implemented properly is essential for accountable care organizations. Quality, safety, and efficiency all benefit from the process enhancement afforded by healthcare IT. Michael Leavitt, former Secretary of HHS and chair of the American Health Information Community (AHIC) will lead the Romney transition team and Leavitt has years of experience with healthcare IT issues from the early days of ONC. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported the early EHR rollout efforts of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.
Every time someone publishes an article or a paper or a blog post that has anything remotely to do with Electronic Health Records (EHR), there is usually a flurry of reactions in the comments section, now available in most publications, and these always include at least half a dozen anonymous statements, usually from clinicians, decrying the current state of EHR software, best summed up by a commenter on THCB: “It is the user interface stupid!… It has to be designed from the ground up to be an integral part of the patient care experience”. Can’t argue with that now, can you? Particularly when coming from a practicing physician.
And why argue at all? The user interface in any software product is the easiest thing to get right. All you need to do is apply some basic principles and tweak them based on talking to users, listening and observing them in their “natural habitat”. Having done exactly that, for an inordinate amount of time, and being aware that most EHR vendors were engaging in similar efforts, I found the growing discontent with EHR user interfaces somewhat inexplicable. The common wisdom in EHR vendor circles is that doctors are unique in how they work and whenever you have two doctors in a room, there are at least three different preferences in how the EHR should present itself. As a result, you will find that most mature EHRs have dozens of different ways of accomplishing the same thing. These are called “user preferences” and are as confusing as anything you’ve ever seen. Hence the notion that if you spend enough time configuring and customizing your EHR upfront, you will increase your chances of having a less traumatic EHR experience down the road. We were an industry like no other, doomed to build software for users with no common denominator, or so I came to believe, until one afternoon in the summer of 2006…..