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E-Patient Update: Patient-Doctor Communication Still Needs an Update

Posted on December 2, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A few weeks ago, I called my PCP’s after-hours line to address an urgent medical concern. The staff at the answering service took my name, reached out to the doctor on call and when he was ready, connected him to me.

While this procedure was entirely standard, as always I found it a bit offputting, as to me it implies that I can’t be trusted to use the doctor’s cell phone number with some discretion. Don’t get me wrong, part of me understands why the doctors in this practice preferred to preserve their privacy and select when they want to speak to patients. On the other hand, however, it makes me uneasy, as I already have a very superficial relationship with my PCP and this approach doesn’t help.

While this is very much an old-school problem, to me it points to a larger one which has largely gone unnoticed as we plunge forward with the evolution of health IT. In theory, we are living in a far more connected world, one which puts not only family and friends but the professionals we work with on far more of a one-to-one basis with us. In practice, however, I continue to feel that patient-doctor communication has benefited from this far less than one might think.

I know, you’re going to point out to me how many doctors are using portals to email with patients these days, and how some even text back and forth with us. I’ve certainly been lucky enough to benefit from the consideration of providers who have reached out via these channels to solve urgent problems. And I know some health organizations — such as Kaiser Permanente — have promoted a culture in which doctors and patients communicate frequently via its portal.

The thing is, I think Kaiser’s experience is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, my doctors have indeed communicated with me directly via portals or cell. But the email and text messages I’ve gotten from them are typically brief, almost pointillistic, or if longer and more detailed, typically written days or even weeks after the original request on my end. In other words, these communications aren’t a big improvement over what they could accomplish with an old-fashioned phone call – other than being asynchronous communication that doesn’t require we hook up in real-time.

In saying this, I’m not faulting the clinicians themselves. Nobody can communicate with everyone all the time, particularly doctors with a large caseload. And I’m certainly not suggesting that I expect them to be Facebook buddies with me and chat about the weather. But it is worth looking at the way in which these communication technologies have seemingly failed to enrich the communication between patient and doctor in many cases.

Until we develop a communication channel for patients and doctors which offers more of the benefits of real-time communication — while helping doctors manage their time as they see fit — I think much of the potential of physician-patient communication by Internet will be wasted. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do hope we find one.

E-Patient Update: Bringing mHealth To The People

Posted on November 11, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Today, it’s standard for patients to travel to a central hub of some kind, spend as much as a half hour in the lobby and fill out a few minutes of paperwork to get a maximum of 15 minutes of time with their doctor. But thankfully, we’ve come to a time when care can return to the home. And it’s time we take full advantage of that fact.

I’d argue that it’s long overdue to bring the medical visit back to patient homes, not just for those in need of chronic care, but for all patients who are less than markedly stable. If we’re not quite at the point where we can provide every standard primary care service in a home, we’re pretty close, and it should be our goal to close the gap.

Consumers want convenience
While it might not be practical to roll out the service to everyone at once, we could start with patients who are healthy, but in higher risk categories due to age or condition. My mother comes to mind. At age 74, she has a history of cardiac arrhythmia, is slightly overweight and suffers from joint problems. None of these may pose an immediate risk to her health, but they are part of the complex process of aging for her, and all that goes with it.

I believe her health would be managed better if someone saw her “in her element,” taking care of my disabled brother, rushing around cooking dinner and climbing stairs. It would also be easier for clinicians to show her health information at her kitchen table, and get her engaged with making progress. (Kitchen tables are inherently less intimidating.)

Besides, there’s the issue of travel. Often, she finds it taxing to get organized and get to medical appointments, which take place 20 minutes away at the offices of her local health system. “I wish someone would bring a van with testing devices like an x-ray machine in it, bring their tablets into my house and do the check up at home,” she says. “There’s no reason for me to do all the traveling.” And believe me, folks, if a technophobe like my mom — who won’t touch a computer — is wondering why her physicians aren’t making better use of mobile healthcare tools, you can bet other patients are.

Mobile satisfaction
If you’re a health leader reading this, you may be flinching at the idea of reorganizing your services to hit the road. But it’s worth doing, particularly now that patients are demanding mobile health access. After all, rolling out a mobile-enhanced door to door primary care service would be an unbeatable way to differentiate yourself from your competitors and enhance patient satisfaction.

I believe that whatever investments you have to make would be modest in comparison to the benefits your patients would realize. If you come to them, not only are you getting to know them better, and as a result, you’re likely to improve care quality.

Now, I understand that if you’re traveling, you probably can’t pack four patient encounters into an hour, and that is certainly a financial consideration. But I believe patients would pay more to see their very own doctor (not a stranger, as with some startups) visit them at home. More importantly, I’d argue, a reworked system that puts patients at the center of their care would eventually save money, time and lives which is where value based reimbursement is headed anyway.

Hospitals and General Grant Have a Lot in Common

Posted on October 20, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

A few weeks ago, I was having a bad dream. Everything was turning black. It was hard to breath and moving was equally labored. It wasn’t a dream. I woke up and found myself working hard to inhale. Getting out of bed took determination.

I managed to get to our hallway and call my wife. She called 911 and DC’s paramedics soon had me on my way to Medstar’s Washington Hospital Center’s ER. They stabilized me and soon determined I wasn’t having a heart attack, but a heart block. That is, the nerve bundles that told my heart when to contract weren’t on the job.

A cardiology consult sent me to the Center’s Cardiac Electrophysiology Suite (EP Clinic), which specializes in arrhythmias. They ran an ECG, took a quick history and determined that the block wasn’t due to any meds, Lime disease, etc. Determining I needed a pacemaker, they made me next in line for the procedure.

Afterwards, my next stop was the cardiac surgery floor. Up till then, my care was by closely functioning teams. After that, while I certainly wasn’t neglected, it was clear I went from an acute problem to the mundane. And with that change in status, the hospital system’s attention to detail deteriorated.

This decline led me to a simple realization. Hospitals, at least in my experience, are much like Ulysses Grant: stalwart in crisis, but hard pressed with the mundane. That is, the more critical matters became in the Civil War, the calmer and more determined was Grant. As President, however, the mundane dogged him and defied his grasp.

Here’re the muffed, mundane things I encountered in my one overnight stay:

  • Meds. I take six meds, none exotic. Despite my wife’s and my efforts, the Center’s system could not get their names or dosages straight. Compounding that, I was told not to take my own because the hospital would supply them. It couldn’t either find all of them or get straight when I took them. I took my own.
  • Food. I’d not eaten when I came in, which was good for the procedure. After it, the EP Clinic fed me a sandwich and put in food orders. Those orders quickly turned into Nothing by Mouth, which stubbornly remained despite nurses’ efforts to alter it. Lunch finally showed up, late, as I was leaving.
  • Alarm Fatigue. At three AM, I needed help doing something trivial, but necessary. I pressed the signaling button and a nurse answered who could not hear me due to a bad mike. She turned off the alert. I clicked it on again. Apparently, the nurses have to deal with false signals and have learned to ignore them. After several rounds, I stumbled to the Nurses’ Station and got help.
  • Labs. While working up my history, the EP Clinic took blood and sent for several tests. Most came back quickly, but a few headed for parts unknown. No one could find out what happened to them.
  • Discharge. The EP Clinic gave me a set of instructions. A nurse practitioner came by and gave me a somewhat different version. When we got home, my wife called the EP Clinic about the conflict and got a third version.
  • EHR. The Hospital Center is Washington’s largest hospital. My PCP is at the George Washington University’s Medical Faculty Associates. Each is highly visible and well regarded. They have several relationships. The Center was supposed to send GW my discharge data, via FAX, to my PCP. It didn’t. I scanned them in and emailed my PCP.

In last five years, I’ve had similar experiences in two other hospitals. They do great jobs dealing with immediate and pressing problems, but their systems are often asleep doing the routine.

I’ve found two major issues at work:

  • Incomplete HIT. While these hospitals have implemented EHRs, they’ve left many functions big and small on paper or on isolated devices. This creates a hybrid system with undefined or poorly defined workflows. There simply isn’t a fully functional system, rather there are several of them. This means that when the hospital staff wants to find something, first they’ll look in a computer. Failing that, they’ll scour clipboards for the elusive fact. It’s like they have a car with a five speed transmission, but only first and second gear are automatic.
  • Isolated Actors. Outside critical functions, individuals carry out tasks not teams. That is, they often act in isolation from those before or after them. This means issues are looked at only from one perspective at a time. This sets the stage for mistakes, omissions and misunderstandings. A shared task list, a common EHR function, could end this isolation.

The Hospital Center is deservedly a well regarded. It’s heart practice is its special point of pride. However, its failure to fully implement HIE is ironic. That’s because Medstar’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare isn’t far from the Hospital.

The problems I encountered aren’t critical, but they are troublesome and can easily lead to serious even life endangering problems. Most egregious is failure to fully implement HIT. This creates a confusing, poorly coordinated system, which may be worse than no HIT at all.

E-Patient Update: A Bad Case Of Hyperportalotus

Posted on September 30, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Lately, the medical profession has seen an increasing incidence of a new condition tentatively identified as “hyperportalotus” — marked by symptoms of confusion, impatience, wasted time and existential dread. Unlike many newly-identified medical problems, the cause for this condition is well understood. Patient simply have too many portals being thrust at them.

As a patient with a few chronic illnesses, I see several specialists in addition to a primary care doctor. I’ve also been seen recently at a community hospital, as well as an urgent care center run by a different health system. I have access to at least seven portals, each, as you probably guessed, completely independent of each other.

Portals in play in my medical care include two instances of Epic’s MyChart, the Allscripts FollowMyHealth product and an athenahealth portal. (As an aside, I should say that I’ve found that I like athenahealth’s product the most, but that’s a story for another day.)

Because I am who I am – an e-patient dedicated to understanding and leveraging these tools – I’m fairly comfortable working with my providers on this basis. I simply check in with the portal run by a given practice within a few days of my visit, review reports and lab results and generally orient myself to the flow of information.

Too Much Information
So, if I can easily access and switch between various portals, what’s the big deal? After all, signing up for these portals is relatively simple, and while they differ in how they are organized, their interfaces are basically the same.

The problem is (drumroll…) that most patients aren’t like me. Many are overwhelmed by their contact with the medical system and feel reluctant to dig into more information between visits. Others may not feel confident that they understand the portals and shy away reflexively.

Take the case of my 70-something father. My dad is actually pretty computer-savvy, having worked in the technology business for many years. (His career goes all the way back to the days of punch cards.) But even he seems averse to signing up for MyChart, which is used by the integrated health system that provides all of his inpatient and outpatient care.

Admittedly, my father has less contact with doctors and hospitals than I do, so his need to review medical data might be less than mine. Nonetheless, it’s a shame that the mechanics of signing up for and using a portal are intimidating to both he and my mother.

A Common Portal
All this being said, the question is what we can do about it. I have a theory, and would love to know what you think of it.

What if we launched an open source-based central industry portal to which all other portals could publish basic information?  This structure would take proprietary vendors’ interest in controlling data out of the picture. Also, with the data being by its very nature limited (as consumers never get the whole tamale) it would answer objections by providers who feel that they’re giving away the store with the patient data.

Of course, I can raise immediate and powerful objections to my own proposal, the strongest of which is probably that we would have to agree on a single shared standard for publishing this data to the central megaportal. (And we all know how that usually works out.)

On the other hand, such approach has much to recommend it, including better care coordination and hopefully, stronger patient engagement with their health. Maybe I’m crazy, but I have a feeling that this just might work. Heck, maybe my father would bother looking at his own medical information if he didn’t have to develop hyperportalotus to do it.

The Exciting Future of Healthcare IT #NHITWeek

Posted on September 28, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One time I went to my wife’s OB/GYN appointment and I was in shock and awe with how well the doctor remembered my wife’s past pregnancies. Literally down to the tear that occurred. The reason I was in shock was that she prefaced her memory of my wife’s medical history with “Your old chart is off in storage, but as I recall you had a…”

While year later I’m still impressed with this OB/GYN’s ability to remember her patients, I know that this is not always the case. Doctors are humans and can’t possibly remember everything that occurred with every patient. Humans have limits. In fact, doctors deserve credit that they’ve provided such amazing medical care to so many patients despite these limits.

My esteem for doctors grows even greater when I think of the challenges associated with diagnosing computer problems (Yes, I am the nerd formerly known as @techguy). It’s not easy diagnosing a computer problem and then applying the fix that will remedy the problem. In fact, you often find yourself fixing the problem without really even knowing what’s causing the problem (ie. reinstall or reboot). While fixing computers is challenging, diagnosing and treating the human body has to be at least an order and probably two or more orders of magnitude more complex.

My point is that the work doctors do is really hard and they’ve generally done great work.

While I acknowledge the history of medicine, I also can’t help but think that technology is the pathway to solving many of the challenges that make doctors lives so difficult today. It seems fitting to me that IT stands for Information Technology since the core of healthcare’s challenges revolve around information.

Here are some of the ways technology can and will help:

Quality Information
The story of my wife’s OB/GYN is the perfect illustration of this potential. Doctors who have the right information at the point of care can provide better care. That’s a simple but powerful principle that can become a reality with healthcare IT. Instead of relying on this OB/GYN’s memory, she could have had that information readily available to her in an EHR.

Certainly, we’re not perfect at this yet. EHR software can go down. EHR can perpetuate misinformation. EHRs can paint the incorrect picture for a patient. However, on the whole, I believe an EHRs data is more accessible and available when and where it’s needed. Plus, this is going to get dramatically better over time. In some cases, it already is.

Deep Understanding of Individual Health Metrics
Health sensors are just starting to come into their own. As these health sensors create more and more clinically relevant data, healthcare providers will be empowered with a much deeper understanding of the specific health metrics that matter for each unique patient. Currently, doctors are often driving in the dark. This new wave of health sensors will be like turning the lights on in places that have never seen light before. In some cases, it already is.

Latest Medical Research
Doctors do an incredible job keeping up on the latest research in their specialty, but how can they keep up with the full body of medical knowledge? Even if they study all day and all night (which they can’t do because they have to see patients), the body of medical knowledge is so complex that the human mind can’t comprehend, process, and remember it all. Technology can.

I’m not suggesting that technology will replace humans. Not for the forseeable future anyway. However, it can certainly assist, inform, and remind humans. My phone already does this for me in my personal life. Technology will do the same for doctors in their clinical life. In some cases, it already is.

Patient Empowerment
Think about how dramatic a shift it’s been from a patient chart which the patient never saw to EHR software that makes your entire record available to patients all the time. If that doesn’t empower patients, nothing will. I love reading about how many kings use to suppress their people by suppressing information. Information is power and technology can make access to your health information possible.

Related to this trend is also how patients become more empowered through communities of patients with similar conditions and challenges. The obvious example is Patients Like Me, but it’s happening all over the internet and on social media. This is true for chronic patients who want to find patients with a rare condition, but it’s also true for patients who are finding the healthcare system a challenge to navigate. There is nothing more empowering than finding someone in a similar situation that can help you find the best opportunities and solutions to your problems.

In some cases, patient empowerment is already happening today.

Yes, I know that many of the technologies implemented to date don’t meet this ambitious vision of what technology can accomplish in healthcare. In fact, many health technologies have actually made things worse instead of better. This is a problem that must be dealt with, but it doesn’t deter me from the major hope I have the technology can solve many of the challenges that make being a doctor so hard. It doesn’t deter me from the dream that patients will be empowered to take a more active role in their care. It doesn’t deter me from the desire to leverage technology to make our healthcare system better.

The best part of my 11 years in healthcare IT has been seeing technology make things better on a small scale (“N of 1” –@cancergeek). My hope for the next decade is to see these benefits blow up on a much larger scale.

The Waiting Room – A Patient’s First Impression

Posted on September 23, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post is sponsored by Samsung Business. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

We’ve all heard about the importance of first impressions. They last a long time and happen very quickly. The same is true for a medical practice. Patients’ first impression of a medical practice is the waiting room and that impression can last a very long time. What have you done to improve your patients’ experience in the waiting room?

Instead of doing a bunch of small things in your waiting room, I suggest you focus on creating one specific WOW! factor that patients will remember. In many cases people are turning to digital signage to provide this wow factor. Combine amazing content with some amazing digital signage like a curved TV, 3D TV, or massive screen and you can quickly implement the WOW! factor in your waiting room.

These type of memorable experiences for patients in your waiting room are the fuel that feeds social media and physician rating services today. If you want patients to share their experience at your office on social media or rate you highly on the various physician rating websites, start by WOWing them in your waiting room. Almost all of your patients now arrive with a phone in their pocket which they can use while they wait to provide your practice a quality rating. Leverage that as an asset.

I’ve heard some people argue that digital signage isn’t valuable anymore in the exam room because patients all show up with their own smartphones and tablets. They argue that patients have their heads buried in their phones and so they never see the digital signage you put in the exam room. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that most of us with smartphones have become quite habituated to what people call the second screen experience. More and more people are watching TV while playing on their smartphone. It’s normal for us to be processing what’s on a TV while keeping an eye on our smartphone at the same time. The same thing happens in the waiting room when you provide a compelling digital experience. We consume both the TV and our smartphone.

Leveraging a high-quality digital experience in your waiting room provides a better patient experience overall. What’s the worst part of a waiting room? You have to wait. What’s the solution? We all have experienced a long flight or car ride that felt like it was much shorter thanks to some sort of digital media experience. This same experience can be had by patients if you invest in the right digital signage and content. Shorter wait times lead to better physician ratings in ambulatory practices and better HCAHPS scores in hospitals.

How have you approached your waiting room? Is there something unique or interesting you’ve done that’s made the patient experience better? What kind of first impression are you making on your patients?

For more content like this, follow Samsung on Insights, Twitter, LinkedIn , YouTube and SlideShare.

How To Choose Tools For Physician-Patient Engagement

Posted on September 22, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

To transition from fee-for-service reimbursement to value-based care, it’s pretty much a given that we have to do a better job of getting patients engaged with their physicians and overall plan of care. However, despite the array of intriguing digital health and mobile technologies we have available to get the job done, it’s still not clear exactly how to do it.

But according to one health IT exec, it all boils down to understanding how the various tools and technologies work and integrating them into your practice. Dr. Ali Hussam, CEO of outcomes data collection firm OBERD, suggests that the following tools are particularly important. I’ve listed his suggestions, and added some thoughts of my own:

  • Educational technologies: Physicians can use these tools to make sure patients are prepared to have an intelligent discussion of their health status, he notes. My take: It’s hard to argue that this makes sense; in fact, this concept is so important that I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned more often as part of the broader patient engagement picture.  
  • Electronic questionnaires: Hussam argues that since value-based care calls for quantifiable outcome measurements, it’s smart to use electronic questionnaires, which are more appealing, efficient and sophisticated than paper tools. My response to this is that while it’s a good idea, it will be important that the questionnaires be based on well-defined measures which the provider organization trusts, and these may not be easy to come by at first.
  • Wearables: Patients may already be using wearables to monitor their own health metrics, but it’s time to make better use of their presence, Hussam suggest. Physicians can step up their value by using the information to improve the quality of health discussions and intervene in response to the data if needed.  It’s hard to argue that he’s right about the potential uses of wearables. However, there’s a lot of doubt about their accuracy, so my sense is that many physicians are still reluctant to make use of them given the clinical accuracy questions which still bedeviled these devices.

Along with recommending these approaches to engagement, Hussam offers some tips for implementing patient engagement technology, including:

  • Focus on patient outcome: Hussam recommends sending a patient-determined outcome as the focus of care, and explaining to patients how engagement technology can help them meet this goal. Plain and simple, this sounds like an excellent idea, as patients are more likely to succeed at meeting goals they have embraced.
  • Solicit feedback: Effective engagement tools “should offer patients a sense of individual attention and intimacy by soliciting feedback about individual patients’ entire healthcare experience,” along with offering care data. He argues, I think compellingly, that this exchange of information could help providers succeed under merit-based incentive payment programs.
  • Encourage responses to questionnaires: As Hussam noted previously, providers must collect data to succeed at outcome-based payment models. But he also notes correctly that these questionnaires and help patients achieve their desired health outcomes by tracking what’s going on with their health. No matter how you couch things, however, patients may need additional encouragement to fill out forms. Perhaps it would make sense to have med techs go through the questionnaires with patients prior to their physician encounter, at least at first.

As Hussam’s analysis suggests, engaging patients isn’t just a matter of presenting them with shiny new technologies. It’s critical to align patient use of the technologies with goals they hope to meet, and to explain how the tools can get them there.

Otherwise, both patients and providers will see little benefit from throwing engagement tools into the mix.

E-Patient Update:  Keeping Data From Patients Has Consequences

Posted on September 20, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Given who I am – an analyst and editor who’s waist-deep in the health IT world – I am primed to stay on top of my health data, including physician notes, lab reports, test results and imaging studies. Not only does it help me talk to my doctors, it gives me a feeling of control which I value.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that most physicians support me in this. Time and again, I run into situations where I can’t see my own health information via a portal until a physician “approves” the data. I’ve written about this phenomenon previously, mostly to wring my hands at the foolishness of it all, but I see the need to revisit the issue.

Having given the matter more thought, I’ve come to believe that withholding such data isn’t just unfortunate, it’s harmful. Not only does it hamper patients’ efforts to manage their own care effectively, it reveals attitudes which are likely to hold back the entire process of transforming the health system.

An Example of Delayed Health Data
Take the following example, from my own care. I was treated in the emergency department for swelling and pain which I feared might be related to a blood clot in my leg. The ED staff did a battery of tests, including an MRI, which concluded that I was actually suffering from lumbar spine issues.

Given that the spinal issue was painful and disabling, I made an appointment for follow up with a spine specialist for one week after the ED visit. But despite having signed up with the hospital’s portal, I was unable to retrieve the radiologist’s report until an hour before the spine specialist visit. And without that report the specialist would not have been able to act immediately to assist me.

I don’t know why I was unable to access the records for several days after my visit, but I can’t think of a reason why it would have made sense to deprive me of information I needed urgently for continued care. My previous experience, however, suggests that I probably had to wait until a physician reviewed the records and released them for my use.

Defeating the Purpose
To my way of looking at things, holding back records defeats the purpose of having portals in the first place. Ideally, patients don’t use portals as passive record repositories; instead, they visit them regularly and review key information generated by their clinical encounters, particularly if they suffer from chronic illnesses.

It’d be a real shame if conservative attitudes about sharing unvetted tests, imaging or procedure data undercut the benefits of portals. While it’s still not entirely clear how we’re going to engage patients further in managing their health – individually or across a population – portals are emerging as one of the more effective tools we’ve got. Bottom line, patients use them, and that’s a pretty big deal.

I’m not saying that patients have never overreacted to what looked like a scary result and called their doctor a million times in a panic. (That seems to be the scenario doctors fear, from conversations I’ve had over time.) But my guess is that it’s far less common than they think.

And in their attempts to head off a minor problem, they’re discouraging patients from getting involved with their care, which is what they need patients to do as value-based care models emerge. Seems like everyone loses.

Sure, patients may struggle to understand care data and notes at first, but what we need to do is educate them on what it means. We can’t afford to keep patients ignorant just to protect turf and salve egos.

Patient Self Management

Posted on August 25, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I always find stats like this interesting, but misleading. The fallacy that most people apply to a stat like this is saying that because people want something they will actually do it. In this case, just because 90% of people want to self-manage their care, that doesn’t mean that 90% of patients will actually self-manage their care.

90% of people want to stop smoking, but they don’t. 100% of people want to be more fit and healthy, but we don’t. There are a lot of things that we want, but that doesn’t mean we actually want it enough to do something about it.

The reality is that most of us don’t think about our health until we have a problem. If you ask us if we care about our health, we’d all say that we do. However, our actions tell a very different story. Our actions say that most of us don’t really care about our health. Or at least that we don’t care about it enough to give up things that are harming our health.

In many ways our health system reflects this fact. Our doctor doesn’t really worry about our overall health. Our doctor mostly treats our chief complaint. In many cases, they don’t even dig down past our chief complaint. They certainly don’t proactively look for ways our lifestyle or environment are impacting our health. Should that change?

The question I keep asking is if the doctor is the right person to address this type of change in perspective when it comes to health. Should the doctor be the one to understand our overall health and address our health risks? Should we do it ourselves? Should a health app do it for us in a way that it motivates us enough to actually care about the unhealthy choices we make?

The last option seems like the most likely option to me. Doctors aren’t trained to treat you when you’re healthy. It would take a sea change for them to switch roles. Health apps, the health sensors that inform these apps, and the baseline health knowledge are all progressing so quickly that it’s not hard to see a day when a health app could better help us understand how the choices we make influence our health.

What do you think? Is there anything that will really help us understand the health impact from the choices we make? Do patients really want to self-manage their care?

E-Patient Update: Video Visits Need EMR Support

Posted on July 11, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

From what I’ve read, many providers would like to deliver telemedicine consults through their EMR platform. This makes sense, as doing so would probably include the ability to document such visits in the same way as face-to-face encounters. It would also make it far easier to merge notes from telehealth visits into existing records of traditional care.

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to believe that this will be possible anytime soon. If nothing else, vendors won’t face too much pressure from providers until the health insurers routinely pay for such care. Or one could argue that until providers are living on value-based care models, they have little incentive to aggressively push care to lower-cost channels like telemedicine. Either way, EMR vendors aren’t likely to focus on this issue in the near term.

But I’d argue that providers have strong reasons to add EMR support to their telemedicine efforts. If they don’t take the bull by the horns now, and train patients to see video visits as legitimate and worthwhile, they are unlikely to leverage telehealth fully when it becomes central to the delivery of care. And that means, in part, that providers must document video consults and integrate that data into their EMR anyway they can. After all, patients are already beginning to understand that it data doesn’t appear in their electronic record, it probably isn’t important to their health.

It seems to me that the lagging EMR support for telemedicine visits springs in part from how they grew up. Just the other day, I had a video visit with a primary care doc working for one of the major direct-to-consumer telehealth services. And his comments gave me some insight into how this issue has evolved.

As sometimes happens, I ended up straying from discussion of my health needs to comment on HIT issues with the visit, notably to complain about the fact that I had to reenter my long list of daily meds every time I sought help from that service. He agreed that it was a problem, but also pointed out that the service’s founders have assumed that their users would almost exclusively be seeking one-off urgent care. In fact, he noted, none of the data collected during the visit is formatted in a way that can be digested easily by an EMR, another result of the assumption that clients would not need a longitudinal record of their telemedical care.

Admittedly, this service is in a different business than hospital or ambulatory care providers with a substantial brick-and-mortar presence. But my guess is that the assumptions upon which the direct-to-consumer businesses were founded are still shared by some traditional providers.

As a patient, I urge providers to give serious thought to better documenting telehealth today, rather than waiting for the vendors to get their act together on that front. If your clinicians are managing relationships by a video visits today, they will be soon. And when that happens I want a coherent record of my digital care to be available. Letting all that data fall through the cracks just doesn’t make sense.