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9 Ways IT is Transforming Healthcare – “Top 10” Health IT List Series

Posted on December 27, 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.

As is often common at the end of the year, a lot of companies have started putting together their “Top 10” (or some similar number) lists for 2011. In fact, some of them have posted these lists a little bit earlier than usual. This week as people are often off work or on vacation, I thought it might be fun to take one list each day and comment on the various items people have on their lists.

The first list comes from Booz Allen Hamilton and is Booz Allen’s Top 9 ways IT is Transforming healthcare. Here’s their list of 9 items with my own commentary after each item.

Reduces medical errors. I prefer to say that Health IT has the potential to reduce medical errors. I also think long term that health IT and EMR will reduce medical errors. However, in the interim it will depend on how people actually use these systems. Used improperly, it can actually cause more medical errors. There have been studies out that show both an improvement in medical errors and an increase in medical errors.

My take on this is that EMR and health IT improves certain areas and hurts other areas. However, as we improve these systems and use of these systems, then over all medical errors will go down. However, remember that even once these systems are perfect they’re still going to be run be imperfect humans that are just trying to do their best (at least most of them). Even so, long term health IT and EMR software will be something that will benefit healthcare as far as reducing medical errors.

Improves collaboration throughout the health care system. I’m a little torn as we consider whether health IT improves collaboration. The biggest argument you can make for this is that it’s really hard to be truly interoperable in really meaningful and quick ways without technology. Sure, we’ve been able to fax over medical records which no one would doubt has improved health care. However, those faxes often get their too late since they take time to process. Technology will be the solution to solving this problem.

The real conundrum here is the value that could be achieved by sending specific data. A fax is basically a mass of data which can’t be processed by a computer in any meaningful way. How much nicer would it be to have an allergy passed from one system to another. No request for information was made. No waiting for a response from a medical records department. Just a notification on the new doctor’s screen that the patient is allergic to something or is taking a drug that might have contraindications with the one the new doctor is trying to prescribe. This sort of seamless exchange of data is where we should and could be if it weren’t for data silos and economics.

Ensures better patient-care transition. This year there was a whole conference dedicated to this idea. No doubt there is merit in what’s possible. The problems here are similar to those mentioned above in the care collaboration section. Sadly, the technology is there and ready to be deployed. It’s connecting the bureaucratic and financial dots to make it a reality.

Enables faster, better emergency care. I’m not sure why, but the emergency room gets lots of interesting technology that no one else in healthcare gets. I imagine it’s because emergency rooms can easily argue that they’re a little bit “different” from the rest of the hospital and so they are able to often embark on neat technology projects without the weight of the whole hospital around their neck.

One of the technologies I love in emergency care is connecting the emergency rooms with the ambulances. There are so many cool options out there and with 3G finally coming into its own, connectivity isn’t nearly the problem that it use to be. Plus, there are even consumer apps like MyCrisisRecords that are trying to make an in road in emergency care. I’d like to see broader adoption of these apps in emergency rooms, but you can see the promise.

Empowers patients and their families to participate in care decisions. Many might argue that with Google Health Failing and Microsoft HealthVault not making much noise, that the idea of empowering patients might not be as strong. Turns out that the reality is quite the opposite.

Patients and families are participating more and more in care decisions. There just isn’t one dominant market leader that facilitates this interaction. Patients and families are using an amalgamation of technologies and the all powerful Google to participate in their care. This trend will continue to become more popular. We’ll see if any company can really capture the energy of this movement in a way that they become the dominant market leader or whether it will remain a really fluid environment.

Makes care more convenient for patients. I believe we’re starting to see the inklings of this happening. At the core of this for me is patient online scheduling and patient online visits. Maybe it could more simply be identified as: patient communication with providers.

I don’t think 2011 has been the watershed year for convenient access to doctors by patients. However, we’re starting to see inroads made which will open up the doors for the flood of patients that want to have these types of interactions.

Helps care for the warfighter. This is an area where I also don’t have a lot of experience. Although, I do remember one visit with someone from the Army at a conference. In that short chat we had, he talked about all the issues the Army had been dealing with for decades: patient record standards, patient identifiers, multiple locations (see Iraq and Afghanistan), multiple systems, etc. The problem he identified was that much of it was classified and so it couldn’t be shared. I hope health IT does help our warriors. It should!

Enhances ability to respond to public health emergencies and disasters. I’ve been to quite a few presentations where people have talked about the benefits and challenges associated with electronic medical records and natural disasters. They’ve always been really insightful since they almost always have 5-6 “I hadn’t thought of that” moments that make you realize that we’re not as secure and prepared for disasters as we think we are.

It is worth noting that moving 100,000 patient records electronically to an off site location is much easier in the electronic world than it is in paper. With paper charts we can’t even really discuss the idea of remote access to the record in the case of a natural disaster.

Possibly even more interesting is the idea of EMR and health IT supporting public health emergencies. We’re just beginning to aggregate health data from EMR software that could help us identify and mitigate the impact of a public health emergency. Certainly none of these systems are going to be perfect. Many of these systems are going to miss things we wish they’d seen. However, there’s real potential benefit in them helping is identify public health emergencies before they become catastrophes.

Enables discovery in new medical breakthroughs and provides a platform for innovation. Most of the medical breakthroughs we’ve experienced in the last 20 years would likely have been impossible without technology. Plus, I don’t think we’ve even started to tap the power that could be available from the mounds of healthcare data that we have available to us. This is why I’m so excited about the Health.Data.Gov health data sharing program that Priya wrote about on EMR and EHR. There’s so many more medical discoveries that will be facilitated by healthcare data.

There you have it. What do you think of these 9 items? Are there other things that you see happening that will impact the above items? Are there trends that we should be watching in health IT in 2012?

Be sure to read the rest of my Health IT Top 10 as they’re posted.

A Trip to the ER: EMRs Aren’t Enough

Posted on March 17, 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.

Guest Post: I got the following story that someone wanted to share about the challenges of EMR and workflow in a hospital. I love reading first hand experiences with EMR. Reminds me of a great experience that Neil Versel documented at an urgent care during HIMSS. I look forward to hearing your comments on the story.

Last month, my wife felt some discomfort in her chest. They weren’t pains, nor were they indigestion so much as a gurgling sensation. After two days and no change, she called our family physician. He told her she could come in for a blood enzyme test, but the lab result would take four days. Instead, he said to go to an ER where they could get the result in half an hour.

That evening, a Friday, we went to the nearest ER, at Large, Modern, Suburban DC hospital (LMSDC.) We walked right up to the triage nurse, a woman in her 60s who stood there and took down my wife’s info on paper: Name, Chief Complaint, Age, and Triage Class, a 3. We were handed the paper, the only copy, and sent to the first of what would be three exam rooms.

The room was for EKGs. It was equipped with a machine, bed, etc., and a desktop PC. After a few minutes, a tech came in and ran the test. I asked how the scan got into my wife’s record. She told us it was sent electronically to imaging where it would be reviewed and put in the record, but she didn’t know how it was entered, electronically or scanned in.

We had three more visitors, two nurses and an admissions clerk. Admissions came in with a COW, a computer on wheels. She started asking demographics, insurance, etc., but was called away. The first nurse came in went over why we were there, about meds, etc., took a blood sample and did something on the room PC and left.

The second nurse came in, went over symptoms, meds, etc., again, and scribbled the information on a scrap of paper in her hand. We never saw either nurse again. While waiting for the next step, I saw that the first nurse had logged into the PC, but not logged out.

We were then moved to a small exam area with five beds to wait for an attending and to wait for four hours until time for another blood sample. The area was run by a tech I’ll call Sam. Sam was a remarkable multitasker. Among other things, we saw him:
• Arrange patients and families in the cramped space
• Look for other staff
• Take blood
• Check orders
• Organize a stack of loose forms into their patient clipboards
• Change bed sheets
• Check the EMR for updates
• Check on patient moves

Sam did all this, and from what I could tell, was the only person who was actually followed the different aspects of his cases.

At first, the area was at capacity with crying children, their worried parents and others typical of a Friday night in an ER. While Sam directed traffic, the admissions clerk caught up with us and finished my wife’s record.

Around nine, an attending came in. He stopped midway in review for a half hour cell call and then returned. He recommended that she should go on a heart monitor and stay overnight. After the attending’s visit, we settled down to wait for a room. Sam checked every now and then to see where it stood, but it went nowhere.

About eleven, while making my second run to the ER vending machines, I saw the attending and mentioned that it was getting pretty boring waiting for a room and a monitor. Surprised, he said he’d ordered the monitor and that it should have been put on in the ER. With that, he checked with the charge nurse to get it done. The charge nurse came to see us and had us move to another area with a monitor, which a nurse started. Just after midnight, still waiting for a room, my wife sent me home. She called about one to say she’d been moved to a medical floor and was on a monitor.

I knew that LMSDC adopted an EMR three years ago and, indeed, it was clear that meds, complaints, orders, etc., were being entered into it. However, it was also clear that their system was a receptacle not a workflow tool. Apparently, LMSDC simply overlaid the EMR on its paper system, eliminating some parts, but keeping others. These other elements persist in their own parallel world. For someone such as Sam, who tries to keep his patients current it means more work not less. This explains why he had to deal with the EMR and constantly sort and organize paper forms into their proper patient clipboards.

Even that is not LMSDC’s major ER workflow problem. The heart monitor problem shows there is no shared task list. That is, once the attending entered the order, and I believe he did, the order is in the EMR. However, who is to carry it out and when should become a task that all others can see. Thus, the conversations among the attending, the charge nurse, Sam, my wife and me should have been unnecessary.

A couple of gratuitous points. LMSDC’s system is heavy on desktop machines. It cries for laptops or pads. Nurses, techs, attendings spend their time flying from one desktop to another, logging in and, sometimes, out. It’s a machine centric rather than a user centric system. Users never have their own workspace. They are always in hit and run mode. Even if they have a good system workflow and a good shared task list, they spend enormous time and energy logging in and out of room machines. It’s no wonder things get lost in the cracks.

LMSDC’s system runs both patients and staff ragged in another way. We moved three times, no record I expect. Nurses came and went. The attending should have been on skates. The only one with a dedicated space was Sam which explains why he could get so much done without exhaustion. How much easier their difficult lives and their patient’s lives would be if the patients came to the staff rather than endure the ER’s fast action minuet.

What’s so amazing is that despite their poor IT support and their constant motion, the staff was invariably professional, focused and friendly.

Best of all, after a night in the ER and a morning on a medical floor, my wife was discharged. She’s fine.