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101 Tips to Make Your EMR and EHR More Useful – EHR Tips 21-25

Posted on November 8, 2011 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.

Time for the next entry covering Shawn Riley’s list of 101 Tips to Make your EMR and EHR More Useful. I met someone at a conference who commented that they liked this series of posts. I hope you’re all enjoying the series as well.

25. Care coordination is much easier in an EMR and should be evaluated to be used
The idea of care coordination has never been more important in the history of healthcare. It’s the future of healthcare (at least in the US). Whether they end up being called ACOs or some other term, the switch to needing to coordinate care in order to improve the health of a population is happening as we speak. Luckily, EMR software is a great way to facilitate this care coordination.

24. Take advantage of E-Health tools
I actually think that this is a big call to EMR vendors to integrate their EMR software with the various e-health tools out there today. EHR vendors that think they can create every e-Health tool a doctor could want are going to be left behind by those systems which support the most popular consumer health tools on the market. However, that’s not to say that doctors can’t do their part. Start getting your patient using the e-health tools that will benefit them as a patient and then start requesting that your EMR vendor support the tools you’re using.

23. Make certain all caregivers know that logs are kept for any system overrides
Don’t hide the fact that everything is logged. Let everyone know that whatever is done on the system is logged. While some may see this as big brother watching them, most will realize that the logs are a protection for them. They log exactly what was done and said and who did it.

I remember one time there was some problem in our EMR system. I can’t remember the specific issue. Well, it was brought up in our staff meeting and the director said, whoever made this mistake is going to be providing breakfast for the whole staff. I went into the logs to see who’d accessed the patient to do the offending task. Little did the director (who was also a practicing provider a few times a week) know that she was the offending party. Everyone in the clinic enjoyed a nice breakfast that week.

22. Give caregivers the ability to override the system when necessary
Mistakes happen in documentation in an EMR. We’re all imperfect human beings (except for my wife) who make mistakes. So, you need an option and likely a process for how and who can make corrections to what was done in the EMR. Just be sure that everything that’s “overwritten” is logged and the reason for the change is well documented.

21. Develop a root cause analysis process for the EMR
I’m not that familiar with root cause analysis processes, so I’ll just share what Shawn says about it:

You very likely already have a root cause analysis model for your practice. You will need to adopt that model to the EMR. If you don’t, you will create a likelihood for the same errors to continually repeat. The EMR process is different than a usual root cause analysis. You will need to take into account interfaces, security roles, single sign on, and several other things beyond the “simple” human process.

If you want to see my analysis of the other 101 EMR and EHR tips, I’ll be updating this page with my 101 EMR and EHR tips analysis. So, click on that link to see the other EMR tips.

EMR Software and EHR Audit Trails

Posted on September 26, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

This morning, I read about a case that engaged me on many, many levels. On the Health Care Renewal blog, blogger InformaticsMD has a fascinating post on a medical malpractice and how EMRs allow this to happen. Here are the key points noted by the blogger:

  • Samuel Sweet, a health 62 year old, was admitted to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) with a headache. It turned out to be a treatable amount of bleeding in the brain. He died three days after he was admitted, on May 16, 2009, much to the surprise of his family with whom he had been conversing only six hours earlier.
  • Apparently, Mr. Sweet had been intubated. His breathing tubes were removed on the day of his death, and it was soon apparent that he could not breathe on his own. Doctors tried to intubate him again, but could not do so, and this resulted in his death.
  • At UPMC, difficult intubations cases must be flagged as such in the EMR. The patient’s record from the EMR then displays a bright yellow banner on top, noting the intubation problems. This is done so that when physicians change, the attending physician is alerted to the problem, and consults with prior notes in order to fix the problem. “Difficult intubation” was not noted in Mr. Sweet’s record.
  • A civil case against UPMC was filed by Mr. Sweet’s family. Some detective work later, their defense team alleges that a full three days after Mr. Sweet’s death, after a post-mortem meeting, Dr. Simmons, a QA official from UPMC “accessed” the UPMC EMR system, and apparently entered data stating that Mr. Sweet was a patient with difficult intubation. The defense has audit trail evidence from the EMR to back their claims. They further allege that when that action failed to post-facto flag his existing records with yellow warning banner, Dr. Simmons tried to retract the “diff intub” entry, and unfortunately for him, even that cancellation of status was logged.

While I am fascinated by InformaticsMD’s write-up, I don’t fully agree with the apparent conclusion reached – namely that “EMR’s can detract from a clear narrative, and facilitate spoliation and obfuscation of evidence presented.”

I would argue to the contrary – that because there is an EMR, there is even an audit trail possible. And rather than facilitating “spoliation and obfuscation of evidence”, the EMR audit trail has shown up whatever tampering was involved. If UPMC simply had a paper based system, think about how much easier it would be to create paper records on official stationery, without date/time stamps I may add, post-facto.

EMRs can also be designed to meet certain additional needs – for example, a lock-down feature that locks down patient records from editing once a patient is flagged as deceased. There is no real counterpart for such a feature in the paper records world. Other lessons learned: If you’re springing for an EMR, it makes sense to know what metadata is being logged, and how you can access them – a pickle Dr. Simmons would have clearly avoided had he been IT savvy enough.

But a word to the wise: even an audit trail isn’t fool-proof. And if you’re in the market for an EMR, here’s a key difference between a “free” EMR somewhere on the cloud, or a pricier product on your own servers, administered by a savvy IT administrator on your payroll. Who administers the data makes a huge difference – if you own the database and your IT administrator has access to the database itself, you *can* manipulate any audit records generated from the EMR front end. Conversely, you must research what your vendor administered EMR is doing with your data, and what checks the vendor has on its IT staff.

Read more about the Sweet case on the Health Care Renewal blog.