Highly Functional EMRs Aren’t Necessarily High-Functioning

Posted on July 28, 2011 I Written By

I’ve just turned in a story for InformationWeek Healthcare about the new “Essentials of the U.S. Hospital IT Market, 6th Edition” report from HIMSS Analytics. That report details the progress hospitals and integrated delivery networks have made in IT over the past year and gives an update on how far along providers are according to the HIMSS Analytics EMR Adoption Model. That’s the seven-level scale (eight if you count Stage Zero) that measures adoption of various EMR components.

At the top of the scale, 1 percent of nonfederal hospitals in the U.S. attained Stage 7 in 2010, meaning that the EMR served as the legal medical record for all departments, was capable of exporting patient records as Continuity of Care Documents and had data warehousing and mining in place. That was up from 0.7 percent in 2009. The number of Stage 6 hospitals—with electronic clinician documentation, full clinical decision support and full PACS for radiology—doubled in the same time frame, from 1.8 percent in 2009 to 3.2 percent in 2010.

Here’s how the entire scale breaks down:


Actually, the EMRAM Web page shows newer numbers, through the 2011 second quarter. We’re up to 1.1 percent for Stage 7, 4 percent for Stage 6, 6.1 percent for Stage 5 and 12.3 percent for Stage 4. HIMSS considers Stage 4 to be the closest to the current requirements for “meaningful use” of EMRs.

It’s nice to see progress in installing technology and it’s nice to see hospitals using EMRs in a “meaningful” way, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be problems. As everyone in health IT knows, EMR certification, a prerequisite for meaningful use, does not measure usability, and this still is the first of three stages for meaningful use. That means we’re a long way from perfect, or even ideal. How do I know this?

The mother of a good friend of mine is now on dialysis and eventually will need a kidney transplant because she was given a medication that is contraindicated for Type 2 diabetes, which she suffers from. The harmful interaction resulted in her losing about 80 percent of normal kidney function. This happened at a HIMSS Analytics EMRAM Stage 7 hospital. Apparently, either the patient record didn’t show she was diabetic, the medication order didn’t get flagged, or the ordering physician, pharmacy and administering nurse all missed or ignored an alert. As the chart above illustrates, the medication loop should have been closed by Stage 5.

I’m not going to name the hospital or give any more details because there’s a good chance a malpractice suit is coming. I’m also aware of a medical informaticist with a long history of implementing and working with EMRs losing his mother due to a medical error that an EMR exacerbated. Again, I’ve been asked not to say more because of the legal ramifications.

It’s no secret that healthcare is in trouble. In this push to install technology and earn Medicare and Medicaid bonuses for meaningful use, we can’t take our eyes off the ultimate goal, creating a safer health system.