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E-Patient Update:  When EMRs Didn’t Matter, But Should Have

Posted on July 27, 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.

The other day I went to an urgent care clinic, suffering from a problem which needed attention promptly. This clinic is part of the local integrated health system’s network, where I’ve been seen for nearly 20 years. This system uses Epic everywhere in its network to coordinate care.

I admittedly arrived rather late and close to when the clinic was going to close. But I truly didn’t want to make a wasteful visit to the ED, so I pressed on and presented myself to the receptionist. And sadly, that’s where things got a bit hairy.

The receptionist said: “We’ve already got five patients to see so we can’t see anyone else.” Uncomfortable as I was, I fought back with what seemed like logic to me: “I need help and a hospital would be a waste. Could someone please check my medical records? The doctors will understand what I need and why it’s urgent.”

The receptionist got the nurse, who said “I’m sorry, but we aren’t seeing any more patients today.” I asked, “But what about the acuity of a given case, such as mine for example? Can’t you prioritize me? It’s all in my medical records and I know you’re online with Epic!”  She shook her head at me and walked away.

I sat in reception for a while, too irritated to walk out and too uncomfortable to let go of the issue. Man, it was no fun, and I called those folks some not-nice things in my mind – but more than anything else, wondered why they wouldn’t look at data on a well-documented patient like me for even a moment.

About 20 minutes before the place officially closed for the night, a nurse practitioner I know (let’s call him Ed) walked out into the waiting room and asked me what I needed. I explained in just a few words what I was after. Ed, who had reviewed my record, knew what I needed, knew why it was important and made it happen within five minutes. Officially, he wasn’t supposed to do that, but he felt comfortable helping because he was well-informed.

Truthfully, I realize this story is relatively trivial, but as I see it, it brings an important issue to the fore. And the issue is that even when seeing chronically-ill patients such as myself, whose comings and goings are well documented, providers can’t or won’t do much to exploit that data.

You hear a lot of talk about big data and analytics, and how they’ll change healthcare or even the world as we know it. But what about finding ways to better use “small data” produced by a single patient? It seems to me that clinicians don’t have the right tools to take advantage of a single patient’s history, or find it too difficult to do so. Either way, though, something must be done.

I know from personal experience that if clinicians don’t know my history, they can’t treat me efficiently and may drive up costs by letting me get sicker. And we need more Eds out there making the save. So let’s make the chart do a better job of mining patient’s data. Otherwise, having an EMR hardly matters.

HIM Departments Need More Support

Posted on July 16, 2015 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 both a contributor to this blog, and an assertive, activist patient managing chronic conditions, I get to see both sides of professional health information management.  And I have to say that while health data management pros obviously do great things against great odds, support for their work doesn’t seem to have trickled down to the front lines.  I’m speaking most specifically about Medical Records (oops, I mean Health Information Management) departments in hospitals.

As I noted in a related blog post, I recently had a small run-in with the HIM department of a local hospital which seems emblematic of this problem. The snag occurred when I reached out to DC-based Sibley Memorial Hospital and tried to get a new log-in code for their implementation of Epic PHR MyChart. The clerk answering the phone for that department told me, quite inaccurately, that if I didn’t use the activation code provided on my discharge summary papers within two days, my chance to log in to the Johns Hopkins MyChart site was forever lost. (Sibley is part of the Johns Hopkins system.)

Being the pushy type that I am, I complained to management, who put me in touch with the MyChart tech support office. The very smart and help tech support staffer who reached out to me expressed surprise at what I’d been told as a) the code wasn’t yet expired and b) given that I supplied the right security information she’d have been able to supply me with a new one.  The thing is, I never would have gotten to her if I hadn’t known not to take the HIM clerk’s word at face value.

Note: After writing the linked article, I was able to speak to the HIM department leader at Sibley, and she told me that she planned to address the issue of supporting MyChart questions with her entire staff. She seemed to agree completely that they had a vital role in the success of the PHR and patient empowerment generally, and I commend her for that.

Now, I realize that HIM departments are facing what may be the biggest changes in their history, and that Madame Clerk may have been an anomaly or even a temp. But assuming she was a regular hire, how much training would it have taken for the department managers to require her to simply give out the MyChart tech support number? Ten minutes?  Five? A priority e-mail demanding that PHR/digital medical record calls be routed this way would probably have done the trick.

My take on all of this is that HIM departments seem to have a lot of growing up to do. Responsible largely for pushing paper — very important paper but paper nonetheless — they’re now in the thick of the health data revolution without having a central role in it. They aren’t attached to the IT department, really, nor are they directly supporting physicians — they’re sort of a legacy department that hasn’t got as clearly defined a role as it did.

I’m not suggesting that HIM departments be wiped off the map, but it seems to me that some aggressive measures are in order to loop them in to today’s world.

Obviously, training on patient health data access is an issue. If HIM staffers know more about patient portals generally — and ideally, have hands-on experience with them, they’ll be in a better position to support such initiatives without needing to parrot facts blindly. In other words, they’ll do better if they have context.

HIM departments should also be well informed as to EMR and other health data system developments. Sure, the senior people in the department may already be looped in, but they should share that knowledge at brown bag lunches and staff update sessions freely and often. As I see it, this provides the team with much-needed sense of participation in the broader HIT enterprise.

Also, HIM staff members should encourage patients who call to log in and leverage patient portals. Patients who call the hospital with only a vague sense that they can access their health data online will get routed to that department by the switchboard. HIM needs to be well prepared to support them.

These concerns should only become more important as Meaningful Use Stage 3 comes on deck. MU Stage 3 should provide the acid test as to whether whether hospital HIM departments are really ready to embrace change.

Epic Builds Lab Installations At Oregon University

Posted on November 27, 2013 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.

Epic Systems has agreed to build two lab installations of its EpicCare EMR at the Oregon Health & Science University, one to be used for medical informatics education, and the other giving the school access its source code on the research side, reports Healthcare IT News.

Though the school’s OHSU Healthcare system already runs EpicCare for its hospitals and clinics, students and teachers have had to rely on a basic installation of the open-source VistA system for OSHU’s EMR laboratory course.

According to HIN, this is Epic’s first partnership with an academic informatics program, and potentially an important turning point for the company, which has conducted research and development almost exclusively on its Verona, Wis. campus. (It does release its source code to commercial customers.) And the agreement didn’t come easily; In fact, the school spent several years persuading Epic to participate before it agreed to commit to an academic partnership, Healthcare IT News said.

In a press statement, OSHU notes that the EpicCare research environment should allow students to delve into usability, data analytics, simulation, interoperability,  patient safety and more. The school also expects to prepare prototypes of solutions to to real-world healthcare problems.

Students in both OHSU’s on-campus and distance learning programs will pursue coursework based on the Epic EMR, with classes using the live Epic environment beginning March 2014. Work students will undertake include learning to configure screens, implementing clinical decision support and generating reports.

While this isn’t quite the same thing, this agreement brings to mind a blog item by John in which he describes how prospective programmer hires at Elation are required to shadow a physician as part of their hiring process. In both cases, the people who will be working with the software are actually getting an idea of how the product is used in the field before they’re out serving commercial clients. Sadly, that’s still rare.

I think this will ultimately be a win for both Epic and OSHU. Epic will get a fresh set of insights into its product, and students will be prepared for a real world in which Epic plays a major part.

Adding Insult To Injury, Sutter’s Epic EMR Crashes For A Day

Posted on August 30, 2013 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.

The Epic EMR at Northern California’s Sutter Health crashed earlier this week, leaving the system inaccessible for an entire day, reports Healthcare IT News. The system, which cost Sutter nearly $1 billion, went offline at approximately 8AM, locking out doctors, nurses and staff from accessing vital information such as medical lists and patient histories.

The crash followed a few days after planned downtime of eight hours which was scheduled to take place due to implement an upgrade.  During that period nurses could still read med orders and patient histories but had to record new data on paper and re-enter it later into the system, Healthcare IT News notes.

During the unplanned outage this week, the Epic system was offline at several Sutter locations, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Eden Medical Center, Mills-Peninsula Hospital, Sutter Delta, Sutter Tracy, Sutter Modesto along with several affiliated clinics, the magazine said.

The outage drew the ire of the California Nurses Association, which called this incident “especially worrisome.” But the CNA notes that the crash is hardly the first time there’s been a concern over the Epic rollout. Nurses at Sutter have been complaining for months about alleged safety problems with the Epic system, notes the Sacramento Business Journal.

According to the CNA, more than 100 nurses had previously filed complaints at Alta Bates Summit, arguing that the Epic system was hard to use, and that computer-related delays had adversely affected the ability of nurses to monitor patients properly.

Sutter nurses’ complaints included the following:

• A patient who had to be transferred to the intensive care unit due to delays in care caused by the computer.
• A nurse who was not able to obtain needed blood for an emergent medical emergency.
• Insulin orders set erroneously by the software.
• Missed orders for lab tests for newborn babies and an inability for RNs to spend time teaching new mothers how to properly breast feed babies before patient discharge.
• Lab tests not done in a timely manner.
• Frequent short staffing caused by time RNs have to spend with the computers.
• Orders incorrectly entered by physicians requiring the RNs to track down the physician before tests can be done or medication ordered.
• Discrepancies between the Epic computers and the computers that dispense medications causing errors with medication labels and delays in administering medications.
• Patient information, including vital signs, missing in the computer software.
• An inability to accurately chart specific patient needs or conditions because of pre-determined responses by the computer software.
• Multiple problems with RN fatigue because of time required by the computers and an inability to take rest breaks as a result.
• Inadequate RN training and orientation.

Sutter officials, for their part, are not having any of it. Hospital spokeswomen Carolyn Kemp called the allegations that Epic was causing problems “shameful,” and argued that the accusations are arising because the hospital system is involved in a labor dispute with the CNA.

Meanwhile, Sutter execs are turning up the heat on nurses whom they feel aren’t using the EMR properly. According to Healthcare IT News, leaders have been scolding nurses whom they believe have not been entering all billable services into the EMR, which resulted in a loss of $6,000 in a single week, according to a July memo obtained by HIN.

Sutter’s spokesperson, Bill Gleeson, offered this official response:

Sutter Health undertook a long-planned, routine upgrade of its electronic health record over the weekend. There’s a certain amount of scheduled downtime associated with these upgrades, and the process was successfully completed. On Monday morning, we experienced an issue with the software that manages user access to the EHR. This caused intermittent access challenges in some locations. Our team applied a software patch Monday night to resolve the issue and restore access. Our caregivers and office staff have established and comprehensive processes that they follow when the EHR is offline. They followed these procedures. Patient records were always secure and intact. Prior to Monday’s temporary access issue, our uptime percentage was an impressive 99.4 percent with these systems that operate 24/7. We appreciate the hard work of our caregivers and support staff to follow our routine back-up processes, and we regret any inconvenience this may have caused patients. California Nurse Union continues to oppose the use of information technology in health care but we and other health care provider organizations demonstrate daily that it can be used to improve patient care, convenience and access. While it’s unfortunate the union exploited and misrepresented this situation, it comes as no surprise given the fact that we are in a protracted labor dispute with CNA.

Why BIDMC Is Shunning Epic, Developing Its Own EMR

Posted on July 31, 2013 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.

Though its price tag be formidable and installation highly complex, the Epic EMR is practically a no-brainer decision for many hospitals.  As Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka notes, things are certainly like that in the Boston metro, where BIDMC’s competitors are largely on Epic or in the process of installing Epic.

Why are Halamka’s competitors all going with Epic?  He proposes the following reasons:

*  Epic installs get clinicians to buy in to a single configuration of a single product. Its project methodology standardizes governance, processes and staffing in a way that hospitals might not be able to do on their own.

* Epic fends off clinicians’ request for new innovations that the hospital staff might not be able to support. IT merely has to tell clinicians that they’ll have to wait until Epic releases its next iteration.

* Epic is a safe investment for meeting Meaningful Use Stage 2, as it has a history of helping hospitals and providers achieve MU compliance.

* CIOs generally don’t get fired for buying Epic, as it’s the popular move to make, despite being reliant on 1990s era client-server technology delivered via terminal services that require signficant staffing to support. (Actually, it does happen but it’s still rare.)

*  These days, hospitals have moved away from “best of breed” EMR implementations to the need for integration across the enterprise.  As Halamka notes, such integration is important in a world where Accountable Care/global capitated risk is becoming a key factor in reimbursement, so having a continuous record across episodes of care is critical. Epic seems to address this issue.

But BIDMC is a holdout. As Dr. Halamka notes in his blog, BIDMC is one of the last hospitals in Eastern Massachusetts continuing to build and buy components to create its own EMR. He’s convinced that going with the in-house development method — creating a cloud-hosted, thin client, mobile friendly and highly interoperable system — is ultimately cheaper and allows for faster innovation.

In closing, Halamka wonders whether his will end up being one of the very last hospitals to continue an ongoing EMR development program.  I think he’s answered his own question: it seems likely that BIDMC’s competitors will keep jumping on the Epic bandwagon for all of the reasons he outlines.

Will they do well with Epic?  Will they find later on that the capital investment and support costs are untenable? I think we’ll have the answers within a scant year or two. Personally, I think BIDMC will have the last laugh, but we’ll just have to see.

Is Meaningful Use a Floor or Ceiling?

Posted on June 9, 2011 I Written By

I was witness to an interesting discussion earlier this week at the Wisconsin Technology Network’s Digital Healthcare Conference in Madison, Wis.: Is meaningful use a floor or a ceiling?

One panelist, Judy Murphy, VP of information services at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, said Stage 1 meaningful use has caused the health system to alter its own IT plans by activating a patient portal and moving more toward interoperability sooner than intended. “We wouldn’t have decided to give electronic copies of clinical summaries at discharge [without meaningful use],” Murphy said.

But Murphy believes it’s a floor for many of the criteria, such as the requirement that 30 percent of patients have at least one medication order entered electronically. “No one would go into an implementation shooting so low,” she said. As a member of the Health IT Policy Committee as well as the Meaningful Use Workgroup of the Health IT Policy Committee, Murphy actually had a hand in shaping the standards. (Remember, though, the original proposal called for 10 percent for hospitals and 80 percent for physicians. The final Stage 1 rule set the threshold at 30 percent for both.)

Gartner analyst Vi Shaffer offered a counterpoint. “Meaningful use is not the floor,” she said. “All the existing quality measures that have been out there so long should be considered the floor.” Shaffer expressed frustration that so many 12-year-old National Quality Forum performance measures still haven’t been met.

According to Shaffer, the idea behind meaningful use is to “lift people up,” particularly when it comes to safety-net providers like critical-access hospitals. Shaffer said policymakers didn’t want to see “oligopolies” in local markets because smaller providers were forced to merge with large health systems because of EHR requirements.

Session moderator Dr. Barry Chaiken, chief medical officer at Docs Network Imprivata, and a former HIMSS chair, said he believes health IT will raise the norm for all providers and “lock in” better behaviors, suggesting that in some ways, meaningful use could be a floor.

By holding the conference in Madison, WTN was able to land the publicity-shy Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems in nearby Verona, Wis. Faulker noted that Epic shows a simpler version of its core EHR in overseas markets because the company had to add some functions for regulation and liability purposes in the U.S.

While plenty of providers are viewing meaningful use as a ceiling right now–perhaps an unattainable one–Murphy believes acceptance will come rapidly. “I think in 2015, we’re gonna look and say, ‘How did we even have healthcare without computers?'” Murphy said. She then said she had heard that HCA would attest this year to meaningful use at all of its U.S. hospitals.

Being the occasionally motivated reporter that I am, I tweeted this statement, asking for verification. Wouldn’t you know, HCA replied with this tweet: “Nearly all HCA facilities should achieve requirements 4 Stage I this yr. An exciting, important step for high-performance hcare!”

So maybe meaningful use is not a floor or ceiling, but the new norm.

What are your thoughts?

CORRECTION, June 13: Chaiken’s one-year contract with Imprivata is over, so he’s no longer affiliated with that company.


Chicago Hospitals Embark On Long HIE Journey

Posted on April 28, 2011 I Written By

I live in Chicago, a highly competitive healthcare market with some world-class medical schools (Northwestern, University of Chicago, Loyola, Rush) and a pretty decent record of EMR adoption. At least four major institutions/health systems run similar Epic EMRs: University of Chicago Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center and, in the northern suburbs, NorthShore University HealthSystem (formerly Evanston-Northwestern Healthcare).

Three NorthShore hospitals–Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital and Highland Park Hospital–were among the first in the country to reach Stage 7 on the HIMSS Analytics EMR Adoption Model.(NorthShore’s Skokie Hospital since has reached Stage 7). Several others, notably Rush, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in northwest suburban Park Ridge, Mercy Hospital & Medical Center and  Swedish Covenant Hospital, have gotten to Stage 6.

But there’s been very little effort to interconnect these institutions and affiliated physician practices. Even during the RHIO heyday of 2004-07, I don’t recall much interoperability talk in the Chicago area. (In fact, one family physician, Dr. Stasia Kahn, in far west suburban St. Charles, got so frustrated that she formed her own group to promote EMR adoption and health information exchange, Northern Illinois Physicians for Connectivity. I had heard talk for a while of some south suburban hospitals joining in an HIE with counterparts across the state line in Northwest Indiana since Illinois was moving too slowly.)

All of that non-action at the state and regional levels happened under the not-so-watchful eye of one Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who apparently was more preoccupied with his own vanity and “giving healthcare to kids” (while also allegedly trying to blackmail the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital into donating to his campaign fund and also slowing Medicaid payments to pay for his All Kids program) than in, you know, actually improving healthcare for everyone by promoting HIE.

In February 2009, shortly after Blagojevich was removed from office and a couple weeks before the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act became law, new Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law allocating $3 million to the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services for HIE planning. That laid the groundwork for this week’s widely publicized announcement that the not-for-profit Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council had chosen technology from Microsoft, Computer Sciences Corp. and HealthUnity to build what could be the largest big-city HIE in the country, potentially serving 9.4 million people in nine Illinois counties and small parts of Indiana and Wisconsin.

I bring all of this up because I met yesterday with executives from the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, a 76-year-old coalition of healthcare organizations in and around the city. It just so happened that the 2011 Microsoft Connected Health Conference was in town this week, so it was the perfect time and location for Microsoft to drop the news. According to MCHC Vice President Mary Ann Kelly, more than 70 percent of the council’s 150-some members have made a commitment to participate, and they seem to have a plan to make the HIE effort sustainable.

The exchange will operate on a subscription model, with the vendors taking on some of the risk, Kelly said. “The subscription fee will be based on the benefit each member derives,” Kelly explained.

Initially, the exchange will involve 22 hospitals in nine organizations, said Teresa Jacobsen, the council’s HIE director. “We want to get one or two use cases running first,” she said. They will start by linking emergency departments to exchange clinical summaries and for syndromic surveillance, according to Jacobsen. Once that’s going, the HIE plans on adding medication and allergy lists, diagnostic testing results and Continuity of Care Document reports, as well as additional elements for public health, including immunization records.

It all sounds great, and it’s a good idea for them to start slowly, but I wonder when and if smaller physician practices will get involved. My own physician has had an EMR for a while, but not every doctor in the practice uses it. (The four-physician practice recently upgraded to the Meaningful Use Edition of Sage Intergy and has started the 90-day clock for qualifying for Stage 1 Medicare incentives this year, but there’s essentially zero interoperability with other healthcare entities, unless you consider faxing records to others straight from a computer interoperability. I sure don’t.)

My guess is that scenarios like this are playing out all over the country. I wish them luck, but I’m not counting on nationwide interoperability for many years. For one thing, the federally funded, state-chartered Illinois HIE Authority held its very first organizational meeting Wednesday afternoon. “That’s the biggest wild card we don’t know,” MCHC CFO Dan Yunker said.

It’s key to getting payers—particularly Illinois Medicaid—on board with HIE and linking metropolitan exchange networks across the state and beyond. “Our hospitals in Chicago are responsible for the snowbirds who are in Naples (Florida),” Yunker noted. They’re also responsible for patients who come from places like Rockford, Springfield, Champaign, Carbondale and the Quad Cities for certain specialized services only available in the big city.

Yeah, this interoperability thing isn’t so easy.

Different Methods to Become a Top EMR Company

Posted on December 20, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

A few months ago, the blogger over at Health Finch wrote blog post which analyzes 3 of the top health care IT companies and how they were started. It is very interesting to see the evolution of the large health care IT companies. Here’s the summary of the 3 companies Health Finch looked at:
Epic Systems – Started with Scheduling and Billing
Cerner – Started as a Laboratory Information System
McKesson – Started dong Rx Management

As a PS to the post, they point out Epocrates working on the same model with their Epocrates EMR. That is one of the most interesting things I’ve noted when attending the various EMR related conferences that I attend. There’s a whole variety of ways that EMR companies are approaching the market.

Another example of this trend is the Care360 EHR from Quest. Think about all the benefits that Quest has over many other providers. Sure, the most obvious one is that they have easy access to the lab data. You can be sure that an interface with Quest labs will be free (unlike most other EMR vendors). Although, certainly it also could be a challenge if you want your EMR to interface with another lab. That could be interesting.

However, Quest has a number of other advantages over a new EMR company. They have an entire sales force (which I think they prefer to call consultants) that already have existing relationships with thousands and thousands of doctors. Quest could literally only sell EMR software to their existing lab customer base and do fine. Of course, that’s probably not the best strategy, but that’s a powerful advantage over the other EMR companies.

There are a ton of other companies that we could talk about. Those entering ePrescribing first. Those transcription companies that are offering an EMR solution. I find it absolutely fascinating. So, if you know of others, I’d love to hear your EMR vendor’s story in the comments.

Suffice it to say that we’re in the middle of an all out war by EMR vendors. The good part is that it’s not likely to be a winner takes all affair, but there will be many many EMR vendors that will end up on the winning end.