Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Don’t Blame Providers For Variations In EMR Use

Posted on June 20, 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.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association has documented what we all already know  — that providers have idiosyncracies in how they use EMRs. The question that remains unanswered is whether this is a bad thing.

According to iHealthBeat, researchers dug into a massive amount of data which painted a picture of how 112 physicians and nurse practitioners working in federally qualified health care centers in New York City used their EMRs. To conduct the study, the researchers looked at 430,803 visits by 99,649 patients who came to the centers.

After analyzing the data, the study found that providers varied in several key habits when using their EMRs, including how often the updated patient problem lists, when they would respond to clinical decision support alerts, whether the appointment was with a new patient or an established one, and the use of the meaningful use objective metrics, iHealthBeat reported.

Why were providers vary so widely and how they conducted these tasks? Researchers said that there are several reasons for this variation, including the providers overall familiarity with the EMR system, the familiarity with the patient’s medical problems, and workflow differences due to staffing differences at the health centers.

According to the researchers, significant variance among providers’ EMR use suggests that it’s a good idea to measure individual level measures of usage, as such studies might improve research on quality and cost outcomes of EMR use. In other words, the study suggests that variance in EMR usage might lead to positive or negative outcomes, and that standardization — once best practices are determined — might improve outcomes.

The problem with this logic, though it sounds  good on the surface, is that providers are struggling hard enough already to develop routines which make EMRs work for them. And as with any other technology, those workarounds are going to vary depending on who you’re talking about and what they’re trying to accomplish.

I’d argue that while tracking sources of variance in EMR use might have some value in improving outcomes, it’s no excuse to force standardization in professionals’ EMR habits, as long as their overall outcomes are appropriate. What’s more, a push to standardize how providers use EMRs puts the struggle to make them workable on providers, not the vendors whose product quirks are almost certainly responsible for this dilemma.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that while this research is useful, it should raise a red flag on vendors, whose usability levels are still far from where they should be. When you give providers a highly usable, well-thought-out interface to use which suits their daily routines, then it might be time to streamline their work habits. Until then, give  them a break if you don’t want to spark a revolution.

P.S. If you’re curious about what the best thinking on EMR usability is out there, check out this list.

Ambulatory EMRs Can Raise, Lower Medical Costs Depending On Use

Posted on June 26, 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.

For years, researchers and policymakers have been looking for the numbers which would definitively prove that there’s a decent return on investment for EMRs, or at least better articulate the impact that they do have. Here’s a look at a study which should add something interesting to the conversation.

New research has concluded that Medicaid spending may increase or decrease depending on how community health providers use ambulatory EMRs, according to a report in iHealthBeat.

The study, which was published in the Medicare and Medicaid Research Review, examined laboratory, radiology and general medical spending at three community health practices taking part.  The practices were part of a pilot program by the Massaschusetts eHealth Collaborative, in which researchers compared s pending before and after EMR implementation with  practices which largely hadn’t implemented EMRs.

Researchers concluded that there was a distinctive difference in medical spending at two of the three practices using EMRs, iHealthBeat reports. In one case, costs grew at a rate of about 2 percent less (or $41.60 per member per month) than at practices without EMRs. At the second practice, meanwhile, costs were 2.5 percent higher (or about $43.34 per member per month) than with the no-EMR comparison practices.

EMRs didn’t seem to impact radiology and laboratory costs; there were no significant differences in costs in these areas between practices using EMRs and practices without them.

All of this sounds intriguing, as we’d all like to know more about how EMRs can actually be used to cut costs — or how EMR use can be changed to avoid added costs.  The downside, however, is that the study didn’t produce this type of evidence, iHealthBeat said.

As study co-author Julia Adler-Milstein notes, the study did demonstrate that EMRs can impact ambulatory medical costs, but the effect was not consistent across communities, and the net effect cost-wise was minimal at best.  I was disappointed to read this, as I was expecting to pick up some data on specific best practices ambulatory caregivers can implement to save money using EMRs.  Guess we’ll have to wait for future research for that information!

Physician EMR Use Passes 50% – Yeah Right…

Posted on January 12, 2011 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.

The CDC recently did a survey of EMR use in doctor’s offices and they reported that EMR use rose to 50.7% in 2010. The 50.7% of physicians estimated to use EMR systems in 2010 was up from 48.3% in 2009, 42% in 2008 and 34.8% in 2007. Well, with that data, I think it’s pretty clear that they have some issues defining EMR use, no?

Here’s a paragraph from the American Medical News article on the study:

The latest CDC information on EMR use, released on Dec. 14, 2010, was based on surveys mailed to 10,301 physicians between April and July 2010. About two-thirds of physicians responded to the survey, according to the CDC. The 50.7% of physicians estimated to use such systems in 2010 was up from 48.3% in 2009, 42% in 2008 and 34.8% in 2007. The 2010 estimate is preliminary, because it relies only on the mailed responses and not answers gathered through follow-up calls. The CDC National Center for Health Statistics counted as an EMR any system that is all or partially electronic and is not used exclusively for billing.

So, from this paragraph let me provide a better conclusion: 50.7% of Physicians use some form of software in their clinic.

As most of you know, I’m not a huge fan of arguing over the definition of words, but to say that over 50% of doctors use EMR is laughable since their definition of EMR is so broad. Here’s the real details from the study on what percentage actually really use an EMR (as most people would define EMR):

According to the survey, 24.9% of office-based physicians had access to a “basic” EMR system, while only 10.1% had a “fully functional” system.

I think their definition of “fully functional” EMR system is probably too stringent. Their definition of “basic” EMR system is probably too simple. So, I’d conclude that actual EMR use is somewhere between 10% and 34.9% or 22.45% if we average the 2 numbers. Close to 25% EMR adoption feels like the right number to me, so I’m glad to see the real data supports that conclusion.

What the 50% number does indicate is that half of physicians are looking at electronic methods to improve their office. I’d project that another 25% are seriously considering the idea of implementing an EMR, but haven’t done anything yet. 75% (using my projections) of doctors interested in EMR and other technology is still a bit far from the 100% number, but considering the past history of healthcare IT I’ll say that’s progress.