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Report: Poor EMR Use Created Hazards At VA Clinic

A new report from the Office of the Inspector General for the VA has concluded that a lack of EMR documentation, as well as the shredding of prescription records and potentially inappropriate renewals of opiate prescriptions, are ongoing problems at the VA’s Medical Practice Clinic in San Francisco.

The report follows on a a similar OIG effort exposing an array of poor practices, including improper EMR use and inadequate patient monitoring, at its Memphis location, according to a story in EHR Intelligence.

The OIG’s research found that providers at the San Francisco clinic were failing to document prescription renewal problems in the EMR, and that they seldom completed a narcotic instruction note template for pain management patients.

Meanwhile, reviews of patient adherence to their regimen in screenings for possible abuse were conducted in less than half of the cases analyzed by OIG. Fifty-three percent of patient files reflected no documentation that a qualified clinician checked in on the patient’s pain management regimen, and one-third of patients did not have documented urine drug test to ensure that the patient was using the medication correctly, EHR Intelligence reported.

Also, the clinic used paper prescription request forms to share the status of renewal requests between one clinician and another — but these paper communications were later shredded and never became part of the patient’s EMR file, leaving a big documentation gap.

Perhaps the most egregious problem at the clinic arose due to the clinic’s otherwise understandable attempt to keep pain patients current with the medications, EHR Intelligence noted.

The clinic serves 10,000 patients using ten nurse practitioners and 30 part-time attending on duty physicians. Patients, who are allowed only 30 day doses of narcotics, had been getting renewal scripts from whatever part-time attending physician was available. Often, the attendings didn’t know the patients and in some cases had never met the patient’s in person when they wrote the prescription renewals.

In the wake of these findings, the San Francisco VA clinic will cease using attendings to review urgent script renewal requests and will migrate to the use of an opioid dashboard to manage such requests on the primary care side of the clinic.

December 3, 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.

DoD May Keep Its EMR Until 2018

Though it had previously announced plans to update its system by 2017, the Department of Defense is now looking for contractors who can support its current EMR, the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA), through 2018, according to iHealthBeat.

The DoD and VA have been working for years to integrate their separate systems,but seemingly have little to show for their efforts. The two sprawling agencies kicked off their effort to create an integrated record, the iEHR, back in 2009. The idea was to offer every service member to maintain a single EMR throughout their career and lifetime, iHealthBeat reports. But the effort has been something of a disaster.

The iEHR project was halted in February 2013, with officials deciding to work on making their current EMR systems more interoperable. A few months later, DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote a memo stating that the agency will consider a commercial EMR system. Most recently, the DoD asked 27 EMR vendors to provide demos of possible EMR replacements, according to iHealthBeat.

In DoD’s pre-solicitation notice, DoD announced that it would extend the contract for AHLTA’s underlying Composite Healthcare System, which is the back end of the military EMR.  The Composite Health System handles laboratory tests, prescriptions and scheduling.

That being said, the DoD is also moving along with its iEHR plans once again, a gigantic project which the Interagency Program Office estimates will cost somewhere between $8 billion and $12 billion. A contractor named Systems Made Simple recently won the contract to provide systems integration and engineering support for creating  the iEHR.

Folks, if you can follow the twists and turns of this story — they’ve giving me whiplash — you’re a better person than I am. So far as I can tell, the DoD changes its mind about once a quarter as to what it really wants and needs. Seems to me that Congress ought to keep that birch rod handy that it used on HHS over the HealthCare.gov debacle. Isn’t somebody going to get this thing once and for all on track?

November 13, 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.

DoD, VA Move Closer To Joint EHR

It looks like the DoD and VA may yet again be making  progress toward creating an integrated health record, after a long stretch when it looked like the project was dead, according to Healthcare IT News.

This is a gigantic effort, and expenses for executing it are gigantic too. In September 2012, the Interagency Program Office estimated the final costs for the iEHR at between $8 billion to $12 billion.

The course of the project has been bumpy, with key players shifting direction more than once. Most recently, the DoD had announced in May that it was looking for an EHR on the commercial market, seemingly dropping plans for creating an iEHR with the VA. But now the two agencies have awarded a re-compete contract for creating the iEHR, HIN reports.

Last week, the Interagency Program office said that Systems Made Simple had won the contract, under which the company would provide systems integration and engineering support for creating the iEHR.  SMS had previously won the contract in 2012, but that contract called for it to bid again in a competitive process.

The idea behind the iEHR has been and continues to be creating a system that can present a single record for each military veteran, complete with all clinical information held by the two giant agencies.

However, for a time it looked like the iEHR project was dead, when the two organizations announced that they were shifting their approach to buying technology from an outside vendor. Critics — including myself  – sharply scolded the agencies when these plans came to light, with most suggesting that the new plan was doomed to fail.

Now, the integration game is on. SMS’s three main focus areas will be to establish data interoperability between the VA and DoD systems, plan a service-oriented architecture for the integration, and create terminology translation services that deliver data to users in a shared format, notes HIN.

With these goals met, SMS plans to “create data through a single, common health record between all VA and DoD medical facilities,” the company said in a statement.

Now, let’s hope that nobody in the agencies switches direction again. Let’s give this thing a chance to work, people!

October 24, 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.

DoD Official Challenges Agency’s EMR Approach

Back in 2009, the Department of Defense and the VA began an initiative, the iEHR project, which was supposed to integrate the two sprawling agencies’ EMR systems.  That initiative came to a halt in February, with the two organizations deciding make their two independent systems more interoperable and the data contained wtihin more shareable.

At least one DoD official, however, believes that the latest effort flies in the face of President Obama’s directive that agencies adopt and use open data standards. J. Michael Gilmore, director of the DoD’s operational test and evaluation office, has sent a memo to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arguing that the DoD’s plan to evaluate commercial EMR systems is “manifestly inconsistent” with that order.

“The White House has repeatedly recommended that the Department take an inexpensive and direct approach to implementing the President’s open standards,” Gilmore wrote. “Unfortunately, the Department’s preference is to purchase proprietary software for so-called “core” health management functions…To adhere to the President’s agenda, the iEHR program should be reorganized and the effort to define and purchase “core” functions in the near term be abandoned.”

If the DoD actually manages to successfully implement a commercial EMR system, it “would be the exception to the rule, given the Department’s consistently poor performance whenever it has attempted wholesale replacement of existing business processes with commercially derived enterprise software,” Gilmore noted tartly.

Gilmore recommends that the DoD go the open standards route by defining and testing the iEHR architecture, then purchasing a software “layer” to connect DoD’s EMR with other providers using open standards.

The VA, meanwhile, has formally proposed that the DoD migrate from its existing AHLTA EMR to the VA’s popular VistA EMR, already in place successfully throughout the agency’s hospitals and clinics. VistA is deployed at more than 1,500 sites of care, including 152 hospitals, 965 outpatient clinics, 133 community living centers and 293 Vet Centers.

April 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Patients Benefit From Access To EHR Data

While doctors may not be completely comfortable with granting patients access to their EHR data, new evidence suggests that doing so produces significant benefits.  A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has concluded that granting patients such access “overwhelmingly” yields positive results, according to a report in FierceEMR.

To track the benefits of patient data access, researchers studied the My HealtheVet EHR pilot program, which gave access to the initial PHR established by VA. The pilot recruited 7,464 patients at nine VA facilities between 2000 and 2010.  An enrolled patient completing in-person identity proofing could access clinic notes, hospital discharge notes, problem lists, vital signs, medications, allergies, appointments, and laboratory and imaging test results. They could also as enter personal health data, access educational content and authorize others to access the PHR for them.

To evaluate the impact of the pilot, researchers from within and outside of the VA conducted focus group interviews at the Portland, Ore.-based VA Medical Center, which had 72 percent of pilot enrollees.

In discussing the program with patients, researchers found that they did have some negative experiences, such as reading uncomplimentary or offensive language in notes, concerns with inconsistencies in content and some technical problems with the EHR, FierceEMR reports. On the other hand, having access to their data improved patients’ communication with clinicians, coordination of care and follow-through on key items such as abnormal test results, the study found.

That being said, there are some repercussions to offering this access, researchers found. Though having access to notes and test results seems to empower patients, increase their  knowledge and improve self-care, it does have an impact on how physicians practice. “While shared records may or may not impact overall clinic workload, it is likely to change providers’ work, necessitating new types of skills to communicate and partner with patients,” the authors said.

April 8, 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.

Frontline Female Veterans Likely to Benefit from New VA Telemedicine Project

As anyone in healthcare will tell you, the U.S. government has an interesting sense of timing. A day after the Pentagon announces it plans to end its ban on women in frontline combat, the VA announces that it has awarded grants to VA facilities that are launching women’s health projects, including establishing telehealth services for female veterans living in rural areas. Coincidence, or well-timed marketing/public relations strategy?

According to the VA’s press release announcing the grants, “Women serve in every branch of the military, representing 15 percent of today’s active duty military and nearly 18 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces. By 2020, VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the Veteran population.”

No mention was made in the release, of course, of the 237,000 jobs that will be available to women in the armed forces now that the combat ban has been lifted. I wonder if that 10-percent figure might jump a little once 2016 rolls around and arguments amongst government agencies regarding combat roles that should remain closed to women are laid to rest.

Telehealth grants were awarded to 10 facilities, and, according to the VA, will be used to provide services including tele-mental health, tele-gynecology, tele-pharmacy and telephone maternity care coordination.

While I applaud Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s statement that “[t]hese new projects will improve access and quality of critical health care services for women,” I’m not quite sure where I stand on the underlying issue – why aren’t female veterans already given 100 percent access to care at VA facilities, and why does the government seem to be planning for an increased need for healthcare services? But that speaks to a bigger problem that is probably best addressed elsewhere.

January 30, 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.

Having Already Failed Once, DoD Snubs Open Source For Second EMR Try

In theory, the VA now has everything it needs to standardize and upgrade the open source VistA EMR, especially after forming the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA) organization.  But when it comes to bringing that expertise to the DoD’s EMR projects, it seems OSEHRA alone can’t do the trick.  Sadly, it’s no surprise to find this out, as the DoD has an abysmal track record on this subject.

OSEHRA, an independent non-profit open source group, was launched about a year ago. The group is working away at improving compatibility between versions of VistA at the 152 VA medical centers.  According to an InformationWeek piece, there’s now about 120 different versions of VistA ticking away within the VA system.  OSEHRA hopes to create a common core — a “minimum baseline standard”  for 20 VistA modules — which will make it easier for the medical centers to deploy enterprise-wide apps.

The DoD, meanwhile, is hacking away at a joint system with the VA, called iEHR, which is due for initial testing in 2014.  A few months ago, DoD told Congress that while open source technology will be part of iEHR, the agency will also include commercial and custom applications, using a service-oriented architecture.

What that means, in practical terms, is that OSEHRA will be cooling its heels waiting for DoD contractor Harris Corp. to build an Enterprise Service Bus and open source APIs to allow for open source development on the project.

Now, that wouldn’t raise my suspicions so much if DoD hadn’t proven to be a collosal failure at developing an EMR.  Did anyone else here catch the major slap GAO delivered to DoD a couple of years ago, noting that its 13-year, $2 billion AHLTA application was a near-complete fizzle?  If anyone at DoD had humility, or if their bosses were held accountable for AHLTA’s staggering losses, nobody would let them drive the technical choices on this project.

Am I the only one who sees a recipe for billions more in DoD losses here?

August 28, 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.

Defense Department’s EHR Effort Falters

From reader DKBerry:

You’d think that buying a common EHR platform and deploying it across all of Defense Department’s medical centers (Army, Navy, Air Force) … that they would have done better.  How did VA succeed where DoD is failing?

Unless the Defense Department addresses weaknesses in project planning and management that have hampered its current electronic health-record system’s capabilities, it risks undermining its new EHR initiatives, according to a Government Accountability Office report (PDF) requested by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The report notes how the Defense Department has obligated some $2 billion since 1988 to an EHR system for the 9.6 million active-duty service members, their families and other beneficiaries but has come up short and has scaled back its original expectations for AHLTA. (AHLTA was originally an acronym for “Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application,” but the department later declared it was no longer an acronym, but a brand.)

After finding AHLTA’s early performance “problematic” in terms of speed, usability and availability, the Department of Defense has sought to acquire a new system known as EHR Way Ahead, according to the report.

The new system, according to the GAO report, “is expected to address performance problems; provide unaddressed capabilities such as comprehensive medical documentation; capture and share medical data electronically within DOD; and improve existing information sharing with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” and has initiated efforts to “stabilize” AHLTA so it can act as a bridge until the system is ready.

The Defense Department has allocated $302 million in its 2011 budget request, according to the report, but has not changed its EHR acquisition process to avoid the same shortcomings it experienced with AHLTA.

Source

October 7, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently 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.

Interesting Updates on Free Vista EMR

I previously did a post about some of the problems with Vista-FM. I considered that it was different than Vista, but wasn’t sure completely. The beauty of blogging is that when you make mistakes smart people come and correct you in the comments. This is one of those times. Plus, along with helping me understand the difference between Vista and Vista-FM Chris Richardson, provides an update on some of the other things happening with the open source community around Vista. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s definitely interesting. The following is Chris’ comment:

You jumped at the wrong conclusion when you jumped on VistA as being the faulty item here. What has failed is the “-FM” portion of the GAO report, the Foundation Modernization. You see, VistA is NOT VistA-FM. VistA-FM is the effort to dismantel VistA. Just like all of the other Attempts in the past nearly 20 years, these efforts are under-functioned, over-priced, and way over their delivery schedule. A mere fraction of the cost of what has been expended to replace VistA would have made VistA able to totally out-class every other approach to EHRs. There is work currently going on in the Open Source community to extend VistA and it is working very well. Here are some of the projects that are currently on the way or already in production;

Lab, while the VA is outsourceing to Cerner (with interesting results), the rest of the community outside the VA is continuing on with enhancements and options that will make it easier to install and higher functioning as well as affordable to nearly everyone.

Continuity of Care Records and Data (CCR/CCD) while this standard is a bit anemic, it does promise that we might be able to project all of the VistA databases to other systems or accession data from others.

Holographic EHR – This is one of our concepts, basically you could think of it as “VistA for One” (or a small group of patients), a self consistent subset of the parent VistA environment which could be booted separately. The self-consistent “VistA for One” becomes a mechanism for complete transfer of patient data from one site to another with merge capability. It also becomes an in-hand user copy of his records which can be protected via a network keying system which registers the data set, and records the efforts to open the data set and by whom, and who is attempting to accession the data to what target VistA system.

CPRS
This is fun. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have heard, we need to keep CPRS, but get rid of VistA. The engine behind CPRS IS VistA. Without VistA, CPRS is a screen-saver. The Open Source Community is making enhancements for the CPRS/VistA environments. There is another group that is working on the webification of VistA with open source tools.

By the way, I worked on the proposal team for CHCS-I and we used MUMPS to build interfaces for various other vendors to communicate with each other. In fact, the MUMPS interfaces worked better than the Clover-leaf connection engines.

There is a reason that the Subject Matter Expert developed systems of the VA, DoD, and IHS have been so effective and difficult to replace. VistA is a whole enterprise solution that the vendors hope you never find out about. The vendors focus on dismantling VistA to provide a new niche to build “customer loyalty” (make it too painful and expensive to move to something else so the customer is essentually stuck with the vendor’s solution only. With the VistA model the SMEs are the folks at the point of care, and not a programmer who has never spent an hour in a hospital, yet is charged with the setting of policy for the hospital in his interpretation of the requirements (which may or may not reflect the intent of the SMEs).

By having VistA as Open Source, this means that the cost of doing development has dropped right into the basement. Success can be tried in a thousand places, but with Open Source, as soon as someone comes up with an enhancement or corrects a problem, the change can go out to the rest of the World. The best of breed solutions float to the top to be applied everywhere.

You know, VistA is still running the VA hosptials for over 30 years, don’t you think that if the vendors could have replaced it, they would have? They have tried and gotten paid well for the attempts. But this is part of the problem. There is no incentive to ever complete a task or attempt because then the paydays end. This is why they have confused the community with the use of VistA-FM, use their failures as justification to try to replace VistA yet again.

Let’s take a look at some of these magnificent failures. How about the replacement of IFCAP (the financial part of VistA) with Core-FLS. Now get this. The VA developed IFCAP (by the way, it was not vendors who did this work, it was the VA SMEs who did the daily work of inventory and supply and finance) and owned the code. The VA paid nothing for the code other than the VA programmers and SME’s time. Then they were going to replace it with a package which would only have to do 30% of what IFCAP did. Congress committed $470 million to replace something the VA already owned with something that had less functionality but was more glossy and the VA would have to pay big bucks to the vendor to support. The roll-out of the product was done at Bay Pines VA Medical Center and was so bad that they had to close elective surgery. The vendor spent over half the money just to install the first site and the project was mercifully stopped and IFCAP was re-installed. So much for modernization. This is not an isolated incident.

There was the Spanish Pharmacy labels. Peurto Rico and many of the boarder VA Medical Centers needed to be able to produce Spanish Labels for the Hispanic Patients. This was done by duplicating code rather than completing Internationalization that was started back in the early 1990′s, but stopped by the Clinger-Cohen Act. It would have taken less time and less money to complete internationalization for all of VistA than it took to do a one-up parallel code base for Spanish Pharmacy Labels. Adding another language would mean even more complexity (such as French or German), would be even more duplicate code for a single functionality. By myself, I built a tool to convert all of VistA into being ready for Internationalization and made it so there could be any number of languages that could be selected by the user and not necessarily locked to a single language. It takes about 50 minutes to parse all of VistA into the instrumented code and load the DIALOG file with the words and phrases, ~165,000 phrases in all on a 800 mhz laptop. It does not modify the distributed code but builds the instrumented code in a separate location. This code is available for free download from WorldVistA.

The community is alive an well, and vibrant with new ideas. We are starting to catch up from the “legacy era” and allowing the evolution of the tools to progress again. Want to join in?? It is a lot of fun and a set of real challenges that will bring the power of what needs to be done, back into the hands of the people who are at the point of care. Interesting thing about the word “Legacy”, people think of it as old or non-functional. It really isn’t. It also means that the code is doing the job and doing it just fine. Can it be improved, sure, VistA was made to be improved, to expand beyond what was known and what was learned. But, do remember, VistA-FM is NOT VistA, it is the attempt to break up the integrated hospital system into a series of stove-pipes. VistA-FM is the worst of all FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Distrust). VistA is still running the hospitals and it is running more community hospitals every year.

November 24, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently 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.

Issues with VA Vista EMR

So many people have propped up the VA’s EMR system (Vista) as the model for how EMR should be done.  This story about the GAO finding the EMR implementation over budget is really interesting.  Here’s just one short section about the budget that they have for the VA EMR:

VA officials cited resource availability and interdependencies among projects as key drivers of cost and schedule variances. The GAO has estimated that the program will overrun its current budget – worth approximately $1.897 billion – by $350.2 million.

WOW! That’s a lot of money. I would hope that if you’re spending close to $2 billion you’d have something good to show for it. Too bad it’s just not reasonable for most doctors offices to spend that kind of money.

Here’s another interesting quote from the article (emphasis added):

VistA-FM is designed to provide a framework as well as additional standardization and common services components. It’s also intended to eliminate redundancies in coding and support interoperability among applications. However, VA officials have told the GAO that VistA-FM is costly and difficult to maintain and doesn’t integrate well with newer software packages.

I’m sure the MUMPS fans will come out of the wood work and tell us how great it is. I’m sure it does some things very well. However, I agree with the quote from this article is that it doesn’t integrate well with newer software packages. This is a major problem if we’re talking about inter operable EMR software.

Vista is free for doctors offices. I think it’s the “difficult to maintain” issue that kills most people even with the free price tag. Of course, my focus is on ambulatory EMR. The hospital environment is a mess regardless of which EMR you choose.

November 10, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently 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.