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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.)

DoD May Keep Its EMR Until 2018

Posted on 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 @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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?

Patients Benefit From Access To EHR Data

Posted on 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 @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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.