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Should We Return to the Move from EMR to EHR?

Posted on April 8, 2016 I Written By

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

Over the 10 years I’ve been blogging about EMR/EHR, it’s been amazing to watch the evolution of the terms and how people use them. Based on most people’s usage, I’ve long been an advocate that the two terms should and are used interchangably. If you say one or the other, most people are assuming the broadest use of the term. Although, the HITECH Act’s use of the term EHR has certainly made it more popular and in vogue (even if most doctors I know still call it an EMR).

Semantics aside, now that meaningful use has matured, I believe that healthcare is ready for a return to the conceptual differences between an EMR and an EHR. Conceptually an EHR was a record that included the patient provided data along with the clinic’s data (ie. EMR data). This concept was partially included in meaningful use, but not in a very meaningful way.

What are some patient features that would constitute an “EHR”?

Medical Record Access – Patient access to the EMR data should be a core feature of an EHR. Most EMR/EHR vendors provide this feature and more and more doctors are excited to give their patients digital access to their medical record. However, along with access to the medical record we need to build features that allow the patient to submit corrections to the medical record.

Secure Messaging – Patients are increasingly demanding electronic access to their doctor’s office. This secure messaging is often done through the EHR. Most EMR/EHR software have this as an option, but many doctors are afraid of what this messaging will mean for their workflow. Luckily, more and more doctors are sharing the experience that this type of messaging makes their workflow faster and better. High maintenance patients are going to be high maintenance regardless of options they have available to access you.

Patient Generated Data – This feature is still something that many are trying to figure out. Can they allow patients to submit their own health data to the doctor? If they do, what’s the doctor’s liability for that data? How can/should the doctor use the data that’s being shared with the clinic? There are plenty of questions about how this should be executed, but there are also a lot of opportunities. It’s time we start working through these challenges.

There’s a whole suite of other services that we should look at offering patients as well such as: online appointment scheduling, online patient payment, refill requests, etc etc. However, if we could start with just the above 3 items we could truly start calling our systems an Electronic Health Record and not just an Electronic Medial Record. Regardless of what we call it, I believe these types of features and even more patient focused access are going to be the future wave of what patients will expect from their doctor.

An Open Letter to Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator CMS

Posted on February 18, 2016 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.

Mr. Andrew Slavitt
Acting Administrator
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Washington, D.C..

Dear Mr. Slavitt:

No doubt you were surprised at the strong, widespread reaction to your comments regarding the Meaningful Use Program as part of your speech to the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference several weeks ago. Your quote regarding the hearts and minds of physicians was particularly noteworthy. After decades of Federal regulatory hostility towards physicians, some of us doctors were pleasantly surprised – even shocked – to hear you acknowledge:

– physicians exist beyond just being another cog in the healthcare machine.
– physicians actually have hearts and minds.
– physicians’ opinions might have value to you.
– programs that are poorly designed distract physicians from patient care.
– CMS aspires to a “cultural focus on listening and learning”

Many of us physicians reacted like starving prisoners when the Commandant announces that there will be extra cockroaches for dinner. Though the news was small, many of us were overjoyed.

But most of us (60% by a recent survey) reacted differently. The majority of us understand the political savvy of saying something controversial about your enemy. Such a move can create a useful distraction, driving the enemy to argue amongst themselves while you continue with work that you would rather we didn’t notice…and that is exactly what has happened. Like an octopus squirting ink into the water you have created an effective smokescreen to let you spend the next few months coding Meaningful Use into MACRA without any interference from us.

So the purpose of this letter is to ask the question: Which of the above interpretations of your comments is correct? What are your intentions?

If your comments are sincere then consider this letter a warm introduction to the group of rapidly growing, grass-roots full time practicing physicians whom this letter represents. Over the past few years we have acquired the policy expertise and political skills to be effective leaders and collaborators with you to bring truly meaningful improvements to America’s health care. Realize that the leaders of organized medicine with whom you currently work – including the AMA , whose membership represents less than 15% of practicing physicians – do NOT represent the “hearts and minds” of physicians that you profess to seek. If you mean what you say then we are reaching out to you.

If, on the other hand, your comments are nothing more than political subterfuge, then this letter serves as a warning. We are not buying the political offal that you are selling. This physician group will use all of its intellectual, financial and political resources to make it far more difficult for you to destroy what is left of health care in America.

The choice is yours. We look forward to hearing from you.

Michael Koriwchak, M.D.
Vice President
Docs4PatientCare Foundation

Making Tablets More Effective for Data Capture

Posted on February 27, 2014 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.

Six months ago I wrote about the virtues of using an iPad Mini tablet in the patient care setting.  At that time I was using my tablet almost all day, every day for multiple purposes including EMR data capture.  Things went well for a while, but as time passed I used the tablet less and less.  Eventually I stopped using it almost altogether except for displaying and annotating CT images during patient visits.  At first I did not understand why.  Was the non-Retina display finally getting to my 50+ year old eyes?  Was the external microphone I used to improve speech recognition losing performance?  Was the battery fading after 9 months of charge / discharge cycles?  Or was the “gadget lust” of a new tech-toy finally wearing off?

Each of the above may be just a little bit true.  But two other reasons are most relevant to me.  First, my efforts to add a medical vocabulary to the embedded speech recognition failed.  But most importantly, I became frustrated with how difficult the tablet was to hold for extended periods of time.  When I wrote that the tablet was “easily and comfortably held by its edge” I was wrong.  Tablets are beautiful to behold, but their clean lines and smooth surfaces make holding them for extended periods of time very cumbersome.

So I created something that would fix the problem by making a tablet more comfortable and safe to hold.  Now that the provisional patent application is registered I can share the design:

                 figure 11                     

The photos are of a nonfunctional mockup I made out of Styrofoam, balsa wood and spackling compound.  It is a grip that attaches primarily to one edge of a tablet computer and facilitates holding the tablet by its edge rather than the back.  It is shaped to fit the hand and allows both proper hand positioning and proper viewing angle.  It provides a mechanical interface between the tablet edge and a semi-pronated (handshake position) hand/forearm.  Its purpose is to facilitate extended use of the tablet by minimizing orthopedic strain to the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulders and neck.   The interface with the remaining 3 edges is minimal, preserving the ability to store the tablet-grip assembly in a coat pocket.

The external shell is a composite of plastic, rubber, metal, leather or similar materials.     There may also be a thin covering over the back and/or front faces of the tablet for protection and mechanical stability.  The top side is contoured to engage the thumb and guide the thumb to the home button.   The bottom is contoured to engage the fingers.  This shape gives the thumb and fingers stability and purchase to counter the tablet’s weight and torque in the yaw and roll axes.  The gripped portion has bilateral symmetry to allow left hand or right hand grip.  Openings and mechanical and/or electronic pass-throughs provide access to tablet buttons, ports, etc.  It could also include a stand for self-support on a tabletop and a place to store a stylus.  Some panels could be customized for color, shape (i.e., for different hand sizes) or material.

There is space available within the grip to add hardware and enhance functionality.  Examples include – but are not limited to – extended battery, external microphone / speaker, Bluetooth keyboard interface (to make the composite device appear as a keyboard to an external workstation), wireless USB, and apps that use cloud-based speech to text capability.  Any companion software component – an app – would be loaded into the tablet itself.

I need your help both to estimate the potential of this idea and get some advice on what to do with it next.  If you think this is an idea worth pursuing give me a like on Facebook at the bottom of the article.  If you feel strongly about it give it a Tweet as well.  And if you have some advice I would be grateful to hear it.

 

#HIMSS14 Highlights: the Snail’s Pace of Interoperability

Posted on February 26, 2014 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.

Ah, HIMSS. The frenetic pace. The ridiculously long exhibit hall. The aching feet. The Google Glass-ers. As I write this, day three for me is in full swing and I’ve finally managed to find some time to reflect on what I’ve seen, which includes a ridiculously long taxi queue at the airport, more pedicabs than I can count, beautiful weather and lots of familiar faces, which is what makes HIMSS so much fun. I’ve heard lots of buzzwords and sales talk, and seen only about an eighth of the exhibit hall, barely scratching the surface of what’s out there on the show floor.

Several common themes stand out based on the sessions and events I’ve been to, and the passions of those I’ve encountered. Whether it’s vendor breakfasts, social networking functions, exhibit elevator pitches or educational sessions, interoperability and engagement are still the buzzwords to beat. This particular HIMSS has given me a different perspective on each, and offered new insight into what’s happening with the Blue Button Connector. I’ll cover each of these in HIMSS Highlights posts over the next several weeks, starting with interoperability.

The industry seems far more realistic this year regarding interoperability – downright frustrated by the slow pace at which such a lofty goal is proceeding. Industry experts Brian Ahier and Shahid Shah perhaps expressed it best during a lively panel discussion at the Surescripts booth:

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Putting vendors’ feet to the fire will certainly initiate a quick and painful reaction, but probably not a sustainable one. True momentum will occur only when providers get singed a bit, too. Panelist comments at a Dell / Intel breakfast on analytics for accountable care brought this into sharper focus for me. The fact that too many disparate EMRs (and thus too many vendors poised to cause inertia) are making it hard for analytics to successfully be adopted and utilized at an enterprise level, highlights a bigger problem related to hindsight and strategy.

From my perspective – that of an industry observer and commentator – it seems many providers felt compelled to purchase EMRs because the federal government offered them money to do so, and hopefully just as many were optimistic about the role technology would play in positively affecting patient outcomes. Vendors saw a great business opportunity and moved quickly to develop systems that met Meaningful Use criteria (not necessarily going for best-fit as related to workflow needs and usability). Neither group truly knew what they were in store for, especially regarding longer term plans for health information exchange.

Providers now find themselves wanting to move forward with health information exchange and greater interoperability, but slowed down by the very IT systems they were so insistent on purchasing just a few years ago. Vendors (some more than others) are hesitant to crack open their products to allow data to truly flow from one system to another, and who can blame them? The EMR market, in particular, is poised to shrink, which begs the question, who will survive? What companies will be around at HIMSS 15 and 16? Those who keep their systems siloed, like Epic? Or those who are trying to break down the silos, such as Common Well Alliance members like athenahealth and Greenway?

It makes me wonder if providers wouldn’t have been better served with just had a handful of EMRs to choose from around the time of HITECH, all guaranteed to evolve as needed and play nicely with each other in the interest of health information exchange. Too many options have caused too many barriers. That’s not just my opinion, by the way. I’m willing to bet that a sizeable chunk of the 37,537 HIMSS 14 attendees would agree with me.

Do you disagree? Are providers (and patients) better served by more IT options than less? Let me know your thoughts, and impressions of interoperability advancement at HIMSS, in the comments below.

Six Years Later, What Has Meaningful Use Accomplished?

Posted on February 15, 2014 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.

In Atlanta we are recovering from one of worst winter storms in many years. Weather events are financially devastating for a medical practice.  Revenue completely stops while expenses continue without interruption.   Today for the first time we saw patients in the office on a Saturday to recover a little.

During our 3 snow days this past week I decided to take on John Lynn’s challenge regarding what I would do if the Meaningful Use (MU) incentive money disappeared.  There has been a range of responses including one person who wouldn’t change a thing about MU.  However, recent data continue to support my long-held opinion that MU has been harmful to health IT and the EMR cause.

Think about where we were before MU was conceived.  Six years ago the NEJM study cited by the designers of MU showed a 4% EMR adoption rate.  Among EMR users the vast majority (72%-96%) reported a positive effect of EMR on patient care.  Among EMR users physician satisfaction was 93%.  Among EMR non-users, the major reasons for not getting an EMR included cost (66%), uncertainty regarding the return on investment (50%), and loss of productivity during implementation (41%).

Six years later, what has MU done for EMRs?  Medical Economics recently released an EHR survey of 967 physicians polled in late 2013 with very disturbing results:

  • 70% did not feel their EHR investment was worth the cost and the effort
  • 73% would not re-purchase their current system
  • 69% report coordination of care has not improved
  • 65% do not believe EHR has improved quality of care.  45% believe EHR has made patient care worse
  • 66% report financial losses resulting from EHR.  38% report significant losses.
  • Lack of system functionality was the most common complaint among EHR users (67%)
  • 45% of all physicians spent over $100,000 on EHR and 77% of the “largest” practices spent over $200,000.  It is unclear whether this is the total practice cost or cost per physician.  Increased staff costs and loss of productivity were also cited as major issues.

Also telling are data reported by CMS last May that a staggering 17% of all providers who attested for the 90 day period required for MU Stage 1 / Year 1 (2011) did not participate the following year.  A CMS survey of these “non-returning providers” (NRPs) showed many of them gave up for reasons related to the MU program as well as reasons related to dissatisfaction with their EMRs.

Analysis of these 3 studies suggests that the satisfaction rate among EMR users has fallen from over 90% to about 30% over the past 6 years.  The proportion of providers that believe EMR improves quality of care has fallen from 82% in 2008 to 35% in the 2013 ME survey.  The misgivings of non-EMR-users in the NEJM 2008 study were proven valid among the dissatisfied EMR-users in the ME 2013 survey: high cost, poor return on investment and loss of productivity.  Even 5 figure financial incentives can’t get MU / EMR participation beyond a very short time of 90 days.

How could EMR’s reputation among EMR users fall so far?  The Meaningful Use program is solely responsible.

Go back to 2008 for a moment.  Had the health IT market been left undisturbed, EMR vendors would have engaged their existing base of satisfied customers in order to improve their products and sell to new customers.  This base of early EMR adopters was unique and special.  Our practice was among those that had a fully functional EMR in 2007-2008.  We shared a vision and saw the potential for information technology to improve health care.   We had both the IT resources and the will to work hundreds of extra hours to build effective EMR systems from products that were almost useless as they came “out of the box.”  We willingly accepted that proposition.

In 2008 the early adopters would have gladly offered their own practices as examples to demonstrate the value of EMR and help their vendors sell to new customers.  This slow, evolutionary growth would have created a stable environment that allowed the health care system to safely assimilate the cultural and operational changes that EMR brings.  This environment would have also supported stable evolution and improvement of EMR products.  The result would have been modest but steady growth in the EMR market for decades to come.

But thanks to MU this never happened.  Replacement of stable, natural market forces with MU incentives drove immediate, explosive short-term growth in the EMR market.  But these MU-driven EMR purchasers are not like the practices before 2008 that freely chose to purchase a system. These practices had decided against EMR initially, at least partly because they lacked the IT resources to make EMR work for them.   MU coerced them to purchase EMR against their better judgment.

I have spoken with many of these physicians.  They do not share the inspiration and vision of the early adopters.  They are rightly unhappy and cynical, forced by MU to spend huge amounts of money on unproven, underdeveloped EMR products that they did not want and were not prepared to properly use. To these practices the question of EMR’s potential is irrelevant.  In their minds MU (and by association EMRs) lives next to HIPAA, SGR and RAC audits as another method for the government to intimidate doctors and intrude upon their practices.

The MU program gave EMR vendors what they wanted – legislation requiring hundreds of thousands of providers to buy EMR products, with no need to prove that those products do anything useful.  But here’s the bad news: the Feds got what they wanted as well.  Through MU they created an EMR industry that is dependent on government incentives and penalties to maintain a stream of new customers.  This gives them complete control of the EMR market.  There is more bad news.  MU also destroyed the base of satisfied EMR customers from 2008, replacing it with a much larger base of unhappy, resentful customers.

So what happens as MU payments decrease with each passing year as MU requirements go up?  Who can argue that the market won’t collapse without another EMR stimulus package?  John Lynn’s question is appropriate and timely.  MU incentives will indeed disappear over the next couple of years.  How the EMR market will survive is not clear.

Survey Takers Show No Love for EMRs

Posted on February 13, 2014 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.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day … in case it hasn’t crossed your device or desk, Modern Economics – a self-described web community for health professionals – recently released the results of a survey that attempted to gauge physicians’ satisfaction with EHRs. Of the nearly 1,000 folks polled, nearly 70% concluded their investment in EHRs had not been worth it. Other stats included:

  • 67% are dissatisfied with system functionality
  • 65% indicated systems resulted in financial losses
  • 45% indicated patient care is worse
  • 69% indicated care coordination has not improved
  • 73% of largest practices would not purchase current system

These numbers certainly reflect what many in the industry have been saying for the last few years, but I find the statistics related to care incredibly high. My friends over at HISTalk.com reported that survey takers were “self-selected,” so I have to wonder if the entire field of respondents was skewed to the negative from the beginning.

I came across an interesting tweet exchange about the survey results:

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I’m no expert, but I definitely think the horse has left the barn, and that if a more impartial survey were done, we’d find more providers satisfied with EHRs and their impact on patient care.

In Blue Button news, I came across several articles this week announcing that leading pharmacies and retailers have joined the Blue Button movement. According to HealthIT.gov, these organizations are “committing to work over the next year towards standardizing patient prescription information to fuel the growth of private-sector applications and services that can add value to this basic health information.”

It’s encouraging to see businesses like Walgreens and Kroger – two places I shop at –  pledge to bring more awareness of health data to their customers. Perhaps my next post will shed light on how these businesses will accomplish their Blue Button goals.

EMRs costly to health system

Posted on January 21, 2014 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

A recent New York Times article caught my eye the other day.  The author focused on the seeming corruption of physicians bilking patients out of tons of money for unnecessary procedures and the havoc wreaked on the American public as we try to keep the rising costs of healthcare down.

The most interesting part of the piece was the amount of blame placed on doctors as the culprits (which in the extreme examples cited was probably warranted).  Of course, as an industry insider, I can tell you that there was so much under the surface that the writer either failed to comprehend, did not know about, or simply chose to ignore.  Judging by the comments from medical providers, I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

Although not her fault, the author bought into MGMA data that was grossly wrong, for example.  I can’t imaging too many dermatologists making just $175,000 annually in 1995.  From a wasted $800 fee that my clinic had to pay to gain access to a data set when we tried to offer a competitive salary to an endocrinologist in our clinic in 2011, I can tell anyone that the data we viewed grossly overestimated the average endocrinologist salary.  The MGMA data we bought was based on only 15 doctors in only 5 practices in the entire mid-Atlantic region who were apparently making an average of over $300,000 annually.  A Medscape survey quoted a more believable $168,000 annually for an endocrinologist.

I have to apologize for the rather longwinded intro to my EMR thought of the day, which is the cost of EMRs to the healthcare system in America. It seems that not too long ago it was much cheaper to use paper charts. Currently, most EMR systems are simply expensive recording tools. Some of them don’t even really generate insightful or easy to read medical notes, although what they do produce may be argued by some EMR vendor companies and end users to be some form of documentation that loosely qualifies for generating a bill for an office note or medical procedure (wide spectrum of quality here).

Some EMR systems are free but most are costly, either lump sum up front with ongoing annual maintenance fees, or pay-as-you-go monthly rentals of depository databases where data from medical notes is stored. Why is the medical establishment wasting all of this money when research has shown again and again that EMR systems do not produce more safety or efficiency of providing healthcare for anyone?

With incentive programs from the US government driving and pushing doctors to set up their own EMR systems for the past 4-5 years, unfortunately, this has been a horribly misguided, misplanned, and costly experiment by probably well meaning individuals who found it un-PC to admit their mistakes. Personally, I wish the government had stayed out of it and let the market forces do what they do best, provide cheaper and cheaper hardware and software options over time until the value of EMR systems eventually sunk or swam the market on their own.

I personally use a free version of an EMR system, which works fairly well (with various glitches here and there during periodic system upgrades). However, I am in the minority since most of my colleagues in the Washington, DC area are either still working on paper charts or have shelled out gazoomba bucks to use a costly EMR system. I am willing to wager that the DC market is not too different from everywhere else in America in that respect. Although I love my EMR system for its organization and ability to electronically prescribe medications with a few clicks of the mouse, I think it remains equally important to consider that the EMR experiment in America is largely failed to produce any significant tangible results and only costs the entire system more, which in the end will be passed on to the consumer.

No EMR system makes doctors more money. The carrot and stick incentive model that the U.S. government used to promote EMR use is small and will be short lived. With ongoing EMR costs to medical providers, this technology has already begun placing another money suck on the healthcare system. Paper and ink are far cheaper by simple math. The only way it makes fiscal sense to continue the EMR market as a cost saving measure is to make all EMR systems of zero cost to the medical providers who use them, which will probably never happen. This is the only way that additional costs cannot be passed on to patients (cleverly couched, of course by well meaning doctors who need to keep their own costs down). Challenging as it may seem, I am hoping that someday someone can think of a positive solution to this important problem.

Sandals, the Middle East and electronic medical records — symbols of partnership

Posted on January 11, 2014 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

Sandals… what a powerful symbol for today’s blog post.  Apolis Middle East Project is an interesting short film that documents the partnership for business purposes of two groups of workers on each side the Israeli-Palestinian divide.  The product that these sides are working together to bring to market is, simply, sandals.  As in, basic footwear thousands of years old in concept.  The oldest known sandals were found in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, about 10,000 years old.

On the surface, the short film seems to have a quaint, gee-whiz, aww-shucks, can’t-we-all-just-get-along feel.  However, it reminded me of the partnership between doctors and the software vendor companies that make electronic medical records. One group can’t be successful without the cooperation of the other group.

Doctors need EMR vendors to provide a useful and user-friendly product that will help document the healthcare and decisionmaking of doctors. EMR vendors need doctors to bring life and usefulness to their product. But when the partnership happens, modern healthcare that affects millions of lives for the better is allowed to unfold.

A popular view of electronic medical records by doctors is one of just another thing getting in the way of good healthcare because they take additional time and training to use well. But when you think about it, this partnership is really very important if we want to make the world a better, safer place for us all to live and share.  EMR vendors make it possible for doctors to touch patients lives in a safe and well documented way.  Doctors provide healthcare to all, bringing the impact of EMR vendors to millions of patients every day, including even the EMR vendors themselves.  🙂

Electronic medical records with community health and the environment in mind

Posted on January 5, 2014 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

My thought for today focuses on how using electronic medical records helps us maintain the health of our communities by keeping the environment in mind, which ultimately promotes health for all.  Contrary to what some might think, you don’t have to write a prescription or perform a medical procedure to help keep patients healthy.

I recently stumbled upon a thought-provoking company, Toms Marketplace.  Toms purports itself to be “a different way to shop”.  Established just recently in 2013, Toms’ great philosophy is to use profits from the sale of their community-centered products to give back to local communities in multiple ways.  For example, some of their toy sales support reforestation.

On a deeper level, aren’t we getting at some of the same grassroots issues by voluntarily using EMR systems that attempt, in their purest form, to be paperless?  Yes, EMRs can save trees and the environment in Honduras and elsewhere, and that has to be a good thing.

Trees should be a priority.  They are objects of beauty.  They provide oxygen for us to breath.  They provide shade on a hot day, which, depending on where you are in the world, can even save lives.  They help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and thus reduce global warming (yes, it probably does exist!) and all of its associated problems.  We are no longer living in the world of 1000 AD, and if people continue to use the world’s natural resources with abandon, then there can be consequences.

Thus, EMR users should revel and keep in mind a simple fact — that simply by getting away from the use of paper charts, they are touching the world for the better every day … keystroke by keystroke … tree by tree … and life by life.

child tree

FCC highlights ONC Office for Consumer e-Health plans for 2014

Posted on December 29, 2013 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC in 2009. He can be contacted at doctorwestindc@gmail.com.

One of the things I would like to get back in the habit of in the new year is to contribute more again to this blog, which I started in 2009 with help from John Lynn at Healthcarescene.com.  Part of the challenge of keeping an ongoing stream of thoughts here has been both my busy life as an active provider of subspecialty healthcare, the growth of my practice as a business, and most importantly the emergence of new ideas for consideration and writing.

Luckily, I have been able to find some novel sources recently, and so I am going to try to reach out to these resources more often to gain insight and ideas for new and interesting topics on which to blog.

One of these sources recently highlighted an interview with Lygeia Ricciardi, the ONC Director of Consumer eHealth.  The ONC is under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Ms. Ricciardi recently attended the FCC’s mHealth Innovation Expo in Washington, DC, on 12/6/13.  She highlighted work on policies for mobile health apps and cited a goal of helping to reach everyday people and empower them to improve their ability to participate in their own healthcare.

M-health apps are currently under voluntary control in whether or not their developers follow ONC guideines for design. Such apps may help patients, who are now often referred to as “consumers”, in such tasks as shopping for good-quality healthy food and reading nutrition labels.  In 2014, the ONC Office of Consumer e-Health plans to launch a website for helping patients find where to gain access to their own health data online.  Such information can include medication lists, laboratory reports, and other records.  Ms. Ricciardi likens this initiative to the “Blue Button” project that targets making medical data available to veterans at VA hospitals.

Access remains a key concern since once patient data is downloaded through a third-party app, such data will then by definition not be protected under HIPAA.  A third-party app developer will automatically gain access to this data during the process.

Ms. Ricciardi also cited possible other uses for mHealth apps, including helping people make participating in the healthcare both fun and interactive.  Examples were provided of apps that can help patients play games to compete against each other to see who can follow healthy habits better, e.g. who can exercise more, check blood pressure more, lose more weight, and check their blood sugars more often (for diabetic patients).  She further stated that consumers are being brought into the ONC process for m-health app policy development on a regular basis to ensure that there is some public guidance for what is and is not desired.  She cited the new paradigm, often quoted by now, that a cultural shift is changing towards more shared decision making in healthcare and giving more power to patients to participate actively in their healthcare rather than being passive bodies directed by healthcare professionals.

She encouraged individual patients/consumers to get more actively involved in their own healthcare.  According to Ms. Ricciardi, although the current medical environment is still mostly of two separate worlds, with little sharing of medical information between medical practitioners and patients, the coming world of m-health apps promises much potential for changing this.