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AI Tool Helps Physician Group Manage Prescription Refills

Posted on April 25, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Most of the time, when we hear about AI projects people are talking about massive efforts spanning millions of records and many thousands of patients. A recent blog item, however, suggests that AI can be used to improve comparatively modest problems faced by physician groups as well.

The case profiled in the blog involves Western Massachusetts-based Valley Medical Group, which is using machine learning to manage medication refills. The group, which includes 115 providers across four centers, implemented a product known as Charlie, a cloud-based tool made by Healthfinch 18 months ago. (I should note, at this point, that the blog maintained is by athenaHealth, which probably has a partnership with Healthfinch. Moving on…)

Charlie is a cloud-based tool which automates the process of prescription refills by integrating with EHRs. Charlie processes refill requests much like a physician or pharmacist would, but more quickly and probably more thoroughly as well.

According to the blog item, Charlie pulls in refill requests from the practice’s EHR then adds relevant patient data to the requests. After doing so, Charlie then runs the requests through an evidence-based rules engine to detect whether the request is in protocol or out of protocol. It also detects duplicates. errors and other problems. Charlie can also absorb specific protocols which let it know what to look for in each refill request it processes.

After 18 months, Valley’s refill process is far more efficient. Of the 10,000 refill requests that Valley gets every month, 60% are handled by a clerical person and don’t involve a clinician. In addition, clerical staff workloads have been cut in half, according to the practice’s manager of healthcare informatics.

Another benefit Valley saw from rolling out Charlie with that they found out which certain problems lay. For example, practice leaders found out that 20% of monthly refill requests were duplicate requests. Prior to implementing the new tool, practice staff spent a lot of time investigating the requests or worse, filling them by accident.

This type of technology will probably do a lot for medium-sized to larger practices, but smaller ones probably can’t afford to invest in this kind of technology. I have no idea what Healthfinch charges for Charlie, but I doubt it’s cheap, and I’m guessing its competitors are charging a bundle for this stuff as well. What’s more, as I saw at #HIMSS18, vendors are still struggling to define the right AI posture and product roadmap, so even if you have a lot of cash buying AI is still a somewhat risky play.

Still, if you’re part of a small practice that’s rethinking its IT strategy, it’s good to know that technologies like Charlie exist. I have little doubt that over time — perhaps fairly soon — vendors will begin offering AI tools that your practice can afford. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to identify processes which seem to be wasting a lot of time or failing to get good results. That way, when an affordable tool comes along to help you’ll be ready to go.

EHR Usability Problems Linked To Potential Patient Harm

Posted on April 9, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

If you’re a clinician, you’ve probably always felt that EHR usability problems were a factor in some patient care glitches. Now, there’s some research backing up this hunch. While the numbers of EHR-specific events represented in the study are relatively low, its lead researcher said that it probably underestimated the problem by several orders of magnitude.

The study, which was profiled in the American Journal of Managed Care concluded, that at least some patient safety events were attributable to usability issues. The study, which was just published in JAMA, involved the analysis of nearly 2 million reported safety events taking place from 2013 to 2016 in 571 healthcare facilities in Pennsylvania. The data also included records from a large mid-Atlantic multi-hospital academic medical system.

Of the 1.735 million reports, 1,956 (0.11%) directly mentioned an EHR vendor or product. Also, 557 (0.03%) include language explicitly suggesting that usability concerns played a role in possible patient harm, AJMC reported.

Meanwhile, of the 557 events, 84% involved a situation where patients needed to be monitored to preclude harm, 14% of events potentially caused temporary harm, 1% potentially caused permanent harm and under 1% (2 cases), resulted in death.

The lead researcher on the study, Raj Ratwani, PhD, MA, told the AJMC that these issues are unlikely to resolve unless EHR vendors better understand how providers manage the rollout of their products.

Even if the vendor has done a good job with usability, he suggests, healthcare organizations adopting the platform sometimes make changes to the final configuration during their implementation of the product, something which could be undoing some of the smart usability choices and safety choices made by the vendor. “We really need to focus on the variability that’s occurring during the implementation and ensuring that vendors and providers are working together,” Ratwani said.

Along the way, it’s worth pointing out that the researchers themselves feel that the actual number of usability-related patient safety events could be far higher than the study would suggest.

Ratwani cautioned that he and his team took a “very, very conservative approach” to how they analyzed the patient safety reports. In fact, he suspects that since patient safety events are substantially underreported, the number of events related to poor usability is probably also very understated as well.

He also noted that while the study only included reports that explicitly mentioned the name of the vendor or product, clinicians usually don’t include such names when their writing up a safety report.

Three-Quarters Of Medical Practices Aren’t Getting Full Value From Their EHR

Posted on February 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Given how many EHRs seem to feature position-hostile designs, it’s hardly surprising to learn that many medical practices aren’t getting the most from them. However, I was taken aback by how deep this underutilization seems to run.

A new study appearing in the American Journal of Managed Care has concluded that a whopping 73% of practices weren’t using their EHRs to the fullest extent and that another 40% make little or no use of health IT functions. Even given the obstacles to using EHRs, this seems like a big waste of money, time and potential, doesn’t it?

To conduct the study, researchers used data from a relevant HIMSS Analytics survey. The data included responses from 30,123 ambulatory practices with an operational EHR in place, most with fewer than seven affiliated doctors in place.  Researchers sifted the data to determine the extent to which these practices were using EHR-based health IT functionalities.

Of course, some medical groups were on top of their game. Researchers found that 26.6% of practices could be classified as health IT super-users that squeezed every benefit from their systems. As you might guess, the likelihood that a practice was a super-user grew as the number of affiliate doctors increased, as well as when the practice was located in a metropolitan area. But far more groups seem to have fallen well behind the leaders.

According to the data, among practices using CPOE tools, only 36% used them for more than 75% of orders. Also, while groups commonly used basic functions such as data storage, with 100% of practices storing transcribed reports electronically and 61% using the EHR for nursing documentation, most lagged in other areas. For example, only 29% used tools allowing them to find and modified orders for all patients on a specific medication.

To address this gap, researchers say, policymakers should consider how to address the barriers PCP and specialist practices face in using the health IT tools more fully. Understanding how this disparity has emerged and how to address it is critical, they suggest, as less sophisticated use of EHRs may have an impact on care quality and also on groups’ ability to participate in community efforts such as HIEs.

The truth is, if the under-utilizer practices don’t get some kind of help or support, it’s unlikely they’ll step up their use of EHR functions. Particularly if they’ve had the system in place for a while, the workflow is baked into the system and physician habits established. Maybe the pressure to provide value-based care will do the trick, but it remains to be seen. This is a problem that won’t go away quickly.

Medical Groups Adopting Telehealth, But Cautiously

Posted on February 5, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Telehealth has gone from a neat idea to an accepted part of the spectrum of care. However, it’s largely been hospitals, not doctors, which have dived into telemedicine wholeheartedly

Recent data suggests that while doctors are gradually adopting telecare, they have many reservations about doing so. A study published last year by Reaction Data found that while 68% of physicians said they were in favor of telemedicine, most were using it only in special situations such as reaching patients in rural areas, visit follow-ups and managing specific patient populations.

A new survey by the Medical Group Management Association has reached a similar conclusion. In a poll conducted last month by the trade group, the MGMA found medical practices’ approaches to telemedicine have changed only marginally since January of last year.

In this year’s Stat poll, which had 1,292 respondents, 26% of respondents said their organization offered telehealth services, and another 15% said they planned to offer them in the future. That’s up only 3% from January 2017 research, which found that 23% of respondents provided such services and 18% planned to add them.

Meanwhile, two key statistics have stayed in place from last year. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to this year’s survey said they didn’t offer telehealth services and 20% weren’t sure if they would, the same percentages found in last year’s research.

When it announced the results, MGMA shared some specific suggestions for planning and implementing a telehealth program. They include:

  • Researching and understanding patient needs
  • Setting clear goals for telehealth and tying them to an existing strategic plan, which demands fewer organizational changes and speeds adoption
  • Understanding how telehealth supports value-based care
  • Researching telehealth vendors and platforms
  • Researching reimbursement and licensure requirements (if any) in the practice environment
  • Engaging and educating practice staff members on telehealth issues and strategies
  • Having doctors reach out to colleagues in their specialty to learn how their telehealth implementation experience has gone
  • Bearing in mind that telehealth implementations typically take an average of one year from plan to rollout

All that being said, it seems likely that some of the practices which are hanging back from telehealth have taken most or even all of the steps outlined above. The thing is, even if a practice has researched the telemedicine market, understands its patients’ needs and knows what issues it will face during a service rollout, these steps still can’t address some of the fundamental realities holding telehealth back today.

The truth is, from what I’ve seen medical practices still face two difficult issues when they consider telehealth seriously: how to make money at it and how to fit it into their workflow. These are major problems and won’t be resolved by advice alone (not that this is MGMA’s fault of course).

Despite medical groups’ concerns, there will doubtless be a tipping point where practices begin to see telehealth services as a routine part of what they provide. However, it seems clear that we’re far from getting there.

Our First Year with a Patient Portal

Posted on August 11, 2013 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

Last month marked the end of our first year with our web portal.  It has been a steep but worthwhile learning curve.  Similar to every other component of our IT system there were many bumps along the way.  Here are some observations worth sharing:

  1. If you build it – and promote it – they will come.  There is no question that patients in our North Atlanta market like the portal.  Over the first 12 months 12,518 patients have signed up and completed over 130,000 health, demographic and general consent forms.  Participation has increased steadily as we have refined web page usability and improved the reliability of the system.  Subjectively I think about 2/3 of my new patients are using the portal to enter their demographic and personal health information prior to their initial appointment.
  2. Overpromotion backfires.  Our telephone-greeting message says, “To schedule an appointment, dial 0 or go to www.entofga.com.”  Sounds reasonable enough, but patients have misinterpreted this message as meaning that we don’t want to talk to them.
  3. If it doesn’t work, patients get angry – with good reason.  Nothing is more frustrating than spending 45 minutes filling out all your information at home and then getting handed the same forms on paper at the office because your online data was lost.  The IT folks seem to think if the explanation for the failure is fancy enough that will make everything OK.  It doesn’t.
  4. Patients who choose not to use the portal at home don’t want to use it in the waiting room, either.  We have tried iPads, laptops and desktop kiosks.  We have trained our front office folks to promote it and even “walk patients through” the portal.  Nothing has worked.  We have considered recruiting those patients with a different technology such as scanned #2 lead pencil bubble forms, at least for the discrete data.
  5. Patients have little interest in using the portal as an ongoing tool.  After the initial creation of the account, data entry and first appointment, they rarely use the portal again.  Last month with over 12,000 patients enrolled we got only 6 prescription refill requests and 24 “ask the doctor” questions.   Appointment requests were slightly better at 134.  Our telephone appointment schedulers tell me they frequently get calls from folks who made an appointment request online but then immediately call for the same appointment because they were not comfortable with the online appointment concept.  One could argue that this is unique to our specialty practice or that the online forms and workflow need improving.  That may be true, but I am convinced that at least a part of this phenomenon represents cultural pushback from patients.
  6. The ROI on the web portal is in some ways an all-or-nothing situation.  For a while the portal was passing to EMR only about 15 of the 20 data fields required to complete our demographic database.  Intuitively one would think the portal was therefore “75% useful”.  The problem is if I have to pay staff to open the patient’s file to manually enter the 5 remaining fields, I may as well have them manually enter all 20 fields.  That makes the portal 0% useful.  I can’t reassign staff to better things until the portal passes 100% of the data to the EMR.  This also relates to the reliability issues described above.  Until we reach near 100% reliability the return on investment is limited.
  7. As with every health IT product we have ever tried, it doesn’t work completely as advertised.  Although the new patient workflow is going fairly well other features remain severely compromised.  In our vendor’s defense this is partly because our parent EMR has had some upgrades which in turn requires our vendor to update the portal to adapt to the EMR changes.  The point is that none of these products is “plug and play” and the industry has a long way to go before these products become easy to use and practical for everyone.
  8. There are unintended consequences of a web portal.  Unbeknownst to us our portal was directing patients to the vendor’s personal health record product.  The transition is apparently pretty seamless so patients often still thought they were still inside our portal when they encountered very personal questions (i.e., sexual history) that had no relevance to their ear / nose  / throat appointment.

As an “early adopter” practice we are pleased overall with the portal but I’m not sure how a more typical practice would feel.

EMR Note Cloning is Scarier than I Thought

Posted on June 15, 2012 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

The health IT community is well aware of the dangers of cloning notes in an electronic medical record.  I include myself in that group.  Until recently I prided myself for doing a good job, both in our EMR design and in my own personal practice, of using just the right amount of automation in our documentation workflow.  Two recent events showed me that I still have some work to do.

The first event occurred a few weeks ago when I was reviewing some records.  One patient note documented an enlarged salivary gland containing a stone.  That would be fine except for one small detail – I had removed that gland one week prior to the date of the note!  My nurse had created that note.  A conversation with her revealed she thought she was doing the right thing by always clicking the “previous finding” button, which I had programmed myself.  My nurse is extremely bright; this was my fault for not training her on this issue.  I had also signed that note.  So it was my fault twice.  After a 30 second conversation with my nurse it has not happened since.

The second event was when an attorney interviewed me regarding one of my patients.  I was a treating physician in a malpractice case (I am not the defendant thankfully).  The attorney wanted to know if, in my opinion, the physician defendant had met the standard of care in treating the patient despite the adverse outcome.

This was a high-risk case for note cloning; the patient had multiple abnormal neurologic findings that were stable over time.  In reviewing my records I was satisfied that my notes were accurate, complete and original for every visit.  I avoided cloning those abnormal but stable findings by describing the same exam but using slightly different wording at each visit.  How else do you avoid cloning?  But the attorney pounced on my small changes in description, trying to establish a trend in my notes that the patient was getting worse.  I explained the cloning issue to him, and he understood…. I think.  Nonetheless I felt somewhat uncomfortable defending my documentation, and I was not even the defendant.  In trying to avoid cloning notes I had stepped right into another problem.

This issue is huge in my practice.  I have a large volume of head and neck cancer patients.  The essence of caring for them properly is to monitor them for changes in their abnormal – but stable – physical findings.  A recurrence of cancer might manifest as a subtle change in one of these findings.

How do you document that an examination is stable and unchanging, but change your wording enough to document that you actually examined the patient at every visit?  We do not yet have the cloning issue figured out.

EMR Workflow Continues to Evolve

Posted on May 8, 2012 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

As we approach the midpoint of 2012 our practice will complete 7 years of electronic medical records.  Just like a musical instrument, we will never have EMR fully mastered, but our skills and wisdom continue to grow slowly with time.  Over the past several weeks one lesson is becoming clear.

To this point I have equally supported 2 types of workflow for the exam room.  The first involves the physician working solo in the exam room with a laptop or tablet computer.  The medical assistant remains at the nurses’ station to support workflow.  In our financially strained environment we can’t afford to add another medical assistant to put in the exam room with the physician.   In this model the EMR enhances the physican’s documentation and workflow control capabilities and eliminates the need for an assistant in the exam room.

In the second workflow the doc never touches the computer.  Instead a medical assistant or nurse accompanies the doc to the exam room and documents on a laptop.  After capturing the results of the physician interview and the exam findings, the assistant documents workflow in the EMR.   The doc uses the workflow engine to initiate and control workflow.  It works well but carries the expense of an additional assistant, some $40k per year including benefits.

Over the past year I have been blessed with 2 exceptionally talented RNs who are both outstanding clinicians and savvy computer users.  The first of them will be going out on maternity leave soon, so the second was hired.  For several weeks they have both been working and training together so I have had the (expensive) luxury of having an extra assistant to bring to the exam room.  Thanks to them I have come to realize there is no reason for me to operate the workflow engine.  For most patients the RN can listen to my conversation with the patient and initiate the treatment workflow via the workflow engine.

By allowing the RN / assistant to operate the workflow engine we eliminate the need to keep an assistant at the nurses station and this eliminate the additional expense.

We have also replaced our web portal vendor after several frustrating, unsuccessful years.  I am very excited about the Intuit product.  Although I have been wrong many times about similar technologies in the past I remain hopeful that that the new portal will be attractive to patients.  If that happens we will finally be able to automate several workflows and get a measurable return on investment on the portal itself.

Combining a successful web portal with a sophisticated workflow engine operated by staff holds the promise of taking our practice to the “next level” with our EMR.  This will allow us to automate data input, workflow management and patient communication.  This is very important to physicians.  As a group we docs see EMR as something we constantly put resources into but rarely get anything back out.   This would be a big step past that barrier.

The Nitty-Gritty of Meaningful Use – Part 2

Posted on September 18, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

This is the second in the series of how our practice is getting the work of MU done.  The first of the series can be found here.

Starting with Core Set Item #7:

7.   Record demographics as structured data.  We have been doing this for a long time but MU requires us to add race and “ethnicity.”  Isn’t ethnicity the same as race but more specific?  If you have the latter you don’t need the former.  Furthermore we have had patients push back on asking this question.  Some find this question offensive.  They shouldn’t; since many diseases are race / ethnicity – specific the question is medically appropriate.  Fortunately MU considers the term “undetermined” as acceptable for this data point.

8.  Record vital signs as structured data.  This conflicts with lower level CPT E/M coding with does not require vital signs.  Once again the left hand of government doesn’t know what the right is doing.  Nobody thought it through.

9.  Record smoking status.   No problem here.  Medically appropriate for all specialties.

10.  Quality measures.  These are poorly designed and confusing.  There are 2 redundant measures both dealing with tobacco use and cessation, and these are both redundant (but not identical) to core set #9.  Weight screening is reasonable enough but the follow-up requirements are ambiguous and burdensome.  Are we really supposed to bombard our local dietician with weight loss consultations?

11.  Decision support rule.  We will configure our EMR to prompt for hearing loss screenings in patients over 50 years old.  Fair enough.

12.  Provide an electronic copy of health information to the patient upon request.  Who are they kidding?  This should have been delayed to Phase two.  Qualified EMRs can do this easily enough but the product is exported to your remote server desktop; it is cumbersome to copy from there.  We have had few such requests from patients; I wonder if those few are asking just to prove a point.  I don’t know that for sure.

13.  Provide clinical visit summaries.  Again should have been delayed to Phase two.

14.  Exchange key clinical information between systems.  This one is unbelievable.  Fortunately, as I understand it, you only have to do it once.  You are supposed to upload all or part of someone’s chart (or perhaps a test chart or other hypothetical data) to portable media, go to someone else’s EMR and try to upload the data.  Doesn’t matter if you succeed or not.  Am I misunderstanding this one?  If anybody has a better handle on this one please leave a comment.

15.  HIPAA security risk analysis.  Although I hate paying for it I must admit that is a good idea.

 

The last installment will cover the Menu Set Measures.

EMR Gives Stability to Medical Office Workflow

Posted on September 1, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

I am presently devoting all of my extracurricular time to preparing 2 talks for the upcoming Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.  The big talk is a 1-hour instructional course entitled, “Navigating the Unknown Waters of EMR.”  My blogging over the past year has already organized most of the relevant material.  Nonetheless as I try to bring it all together some new thoughts emerge.

One such notion is that EMR stabilizes office workflow by giving the medical office an IT infrastructure similar to other industries.  For example, FedEx has a very elaborate computer system that supports their workflow.  Employees may come and go, but the IT infrastructure forces the work to be performed in a certain manner.

The medical practice has never had anything like that.  Consider the example I used in an earlier blog on workflow design using an EMR.   In that post I reviewed how a “simple” workflow – handling patient phone calls – was improved through the use of an EMR and a contemporary phone system.

Let’s take a look at patient phone call workflow in paper chart office.  Often there is no formal workflow.  Whoever is near the phone answers it, takes the message, and hangs up.  That person may or may not attach the message to the paper chart.  They may then choose any method of communication (voice mail, e-mail, text, phone log slip, sticky note, etc) to notify whomever they choose (doctor, nurse, assistant, etc.) regarding the message.

This continues until something bad happens.  A patient may complain that his phone call was never returned, or a referring physician with an urgent problem is left on hold too long.  Then the doctor sits down with the office manager and says, “Things are out of control around here.  We need to organize better how we do things.  Let’s come up with a plan for patient phone calls and then stick to it.”  The manager dutifully comes up with a plan, meets with the staff, and cleans things up.  Phone calls are handled well for a while, but over the next 12-18 months workflow slowly deteriorates until the next adverse event occurs, and the cycle repeats.

Performance on handling phone calls deteriorates when there is no infrastructure supporting the patient phone call policy.  In a paper chart office the plan for handling phone calls lives only in the brains of the office manager and staff.  As memories fade and staff inevitably turns over, the information is lost and the plan falls apart.

In a practice with EMR and a good phone system, the phone call policy is preserved indefinitely in the programming of these two systems.  Our phone system’s caller menu routes all non-appointment phone calls to the same extension.  The EMR system makes patient charts from all offices available in real time to the single person in our practice assigned to patient phone calls.  The cycle of workflow deterioration, adverse event, and workflow restoration is broken.

Once our patient phone call workflow was programmed into our phone and EMR systems 4 years ago we have had very few problems.

The Nitty-Gritty of Meaningful Use – Part 1

Posted on August 11, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

To this point I have contemplating Meaningful Use from 10,000 feet above the landscape.  I have done my reading, been to meetings, and met with our EMR vendor…all the usual things.  But this week it was time to roll up our sleeves and go down from 10,000 feet to cut through the jungle at ground level and bring MU to our practice of 19 physicians.

We faced the maddening task of reviewing 15 Core Set Measures and choosing 5 out of 10 Menu Set Measures, and then getting them done.  I have to admit that some parts of meaningful use are not too bad.  But there are other parts that are confusing, redundant or totally ridiculous.

Regarding the first 6 of the 15 Core Measures:

CPOE for Medication orders.   The concept is fine but the requirement is not structured well.  It reads, “More the 30% of all unique patients with at least one medication in their medication list seen by the EP (eligible provider) have at least one medication entered using CPOE.”  Read it carefully.  It says if a patient walks in my door and reports to be on any medication, I have to prescribe another medication whether the patient needs one or not.  Most doctors write enough prescriptions that by luck of the draw this won’t be a problem.  But we have 2 docs that don’t write a lot of prescriptions and they are currently don’t meet this measure even though they rarely, if ever, write a paper prescription.

Drug-Drug interactions and Drug-Allergy Interactions.  No problems here.

Maintaining a Structured Problem List.  Certified EMRs do this automatically and this function is essential to quality measurement and outcomes research.  Some of us (me included) need to change our documentation habits to get the proper data capture.   By personal habit I prefer writing unstructured paragraphs instead of distilling a patient visit down to a bunch of ICD-9 codes.  I’ll get over it.

 E-Prescribing.  Obviously an appropriate requirement.  But it sets the bar higher than the CPOE for Meds requirement (see #1 above), so why bother having the CPOE requirement at all?

 Maintain structured active medication and allergy lists.  Also a reasonable requirement.  This has always been a part of the physician’s visit routine.  The only problem is that the EMR requires the doc to check a box for each of these requirements.  I am going to try to modify our existing templates to make that task as painless as possible.

 

In future installments on this topic I will cover how we are handing the remainder of the MU requirements.  Stay tuned.