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MedStar’s Human Factors Center: An Interview with Dr. Raj Ratwani

Posted on January 10, 2018 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of 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.

Background: Recently, I had a wide ranging interview with Dr. Raj Ratwani, Acting Center Director and Scientific Director of MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare.

The center is MedStar’s patient safety, and usability applied research arm. MedStar is the Mid Atlantic area’s largest medical facility non profit operating 10 major hospitals as well as dozens of urgent care, rehab and medical groups.

MedStar set up the center, as part of its Institute for Innovation five years ago. The Institute is an in house service of several centers that conduct research, analysis, development and education. In addition to human factors, the Institute turns MedStar staff’s ideas into commercial products, conducts professional education, encourages healthy lifestyles and develops in house software products.

The Human Factors Center’s work concentrates on medical devices, as well as creating new processes and procedures. The center’s 30 person staff features physicians, nurses, engineers, product designers, patient safety, usability and human factors specialists. The Center’s focus is on both MedStar and on improving the nation’s healthcare system with grants and contracts from AHRQ, ONC, CMS, etc., as well as many device manufacturers.

Dr. Ratwani: Dr. Ratwani’s publications are extensive and were one reason prompting my interview. I met with him in his office in the old Intelsat building along with Rachel Wynn the center’s post doctoral fellow. We covered several topics from the center’s purpose to ONC’s Meaningful Use (MU) program to the center’s examination of adverse event reporting systems.

Center’s Purpose: I started by asking him what he considered the center’s main focus? He sees the center’s mission as helping those who deliver services by reducing their distractions and errors and working more productively. He said that while the center examines software systems, devices take up the lion’s share of its time from a usability perspective.

The center works on these issues in several ways. Sometimes they just observe how users carry out a task. Other times, they may use specialized equipment such as eye tracking systems. Regardless, their aim is to aid users to reduce errors and increase accuracy. He noted how distractions can cause errors even when a user is doing something familiar. If a distraction occurs in the middle of a task, the user can forget they’ve already done a step and will needlessly repeat it. This not only takes time, but can also lead to cascading errors.

Impact: I asked him how they work with the various medical centers and asked about their track record. Being in house, he said, they have the advantage of formal ties to MedStar’s clinicians. However, he said their successes were a mixed bag. Even when there is no doubt about a change’s efficacy, its acceptance can depend on a variety of budget, logistic and personal factors.

EHR Certification: I then turned to the center’s studies of ONC’s MU vendor product certification. Under his direction, the center sent a team to eleven major EHR vendors to examine how they did their testing. Though they interviewed vendor staffs, they were unable to see testing. Within that constraint, they still found great variability in vendor’s approach. That is, even though ONC allowed vendors to choose their own definition of user centered design, vendors often strayed even from these self defined standards.

MU Program: I then asked his opinion of the MU program. He said he thought that the $40 billion spent drove EHR adoption for financial not clinical reasons. He would have preferred a more careful approach. The MU1 and MU2 programs weren’t evidence based. The program’s criteria needed more pilot and clinical studies and that interoperability and usability should have been more prominent.

Adverse Events: Our conversation then turned to the center’s approach to adverse events, that is instances involving patient safety. Ratwani is proud of a change he helped implement in Medstar’s process. Many institutions take a blame game approach to them berating and shaming those involved. MedStar treats them as teaching moments. The object is to determine root causes and how to implement change. Taking a no fault approach promotes open, candid discussions without staff fearing repercussions.

I finally asked him about his studies applying natural language processing to adverse patient safety reports. His publications in this area analyze the free text sections of adverse reporting systems. He told me they often found major themes in the report texts that the systems didn’t note. As a follow on, he described their project to manage and present the text from these systems. He explained that even though these systems capture free text, the text is so voluminous that users have a difficult time putting them to use.

My thanks to Dr. Ratwani and his staff for arranging the interview and their patience in explaining their work.

A word about DC’s old Intelsat building that houses the Institute. Normally, I wouldn’t comment on an office building. If you’ve seen one, etc., etc. Not so here. Built in the 1980s, it’s an example of futurist or as I prefer to call it Sci-Fi architecture and then some. The building has 14 interconnected “pods” with a façade meant to look like, well, a gargantuan satellite.

Intelsat Building


To reach an office, you go down long, open walkways suspended above an atrium. It’s all other unworldly. You wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Princess Leia rounded a corner. It’s not on the usual tourist routes and you can’t just walk in, but if you can wangle it, it’s worth a visit.

Intelsat Building Interior

What’s the Impact of MACRA on Small Practices?

Posted on July 22, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently had a chance to sit down and chat with Tom Giannulli, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Kareo and Michael Sherling, MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer and Co-founder of Modernizing Medicine, to talk about the impact of the MACRA legislation on small practices. Both of these CMOs at EHR vendors rode the meaningful use wave and now they’re preparing to ride the new MACRA wave as well. So, they were the perfect people to talk about the impact of MACRA on small practices and how a small practice should prepare themselves for the new MACRA legislation. If you’re a small practice that’s wondering about MACRA (or doesn’t even know what it is), then take the time to watch the video below to see what it means for small practices.

After our formal interviews, we always like to hold what we call the “after party.” We never know how it’s going to go. Sometimes people join in and offer their insights and ask questions and sometimes they don’t. In this case, we continued our conversation about the MACRA and small practices, but we also talked about the impact that legislation like MACRA has on an EHR vendors development lifecycle. You can learn more about MACRA in the video below:

This post was a great way to wrap up the week and also for us to announce a new blog post series we’re starting on Monday called MACRA Monday. Long time readers may remember the Meaningful Use Monday series of blog posts we did every Monday for a few years. This will be similar as we dive into the MACRA legislation and help small medical practices understand the details of what’s coming in MACRA. Watch for that on Monday!

Will Hype Around the iPad 3 Lead to an Increase in EMR Apps?

Posted on March 8, 2012 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.

In my conversations at HIMSS a few weeks ago with providers and vendors, I heard more than a few references to user-friendly EMR design, easy-to-use dashboards and the bar that has been set so high by Apple and the iPad. I had a chance to chat with David Carleton, VP and CIO at Heritage Valley Health System in Pennsylvania, about the adoption of the iPad in the clinical setting, particularly with regard to EMRs. Carleton, with the assistance of dbMotion, helped a team of docs and IT staff at HVHS in Pennsylvania develop their own EMR iPad app.

In a nutshell, the internet Clinical Access Portal (iCAP) app organizes and harmonizes data captured and stored in various systems – including its Allscripts Enterprise ambulatory solution and its soon-to-be-completed Allscripts Sunrise Clinical Manager, as well as the ClinicalConnect HIE in western Pennsylvania – and delivers Continuity of Care Documents (CCDs) to HVHS providers via the tablet. Named to the 2012 Top 100 Integrated Healthcare Networks, HVHS seems to be placing a high priority on enabling its facilities to be truly interoperable with one another. It made sense to me that the hospital would want to better enable its physicians with a handy iPad app, but I wondered why they took the in-house development route.

Carleton explained to me that one of the reasons was physician buy-in. (You can view more of our chat in the video below.) Apparently, the key to getting physicians to adopt and consistently use the tablet and app was to have them on board from the very beginning. Involvement in the design process let them have a say as to what would best fit their workflows.

With the release of the iPad 3, the details of which were announced yesterday, I’m willing to bet we’ll see an up tick in clinical interest in the iPad and a corresponding surge in app development – in-house or otherwise.

Are you aware of other facilities getting into the EMR app game? Please share the details in the comments below.

Emdeon Gets in the Holiday Spirit with Donation of EHR Technology

Posted on December 21, 2011 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.

I’ve blogged before about the importance of decreasing the digital divide in this country in order to truly move healthcare interoperability forward. As I mentioned last month, “Only those patients who have access to these digital healthcare technologies will begin to clamor for them at their next doctors’ visits. Only patients’ whose doctors in turn have reached out to them via email, text or social media regarding the switch to electronic medical records, development of health information exchange and the benefits to care these will hopefully bring will be ready and willing to go with the digital flow.”

When news came across my somewhat cluttered desk of Emdeon’s initiative to provide electronic health record (EHR) technology to physicians in New Jersey’s underserved communities, I first thought, “Yes! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Then I put on my journalist/blogger hat and thought, “Will this truly change anything in these particular communities, or is this just good PR?”

A quick bit of background: Emdeon is partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Minority Health, New Jersey Health Information Technology Extension Center (NJ-HITEC), the state’s REC, and the HIMSS Latino Community. Through the initiative, Emdeon will donate Emdeon Clinician licenses to 100 healthcare providers who practice within medically underserved areas and/or healthcare provider shortage areas, as designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), according to a recent Emdeon press release. The company will waive the license fee for these physicians for one year.

The same press release also mentions “EHR adoption is lower among providers serving Hispanic patients who are uninsured or rely on Medicaid, and is lower among providers serving uninsured, non-Hispanic black patients than among providers serving privately insured, non-Hispanic white patients.”

The initiative sounds like a great idea, but the one-year stipulation got me thinking (a bad habit, I know). What will these physicians, who presumably can’t really afford this technology now, do after their year is up? I reached out to Miriam Paramore, Senior Vice President – clinical and government services at Emdeon, to learn more about the ins and outs of the program.

How did the initiative come about?
Miriam Paramore: During the fall of 2010, leaders from the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and Health Information Technology issued a public, written request to health IT vendors, asking them to pay special attention to healthcare providers within underserved communities. This initiative is known as The Alliance to Reduce Health IT Disparities. Emdeon is serving as a private partner with the OMH to offer access to health IT products and services to providers within undeserved communities in New Jersey. We were thrilled to volunteer and to work within these communities.

Has Emdeon ever done anything like this before?
We’re happy to do part of this effort with HHS and it is the first time we’ve partnered with them.  We have great empathy for the challenges of the physicians in underserved communities and we want to help.

What sort of challenges do small physician practices in underserved communities typically encounter?
In addition to challenges like poverty and health disparities amongst their patient population, providers in underserved communities and smaller practice offices face expensive costs associated with on-boarding EHRs. Emdeon created the Emdeon Clinician solution as an affordable EHR “lite” solution for these small practice physicians or those working in underserved communities. They now have an affordable, easy-to-use solution that will help them to qualify for federal HITECH stimulus dollars without unnecessary disruption and expense of a full-blown EHR system.

How will you work with these 100 physician practices to ensure they are able to continue using the donated EHR after the year-long license expires?
Once the 12-month period expires, providers will be able to continue using Emdeon Clinician for only $99 per provider, per month. Emdeon usually has a $500 implementation and training fee [that, for this program,] has been discounted to a one-time fee of $200 for the providers participating in this project. This is a considerable discount and the fee would only have to be paid once. We will begin outreach to these providers in advance of the expiration date so they are aware of the opportunity to remain with Emdeon Clinician for the low fee following the initial 12-month period.

How will Emdeon work with NJ-HITEC and the HIMSS Latino Community throughout this year to ensure that these practices receive continued training and support?
Emdeon has taken the lead with managing this initiative between all partners with monthly meetings to monitor progress. We have a dedicated project manager, who has mapped a process with the internal team to assist with implementing these physicians as soon as possible. Our custom phone number (1-855-840-7120) connects interested providers directly with a dedicated clinical sales executive who can assist them throughout the enrollment process.

The NJ-HITEC and HIMSS Latino partners are assisting in the recruitment of providers who practice within medically underserved areas for this program from their vast networks across New Jersey communities. These partners are working cooperatively with Emdeon to create a strategy that focuses upon identifying and recruiting providers within underserved communities who are willing to adopt EHRs, especially those interested in qualifying for federal incentive dollars.

How many practices do you anticipate being eligible, and how many do you expect will apply?
While we aren’t sure how many will apply, the HHS OMH recognized that the counties of Camden, Essex and Passaic have the largest percentage of underserved communities. Through our collaborative efforts with the OMH, HIMSS Latino and NJ HITEC, we hope to reach many of those physicians within those counties to take advantage of the 12-month program.

How will Emdeon and its partners determine if this program is a success?
Together with our partners, we believe success will be donating all 100 licenses to providers in underserved communities. The reporting element of this project will help OMH understand the progress of EHR adoption in the context of how long implementation takes in its entirety.

So it seems that Emdeon and its partners certainly have their ducks in a row when it comes to aiding and abetting these physicians before, during and even after the program is technically over. I’ll be interested to see if this model will, in fact, be successful, and if it can be supported in other underserved areas across the nation.

For more information on participating in the program, check out:

Finding an EMR Job Champion

Posted on December 14, 2011 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.

Earlier this year I had the good fortune (and the support of my employer) to join the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), an organization that offers interest groups for every possible IT niche you can think of. I’ve attended a few of their health society events, and at every one I’m confronted with statistics and anecdotes surrounding the dearth of qualified healthcare IT professionals in the city and surrounding areas. Much attention at these events is also given to the fact that these professionals are needed now more than ever to help smaller physician practices and larger healthcare systems demonstrate Meaningful Use and achieve associated electronic medical record (EMR) adoption goals.

I’ve commented before on the disconnect between the increasing number of healthcare IT educational opportunities being created by the government and vendors’ willingness (or unwillingness, as the case may be) to hire fresh grads. EJ Fechenda of HIMSS JobMine posed a question related to this conundrum better than I ever could have: “With federal deadlines looming, healthcare organizations need to get moving and there are a lot of job seekers out there ready for the challenge. Are there organizations or companies willing to extend opportunities to these candidates? Is there a training or job-shadowing program that can be used as a best practice for other organizations to implement? Who are the champions already doing this or willing to lead the charge?”

I may have found a champion in Rich Wicker, HIMS Director at Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Wicker is also an adjunct professor at two HITECH-affiliated community colleges, teaching students who already have strong backgrounds in healthcare or IT the basics of process, analysis, redesign, installation and ongoing maintenance to prepare them for second careers in physician office EMR implementations.

He certainly seems to have a passion for the subject. “I’m devoted to the EMR,” he told me during a recent phone interview. “That’s why I started teaching, really, because I want to see that [adoption] happen so badly.”

He tells me his students are guardedly optimistic about their future job opportunities, which he believes will surge this summer alongside an expected increase in physician adoption of EMRs – six months before the deadline to qualify for Meaningful Use incentives.

As we discussed the state of the HIT job market, we both wondered if what type of organization might have a greater role to play in ensuring that graduate from programs like Wicker’s find jobs.

“We had to really battle our way to get one [software] copy from one EMR vendor,” he explains. “I wish they were more amenable to providing educational software/packages like Apple does throughout all their PCs. I know a few different schools have joined with a vendor. One place I know of is showing Vista, another is showing eClinicalWorks, and another partnered with a local hospital that happens to use Sage.

“I have a relatively limited view, but from what I can see, the vendors are not really engaged with the HITECH student development program. I think they’d probably rather do it themselves.”

“Here’s an idea that I came up with,” he adds. “I’ll throw out the RECs (Regional Extension Centers). That’s another entity that’s funded – it’s kind of their job to get the docs to convert. If they could partner with the colleges and the graduates to possibly divert some of their funding to supplementing the graduates’ income while they worked at a physician practice … So the physician, let’s say, for $5 an hour, they could hire a qualified, certified person. These people are pretty good, too. They know what it is to work. They’ve probably worked 10 or 20 years already, either in IT or in healthcare. So they’re mature employees and highly motivated. They would be great to go in and do a 6-month installation. I think it would be great for the physician if, for $5 an hour, you get somebody that would probably cost you $30 an hour somewhere else.

“Let’s say the student can get another $10 an hour supplemented from the REC or somehow through the government. So they get $15 an hour to go in there … they get four or five months of experience doing an installation and then the physician can make a decision … maybe they ultimately hire the person. That’s just a crazy idea that I had that seemed like the pieces are out there that kind of potentially could work. I sent it into the ONC a couple of days ago.”

Could the RECs have a bigger role to play in ensuring that HITECH graduates gain on-the-job experience and employment? I’d love to hear from any readers out there who may work for or with RECs . Is Wicker’s idea doable? Have we found our champion?

One Student’s Perspective on Electronic Medical Records

Posted on December 7, 2011 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.

I’ve had the good fortune in the past year or two to watch one of my daughters’ favorite babysitters blossom into a full-time nursing student at the University of West Georgia. Not only do my girls benefit from her great bedside manner, including an infinite amount of patience, but I get an occasional inside glimpse into the world of digital medical record keeping in the greater Atlanta area.

Her training at West Georgia has taken her to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Egleston, Wellstar Cobb and Austell, Fayette Piedmont, Tanner Medical Center and Gentiva Healthfield Hospice. She graciously offered to share her rookie’s perspective on the electronic medical records – including SCM/Quest (Allscripts Sunrise Clinical EHR system) and Meditech – she has used at several of the facilities she has trained in.

How long have your healthcare training facilities had EMRs in place?
All except Gentiva Healthfield Hospice – in-home hospice care, for the most part, sticks with paper charting. If they were to make the switch to an EMR, they would have to have access to a central database from their personal computers/iPads/Blackberries, etc. All others have had some sort of electronic database for at least five years.

How intuitive did you find them to be in your first training sessions/rounds?
Once I had been trained in the first system I encountered, the rest seemed very user-friendly. They have been in use long enough now that they are efficient and fairly self-explanatory.

They all allow an employee to cluster patient care and spend enough time with the patient because the time stamp on documentation can be changed to the time that the intervention was completed. For example, I could complete a full assessment on a patient, bathe them and administer their medications without having to document in the computer every few minutes. I could just open their EMR after completing their care and add the correct time stamp on my documentation.

What were the easiest to use, and what were the most difficult?
Meditech was the most difficult to use, perhaps because I had limited access as a student. It was difficult to find complete admission notes and patient histories.

Speaking from a “rookie’s” perspective, what would you tell vendors of these systems to better their products?
Add a patient verification requirement before each documentation session, i.e. each set of vital signs, medications given, etc. (Something simple, like a box with the patient’s name and DOB and an “Ok” button)

Did your supervisors express any enthusiasm or dissatisfaction with any particular systems?
All expressed enthusiasm, but they also were concerned any time a system was to be updated with even minor changes. Fayette Piedmont uses one EMR system for Labor and Delivery, and a completely different system for the rest of the hospital. This means, for the staff, that a new baby’s records have to be re-entered into a new system once they are discharged from labor and delivery and admitted to the NICU or postpartum unit. It also means the pharmacy has difficulty accessing vital information when, for instance, they need to know a baby’s weight to send the appropriate dose of medication to the NICU.

How aware are you of post-implementation training that goes on with EMRs, based on the facilities you’ve trained at? Do your supervisors ever mention it?
Once an employee is hired, they usually must display proficiency with the charting system within a specified training period. When Fayette Piedmont updated SCM/Quest, they did not retrain each employee, but they did send out a packet with a detailed description of the changes. From what I have seen, the older nurses who may have preferred paper charting at one point do not seem to have any problems with the electronic charting.

Have you been made aware of any increase/decrease in positive clinical outcomes as a result of physicians/nurses using these systems? Any examples you feel comfortable sharing?
The major changes to these systems each time they are updated usually involve the addition of safeguards. For example, the newest version of SCM/Quest has the patient’s name, weight, room number and allergies on every page of the charting system, and in multiple locations on the page.

For the employees who pay attention, this has reduced many documentation errors. There is also an embedded link to drug guides in every electronic medication order with explicit instructions and safe dose ranges. For the employee who knows these features are there, they are a tremendous help, and they do serve to protect the patient. It is still possible to document in the wrong patient’s chart, without realizing it, in any system.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how her experience with EMRs changes as she continues her studies and then moves into the professional world of nursing, which will likely coincide with healthcare facilities continuing to move through the various stages of Meaningful Use.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I’ll profile an EMR educator, and find out what other students are facing when it comes to EMR training. In the meantime, what sort of healthcare IT-related challenges will our new workforce face in the coming year? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Pediatrics Face Unique Set of EMR Challenges

Posted on October 26, 2011 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.

My recent blog about Sandhills Pediatrics and its successful implementation of an EMR prompted, fortunately, a very intriguing comment from Chip Hart, a Director of Sales and Marketing at Physicians’ Computer Company who also maintains the blog “Confessions of a Pediatric Practice Consultant: True Stories from the land of Pediatric Practice Management.” He wrote: “I’ll spare everyone the diatribe about how ARRA deals with pediatricians and how only about 1/2 of them qualify, as I write to make one quick statement.” There’s a story there, I thought to myself. So, being an avid observer of pediatric EMR news and views, I reached out to him to gauge his thoughts on where healthcare IT solutions fit in the world of pediatricians.

What sort of challenges are you seeing pediatric practices facing when it comes to implementing EMR systems?
“On one hand, most of the challenges they face are hardly unique to pediatrics: resistance to change, practice differences, the lack of time and resources to be trained and configured properly, poor support, etc.

“Specific to pediatrics, there are two major issues.  First, children are not simply small adults and EMRs, as a rule, are written for adult medicine. There are many pediatric-specific features and functionality that a pediatric practice needs that simply aren’t met by your large, generic system. Simply claiming “pediatric templates” isn’t enough.

“Second, although every specialty complains about the hit that EMRs take on their productivity, pediatricians are obviously in the worst shape. Their volume is the highest and their payment is the lowest. Just adding a minute to each encounter means an extra 30 minutes of charting a day … and I hear stories, daily, of practices adding another 1 to 2 hours! Pediatricians can’t afford to see 5-percent fewer patients. Radiologists can. And pediatricians really like to eat dinner with their families.

“One second-tier issue is that less than 50 percent of all pediatric practices don’t qualify for ARRA and the regional extension centers (RECs), as a rule, don’t understand the Medicaid rules well.  Thus, we have clients and potential clients calling us to ask how they can get money they’ll never get, or to tell us some crazy thing a REC person told them.”

Are there different sets of challenges for those that are private practices versus those that are hospital/healthcare system affiliated?
“Unquestionably – the big one being that hospital/health system pediatricians simply won’t have a choice or even a voice in the process. Yes, I’ve worked with some who appear to be at the table, but in the end … you get what they hand you. Right now, Epic is pushing everyone out but that pendulum will swing back.

Also, those employed physicians don’t have to consider the impact on their productivity in the same way. I’ve met too many peds offices whose docs didn’t take home checks for a few months after implementation – that’s not right.”

Why do you think practices like Sandhills “get it” in terms of moving forward with HIT implementations, and just being forward thinkers in general?
“If I could answer that question, I’d only be working with those practices! Every successful practice I know is successful in a different way for different reasons, but there is one common trait I see in many of them: They run their practices like the businesses they are. Keep the docs in the exam rooms, where they can generate revenue, and hire professionals to actually run the business. Just because it says “MD” after your name doesn’t mean you’re the best-qualified person to run your office. Would Dirk Nowitski or Lebron James make good coaches? I doubt it.

“In the case of Sandhills, they have some excellent, excellent staff who bring some non-healthcare experience to the table. Although I’ve seen it fail, having some management that comes from outside the healthcare system to ask and answer some tough questions pays off for a lot of practices.

“We’ve enjoyed working with them.  I should also add that they, like the other ‘heads up’ clients I know, realize that we’re on the same team. That helps tremendously.”

How long have you offered the PCC EMR? What sort of up tick in implementations have you seen since ARRA/HITECH came about?
“Our PM has had pediatric clinical features (immunization tracking, registry interfaces, well visit recall, etc.) for almost 30 years, but the official EMR itself was released about 2 years ago.

“When ARRA was first announced, we received a lot of calls, all along the lines of, “Where do I get my free money?”  It was very frustrating to explain that it would be state dependent (about a quarter of them still can’t get it) and half of our clients will never qualify due to the Medicaid requirements.

“Things are starting to settle down and get organized.  Still, we are busier right now than we have ever been. We are telling potential clients they might get installed in May or June. A nice problem to have, but it’s not fun to get some excited only to explain it will be 6 months, especially when it used to be 6 weeks!”

Are any of your pediatric clients thinking of becoming involved in ACOs?
“Thinking?  Yes.  They’re all being told how if they don’t get big, they’ll be out of business, which is utter BS. The rules, as we know them now, seem to make no sense whatsoever for pediatricians. I did see a compelling presentation by Colleen Kraft at the AAP NCE last week that very much supported the ACO-esque model she employs, but I think her situation is both unique and not potentially an ACO.

“With some issues – 5010, PCMH, etc. – we take a pro-active stance. With ACOs, I’m glad to let someone else jump first.”

How will your solutions enable your customers to integrate with ACOs or coordinated care programs?
“Far too soon to tell.  In general, I can say, “Hey, we have had really good reports that have tracked patient populations for years.”  Our clients use them all the time, as it’s both good medicine and good business.  As a practical tool, I’d put our patient recall program up against anyone’s – your front desk can crank out a list of kids who need flu shots or asthma followups in seconds – but we don’t know quite what the ACOs will need.

“One thing we’ve learned, though: when a small peds office puts its data in the hands of a large entity, it’s worth double-checking the results. For more than 20 years, I’ve helped our clients fight insurance companies (which an ACO emulates) and the insurance companies never have the data right. Ever. So if a private peds office can work with us and still be in an ACO, they’ll be able to confirm the accounting.

“Here’s my prediction: As ACOs grow, the practices who participate are going to regret losing control of their data. I’m really going out on a limb there, I know.

What do you think is the greatest challenge being faced by pediatrics when it comes to keeping up with healthcare IT?
“Not getting run over by the Juggernaut.  Everyone else’s demands are put ahead of the pediatricians and the peds usually get served what everyone else is eating.  And it rarely suits them.

“I also tell them all the time: ignore the Meaningful Use money. Completely. And ignore the “deal” that you can get from your local hospital/IPA/etc. Pick the EHR that suits you the most and go with that. All the discounts or federal checks in the world won’t make up for even a 5-percent hit in your productivity or having to spend an extra 10-20 hours a month on charting or IT work. If you do like the local deal, great!  But don’t feel like you have to leap in.”

So there you have it folks. I’d be interested to hear from a pediatrician or two who has gone through or is going through some sort of HIT implementation as a follow-up to these views. Feel free to get in touch with me via the comments section below.

HIM Professionals Focus on Job Creation, ICD-10 at AHIMA

Posted on October 5, 2011 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.

A number of themes have been prevalent at this year’s AHIMA show, taking place this week in Salt Lake City. Healthcare information management professionals have a number of big priorities – the transition to ICD-10 being the most prevalent, at least from what I’ve seen on the show floor so far. Recruitment is a close second. With a number of colleges and healthcare systems present as exhibitors, it’s obvious there is a need for trained HIM professionals. In speaking with folks from the Region D Health IT Workforce Development Program, part of the Community College Consortia Program, which hopes to train more than 10,500 healthcare IT professionals by the end of this year, it is evident that there are resources out there to train folks, and they are willing to get the word out about it.

AHIMA has recognized this need for job creation. It announced at the show on Monday that it has created the HIM Jobs for America Initiative, and has entered into a public-private partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and North Shore Medical Labs.

In announcing the initiative, Bill Rudman, vice president, educational visioning at AHIMA and executive director of the AHIMA Foundation, explained that “AHIMA wants to build a partnership with business, academia and the federal government to create the estimated 40,000 jobs required to properly build and maintain a national electronic health records initiative.”

As part of the initiative, AHIMA will provide six hours of free healthcare IT training to healthcare professionals in underserved communities, first focusing on physicians in small practices in North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama. The program will provide 100 participants with EHR licenses for one year. North Shore will donate electronic health record software and services via Nortec Software, a provider of EHR technology, as well as medical billing and transcription services.

As I mentioned above, the transition to IDC-10 has been THE big theme in the exhibit hall. I’ve noticed solution after solution exhibited at booth after booth created to help physicians make the transition. As John Lynn mentioned in an earlier post, some companies are taking a light-hearted approach in marketing their ICD-10 solutions. Take QuadraMed, for example, which kept attendees happy Sunday night during the evening reception with special ICD-9 and ICD-10 cocktails. Or, as John mentioned last week, Conifer Health, which has quickly run out of its ICD-10 stickers.

All kidding aside, the transition to ICD-10 and the impact the new codes will have on patient care is no joke. Paula Lawlor, RHIA, President of Clinical Revenue Cycle Services HIM at Conifer, spoke with me briefly about what Conifer is doing in the area health information management and clinical revenue cycle services:

I’ll be walking the show floor today, and hope to have a wrap-up of EMR-related technologies for next week’s post.

Searching for the Perfect AHIMA Experience

Posted on September 28, 2011 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.

The American Health Information Management Association’s (AHIMA’s) annual show is right around the corner. HIM professionals will gather in Salt Lake City next week for a few days of educational sessions, exhibits, networking opportunities and even off-site visits to local healthcare facilities such as Intermountain Medical Center and the University of Utah and Cancer Registry.

It will be my first time at an AHIMA show, and truth be told, I couldn’t be more pleased that I’ll get to see Salt Lake City in the Fall. I’ll of course be on the lookout for the latest and greatest healthcare IT, particularly those technologies related to electronic medical records (EMRs). I’m also hoping to chat with AHIMA’s new CEO, Lynne Thomas Gordon, about how AHIMA will be helping its members transition through healthcare reform in the near future. (Look for a wrap up in next week’s post.)

Most of my time will be spent on the show floor, learning about these new technologies and finding out what health information management challenges and solutions providers are dealing with. James Watanabe, Director of Healthcare Business Development at Perfect Search Corp. – a first-time exhibitor this year, recently shared with me his thoughts on what’s he’s expecting and hoping to get out of the event.

What health information management challenges are your customers currently facing?
JW: “At Perfect Search, our clients are typically utilizing our unique indexing and search technology to deal with the challenges associated with extreme data growth and complexity. One of the challenges in the industry is that in addition to the explosion of digital data, there seems to be no clear direction in terms of standardization and policy. Given this uncertainty, vendors must not only help facilitate compliance now, but be nimble enough to support changes in the future. We see Perfect Search as a core technology that can be utilized to help organizations deal with these challenges as they come, and believe that the implications for such a technology are truly deep and profound.”

How does your team plan on addressing these challenges at the AHIMA show?
“We will be demoing our deep data-mining tools and highlighting some of our key strategic partnerships that showcase how the technology is being utilized today. We are able to provide at least a 10x improvement in indexing and search speed, be much more comprehensive in terms of the data we search (structured EMR, unstructured clinical notes, lab data, DICOM radiology images, etc.), and operate on up to 90% less hardware. Using our solution, clients gain real time insight into their data to improve quality scores, help mitigate fraud, improve billing processes, better facilitate clinical trials, and any other deep data mining they might require.”

What does Perfect Search hope to get out of the show as a whole?
“Despite some key partnerships such as Dell, Fujitsu, CA and Nuance, Perfect Search is relatively unknown in the healthcare space. We intend to use AHIMA as a way to raise awareness of our unique technology, it’s many applications in healthcare, move business deals forward, and seek out new partnerships in the space.”

How does Perfect Search’s Medical Record Search technology integrate with providers’ interoperability efforts?
“Perfect Search is the only indexing and search technology that is able to deal with both structured EMR content and unstructured clinical notes data equally well, to produce true semantic search. There is currently a disconnect between what most EMR vendors are pushing and what physicians and other users are wanting. EMR vendors push structured data, and clinicians are interested in utilizing their existing business practices, which for many means producing and utilizing unstructured clinical notes data. We believe that the ability to connect to all critical data needs to be a component of any good EMR or health information exchange (HIE) solution and is something that we can provide today.”

Can this technology search or be integrated into EMRs or HIEs?

It would also seem that this technology might be useful from a business intelligence perspective – a much-needed solution in terms of providers determining what healthcare IT systems might be right for their facility.
“Definitely. 80% of business intelligence reporting and analytics is connecting to data. In large pharma and research, the deep data-mining tool we have created enables users to create and run complex ad hoc queries in real time and without IT. This tool is the difference between getting data now versus 12 hours from now, tomorrow, next week, or even next month, which is standard for most companies of significant size.”

How do you see Perfect Search technology evolving to meet the needs of healthcare providers?
“The Perfect Search team continues to work with industry experts to build new applications around the technology and strengthen existing products. Ours is a unique technology that enables users to connect to critical data at least 10 times faster, be much more comprehensive in terms of the content we search, and operate on up to 90% less hardware. “

I’m looking forward to speaking with the Perfect Search folks from the show floor. Know of any other exhibitors I should check out? Salt Lake sites I should see? People I should bump into? Let me know in the comments below.

John’s Comment: Along with Jennifer, I’ll be at AHIMA as well. I’m definitely happy to meet with people at AHIMA also and enjoy attending the event for the first time.

What’s Next in Health Information Exchange (HIE)?

Posted on September 21, 2011 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.

There seem to be three big acronyms when it comes to healthcare IT and interoperability – EMR (electronic medical record), HIE (health information exchange) and ACO (accountable care organization). Implementing one does not always necessarily lead to the implementation of another. I’m sure everyone will agree, however, that an EMR most likely leads to connectivity to a HIE, which increases the likelihood of participating in an ACO or coordinated care program. I consider these technologies and concepts to be the interoperability triumvirate, if you will.

Of these three, the HIE seems to have seen its day in the sun. Enthusiasm for the concept and its surrounding technologies – at a fever pitch at tradeshows and in the media last year, in my opinion – seems to have been eclipsed by Meaningful Use incentive payments for EMRs and the general consternation related to ACOs. Which is why my interest was piqued when I came across news from a company called NexJ and its new Health Exchange solution.

In order to learn more about the product, touted by the company as one that “brings together the numerous electronic health records systems and applications that exist within healthcare organizations – many of them old, out-dated legacy systems – into one place so that healthcare providers can deliver better, safer, more comprehensive care,” I reached out to Oz Huner, Vice President of Health Solutions at NexJ Systems.

JD: What type of healthcare facility would be the typical customer for your new HIE solution?
OH: “The NexJ Health Exchange solution facilitates the sharing of patient information between healthcare organizations such as hospitals and healthcare providers, ACOs, HIEs, and public health and government agencies.

“Our customers are choosing our solution because it enables them to move from paper-based workflows to electronic workflows and gain such benefits as complete access to accurate information, improved quality of care and patient empowerment.”

Can you give me a specific example of how this HIE can potentially (or has already) improve patient outcomes at a client facility?
“In a current project we’re working on, NexJ is helping meet the challenges emergency department physicians and staff face by providing timely access to the patients’ primary care provider records when they arrive at the hospital admitting department. The NexJ Health Exchange solution connects the patient’s medical record directly with the emergency department systems, improving information sharing between community health providers and the hospital, and improving patient safety.”

Is there a limit to the number of EMRs and applications that can be connected within the NexJ health exchange?
“No, there is no limit to the number of EMRs and applications that can be connected using NexJ Health Exchange. It is highly scalable and can address the needs of the even largest healthcare organizations.”

Does it work with some EMRs better than others?
“No. NexJ Health Exchange provides open, standards-based integration to any EMR system. Its secure, Web-based portal and flexible architecture enables connectivity with legacy and proprietary systems, support for global messaging standards (HL7v2.x and HL7v3.x), exchanging of clinical document formats (CCR and CCD), and support for multiple standardized clinical terminologies (SNOMED, LOINC).

Based on your interactions with providers, do you feel that more and more are finally coming around to the idea of adopting EMRs and eventually HIEs? Or do you find that many providers still think they aren’t worth the expense?
“It is our opinion that EMRs have historically been of great value to healthcare organizations, but since they’re often siloed, such information technology has not been ubiquitously adopted. As an element of a HIE, however, we believe there will be greater EMR adoption as government incentives and programs encourage healthcare providers across the country make the switch to EMRs. As more physicians move to EMRs and become net receivers of patient information, they will realize the benefits of access to accurate information, improved quality of care and patient empowerment.”

Are you working with any regional extension centers around the country to promote your EMR and HIE solutions?
“Indirectly, yes. Through our partnership with Open Health Tools, NexJ is a member of the Platform Implementation Project (PIP), which is working on an open HIE solution for state agencies. The focus is currently on southeast Texas, but is by no means limited to that region.”

NexJ will be at the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco next week. If you plan on going, stop by their booth and let me and your fellow readers know what you think about this new health exchange solution. Is HIE the buzzword worth bringing back?