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E-Patient Update:  I Was A Care Coordination Victim

Posted on June 12, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been recovering from a shoulder fracture. (For the record, I wasn’t injured engaging in some cool athletic activity like climbing a mountain; I simply lost my footing on the tile floor of a beauty salon and frightened a gaggle of hair stylists. At least I got a free haircut!)

During the course of my treatment for the injury, I’ve had a chance to sample both the strengths and weaknesses of coordinated treatment based around a single EMR. And unfortunately, the weaknesses have shown up more often than the strengths.

What I’ve learned, first hand, is that templates and shared information may streamline treatment, but also pose a risk of creating a “groupthink” environment that inhibits a doctor’s ability to make independent decisions about patient care.

At the same time, I’ve concluded that centralizing treatment across a single EMR may provide too little context to help providers frame care issues appropriately. My sense is that my treatment team had enough information to be confident they were doing the right thing, but not enough to really understand my issues.

Industrial-style processes

My insurance carrier is Kaiser Permanente, which both provides insurance and delivers all of my care. Kaiser, which reportedly spent $4 billion on the effort, rolled out Epic roughly a decade ago, and has made it the backbone of its clinical operations. As you can imagine, every clinician who touches a Kaiser patient has access to that patient’s full treatment history with Kaiser providers.

During the first few weeks with Kaiser, I found that physicians there made good use of the patient information they were accumulating, and used it to handle routine matters quite effectively. For example, my primary care physician had no difficulty getting an opinion on a questionable blood test from a hematologist colleague, probably because the hematologist had access not only to the test result but also my medical history.

However, the system didn’t serve me so well when I was being treated for the fracture, an injury which, given my other issues, may have responded better to a less standardized approach.  In this case, I believe that the industrial-style process of care facilitated by the EMR worked to my disadvantage.

Too much information, yet not enough

After the fracture, as I worked my way through my recovery process, I began to see that the EMR-based process used to make Kaiser efficient may have discouraged providers from inquiring more deeply into my particulalr circumstances.

And yes, this could have happened in a paper world, but I believe the EMR intensified the tendency to treat as “the fracture in room eight” rather than an individual with unique needs.

For example, at each step of the way I informed physicians that the sling they had provided was painful to use, and that I needed some alternative form of arm support. As far as I can tell, each physician who saw me looked at other providers’ notes, assumed that the predecessor had a good reason for insisting on the sling, and simply followed suit. Worse, none seemed to hear me when I insisted that it would not work.

While this may sound like a trivial concern, the lack of a sling alternative seemed to raise my level of pain significantly. (And let me tell you, a shoulder fracture is a very painful event already.)

At the same time, otherwise very competent physicians seemed to assume that I’d gotten information that I hadn’t, particularly education on my prognosis. At each stage, I asked questions about the process of recovery, and for whatever reason didn’t get the information I needed. Unfortunately, in my pain-addled state I didn’t have the fortitude to insist they tell me more.

My sense is that my care would’ve benefited from both a more flexible process and more information on my general situation, including the fact that I was missing work and really needed reassurance that I would get better soon. Instead, it was care by data point.

Dealing with exceptions

All that being said, I know that the EMR alone isn’t itself to blame for the problems I encountered. Kaiser physicians are no doubt constrained by treatment protocols which exist whether or not they’re relying on EMR-based information.

I also know that there are good reasons that organizations like Kaiser standardize care, such as improving outcomes and reducing care costs. And on the whole, my guess is that these protocols probably do improve outcomes in many cases.

But in situations like mine, I believe they fall short. If nothing else, Kaiser perhaps should have a protocol for dealing with exceptions to the protocols. I’m not talking about informal, seat-of-the-pants judgment call, but an actual process for dealing with exceptions to the usual care flow.

Three weeks into healing, my shoulder is doing much better, thank you very much. But though I can’t prove it, I strongly suspect that I might have hurt less if physicians were allowed to make exceptions and address my emerging needs. And while I can’t blame the EMR for this experience entirely, I believe it played a critical role in consolidating opinion and effectively limiting my options.

While I have as much optimism about the role of EMRs as anyone, I hope they don’t serve as a tool to stifle dissension and oversimplify care in the future. I, for one, don’t want to suffer because someone feels compelled to color inside of the lines.

E-Patient Update:  Can Telemedicine Fill Gap For Uninsured Patients?

Posted on February 24, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As someone who will soon will need to buy insurance through an ACA exchange – but doesn’t know whether that will still be possible – I’ve been thinking about my healthcare needs a lot, and how to meet them effectively if I’m ever uninsured.

Being an e-patient, the first thing that crossed my mind was to explore what Internet connectivity could do for me. And it occurred to me that if I had access to a wider range of comparatively-affordable telemedical services, I just might be able to access enough doctors and advanced practice clinicians to survive. (Of course, hospital and prescription drug costs won’t be tamed that easily, but that’s a subject for a different column.)

I admit that video visits aren’t an ideal solution for me and my husband, as we both have complex, chronic health conditions to address. But if I end up without insurance, I hold out hope that cheaper telemedicine options will get me through until we find a better solution.

Right now, unfortunately, telemedical services largely seem to be delivered on a hit-or-miss basis – with some specialties being easy to find and others almost inaccessible via digital connectivity – but if enough people like me are forced to rely on these channels perhaps this will change.

What’s available and what isn’t

This week, I did some unscientific research online to see what kind of care consumers can currently access online without too much fuss. What I found was a decidedly mixed bag. According to one telehealth research site, a long list of specialties offer e-visits, but some of them are much harder to access than others.

As you might have guessed, primary care – or more accurately, urgent care — is readily available. In fact one such provider, HealthTap, offers consumers unlimited access to its doctors for $99 a month. Such unfettered access could be a big help to patients without insurance.

And some specialties seem to be well-represented online. For example, if you want to get a dermatology consult, you can see a dermatologist online at DermatologistOnCall, which is partnered with megapharmacy Walgreens.

Telepsychiatry seems to be reasonably established, though it doesn’t seem to be backed yet by a major consumer branding effort. On the other hand, video visits with talk therapists seem to be fairly commonplace these days, including an option provided by HealthTap.

I had no trouble finding opportunities to connect with neurologists via the Web, either via email or live video. This included both multispecialty sites and at least one (Virtual Neurology) dedicated to offering teleneurology consults.

On the other hand, at least in searching Google, I didn’t find any well-developed options for tele-endocrinology consults (a bummer considering that hubby’s a Type 2 diabetic). It was the same for tele-pulmonology services.

In both of the former cases, I imagine that such consults wouldn’t work over time unless you had connected testing devices that, for example allow you to do a peak flow test, spirometry, blood or urine test at home. But while such devices are emerging, I’m not aware of any that are fully mature.

Time to standardize

All told, I’m not surprised that it’s hit or miss out there if you want to consult your specialists via an e-visit. There are already trends in place, which have evolved over the last few years, which favor some specialties and fail to address others.

Nonetheless, particularly given my perilous situation, I’m hoping that providers and trade groups will develop some standardized approaches to telemedicine. My feeling is that if a specialty-specific organization makes well-developed clinical, technical, operational and legal guidelines available, we’ll see a secondary explosion of new tele-specialties emerge.

In fact, even if I retain my health insurance benefits, I still hope that telemedical services become more prevalent. They’re generally more cost-efficient than traditional care and certainly more convenient. And I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one champing at the bit here. Let’s roll ‘em out, people!

E-Patient Update:  Is Technology Getting Ahead Of Medical Privacy?

Posted on December 9, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I don’t know about y’all, but I love, love, love interacting with Google’s AI on my smartphone. It’s beyond convenient – it seems to simply read my mind and dish out exactly the content I needed.

That could have unwelcome implications, however, when you bear in mind that Google might be recording your question. Specifically, for a few years now, Google’s AI has apparently been recording users’ conversations whenever it is triggered. While Google makes no secret of the matter, and apparently provides directions on how to erase these recordings, it doesn’t affirmatively ask for your consent either — at least not in any terribly conspicuous way — though it might have buried the request in a block of legal language.

Now, everybody has a different tolerance for risk, and mine is fairly high. So unless an entity does something to suggest to me that it’s a cybercrook, I’m not likely to lose any sleep over the information it has harvested from my conversations. In my way of looking at the world, the odds that gathering such information will harm me are low, while the odds collection will help me are much greater. But I know that others feel much differently than myself.

For these reasons, I think it’s time to stop and take a look at whether we should regulate potential medical conversations with intermediaries like Google, whether or not they have a direct stake in the healthcare world. As this example illustrates, just because they’re neither providers, payers or business associates doesn’t mean they don’t manage highly sensitive healthcare information.

In thinking this over, my first reaction is to throw my hands in the air and give up. After all, how can we possibly track or regulate the flow of medical information falls outside the bounds of HIPAA or state privacy laws? How do we decide what behavior might constitute an egregious leak of medical information, and what could be seen as a mild mistake, given that the rules around provider and associate behavior may not apply? This is certainly a challenging problem.

But the more I consider these issues, the more I am convinced that we could at least develop some guidelines for handling of medical information by non-medical third parties, including what type of consumer disclosures are required when collecting data that might include healthcare information, what steps the intermediary takes to protect the data and how to opt out of data collection.

Given how complex these issues are, it’s unlikely we would succeed at regulating them effectively the first time, or even the fourth or fifth. And realistically, I doubt we can successfully apply the same standards to non-medical entities fielding health questions as we can to providers or business associates. That being said, I think we should pay more attention to such issues. They are likely to become more important, not less, as time goes by.

E-Patient Update:  Registration Can Add Value To Care 

Posted on August 15, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

For those of you who end up seeking care in hospital emergency departments now and again, the following will probably be familiar. You’re spending the precious few minutes you get with the ED doc discussing your situation, having a test done or asking a nurse some rather personal questions, and a hapless man or woman shows up and inserts themselves into the moment. Why? Because they want to collect registration information.

While these clerks are typically pleasant enough, and their errand relatively brief, their interruption has consequences. In my case, their entry into the room has sometimes caused a nurse or doctor to lose their train of thought, or an explanation in progress was never finished. As if that weren’t irritating enough, the registration clerk – at least at my local community hospital – typically asks questions I’ve already answered previously, or asks me to sign forms I could easily have reviewed at an earlier stage in the process.

Not only that, there have been at least a couple of situations in which a nurse or doctor was so distracted by the clerk’s arrival that some reasonably important issues didn’t get handled. Don’t get me wrong, the skilled team at this facility recovered and addressed these issues before they could escalate, but there’s no guarantee that this will always happen, particularly if the patient isn’t used to keeping track of their care process.

Also, given that alarm fatigue is already leading to patient care mistakes and near-misses, it seems odd that this hospital would squeeze yet another distraction into its ED routine. At least the alarms are intended to serve as clinical decision support and avoid needless errors. Collecting my street address a second time doesn’t rise to that level of importance.

Of course, hospitals need the information the clerk collects, for a variety of legal and operational reasons. I have no problem signing a form giving it permission to bill my insurer, affirming that I don’t need disability accommodations or agreeing to a facility’s “no smoking on campus” policy. And I certainly want any provider that treats me to have full and accurate insurance information, as I obviously don’t want to be billed for the care myself!  But is it really necessary to interrupt a vital care process to accomplish this?

As I see it, verifying registration information could be done much more effectively if it took place at a different point in the sequence of care – at the moment when physicians decide whether to discharge or admit that patient.  After all, if the patient is well enough to answer questions and sign forms while lying in an ED bed, they’re likely to remain so through the admissions process, and verify their financial and personal information once they’re settled (or even while they’re waiting to be transported to their bed). Meanwhile, if the patient is being discharged, they could just as easily provide signatures and personal data as they prepare to leave.

But the above would simply make registration less intrusive. What about adding real value to the process, for both the hospital and the patient? Instead of having a clerk gather this information, why not provide the patient with a tablet which presents the needed information, allowing patients to enter or edit their personal details at leisure.

Then, as they digitally sign off on registration, it would be a great time to ask the patient a few details which help the facility understand the patient’s need for support and care coordination. Why not find out, before the patient is discharged, whether they have a primary care doctor or relevant specialist, whether they can afford their medications, whether they can get to post-discharge visits and the like? This improves results for the patient and ties in with a value-based focus on continuity of care.

These days, it’s not enough just to eliminate pointless workflow disruptions. Let’s leverage the amazing consumer IT platforms we have to make things better!

E-Patient Update: Is It Appropriate to Trash “Dr. Google”?

Posted on August 1, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Apparently, a lot of professionals have gotten a bit defensive about working with Google-using customers. In fact, when I searched Google recently for the phrase “Don’t confuse your Google search with my” it returned results that finished the phrase with “law degree,” “veterinary degree,” “nursing degree” and even “library degree.” And as you might guess, it also included “medical degree” among its list of professions with a Google grudge.

I first ran across this anti-Dr.-Google sentiment about a year ago, when a physician posted a picture of a coffee mug bearing this slogan on LinkedIn. He defended having the mug on his desk as a joke. But honestly, doc, I don’t think it’s funny. Let me explain.

First, I want to concede a couple of points. Yes, humor means different things to different people, and a joke doesn’t necessarily define a doctor’s character. And to be as fair as possible, I’m sure there are patients who use Web-based materials as an excuse to second-guess medical judgment in ways which are counterproductive and even inappropriate. Knowledge is a good thing, but not everyone has good knowledge filters in place.

That being said, I have, hmmm, perhaps a few questions for clinicians who are amused by this “joke,” including:

  • Wouldn’t people’s health improve if they considered themselves responsible for learning as much as possible about health trends, wellness and/or any conditions they might have?
  • Don’t we want patients to be as engaged as possible when they are talking with their doctors (as well as other clinicians)? And doesn’t that mean being informed about key issues?
  • Does this slogan suggest that patients shouldn’t challenge physicians to explain discrepancies between what they read and what they’re being told?
  • Does this attitude bleed over to a dislike of all consumer-generated health data, even if it’s being generated by an FDA-approved device? If so, have you got a nuanced understanding of these technologies and a well-informed opinion on their merits?

Please understand, I am in no way anti-doctor. The truth is, I trust, admire and rely upon the clinicians who keep my chronic illnesses at bay. I have a sense of the pressures they confront, and have immense respect for their dedication and empathy.

That being said, I need clinicians to collaborate with me and help me learn what I need to know, not discourage and mock my efforts. And I need them to be open to the benefits of new technologies – be they the web-based medical content that didn’t exist when you were in med school, remote monitoring, wearables, sensor-laden t-shirts, mobile apps, artificial intelligence or flying cars.

So, I hope you understand now why I’m offended by that coffee mug. If a doctor dislikes something so elementary as a desire to learn, I doubt we’ll get along.

E-Patient Update: Don’t Give Patients Needless Paperwork

Posted on July 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Recently, I had an initial appointment with a primary care practice. As I expected, I had a lot of paperwork to fill out, including not only routine administrative items like consent to bill my insurer and HIPAA policies, but also several pages of medical history.

While nobody likes filling out forms, I have no problem with doing so, as I realize that these documents are very important to building a relationship with a medical practice. However, I was very annoyed by what happened later, when I was ushered back into the clinical suite.

Despite my having filled out the extensive checklist of medical history items, I was asked every single one of the questions featured on the form verbally by a med tech who saw me ahead of my clinical appointment. And I mean Every. Single. One. I was polite and patient as I could be, particularly given that it wasn’t the poor tech’s fault, but I was simmering nonetheless, for a couple of reasons.

First, on a practical level, it was infuriating to have filled out a long clinical interview form for what seemed to be absolutely no reason. This is in part because, as some readers may remember, I have Parkinson’s disease, and filling out forms can be difficult and even painful. But even if my writing hand was unimpaired I would’ve been rather irked by what seemed to be pointless duplication.

Not only that, as it turns out the practice seems to have had access to my medication list — perhaps from claims data? — and could have spared me the particularly grueling job of writing out all the medications I currently take. Given my background in HIT, I was forced to wonder whether even the checkbox lists of past illnesses, surgeries and the like were even necessary.

After all, if the group is sophisticated enough to access my medications list, perhaps it could have accessed my other medical records as well. In fact, as it turned out, the primary care group is owned by the dominant local health system which has been providing most of my care for 20 years. So the clinicians almost certainly had a shot at downloading my current medical data in some form.

Even if the medical group had no access to any historical data on my care, I can’t imagine why administrators would require me to fill out a medical history form if the tech was going to ask me every question on the form. My hunch is that it may be some wrongheaded attempt at liability management, providing the practice with some form of cover if somebody failed to collect an accurate history during the interview. But other than that I can’t imagine what was going on there.

The reality is, physician practices that are transitioning into EMR use, or adopting a new EMR, may end up requiring their staff to do double data entry to one extent or another as practice leaders figure things out. But asking patients to do so shows an alarming lack of consideration for my time and effort. Perhaps the practice has forgotten that I’m not on the payroll?

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Commentary and Resources – Meaningful Use Monday

Posted on March 5, 2012 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.

For this week’s Meaningful Use Monday, I decided I’d go through the large list of meaningful use stage 2 commentary that’s been put out over the past week. I’ll do my best to link to some of the most interesting commentary, summaries, etc of meaningful use stage 2 and point out some resources that I’ve found useful.

John Halamka on Meaningful Use Stage 2
First up is the blog post by John Halamka about MU stage 2. I really like his recommendation to read pages 156-163 of the MU rule (PDF here). Sure, the rule is 455 pages, but many of those pages are a recap of things we already know or legalese that is required in a government document. Halamka also created a meaningful use stage 2 powerpoint that people can reuse without attribution. Worth looking at if you’re not familiar with MU stage 2 or if you have to make a presentation on it.

Health Affairs on MU Stage 2
Health Affairs has a nice blog post covering meaningful use stage 2. They offer “3 highlights that seem particularly important:”

  1. The bar for meeting use requirements for computerized provider order entry (CPOE), arguably the most difficult but potentially the most important EHR functionality, has been raised: now a majority of the orders that providers write will have to be done electronically.
  2. There is a major move to tie quality reporting to Meaningful Use. We knew this was coming, but CMS has laid out a host of quality measures that may become requirements for reporting through the EHR.
  3. Health Information Exchange moves from the “can do it” to the “did do it” phase. In Stage 1, providers had to show that they were capable of electronically exchanging clinical data. As expected, in Stage 2, providers have to demonstrate that they have done it.

Health Affairs also talks about the timeline for this rule and the feedback that CMS is likely to get on MU stage 2. I’m sure they’re going to get a lot of feedback and while they suggest that the rule will look quite similar to the proposed rule, I expect CMS will make a couple strong changes to the rule. If nothing else to show that they listened (and I think they really do listen).

Stage 2 Meaningful Use by The Advisory Board Company
The Advisory Board Company has a good blog post listing the 10 key takeaways on stage 2 of meaningful use. Below you’ll find the 10 points, but it’s worth visiting the link to read their descriptions as well.
1. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) affirms a delay for 2011 attesters.
2. Stage 1 requirements will be updated come 2013.
3. Medicaid definitions are loosened; more providers are eligible.
4. While the total number of objectives does not grow, Stage 2 measure complexity increases significantly.
5. Information exchange will be key, but a health information exchange (HIE) will not be necessary.
6. Patients will need to act for providers to succeed.
7. Sharing of health data will force real-time, high-quality data capture.
8. More quality measures; CMS’ long term goals—electronic reporting and alignment with other reporting programs—remain intact.
9. The Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC) sister rule proposes a more flexible certification process and greater utilization of standards.
10. Payment adjustments begin in 2015.

AMA MU Stage 2
The American Medical News (done by the AMA) has a blog post up which does a good job doing an overall summary of where meaningful use is at today (post MU stage 2). Meaningful Use experts will be bored, but many doctors will appreciate it.

Justin Barnes on Meaningful Use Stage 2
Justin Barnes provides his view on meaningful use stage 2 in this HealthData Magement article. It seems that Justin (and a few other of his colleagues at other EHR vendors) have made DC their second home as they’ve been intimately involved in everything meaningful use. I found his prediction that the meaningful use stage 2 “thresholds and percentages will remain largely in place come the Final Rule targeted for August, and should not be decreased via the broader public comment phase next underway like we saw with Stage 1.” Plus, he adds that the 10 percent of patients accessing their health information online will be a widely discussed topic. Many don’t feel that a physician’s EHR incentive shouldn’t be tied to patients’ actions. Add this to the electronic exchange of care summaries for more than 10 percent of patients and the healthcare data is slowly starting flow.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 and Release of Information
Steve Emery from HealthPort has a guest post on HIT Consultant that talks about how meaningful use stage 2 affects ROI. This paragraph summarizes the changes really well:

The bottom line for providers is that Stage 2 MU changes with regards to these specific criteria will drive organizations to implement a patient portal or personal health record application; and connect their EHR systems to these systems. Through these efforts it is expected that patient requests to the HIM department for medical records will decrease; as patients will be able to obtain records themselves, online and at any time.

e-Patients and Meaningful Use Stage 2
e-Patient Dave got together with Adrian Gropper MD, to put together a post on meaningful use stage 2 from an e-Patient perspective. This line sums up Adrian Gropper MD’s perspective, “My preliminary conclusion is that Stage 2 is a huge leap toward coordinated, patient-centered care and makes unprecedented efforts toward patient engagement.”

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Standards
Those standards geeks out there will love Keith Boone’s initial review and crosswalks from this rule to the Incentives rule here.

Shahid Shah on Meaningful Use Stage 2
I like Shahid Shah’s (the Healthcare IT Guy) overview and impressions as well. He’s always great at giving a high level view of what’s happening in healthcare IT.

Are there any other meaningful use stage 2 resources out there that you’ve found particularly useful or interesting?

Healthcare IT and Active Patient Care – EMR and HIPAA Video Series

Posted on May 29, 2011 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.

The following is the fourth video in my inaugural run of EMR and Healthcare IT related videos. In this video I talk about some of the ways healthcare IT can help a patient be more active in their care. I’m sure there’s a number of e-Patients out there that can hop in and add a lot more to the discussion I start in this video. I must admit that as a relatively healthy individual I have a hard time really getting into the active patient (e-Patient if you like). However, I love the idea of patients being respectfully involved in their patient care.

The following video is in response to this question:
How can Healthcare IT help patients take a more active role in their care?

View the Healthcare IT and Active Patient Care Video Here