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MGMA Blames Rise in HIT Costs on Fed’s Regs

Posted on September 15, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

MGMA’s released a study of 850 member’s practices showing HIT costs up by more than 45 percent in the last six years. MGMA puts much of the blame on federal regulations. It’s concerned that:

Too much of a practice’s IT investment is tied directly to complying with the ever-increasing number of federal requirements, rather than to providing better patient care. Unless we see significant changes in the final MIPS/APM rule, practice IT costs will continue to rise without a corresponding improvement in the care delivery process.

There may be a good case that the HITECH act is responsible for the lion’s share of HIT growth for these and other providers, but MGMA study doesn’t make the case – not by far.

What the study does do is track the rise in HIT costs since 2011 for physician owned, multispecialty practices. For example, MGMA’s press release notes that IT costs have gone up by almost 47 percent since 2009.

In fairness, MGMA also notes that costs may have also gone up do to other costs, such as patient portals, etc. However, the release emphasizes that regulations are at great fault.

Here’s why MGMA’s case falls flat:

  • Seeing Behind the Paywall. If you want to examine the study, it’ll cost you $655 to read it. Many similar studies that charge, provide a good synopsis and spell out their methodology. MGMA doesn’t do either.
  • Identifying the Issue. It’s one thing to complain about regulations. It’s quite another to identify which ones specifically harm productivity without compensating benefit. MGMA cites regulations without so much as an example.
  • Lacking Comparables. MGMA’s press release notes that total HIT costs were $32,000 per practitioner. However, this does not look at non HIT support costs, nor does it address comparable support costs from other professions.
  • Breaking Down Costs. The study offers comparable information to practitioners by specialty types, etc. However, all IT costs are lumped together and called HIT.
  • Ignoring Backgrounds. MGMA notes that HIT costs rose most dramatically between 2010 and 2011, which marked MU1’s advent. It doesn’t address these practices’ IT state in 2009. It would be good to know how many were ready to install an EHR and how many had to make basic IT improvements?
  • Finessing Productivity. Other than mentioning patient portals, MGMA ignores any productivity changes due to HIT. For example, how long did it take and what did it cost to do a refill request before HIT and now? This and similar productivity measures could give a good view of HIT’s impact.

It’s popular to beat up on HITs in general and EHRs in general. Lord knows, EHRs have their problems, but many of the ills laid at their doorstep are just so much piling on. Or, as is this case, are used to make a connection for the sake of political argument.

Studies that want to get at the effect HIE and EHRs have had on the practice of medicine need to be carefully done. They need to look at how things were done, what they could accomplish and what costs were before and after HIT changes. Otherwise, the study’s data are fitted to the conclusions not the other way around.

MGMA’s a major and important player with a record of service to its members. In this case, it’s using its access to important practice information in support of an antiregulatory policy goal rather than to help determine HIT’s real status.

Is Interoperability Worth Paying For?

Posted on August 18, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

A member of our extended family is a nurse practitioner. Recently, we talked about her practice providing care for several homebound, older patients. She tracks their health with her employer’s proprietary EHR, which she quickly compared to a half-dozen others she’s used. If you want a good, quick EHR eval, ask a nurse.

What concerned her most, beyond usability, etc., was piecing together their medical records. She didn’t have an interoperability problem, she had several of them. Most of her patients had moved from their old home to Florida leaving a mixed trail of practioners, hospitals, and clinics, etc. She has to plow through paper and electronic files to put together a working record. She worries about being blindsided by important omissions or doctors who hold onto records for fear of losing patients.

Interop Problems: Not Just Your Doc and Hospital

She is not alone. Our remarkably decentralized healthcare system generates these glitches, omissions, ironies and hang ups with amazing speed. However, when we talk about interoperability, we focus on mainly on hospital to hospital or PCP to PCP relations. Doing so, doesn’t fully cover the subject. For example, others who provide care include:

  • College Health Systems
  • Pharmacy and Lab Systems
  • Public Health Clinics
  • Travel and other Specialty Clinics
  • Urgent Care Clinics
  • Visiting Nurses
  • Walk in Clinics, etc., etc.

They may or may not pass their records back to a main provider, if there is one. When they do it’s usually by FAX making the recipient key in the data. None of this is particularly a new story. Indeed, the AHA did a study of interoperability that nails interoperability’s barriers:

Hospitals have tried to overcome interoperability barriers through the use of interfaces and HIEs but they are, at best, costly workarounds and, at worst, mechanisms that will never get the country to true interoperability. While standards are part of the solution, they are still not specified enough to make them truly work. Clearly, much work remains, including steps by the federal government to support advances in interoperability. Until that happens, patients across the country will be shortchanged from the benefits of truly connected care.

We’ve Tried Standards, We’ve Tried Matching, Now, Let’s Try Money

So, what do we do? Do we hope for some technical panacea that makes these problems seem like dial-up modems? Perhaps. We could also put our hopes in the industry suddenly adopting an interop standard. Again, Perhaps.

I think the answer lies not in technology or standards, but by paying for interop successes. For a long time, I’ve mulled over a conversation I had with Chandresh Shah at John’s first conference. I’d lamented to him that buying a Coke at a Las Vegas CVS, brought up my DC buying record. Why couldn’t we have EHR systems like that? Chandresh instantly answered that CVS had an economic incentive to follow me, but my medical records didn’t. He was right. There’s no money to follow, as it were.

That leads to this question, why not redirect some MU funds and pay for interoperability? Would providers make interop, that is data exchange, CCDs, etc., work if they were paid? For example, what if we paid them $50 for their first 500 transfers and $25 for their first 500 receptions? This, of course, would need rules. I’m well aware of the human ability to game just about anything from soda machines to state lotteries.

If pay incentives were tried, they’d have to start slowly and in several different settings, but start they should. Progress, such as it is, is far too slow and isn’t getting us much of anywhere. My nurse practitioner’s patients can’t wait forever.

ONC’s Budget Performance Measure Dashboards Makes Goal Tracking Easy

Posted on August 9, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

I recently wrote a post how it’s not easy to compare ONC’s spending plans with what it actually did. That’s not the case with ONC’s Budget Performance Measures. Its Performance Measure dashboard makes those comparisons easy and understandable. For example, you can look up EHR adoption among office based physicians.

Here’s how to use it. On the dashboard page, Figure I, select a general area using the radio buttons. Depending on your choice, the system will list specific issues. You select the one you want from the drop down menu on the right. You can also adjust the period covered. Right clicking a graph downloads it.

Figure I – ONC Dashboard Menu

ONC Dashboard Menu

It’s in the graph that the dashboard excels. It clearly shows targets and results. For example, Figure II shows that while office EHR adoption has grown over the years, it’s running below ONC’s goals. If you’d only saw the actual – which is the case with ONC’s budget — you’d only see adoption going up. You’d have no clue ONC’s goal wasn’t met.

Figure II – ONC Primary Care Adoption

Office Based Primary Care Doc Adoption

These dashboards give the public a way to understand what ONC wants to do and how well — or not so well — its done toward its goals. In doing so, ONC has given us a scoreboard that not only measures what it’s doing, but it also allows the public to focus on benchmarks. ONC’s fiscal reporting isn’t the clearest, but with these dashboards they’ve done themselves well.

ONC’s Budget: A Closer Look

Posted on August 3, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

When HHS released ONC’s proposed FY2017 budget last winter, almost all attention focused on one part, a $22 million increase for interoperability. While the increase is notable, I think ONC’s full $82 Million budget deserves some attention.

ONC’s FY2017 Spending Plan.

Table I, summarizes ONC’s plan for Fiscal Year 2017, which runs from October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017. The first thing to note is that ONC’s funding would change from general budget funds, known as Budget Authority or BA, to Public Health Service Evaluation funds. HHS’ Secretary may allocate up to 2.1 percent of HHS’ funds to these PHS funds. This change would not alter Congress’ funding role, but apparently signals HHS’s desire to put ONC fully in the public health sector.

Table I
ONC FY2017 Budget

fy2017-budget-justification-onc

What the ONC Budget Shows and What it Doesn’t

ONC’s budget follows the standard, federal government budget presentation format. That is, it lists, by program, how many people and how much money is allocated. In this table, each fiscal year, beginning with FY2015, shows the staffing level and then spending.

Staffing is shown in FTEs, that is, full time equivalent positions. For example, if two persons work 20 hours each, then they are equivalent to one full time person or FTE.

Spending definitions for each fiscal year is a little different. Here’s how that works:

  • FY2015 – What actually was spent or how many actually were hired
  • FY2016 – The spending and hiring Congress set for ONC for the current year.
  • FY2017 – The spending and hiring in the President’s request to Congress for next year.

If you’re looking to see how well or how poorly ONC does its planning, you won’t see it here. As with other federal and most other government budgets, you never see a comparison of plans v how they really did. For example, FY2015 was the last complete fiscal year. ONC’s budget doesn’t have a column showing its FY2015 budget and next to it, what it actually did. If it did, you could see how well or how poorly it did following its plan.

You can’t see the amount budgeted for FY2015 in ONC’s budget, except for its total budget. However, if you look at the FY2016 ONC budget, you can see what was budgeted for each of its four programs. While the budget total and the corresponding actual are identical -$60,367,000, the story at the division level is quite different.

                                   Table II
                    ONC FY2015 Budget v Actual
                                    000s

Division

FY2015 Budget $ FY2015 Actuals $ Diff
Policy Development and Coordination 12,474 13,112 638
Standards, Interoperability, and Certification 15,230 15,425 195
Adoption and Meaningful Use 11,139 10,524 (615)
Agency-wide Support 21,524 21,306 (218)
Total 60,367 60,367

 

Table II, shows this by comparing the FY2015 Enacted Budget from ONC’s FY2015 Actuals for its four major activities. While the total remained the same, it shows that there was a major shift of $638,000 from Meaningful Use to Policy. There was a lesser shift of $195,000 from Agency Support to Standards. These shifts could have been actual transfers or they could have been from under and over spending by the divisions.

Interestingly, Table III for staffing shows a different pattern. During FY2015, ONC dropped 25 FTEs, a dozen from Policy Development and the rest from Standards and Meaningful Use. That means, for example, that Policy Development had less people and more money during FY2015.

Table III
ONC FY2015
Budget v Actual Staffing FTEs
Division FY2015 Budget FTEs FY2015 Actuals FTEs Diff
Policy Development and Coordination 49 37 (12)
Standards, Interoperability, and Certification 32 26 (6)
Adoption and Meaningful Use 49 42 (7)
Agency-wide Support 55 55
Total 185 160 25

 

To try to make sense of this, I looked at the current and past year’s budgets, but to no avail. As best I can tell is ONC made great use of contracts and other non personnel services. For example, ONC spent $30 Million on purchase/contracts, which is $8 million more than it did on its payroll.

ONC’s budget, understandably, concentrates on its programs and plans. It puts little emphasis on measuring its hiring and spending abilities. It’s not alone, budgets government and otherwise, are forecast and request documents. However, if we could know how plans went – without having to dig in last year’s weeds  – it would let us know how well a program executed its plans as well as make them. That would be something worth knowing.

Dallas Children’s Health and Sickle Cell Patients: Cobbling Together a Sound Solution

Posted on June 23, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Sickle cell anemia (SCA) is a genetic, red blood cell condition, which damages cell walls impeding their passage through capillaries. Episodic, it is often extremely painful. It can damage organs, cause infections, strokes or joint problems. These episodes or SCA crises can be prompted by any number of environmental or personal factors.

In the US, African Americans are most commonly susceptible to SCA, but other groups can have it as well. SCA presents a variety of management problems in the best of circumstances. As is often the case, management is made even more difficult when the patient is a child. That’s what Children’s Health of Dallas, Texas, one of the nation’s oldest and largest pediatric treatment facilities faced two years ago. Children’s Health, sixty five percent of whose patients are on Medicaid, operates a large, intensive SCA management program as the anchor institution of the NIH funded Southwestern Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.

Children’s Health problem wasn’t with its inpatient care or with its outpatient clinics. Rather, it was keeping a child’s parents and doctors up to date on developments. Along with the SCA clinical staff, Children’s Chief Information Officer, Pamela Arora, and Information Management and Exchange Director, Katherine Lusk, tackled the problem. They came up with a solution using all off the shelf technology.

Their solution? Provide each child’s caregiver with a free Verizon smartphone. Each night, they extracted the child’s information from EPIC and sent it to Microsoft’s free, vendor-neutral HealthVault PHR. This gave the child’s doctor and parents an easy ability to stay current with the child’s treatment. Notably, Children’s was able to put the solution together quickly with minimal staff and without extensive development.

That was two years ago. Since then, EPIC’s Lucy PHR has supplanted the project. However, Katherine Lusk who described the project to me is still proud of what they did. Even though the project has been replaced, it’s worth noting as an important example. It shows that not all HIE projects must be costly, time-consuming or resource intense to be successful.

Children’s SCA project points out the value of these system development factors:

  • Clear, understood goal
  • Precise understanding of users and their needs
  • Small focused team
  • Searching for off the shelf solutions
  • Staying focused and preventing scope creep

Each of these proved critical to Children’s success. Not every project lends itself to this approach, but Children’s experience is worth keeping in mind as a useful and repeatable model of meeting an immediate need with a simple, direct approach.

Note: I first heard of Children’s project at John’s Atlanta conference. ONC’s Peter Ashkenaz mentioned it as a notable project that had not gained media attention. I owe him a thanks for pointing me to Katherine Lusk.

Dumb Question 101: What’s Workflow Doing in an EHR?

Posted on March 29, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

This was going to be a five year relook at Practice Fusion. Back then, I’d written a critical review saying I wouldn’t be a PF consultant. Going over PF now, I found it greatly changed. For example, I criticized it not having a shared task list. Now, it does. Starting to trace other functions, a question suddenly hit me. Why did I think an EHR should have a shared task list or any other workflow function for that matter?

It’s a given that an EHR is supposed to record and retrieve a patient’s medical data. Indeed, if you search for the definition of an EHR, you’ll find just that. For example, Wikipedia defines it this way:

An electronic health record (EHR), or electronic medical record (EMR), refers to the systematized collection of patient and population electronically-stored health information in a digital format.[1] These records can be shared across different health care settings. Records are shared through network-connected, enterprise-wide information systems or other information networks and exchanges. EHRs may include a range of data, including demographics, medical history, medication and allergies, immunization status, laboratory test results, radiology images, vital signs, personal statistics like age and weight, and billing information.[2]

Other definitions, such as HIMSS are similar, but add another critical element, workflow:

The EHR automates and streamlines the clinician’s workflow.

Is this a good or even desirable thing? Now, before Chuck Webster shoots out my porch lights, that doesn’t mean I’m anti workflow. However, I do ask what are workflow features doing in an EHR?

In EHRs early days, vendors realized they couldn’t drop one in a practice like a fax machine. EHRs were disruptive and not always in a good way. They often didn’t play well with practice management systems or the hodgepodge of forms, charts and lists they were replacing.

As a result, vendors started doing the workflow archeology and devising new ones as part of their installs. Over time, EHRs vendors started touting how they could reform not just replace an old system.

Hospitals were a little different. Most had IT staff that could shoehorn a new system into their environment. However, as troubled hospital EHR rollouts attest, they rarely anticipated the changes that EHRs would bring about.

Adding workflow functions to an EHR may have caused what my late brother called a “far away” result. That is, the farther away you were from something, the better it looked. With EHR workflow tools, the closer you get to their use, the more problems you may find.

EHRs are designed for end users. Adding workflow tools to these assumes that the users understand workflow dynamics and can use them accordingly. Sometimes this works well, but just as often the functions may not be as versatile as the situation warrants. Just ask the resident who can’t find the option they really need.

I think the answer to EHR workflow functions is this. They can be nice to have, like a car’s backup camera. However, having one doesn’t make you a good driver. Having workflow functions shouldn’t fool you into thinking that’s all workflow requires.

The only way to determine what’s needed is by doing a thorough, requirements analysis, working closely with users and developing the necessary workflow systems.

A better approach would be a workflow system that embeds its features in an EHR. That way, the EHR could fit more seamlessly its environment, rather than the other way around.

Finding an EHR With Online Tools

Posted on January 5, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

So, you want to dump your EHR and find another, or about to join the fray? Once you’ve got a handle on your requirements, this review lists some online tools that might help. Ideally, they’ll point to the one that’s best for you. Even if they can’t do that, they should help identify what you don’t want. Along the way, they may also raise some new issues, or give you some new insights.

Full Disclosure: I manage EHRSelector.com, but it’s not included.

Finding EHR Tools

The web has a surfeit of EHR evaluation tools. I’ve only reviewed those that are vendor independent and employ some filtering or ranking. That excludes spreadsheets and PDFs that just list features. I also skipped any that charge. I found the nine shown in Table I and reviewed below. Table II explains my definitions.


EHR Tool Table IEHR Tool Table II

EHR Tools Reviewed

1. American EHR. American’s tool gives you several ways to look at an EHR. Its side by side list compares 80 features. It asks users to rank a dozen features on a 1 to 5 scale. To use the tool, you pick a practice size and specialty. You can also see how users rated a product in detail, which shows how it stacks up against all its others. Unfortunately, its interface is a hit or miss affair. When you change a product choice sometimes it works and sometimes it just sits there.

2. Capterra. Capterra ranks the top 20 most popular EHRs, or at least the most well known. To do this, it adds up the number of customers, users and social media scores. That is, how often they’re mentioned on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Users rank products on a 1 to 5 scale and can add comments. It has a basic product filtering system.

3. Consumer Affairs. It examines ten major vendors using a short breakdown of features and user reviews. Users rate products on a 1 to 5 scale and can add comments.

4. EHR Compare. This tool solely relies on user ratings. Users score 20 EHR features on a 1 to 5 scale. It may add additional features depending on specialty. It only has a handful of reviews, which is a drawback.

5. EHR in Practice. EHR in Practice provides a short list of features and thumbnail EHR descriptions.

6. EHR Softwareinsider. This site uses ONC attestations to rank vendors. Its analysis shows those rankings along with Black Book ratings. Users rank products on a 1 to 10 scale. Interestingly, users can earn a $10 Amazon gift card for their reviews. For a fee, a vendor can move their product to the top of a list, though ES says that does not influence other factors.

7. Select Hub. There is one big if to using this site, if you can get in. As with some sites, SH requires that you register to get to its rankings. The problem is that once you do, you may wait for a day or more for a confirming email link. Even then, it didn’t see the confirmation, so I had to repeat, etc. If you get in, you’ll find some interesting features. Its staff briefly analyzes a product’s performance for each function. The other is that you can set up a project for yourself and others to query vendors.

8. Software Advice. Software Advice is a user rating site based on a 1 to 5 scale. It offers filters by rating rank, specialty and practice size as well as a short product summary.

9. Top Ten Reviews. As the name implies, Top Ten shows just that. There are two problems with its rankings. It doesn’t explain how it chose them or how they are ranked. It provides a thumbnail for each product.

What to Use. Several of the EHR comparison are just popularity contests. They have limited filters and depend on user reviews from whoever walks in the door. Two, however, go beyond that and are worth exploring: American EHR and Select Hub. Both have interface problems, but with persistence, you can find out more about a product than using the others.

With that said, you may also may find it useful to go through the user ranked tools. They may help you cull out particular products or interest you in one you’ve overlooked. Finally, if I’ve left something out, please let me know. I’ll add it in a revised post.

Could a Virtual Scribe Solve EHR Usability Problems?

Posted on October 26, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Jibo: A Home Robot Promises a New Level of AI Use

I ran across a new, five pound, home robot called Jibo in an IEEE publication my wife gets. Jibo, whose first planned product run has sold out at $750 each, promises to ship this Spring. It bills itself as the first social robot.

Started as an INDIEGOGO project that banked close to $4 million, Jibo recently added $36 million from investors.  Its technology smarts come from its founder, chief scientist and MIT Associate Professor, Dr. Cynthia Breazeal.
Jibo’s driven by an ambition to bring artificial intelligence capabilities to the home market. Though it’s not mobile, it’s touch sensitive, gesture sensing and can dip and swivel 360 degrees to capture events. Jibo’s natural language processing uses two high res cameras to recognize faces, do your selfies and run video calls.

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal and Friend

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal and Friend

With these capabilities, Jibo is far smarter than smart thermometers, vacuum cleaners or security systems. It’ll use these to learn your phrases and gestures, so it can act as your calendar, inbox, media organizer and general personal assistant. Importantly, Jibo has a significant, developer program. That’s what gave me the idea for a virtual scribe.

An EHR Virtual Scribe?

High end EHRs have been using natural language processing for years. You dictate and the system figures out what and where to put the text. These pricey add-ons aren’t widely used.

Less versatile, but far more used is Dragon Voice. Other smart assists are various macro systems and front ends. These improve an often frustrating, mind numbing EHR interface, but are only a partial solution. Their major disadvantage is that the user is tethered to a machine. Ideally, a doctor should be able to talk with their patient, and seamlessly use the record as needed.

If new, smart devices such as Jibo really can aid around the house, it should be possible in another generation or so, to free practioners from their tablets or keyboards. An EHR virtual scribe with cameras and projector could do these tasks:

  • Workflow. Set up workflow based on patient history and appointment type.
  • Encounter Record. Record doctor-patient audio and video unobtrusively.
  • History. Project the patient’s history and labs, etc., as requested.
  • Updates. As the user dictates, the scribe could show the entries to both.
  • Assessment. As the user builds the note, the scribe could show how it compares to similar cases or when asked do searches.
  • Plan. The scribe could produce potential plans and let the user modify them.
  • Orders. Based on the plan, past orders, etc., it could propose new orders.
  • Education. Provide tailored materials, references, etc.
  • Appointment. Set up appropriate follow on appointments.
  • Claims. Interface with claiming and reporting systems as needed.

Products such a Jibo hold the potential for a technical fix for EHRs seemingly intractable usability problems and do it at reasonable cost. Their combination of adaptable hardware, AI abilities and unobtrusive size may just be the ticket.

AncestryHealth: A Family Medical Conditions Tree

Posted on September 4, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Ancestry.com, the genealogy behemoth, has entered the health field — sort of. AncestryHealth (AH), a beta foray, helps you document your family’s medical conditions. To start, you build a family tree of your blood relations. Unlike a typical family tree, it only lists those who’re your biological relations. So, your spouse is out, but your kids are in. However, your grandchildren, for some reason, aren’t tracked.

AH Home Page

AncestryHealth Home Page

To show how AH works, I built a tree for King Agamemnon and his family. At top of the Agamemnon’s chart are his four grandparents, Pelops, etc. Below them are his parents. On Agamemnon’s level is his brother Menelaus, whose wife caused some marital stress.

The Agmemnom's Family Tree

The Agamemnon’s Family Tree

Chart Building. AH’s heart is its family member entry screens. First, you add the member, for example, a daughter then her conditions. You could also build the chart and then enter conditions.

Adding a person’s health conditions is a simple, top down process. When you select someone, AH brings up its basic conditions menu. It has five general categories: Heart, Cancer, Lung, Brain or Metabolism. If those don’t make it, a click brings up 13 more: Muscle, Autoimmune, etc., or you can add your own. Unlike EHRs, etc., AH is strictly for recording health conditions not their treatments. You can note, for example, your mother’s osteoarthritis, but not what she takes for it. 

AH Conditions

Adding Family Conditions

When you’ve picked general categories, you can leave it at that. For example, if you knew Aunt Agatha had allergies, but not much more about her, you’d be done. You can add as many general categories as you like to any one person.

To add more detail, you select the person and then you can add both medical and lifestyle details. Again, you can use AH’s choices or add your own.

Detailed Conditons

Detailed Conditions

When you’re done, you use the family tree to see everyone or just those with a specific condition. For example, you’d see the relationship, if any, of everyone who has or had heart disease. Finally, you can download a summary of all your family’s conditions.

Daughter Entry Screen

Daughter Entry Screen

As with any beta program, some of AH parts are less finely developed than others. Many of the problems were with the member entry screen. For example, if a person has two first names, such as, Mary Beth she’ll show up as Mary.

Daughter Detail Screen

Daughter Detail Screen

Once the member’s on the chart, you have to edit their entry to add a last name and living status. I don’t know why this isn’t done with a single entry screen instead of two screens.

If you do add a last name, it doesn’t show on the tree. That means if you have two Great Uncle Davids, you’ll have to open the record to make sure you have the right one. It would also be helpful if the member screen had an Unknown Name box.

Similar to Facebook, you can’t use titles, such as Dr., Ms., etc. However, if you leave out the period, it’s accepted. Nor can you add, MD, PhD, etc., unless you omit the comma after their last name.

Lost Child. AH gives you both an on screen graphic and a printed health summary. The graphic lets you click on a person’s icon – though their names don’t show – and see the detail.

In one case, Electra’s icon disappeared. Given the family’s way of settling their issues, I wasn’t too surprised.

Children Etc

AH’s Big Sibling Connection

If you have an Ancestry account, you can use it to log into AH. You can also create one for AH. When you create a new AH account, one is also opened for you in Ancestry.com, whether you want it or not. For example, using a Gmail address I created the Agamemnon family tree. That login is now part of Ancestry.com. I can’t think of a system that opens an account for you in another system.

If you do use your Ancestry.com account for AH, any change you make in your AH family tree changes your Ancestry.com tree as well. You can avoid this if you make a private copy of your Ancestry.com tree. AH should offer to do this without your going to Ancestry.com, etc.

That’s not the end of it. When I needed to change the spelling for one of the persons on my AH chart, I found all entries were locked. I could only change someone’s conditions, or add a new person. However, I could not edit anyone’s name, etc., nor could I remove someone. To edit, I had to go to Ancestry.com’s Agamemnon family tree, which has a far different interface. Apparently, this occurs if you’re logged into the same Ancestry.com site. Wading through all of this was like trying to figure out Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First, but not as much fun.

Sorta Informed Consent. AH shares your family conditions, less any personally identifiable information, with health researchers, etc. I don’t object to their doing that and it has significant potential. AH posts a long Informed Consent note about their sharing family information. However, AH puts this where it’s unlikely to be read. It’s a link at the bottom of each page along with Terms and Conditions, etc. Given its importance, it deserves higher billing.

It is a Beta. AH is a work in progress by the major, family genealogical site. During its beta, AH is free and AH is interested in its reception. It wants comments on adding functions, such as, AncestryDNA data, or risk analysis tools. Its family condition documentation may prove quite valuable to you and possibly to medical researchers.

AH’s Family Condition

AH needs to fix several design flaws and eliminate some obvious bugs. It needs to do a far better job of letting you know what it does with your data. Most importantly, it needs to sort out and clear up its various, functional relationships with Ancestry.com. You might call it an Ancestry family condition.

About That Doctor – Patient-EHR Relationship

Posted on July 9, 2015 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

My friend Joe is a retired astrophysicist turned web geek. Joe’s had his health problems, but he’s still an avid bicycle rider as well as one of the most well read persons I’ve ever known. He doesn’t miss much, and always has his own – often original – take on politics, the economy, the net and a lot else.

There is one topic where his take echoes many others. He never fails to send me posts about how EHRs interfere in the doctor – patient relationship. He just loathes it when his doc spends time keying away rather than making eye contact.

Joe knows I get pretty wound up on EHR usability and interop problems, but that just makes me an even better target for his disgruntlement. He, of course, has a point as do so many others who’ve lamented that what was once a two way conversation has become a three way with the patient the loser.

The point, I think, only goes so far. What’s going on in these encounters is more than the introduction of an attention sucking PC. It’s simply wrong to assume that medical encounters were all done the same warm and fuzzy way until EHRs came along. To understand EHRs’ effect from a patient’s perspective, I think we need to ask ourselves several questions about our EHR involved medical appointments.

  • Whose Appointment Is It? Are you there alone, with an elderly parent, your spouse or your child, etc.?
  • Appointment’s Purpose. Why are you there? Is it for a physical, is it due to bad cold, a routine follow up or is it for a perplexing question? Is it with a specialist, pre or post op?
  • Your Relationship. How long and how well have you know this doctor? How many doctors have you had in the past few years?
  • How Long Has It Been? When was the last time you saw your doctor, days, weeks, years? How much catching up is there to do?
  • Doc’s Actions. What’s your doc doing on the EHR, looking for labs, going over your meds, writing notes, writing prescriptions, ordering tests, checking drug interactions? How many of these would have been impossible or difficult on paper?
  • Money. How much time does your doc take trying to save you money finding generics, looking at what your insurance covers, etc.?

Many EHRs have usability problems and many have been implemented poorly. As with all technological innovations in professional settings though, they often create longing for the good old days, which may never had existed. We need to remember that medical records could not continue to exist as paper records written more as reminders than searchable, definitive records.

EHRs have changed provider’s roles. They have to create records not just for themselves, their partners, etc., but also for other providers and analysts they may never meet. As patients, we also need to understand that EHRs, like word processing, cell phones, and the internet itself are far from perfect. Banishing them may allow more personal time for you, but what will it mean for your care, your doctor or for the next patient?