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Some Methods For Improving EMR Alerts

Posted on June 25, 2015 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 new study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has made some points that may turn out to be helpful in designing those pesky but helpful alerts for clinicians.

Making alerts useful and appropriate is no small matter. As we reported on a couple of years ago, even then EMR alert fatigue has become a major source of possible medical errors. In fact, a Pediatrics study published around that time found that clinicians were ignoring or overriding many alerts in an effort to stay focused.

Despite warnings from researchers and important industry voices like The Joint Commission, little has changed since then. But the issue can’t be ignored forever, as it’s a car crash waiting to happen.

The JAMIA study may offer some help, however. While it focuses on making drug-drug interaction warnings more usable, the principles it offers can serve as a model for designing other alerts as well.

For what it’s worth, the strategies I’m about to present came from a DDI Clinical Decision Support conference attended by experts from ONC, health IT vendors, academia and healthcare organizations.

While the experts offered several recommendations applying specifically to DDI alerts, their suggestions for presenting such alerts seem to apply to a wide range of notifications available across virtually all EMRs. These suggestions include:

  • Consistent use of color and visual cues: Like road signs, alerts should come in a limited and predictable variety of colors and styles, and use only color and symbols for which the meaning is clear to all clinicians.
  • Consistent use of terminology and brevity: Alerts should be consistently phrased and use the same terms across platforms. They should also be presented concisely, with minimal text, allowing for larger font sizes to improve readability.
  • Avoid interruptions wherever possible:  Rather than freezing clinician workflow over actions already taken, save interruptive alerts that require action to proceed for the most serious situation. The system should proactively guide decisions to safer alernatives, taking away the need for interruption.

The research also offers input on where and when to display alerts.

Where to display alert information:  The most critical information should be displayed on the alert’s top-level screen, with links to evidence — rather than long text — to back up the alert justification.

When to display alerts: The group concluded that alerts should be displayed at the point when a decision is being made, rather than jumping on the physician later.

The paper offers a great deal of additional information, and if you’re at all involved in addressing alerting issues or designing the alerts I strongly suggest you review the entire paper.

But even the excerpts above offer a lot to consider. If most alerts met these usability and presentation standards, they might offer more value to clinicians and greater safety to patients.

Doctors, Not Patients, May Be Holding Back mHealth Adoption

Posted on June 24, 2015 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.

Clearly, mHealth technology has achieved impressive momentum among a certain breed of health-conscious, self-monitoring consumer. Still, aside from wearable health bands, few mHealth technologies or apps have achieved a critical level of adoption.

The reason for this, according to a new survey, may lie in doctors’ attitudes toward these tools. According to the study, by market research firm MedPanel, only 15% of physicians are suggesting wearables or health apps as approaches for growing healthier.

It’s not that the tools themselves aren’t useful. According to a separate study by Research Now summarized by HealthData Management, 86% of 500 medical professionals said mHealth apps gave them a better understanding of a patient’s medical condition, and 76% said that they felt that apps were helping patients manage chronic illnesses. Also, HDM reported that 46% believed that apps could make patient transitions from hospital to home care simpler.

While doctors could do more to promote the use of mHealth technology — and patients might benefit if they did — the onus is not completely on doctors. MedPanel president Jason LaBonte told HDM that vendors are positioning wearables and apps as “a fad” by seeing them as solely consumer-driven markets. (Not only does this turn doctors off, it also makes it less likely that consumers would think of asking their doctor about mHealth tool usage, I’d submit.)

But doctors aren’t just concerned about mHealth’s image. They also aren’t satisfied with current products, though that would change rapidly if there were a way to integrate mobile health data into EMR platforms directly. Sure, platforms like HealthKit exist, but it seems like doctors want something more immediate and simple.

Doctors also told MedPanel that mHealth devices need to be easier to use and generate data that has greater use in clinical practice.  Moreover, physicians wanted to see these products generate data that could help them meet practice manager and payer requirements, something that few if any of the current roster of mHealth tools can do (to my knowledge).

When it comes to physician awareness of specific products, only a few seem to have stood out from the crowd. MedPanel found that while 82% of doctors surveyed were aware of the Apple Watch, even more were familiar with Fitbit.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft Band scored highest of all wearables for satisfaction with ease of use and generating useful data. Given the fluid state of physicians’ loyalties in this area, Microsoft may not be able to maintain its lead, but it is interesting that it won out this time over usability champ Apple.

Industry Tries To Steamroll Physician Complaints About EMR Impact On Patient Face Time

Posted on June 9, 2015 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.

Some doctors — and a goodly number of consumers, too — argue that the use of EMRs inevitably impairs the relationship between doctors and patients. After all, it’s just common sense that forcing a doctor to glue herself to the keyboard during an encounter undercuts that doctor’s ability to assess the patient, critics say.

Of course, EMR vendors don’t necessarily agree. And some researchers don’t share that view either. But having reviewed some comments by a firm studying physician EMR use, and the argument an EMR vendor made that screen-itis doesn’t worry docs, it seems to me that the “lack of face time” complaint remains an important one.

Consider how some analysts are approaching the issue. While admitting that one-third to one-half of the time doctors spend with patients is spent using an EMR, and that physicians have been complaining about this extensively over the past several years, doctors are at least using these systems more efficiently, reports James Avallone, Director of Physician Research, who spoke with EHRIntelligence.com.

What’s important is that doctors are getting adjusted to using EMRs, Avallone suggests:

Whether [time spent with EMRs] is too much or too little, it’s difficult for us to say from our perspective…It’s certainly something that physicians are getting used to as it becomes more ingrained in their day-to-day behaviors. They’ve had more time to streamline workflow and that’s something that we’re seeing in terms of how these devices are being used at the point of care.

Another attempt to minimize the impact of EMRs on patient encounters comes from ambulatory EMR vendor NueMD. In a recent blog post, the editor quoted a study suggesting that other issues were far more important to doctors:

According to a 2013 study published in Health Affairs, only 25.8 percent of physicians reported that EHRs were threatening the doctor-patient relationship. Administrative burdens like the ICD-10 transition and HIPAA compliance regulations, on the other hand, were noted by more than 41 percent of those surveyed.

It’s certainly true that doctors worry about HIPAA and ICD-10 compliance, and that they could threaten the patient relationship, but only to the extent that they affect the practice overall. Meanwhile, if one in four respondents to the Health Affairs study said that EMRs were a threat to patient relationships, that should be taken quite seriously.

Of course, both of the entities quoted in this story are entitled to their perspective. And yes, there are clearly benefits to physician use of EMRs, especially once they become adjusted to the interface and workflow.

But if this quick sample of opinions is any indication, the healthcare industry as a whole seems to be blowing past physicians’ (and patients’) well-grounded concerns about the role EMR documentation plays in patient visits.

Someday, a new form factor for EMRs will arise — maybe augmented or virtual reality encounters, for example — which will alleviate the eyes-on-the-screen problem. Until then, I’d submit, it’s best to tackle the issue head on, not brush it off.

When Will Genomic Medicine Become As Common As Antibiotics?

Posted on April 29, 2015 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’m completely and utterly fascinated by the work that so many companies are doing with genomic medicine. I think that’s a good thing since I believe genomic medicine is just now starting to make its way into mainstream medicine. Plus, over the next couple years, genomic medicine is going to be a huge part of what every doctor does in healthcare. Maybe it won’t be as common as the antibiotic (what is?), but it will be extremely important to healthcare.

With that in mind, I’ve been devouring this whitepaper on the evolving promise of genomic medicine. It offers such a great overview of what’s happening with genomic medicine.

For example, they offer a great list of reasons why genomic medicine has become so important today: descreased cost of sequencing, speed of sequencing, availability of genomic tests, ways the genome can be used, reimbursement by payors, etc. That’s such a powerful cocktail of improvements. Does anyone doubt that widespread genomic medicine is near?

I also love how the whitepaper highlights the three pillars of genomic medicine: sequencing, translational medicine and personalized healthcare. That provides a great framework for starting to understand what’s happening with genomic medicine. Plus, the whitepaper offers these place where we’re seeing real benefits in healthcare: prediction of drug response, diagnosis of disease, and identification of targeted therapies. While much of this is still being tested, I’m excited by its progress.

I still have a lot to learn about genomic medicine, but the evolving promise of genomic medicine whitepaper has me even more interested in what’s happening. I’d be interested to hear what companies you think are most interesting in the genomic medicine space.

By Supporting Digital Health, EMRs To Create Collective Savings of $78B Over Next Five Years

Posted on December 1, 2014 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.

Here’s the news EMR proponents have been insisting would emerge someday, justifying their long-suffering faith in the value of such systems.  A new study from Juniper Research has concluded that EMRs will save $78 billion cumulatively across the globe over the next five years, largely by connecting digital health technologies together.

While I’m tempted to get cynical about this — my poor heart has been broken by so many unsupportable or conflicting claims regarding EMR savings over the years — I think the study definitely bears examination. If digital health technologies like smart watches, fitness trackers, sensor-laden clothing, smart mobile health apps, remote monitoring and telemedicine share a common backbone that serves clinicians, the study’s conclusions look reasonable on first glance.

According to Juniper, the growth of ACOs is pushing providers to think on a population health level and that, in turn, is propelling them to adopt digital health tech.  And it’s not just top healthcare leaders that are getting excited about digital health. Juniper found that over the last 18 months, healthcare workers have become significantly more engaged in digital healthcare.

But how will providers come to grips with the floods of data generated by these emerging technologies? Why, EMRs will do the job. “Advanced EHRs will provide the ‘glue’ to bring together the devices, stakeholders and medical records in the future connected healthcare environment,” according to Juniper report author Anthony Cox.

But it’s important to note that at present, EMRs aren’t likely to have the capacity sort out the growing flood of connected health data on their own. Instead, it appears that healthcare providers will have to rely on data intermediary platforms like Apple’s HealthKit, Samsung’s SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions) and Microsoft Health. In reality, it’s platforms like these, not EMRs, that are truly serving as the glue for far-flung digital health data.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that on reflection, my cynical take on the study is somewhat justified. While they’ll play a very important role, I believe that it’s disingenuous to suggest that EMRs themselves will create huge healthcare savings.

Sure, EMRs are ultimately where the buck stops, and unless digital health data can be consumed by doctors at an EMR console, they’re unlikely to use it. But even though using EMRs as the backbone for digital health collection and population health management sounds peachy, the truth is that EMR vendors are nowhere near ready to offer robust support for these efforts.

Yes, I believe that the combination of EMRs and digital health data will prove to be very powerful over time. And I also believe that platforms like HealthKit will help us get there. I even believe that the huge savings projected by Juniper is possible. I just think getting there will be a lot more awkward than the study makes it sound.

Are Researchers Ready to Use Patient Health Records?

Posted on October 20, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://radar.oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

There’s a groundswell of opinion throughout health care that to improve outcomes, we need to share clinical data from patients’ health records with researchers who are working on cures or just better population health measures. One recommendation in the much-studied JASON report–an object of scrutiny at the Office of the National Coordinator and throughout the field of health IT–called on the ONC to convene a conference of biomedical researchers.

At this conference, presumably, the health care industry will find out what researchers could accomplish once they had access to patient data and how EHRs would have to change to meet researchers’ needs. I decided to contact some researchers in medicine and ask them these very questions–along with the equally critical question of how research itself would have to evolve to make use of the new flood of data.
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Safety Issues Remain Long After EMR Rollout

Posted on June 24, 2014 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.

The following is a bit depressing, but shouldn’t come as a surprise. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has concluded that patient safety issues relate to EMR rollouts continue long after the EMR has been implemented, according to a report in iHealthBeat.

Now, it’s worth noting that the study focused solely on the Veterans Health Administration’s EMR, which doubtless has quirks of its own. That being said, the analysis is worth a look.

To do the study, researchers used the Veterans Health Administration’s Informatics Patient Safety Office, which has tracked EMR safety issues since the VA’s EMR was implemented in 1999.  Researchers chose 100 closed patient safety investigations related to the EMR that took place between August 2009 and May 2013, which covered 344 incidents.

Researchers analyzed not only safety problems related to EMR technology, but also human operational factors such as workflow demands, organizational guidelines and user behavior, according to a BMJ release.

After reviewing the data, researchers found that 74 events related to safety problems with EMR technology, including false alarms, computer glitches and system failures. They also discovered problems with “hidden dependencies,” situation which a change in one part of the EMR system inadvertently changed important aspects in another part of the system.

The data also suggested that 25 other events were related to the unsafe use of technology, including mistakes in interpreting screens or human input errors.

All told, 70% of the investigations had found at least two reasons for each problem.

Commonly found safety issues included data transmission between different parts of the EMR system, problems related to software upgrades and EMR information display issues (the most commonly identified  problem), iHealthBeat noted.

After digging into this data, researchers recommended that healthcare organizations should build “a robust infrastructure to monitor and learn from” EMRs, because EMR-related safety concerns have complicated social and technical origins. They stressed that this infrastructure is valuable not only for providers with newly installed EMRs, but also for those with EMRs said that in place for a while, as both convey significant safety concerns.

They concede, however, that building such an infrastructure could prove quite difficult at this time, with organizations struggling with meaningful use compliance and the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

However, the takeaway from this is that providers probably need to put safety monitoring — for both human and technical factors — closer to the top of their list of concerns. It stands to reason that both newly-installed and mature EMR implementations should face points of failure such as those described in the study, and they should not be ignored. (In the meantime, here’s one research effort going on which might be worth exploring.)

More Details From Study: Health IT Could Cut Demand For Physicians

Posted on December 11, 2013 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.

Earlier, we wrote up the following study, which strongly suggests that health IT can boost physician productivity. But we didn’t include some of the details you’ll see below — and we thought they were important enough for a follow-up.

Much of the talk about health IT in physicians’ offices addresses the struggles doctors face when adopting new technologies, and the effort it takes to get productivity back to normal levels. But this study takes things a step further, asserting that if health IT was fully and widely implemented, it could reduce demand for physicians substantially.

The study, which originally appeared in Health Affairs, concluded that if health IT were fully implemented in 30 percent of community-based physicians’ offices, efficiency improvements would cut demand for physicians by 4 percent to 9 percent. What’s more, using health IT to delegate work to midlevel practitioners and from specialists to primary care docs could reduce demand for physicians by 6 percent to 12 percent, according to a story in Information Week.

Meanwhile, growing the amount of IT-enabled remote and asynchronous care could cut the volume of overall care that physicians provide could  have a big impact as well. Remote care could cut the percentage of care that physicians provide by 2 percent to 5 percent, and asynchronous care by 4 percent to  7 percent, Information Week reports.

And that isn’t all. If 70 percent of office-based docs adopted comprehensive IT support, including interoperable EMRs, clinical decision support, provider order entry and patient Web portals with secure messaging, the drop in demand for physician services would be twice as large, the Health Affairs study concluded.

That being said, the comprehensive use of health IT by even 30 percent of office-based doctors is at least five years and maybe as much as 15 years away, according to one of the study’s authors, Jonathan Weiner, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

23andMe Saga Doesn’t Bode Well for EMR Genetics Integration

Posted on December 5, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I wrote about the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe back in mid-October, posing the idea that genetic information provided by the patient could only serve to enrich EMR data. I noted, “Genetic testing seems to be about empowering patients to take more proactive roles in managing their health today in an effort to prevent what might happen to their health in the future. It would make sense to share these test results with providers who can aid in that journey.”

Two readers chimed in. One noted that, “No [current] EMR can run genetic risk models or use genetic clinical decision support, [and ] [n]one of these fit into Meaningful Use, so it will be years until the EMR have the capability needed to use genomics.”

Another pointed out that, “the price point on 23andMe was all I was waiting for, and I have my gene sequence already. Yes, there are some risks, but that argument falls into the same category as any technology or innovation – it can be used for good or bad. The value this information brings far exceeds the downsides, and is now an essential part of the data feed to my personal healthcare.”

That last comment is especially interesting in light of the well-publicized tiff going on between 23andMe and the FDA. I won’t waste your time attempting to summarize the string of events that have led 23andMe to stop marketing its products, as well as a class action lawsuit and an official petition to overrule the FDA’s decision. Instead, I’ve compiled a few articles that detail the saga as it has unfolded.

Why Genetic Testing Could Endanger Your Health / ChicagoTribune.com

The FDA Drops an Anvil on 23andMe – Now What? / Stanford.edu

Founder of 23andMe speaks on FDA concerns / USAToday.com

Can 23andMe Survive the FDA? / TheVerge.com

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against 23andMe / Forbes.com

23andMe Shuts down health-related genetics testing to work with FDA / Gigaom.com (Updated 12/6)

As far as the connection between genetic information gathered via commercial means by patients being incorporated into EMRs, it doesn’t look like it will happen easily anytime soon. It seems there are bigger debates brewing over the scope of the FDA’s regulatory power over companies like 23andMe, what the definition of a medical device should be, and the value consumers find in these services. Do they really lead to unnecessary medical tests and procedures? Let me know your thoughts on the 23andMe saga in the comments below. You can also join me this Friday at 12 ET for the weekly #HITsm tweet chat. We’ll be touching on the impact 23andMe’s big genetics data could have on healthcare, provided they’re allowed to stay in business.

athenahealth Partners With Quality Group To Research EMR Patient Safety

Posted on November 15, 2013 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.

While it’s known that EMRs have been involved with, and probably responsible for, patient harm and even death, research is incomplete and sketchy on what risks are the most pressing and how to avoid them. Plus, we’re always balancing these risks with the potential benefits of EMR as well.

One recent study by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority concluded that EMR default settings for medications caused adverse events in more than 3 percent of cases reviewed by the organization.

But that’s just one study, which can only do so much to help on its own. To get a better grip on such issues, EMR and practice management vendor athenahealth has partnered with Patient Safety Organization Quantros to examine the impact that EMRs are having on patient care. The research project is being funded by athenahealth, according to  a piece in Medical  Practice Insider.

athenahealth is offering its national network of about 47,000 providers free access to Quantros’ Safety Event Manager reporting tool, allowing athena’s EMR clients to submit patient safety data directly to the Quantros Patient Safety Center. Delivering the safety data through a PSO like Quantros insulates providers from liability by offering discovery protections when the practices report and analyze a potential issue, Medical  Practice Insider reports.

As one might expect, athena is mounting the experiment to find out when use of its EMR might have contributed to a  potential adverse event, such as, for example, when the EMR fails to warn a physician that a prescribed drug would interact with a drug the patient is already taking.

The bottom line, for athena, is to analyze the data for patient safety trends, and use it directly to improve its technology, said Tarah Hirschey, athena’s senior manager of patient safety, to Medical  Practice Insider.