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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.

Duplicate Work in Healthcare

Posted on July 7, 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 of my favorite stories is the time we implemented an EHR in the UNLV health center. At first, we decided to do a phased implementation in order to replace some legacy bubble sheet software that was no longer being supported. So, we just implemented enough of the PM system to handle the patient scheduling and to capture the charge data in the EHR. Of course, we were also a bit afraid if we implemented the full EHR, the staff would revolt.

A week or two into the partial implementation, something really amazing happened. First, some of the providers started to document the patient visit in the EHR even though they still had to document it in the paper chart as well. I asked them why and they just said, “It was there and I thought it would be good to have my info in the note.”

Second, some of the providers started asking me why they had to do duplicate work. They really hated having to enter the diagnosis and charge codes into the EHR and then document them again in the paper chart. Plus, they followed up that they could see the other section of the notes in the EHR and “why couldn’t they just use that instead of the paper chart.” The reality was: Doctors hated doing duplicate work!

Once I heard this, I ran to the director of the Health Center’s office and told her what they’d said. We both agreed, why wait? A week or so later we’d moved from paper charts to a full EHR implementation.

There were a lot of lessons learned from this experience. First, it’s amazing how people want to use the new system when they can see that it’s possible. They basically drove the EHR implementation forward. However, what was interesting to me was the power of “duplicate work.” We all hate it and it was a driving force for using technology the right way.

While we used the concept of duplicate work for good, there’s a lot of duplicate work in healthcare which drives patients and healthcare staff totally nuts. However, we don’t do anything about it. This was highlighted perfectly in a recent e-Patient update from Anne Zieger. Go and read her full account. We’ll be here when you get back.

What’s astounding from her account is how even though doctors hate duplicate work for themselves, we’re happy to let our patients and support staff do duplicate work all the time. I’ve seen some form of Anne’s experience over and over. Technology can and should solve this. This is true across multiple clinics but is absolutely true in the same clinic where you handle the workflow.

I get that there are reasons why you may want a staff to verify a patient’s record to ensure it was entered correctly and is complete. That’s absolutely understandable and would not have likely been an issue for Anne. However, to disregard the work a patient had done on their intake paperwork is messed up. Let alone not tapping into a patient’s history that may have been entered at another clinic owned by the same organization or collecting/updating the info electronically through a patient portal. I’m reminded of @cancergeek’s recent comment about the excuse that “it’s how we’ve always done it.”

In the past this might not have mattered too much. Patients would keep coming back. However, the tides of consumerism in healthcare are changing. Do you enjoy doing duplicate work? Of course not! It’s time to purge duplicate work for patients and healthcare staff as well!

E-Patient Update: Apple Offers iPhone EMR Access

Posted on June 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.

Over the last few years, Apple has steadily beefed up the health data access provided by its iPhone operating system, in ways that have made some sense. But depending on how consumers react, its latest effort may have the biggest impact of all of its data sharing efforts to date.

In its latest mobile operating system, Apple is allowing users to store their EMR data directly in its Health app, using the HL7 CCD standard. And while this isn’t a huge step forward for interoperability, it does give e-patients like me a greater sense of control, which is definitely a good thing.

In recent years, Apple has made increasingly sophisticated efforts to unify healthcare data. Perhaps the highest profile effort is the summer 2014 launch of HealthKit, a healthcare data integration platform whose features include connecting consumer-generated data with traditional clinical sources such as the Epic EMR.

Meanwhile, it has steadily added capabilities to the Health app, which launched with iOS 8. Since then, it has been encouraging consumers to manage health data on their phone using HealthKit-enabled apps like the Epic MyChart patient portal app. The new EMR data retrieval function is available in the iOS 10 version of Health.

According to Apple blog 9to5Mac, consumers can import the CCD data from Mail, Safari and other applications as well as into Health. When consumers add the CCD file to Health, the app opens and providers a quick preview of the document’s data, including the healthcare provider’s name, patient’s name and document owner’s name. It also identifies the document’s custodian. Once downloaded, the device stores the document in encrypted form, indefinitely.

Also, when a user confirms that they want to save the record to the Health app, the CCD info is added to a list of all of the health record documents stored in the app, making it easier to identify the entire scope of what a user has stored.

Looked at one way, the addition of medical record storage capabilities to the latest iOS release may not seem like a big deal. After all, I’ve been downloading broad swaths of my healthcare data from the Epic MyChart app for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t rocked my world. The document MyChart produces can be useful, but it’s not easily shareable. How will it change patients’  lives to store multiple records on their cell phone, their tablet or heaven help us, their Apple Watch?

On the surface, the answer is almost certainly “not much,” but I think there’s more to this than meets the eye. Yes, this solution doesn’t sound particularly elegant, nor especially useful for patients who want to share data with clinicians. My guess is that at first, most consumers will download a few records and forget that they’re available.

However, Apple brings something unique to the table. It has what may be the best-integrated consumer technology base on the planet, and can still claim a large, fanatical following for its products. If it trains up its user base to demand EMR data, they might trigger a cultural shift in what data patients expect to have available. And that could prove to be a powerful force for change.

E-patient Update: Remote Monitoring Leaves Me Out of The Loop

Posted on May 24, 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.

As some readers may recall, I don’t just write about digital health deployment — I live it. To be specific, my occasional heart arrhythmia (Afib) is being tracked remotely by device implanted in my chest near my heart. My cardiac electrophysiologist implanted the Medtronic device – a “loop recorder” roughly the size of a cigarette lighter though flatter — during a cardiac ablation procedure.

The setup works like this:

  • The implanted device tracks my heart rhythm, recording any events that fit criteria programmed into it. (Side note: It’s made entirely of plastic, which means I need not fear MRIs. Neat, huh?)
  • The center also includes a bedside station which comes with a removable, mouse shaped object that I can place on my chest to record any incidents that concern me. I can also record events in real time, when I’m on the road, using a smaller device that fits on my key ring.
  • Whether I record any perceived episodes or not, the bedside station downloads whatever information is stored in the loop recorder at midnight each night, then transmits it to the cardiac electrophysiologist’s office.
  • The next day, a tech reviews the records. If any unusual events show up, the tech notifies the doctor, who reaches out to me if need be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is all very cool. And these devices have benefited me already, just a month into their use. For example, one evening last week I was experiencing some uncomfortable palpitations, and wondered whether I had reason for concern. So I called the cardiac electrophysiologist’s after-hours service and got a call back from the on-call physician.

When she and I spoke, her first response was to send me to my local hospital. But once I informed her that the device was tracking my heart rhythms, she accessed them and determined that I was only experiencing mild tachycardia. That was certainly a relief.

No access for patients

That being said, it bugs me that I have no direct access to this information myself. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that interacting with heart rhythm data is complicated. Certainly, I can’t do as much in response to that information as I could if the device were, say, tracking my blood glucose levels.

That being said, my feeling is that I would benefit from knowing more about how my heart is working, or failing to work appropriately in the grand scheme of things, even if I can’t interpret the raw data of the device produces. For example, it would be great if I could view a chart that showed, say, week by week when events occurred and what time they took place.

Of course, I don’t know whether having this data would have any concrete impact on my life. But that being said, it bothers me that such remote monitoring schemes don’t have their core an assumption that patients don’t need this information. I’d argue that Medtronic and its peers should be thinking of ways to loop patients in any time their data is being collected in an outpatient setting. Don’t we have an app for that, and if not, why?

Unfortunately, no matter how patients scream and yell about this, I doubt we’ll make much progress until doctors raise their voices too. So if you’re a physician reading this, I hope you’re willing to get involved since patients deserve to know what’s going on with their bodies. And if you have the means to help them know, make it happen!

ONC Encourages Emergence Of E-Patients

Posted on February 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.

Throughout the Meaningful Use rollout, there’s been discussion of how to best use all of these new health IT toys to get patients more engaged in their care.  But as far as I know, the following is the first time ONC has officially launched an initiative to cultivate the emergence of health IT-smart e-patients.

In a new article in Health Affairs, ONC national coordinator for  health IT Farzad Mostashari has shared plans to use health IT to reach patients and encourage their involvement with their care. The ONC is already working with 17 Beacon communities to test ideas such as text-messaging for diabetes risk assessment, but the idea now is to expand things to much higher level.

ONC now hopes to encourage patients to participate in e-patient activities such as secure e-mail messaging with doctors, use of EMRs that patients can add to and transmit, as well as use of mobile health apps for chronic disease monitoring and wellness promotion, reports Politico.com.

I’m excited to see ONC jump on this bandwagon enthusiastically. While there is an e-patient movement afoot, and a growing list of doctors interested in “participatory medicine,” it’s unlikely that the run-of-the-mill patient with few self-advocacy or technical skills would get involved on their own.

And the truth is, if ONC truly wants to build a nation of engaged patients, Meaningful Use requirements are too modest by far. Sure, there’s new requirements afoot that will make it easier for patients to e-mail doctors and transmit their health information, and that’s fine. But the truth is that few patients will take advantage of these features without a great degree of encouragement.

As something of an e-patient myself, I’m eager to see the movement blossom, as I believe it’s good for both the clinician and ordinary citizens receiving medical care. Let’s see how much effort Dr. Mostashari and his team put into cultivating patient engagement.