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athenahealth Partners With Quality Group To Research EMR Patient Safety

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.

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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Study: EMR Default Med Settings Can Cause Harm To Patients

EMR default settings for medications caused adverse events in more than 3 percent of cases reviewed by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority in a recent study, reports Healthcare IT News.

Researchers with the PPSA analyzed 324 EMR default values (preset medication, dose and delivery) that led to adverse events, in an effort to provide the state’s healthcare facilities with data that could help them avoid such problems. Of the total, six errors were led to what were deemed “unsafe conditions”, while 314 events were reported which generated no known harm to the patient.

Researchers found that the most commonly reported error types were wrong-time errors (200), wrong-dose errors (71) and inappropriate use of an automated stopping function (28).

In theory, default values are there to make medication dosing more standardized and efficient in hospitals. But there are situations in which presets can actually cause harm if they’re not used properly, Healthcare IT News said.

For example, in one report, a patient’s temperature shot up after a default stop time automatically cancelled an antibiotic. In another case, a patient’s sodium levels kept rising because a default note to administer an antidiuretc was marked “per respiratory therapy”; nurses, in response to that note, failed to administer the drug since they incorrectly believed that respiratory therapy was giving the patient the drug.

Another two reports involved temporary harm that called for treatment or intervention by clinical professionals. In one case, a patient got a muscle relaxant dose much higher than intended, and another involved administration of an extra dose of morphine too close to the patient’s last dose.

According to a PPSA statement cited by Healthcare IT News, many of these error reports involved a source of erroneous data, most commonly failure to change a default value or user-entered values being overwritten by the system. Errors also took place when a user failed to enter information completely, which caused the system to insert information into blank parameters.

As useful as these observations are, they just scratch the surface of what can be done to improve EMR safety. Hopefully, the new HHS Health IT Patient Action and Surveillance Plan will address and even cure issues that lie beyond the scope of Pennsylvania’s efforts.

September 10, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

When The EMR *Is* The Problem

The other day, I sat in an office while a nurse practitioner entered data into an EMR.  The visit was a follow-up, so there wasn’t a lot to record, but somehow, it took a good 45 minutes nonetheless.  While the nurse’s long stenciled fingernails couldn’t have helped her typing speed much, the real problem seemed to be the EMR, which kept locking up and seemed to be harboring someone else’s data. (It had my weight at 50 plus pounds more than I am, a data problem to be avoided if you’re hoping to track patients for health risks.)

Now, I do think some of the responsibility for the crazy quilt of mistakes and processing problems can be laid at the feet of the nurse, who didn’t seem particularly well oriented to the system and as noted, clearly couldn’t have passed a high school typing test. I also doubt she had to mispronounce my name three times as she moved from one screen to another.  Clearly, she wasn’t big on bedside (office-side?) manner.

The thing is, I think she wanted to be helpful, wanted to be personal and most importantly, wanted to be careful with the interview and med prescriptions. The problem was, she was so embedded in the process of using the EMR that the higher purpose of having it there in the first place was all but lost. Though she seemed bright enough, the nurse had trouble compensating for the demands of the system.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that even if the nurse will never win any IT prizes, the situation was not her fault.  It was that the EMR absorbed all of the nurse’s attention and concentration, leaving me feeling somewhat peripheral to the situation at best. Yes, she could probably make some improvements in how she interacts with patients, but if taking her eyes off the screen means she forgets critical details, that’s not going to happen.

This experience left me wondering: How often are good clinicians being turned into distant, vexed and struggling professionals who barely acknowledge that the patient is there twiddling their thumbs?  And how can the health system afford this kind of timewaste and error-prone user patterns?  I don’t know the answer to either question but I think we should find out.

January 25, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Study: Drug Problems Most Common EMR Safety Event

When the phrase “EMR problems” comes to mind, most of us get a  mental image of hardware flaws, software bugs or integration problems. But according to a new study, the majority of EMR-related patient care problems stem from issues in how people interact with their system, specifically in documenting and administering medication.

In recent research, the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority queried the state’s patient safety reporting database to identify EMR-related events. After sifting out events that didn’t truly appear to be EMR-related, analysts were left with 3,099 patient safety issue reports. The events were then classified by the harm score assigned by the reporter.

As it turns out, the great majority of events (89%) resulted in no harm to the patient. Ten percent of events were reported as “unsafe conditions” but also resulted in no harm to the patient.  Fifteen events actually resulted in temporary harm to the patient:

* Six cases of entering wrong medication data
* Three cases of administering the wrong medication
* Two cases of ignoring a documented allergy
* Two cases of failure to enter lab tests
* Two cases of failure to document

The only event that resulted in significant harm stemmed from failure to properly document an allergy, analysts said:

Patient with documented allergy to penicillin received ampicillin and went into shock, possible [sic] due to anaphylaxis. Allergy written on some order sheets and “soft” coded into Meditech but never linked to pharmacy drug dictionary.

All told, medication errors were the most commonly reported event (81 percent), largely wrong-drug, dose, time patient or route errors (50 percent) or omitted dose (10 percent).

It’s worthy of note that according to the researchers, the narrative reports of EMR-related reports dug up from the Pennsylvania database differed meaningfully from reports found in FDA database MAUDE and Australia’s Advanced Incident Management System, which have different reporting requirements.

It seems that there’s a lot more work to be done in exposing the types of patient safety errors that may be unique to EMRs, but this looks like a good start.

December 13, 2012 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

101 Tips to Make Your EMR and EHR More Useful – EHR Tips 21-25

Time for the next entry covering Shawn Riley’s list of 101 Tips to Make your EMR and EHR More Useful. I met someone at a conference who commented that they liked this series of posts. I hope you’re all enjoying the series as well.

25. Care coordination is much easier in an EMR and should be evaluated to be used
The idea of care coordination has never been more important in the history of healthcare. It’s the future of healthcare (at least in the US). Whether they end up being called ACOs or some other term, the switch to needing to coordinate care in order to improve the health of a population is happening as we speak. Luckily, EMR software is a great way to facilitate this care coordination.

24. Take advantage of E-Health tools
I actually think that this is a big call to EMR vendors to integrate their EMR software with the various e-health tools out there today. EHR vendors that think they can create every e-Health tool a doctor could want are going to be left behind by those systems which support the most popular consumer health tools on the market. However, that’s not to say that doctors can’t do their part. Start getting your patient using the e-health tools that will benefit them as a patient and then start requesting that your EMR vendor support the tools you’re using.

23. Make certain all caregivers know that logs are kept for any system overrides
Don’t hide the fact that everything is logged. Let everyone know that whatever is done on the system is logged. While some may see this as big brother watching them, most will realize that the logs are a protection for them. They log exactly what was done and said and who did it.

I remember one time there was some problem in our EMR system. I can’t remember the specific issue. Well, it was brought up in our staff meeting and the director said, whoever made this mistake is going to be providing breakfast for the whole staff. I went into the logs to see who’d accessed the patient to do the offending task. Little did the director (who was also a practicing provider a few times a week) know that she was the offending party. Everyone in the clinic enjoyed a nice breakfast that week.

22. Give caregivers the ability to override the system when necessary
Mistakes happen in documentation in an EMR. We’re all imperfect human beings (except for my wife) who make mistakes. So, you need an option and likely a process for how and who can make corrections to what was done in the EMR. Just be sure that everything that’s “overwritten” is logged and the reason for the change is well documented.

21. Develop a root cause analysis process for the EMR
I’m not that familiar with root cause analysis processes, so I’ll just share what Shawn says about it:

You very likely already have a root cause analysis model for your practice. You will need to adopt that model to the EMR. If you don’t, you will create a likelihood for the same errors to continually repeat. The EMR process is different than a usual root cause analysis. You will need to take into account interfaces, security roles, single sign on, and several other things beyond the “simple” human process.

If you want to see my analysis of the other 101 EMR and EHR tips, I’ll be updating this page with my 101 EMR and EHR tips analysis. So, click on that link to see the other EMR tips.

November 8, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

101 Tips to Make Your EMR and EHR More Useful – EHR Tips 26-30

Time for the next entry covering Shawn Riley’s list of 101 Tips to Make your EMR and EHR More Useful. I met someone at a conference who commented that they liked this series of posts. I hope you’re all enjoying the series as well.

30. Remember that the EMR is only part of the safety problem
Remember that the EMR is just a tool. How you use that tool still matters. How you manage that tool matters. How you implement that tool matters. Safety is a result of great processes and that doesn’t change when you implement an EMR. In fact, I’d say it’s even more important. The same applies to bad clinical workflows. EMR won’t solve those bad workflows either. You can try to do a redesign of the workflows with the EMR implementation, but that often doesn’t go over well.

29. Errors should be easily reportable
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly which errors Shawn is talking about. I think I’ll take a different spin on it than what he intended and talk about the errors or issues that someone has using an EMR. This is particularly important when you first implement an EMR. You should want to know the errors that are occurring regularly so you can fix them. Make it easy for them to report them and provide proper encouragement and/or rewards for reporting errors they have with the system. Ignorance is not bliss…it always catches up to you eventually.

28. Use data to show both individual and system safety metrics
The key component that Shawn is describing here is the ability to report on various cross sections of data (individual vs system). If you can’t chop up your data to really know what’s going on in your system, then you’re not going to be able to really pinpoint the issues that users are having. Maybe it’s only one person who’s bringing down the average for the entire hospital. You don’t want to make sweeping changes to the system that annoy the majority of users when all you really needed to do was address the issues of an individual or small group of individuals.

27. Record management in the EMR is just as important as in paper
You thought HIM was done when you got the EMR. Wrong! Their role is still very important. Granted, it changes pretty dramatically, but in the clinics I’ve worked in the records management people were able to do a much more effective job improving the patient record in the EMR. Many of the things they did they never had time to do cause they were too busy pulling and filing paper charts.

26. Evaluate decision support tools for a fit to your needs
I believe that the clinical decision support tools are going to be the thing that changes the most over the next 5-10 years. You should definitely see how the clinical decision support tools they have available fit into your environment, but also spend as much time seeing what they’ve implemented and what their road map and method of implementing new clinical decision support tools is so you know where they’re going to be with their tools and product in five years.

If you want to see my analysis of the other 101 EMR and EHR tips, I’ll be updating this page with my 101 EMR and EHR tips analysis. So, click on that link to see the other EMR tips.

October 28, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.