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The Coming Physician EHR Revolt

Posted on February 5, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

From my blogging viewpoint I’m sensing a growing discontent among doctors that is starting to really heat up. I can’t quite predict when this discontent will reach a boiling point that will start to boil over, but the fireworks are coming. As I’ve watched the past couple years, doctors were first overwhelmed with all the government regulations. They were confused by everything was coming out and really just didn’t know where healthcare IT and EHR was headed. That overwhelmed confusion is slowly turning into a reality that many doctors are realizing is changing how they practice medicine. If you’re not seeing this, then you might want to get out and spend some more time with your casual every day doctors.

One doctor emailed me today suggesting that doctors were being literally “eaten alive” as they are working harder to provide patient centered care. It would be a disservice to doctors if we don’t take the time to acknowledge and understand the enormous pressures that many doctors are feeling right now.

Here’s a quick look at what I believe is the perspective of many doctors I connect with on a daily basis.

Regulations
Everywhere doctors look they’re getting hammered by new regulations. I recently heard Shahid Shah say, “We’re experts in the industry that spend all day thinking about the market and regulations and even we have a challenge understanding what’s going on. Now think about the doctors and adminstrators which have challenging day jobs and only a small amount of time to understand the regulations. They don’t really understand the details of what’s being regulated.”

This is a reality for many doctors and practices. Is it any wonder that many are happy to sell off their practices to major hospitals? I’m sure that many do so just because they’re tired of trying to understand all the changing regulations they’re required to know.

If we look at just the healthcare IT and EHR related regulations you have: meaningful use, ACOs, ICD-10, 5010, and Obamacare/Healthcare Reform. Any one of those is a challenge to understand and implement. Yet doctors and hospitals are dealing with all five of them simultaneously. Not to mention doctors being asked to participate in HIEs, being graded and rated online, engaging with empowered patients through social media, and embracing a new technology savvy culture while reimbursement lags behind.

Is it any wonder that doctors feel overwhelmed, overworked, and unsure whether they want to continue being doctors. Is this going to lead to a real shortage of medical professionals?

EHR Discontent
Since this is an EHR blog, we should spend some time on the growing discontent with EHR software. I hate to dwell on this, because EHR is going to be the future of clinical documentation. It’s hear to stay and no amount of belly aching and moaning is going to stop EHR software from becoming the de facto standard for clinical documentation. However, just because this is the case doesn’t mean we should ignore the realities that so many doctors are facing when it comes to EHR software today.

Many doctors see EHR as a major time suck. Their EHR software requires them to work longer hours and/or see fewer patients. Overtime this usually improves, but we have to acknowledge the initial productivity hit that pretty much every EHR implementation sees. Some clinics never get back to their previous productivity. We’ve discussed the reasons for this over and over again on this blog. We’ll save the list of reasons and ways to avoid those issues for another blog post. However, until all 300+ EHR vendors solve the EHR productivity issue, we’re going to hear more and more stories of how much of a time suck an EHR is to many doctors.

Not all doctors see it this way. Many doctors can’t imagine their practice without an EHR. As we’ve been covering in our EHR Benefits Series, there are a lot of benefits to having an EHR. Many of the benefits we’ve already covered in that series are ways that a clinic can save time thanks to an EHR. However, it can take time for a new EHR user to get up to speed where they can speak the EMR language well. It’s not easy learning a new language, and so this adds to the growing discontent that many doctors feel towards EHR.

Template EHR and Copy Paste
Many EHR vendors have implemented a complex set of templates that doctors can use to be more efficient. It’s a thing of beauty to see a full template pulled into a patient’s chart with a single click. A full patient physical documented with a single click sounds like it should save the doctors a lot of time and make them more efficient. In fact, many have argued that template based EHR documentation is a great way for doctors to achieve higher reimbursement levels since they are better able to document the actual care they’re providing. In the paper world they would have passed on the higher reimbursement because they didn’t have the time or desire to document all of the items they examined and so they just accept a lower reimbursement level. EMR templates made it possible for doctors to finally be reimbursed for all of the care they provided a patient since the templates made it easy to document.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, it did until the government realized that EHR software often drove up their costs. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone in the EHR world. I’ve been writing about the ability to increase your reimbursement rates from EHR for over 7 years. However, instead of the government choosing to acknowledge something that was apparent to many in the industry, they decided to blame the increased costs on, you guessed it, dishonest doctors.

Think about the message that we’re sending doctors. First the government tells doctors to start using EHR. Then, the government calls those doctors dishonest for using the tools that the government told them to use. A doctor recently described their perspective is like being stuck in a pit with sly hyenas all around ready to take their bite out of them.

Add in all the recent discussions about copy and paste in EMR’s, and it shouldn’t be any wonder that doctors are gun shy. When they implement technologies to try and make things more efficient they get their hands slapped or even worse.

Reduced Reimbursement and Penalties
In the midst of all the things mentioned above, doctors are also getting hit with reduced reimbursement rates. This is particularly true for those in the general medicine area. They’re being asked to do more to improve patient care, reduce hospital re-admissions, treat the whole patient, etc and they’re getting less reimbursement.

Plus, now the EHR penalties are hanging over their head if they choose to not show meaningful use of a certified EHR. I still have my doubts that the EHR penalties will be enforced. I expect there will be a whole series of exceptions offered up which make it so pretty much all of the doctors avoid the penalties. However, that’s still unknown and many doctors see those EHR penalties as just another slap into the face.

Data Data Data
Most doctors see the push for EHR as a way for someone to get at the data in healthcare. In many ways, they’re right. EHR’s were first created as big billing machines to get at the financial data. Now with meaningful use, EHR’s are repositories of other healthcare data. The data is being used to optimize reimbursement (rarely a good thing for doctors). The data is wanted for population health analysis. The data is wanted for public health needs. The data is wanted to be able to facilitate ACOs. Everyone wants a piece of the healthcare data it seems.

The problem from a physician perspective is that everyone wants that data, but it’s not often clear how that data is going to facilitate that doctor being a better doctor. In many cases it won’t and there’s the rub. Almost every doctor I know wants to improve healthcare. So, they don’t have any problems supporting initiatives that improve healthcare, but I think that most of them also sit back and wonder at what cost.

Audits
I don’t know anyone that likes audits. Yet, most doctors are surrounded by a wide variety of audits. RAC Audits are on the way. HIPAA audits are possible and HIPAA is always lingering in the back of most doctors minds. Especially when you start talking about technology and HIPAA. There are so many unknowns that there’s no place of comfort for those doctors who want to be compliant. Most make a best effort and then push it out of their minds as they try to provide great patient care. Next up our meaningful use audits. You can be sure they’re coming.

Solutions
I wish I could say that I have a bunch of really good solutions available. What does seem clear to me is that most of the challenges that doctors face revolve around the current reimbursement models that we have today. I’m not sure we can fundamentally change those. One interesting option that’s emerging is concierge medicine.

Every doctor I know loves the idea of concierge medicine. When you tell them they don’t have to worry about reimbursement, insurance companies, etc, you see this huge weight lifted off of their shoulders as they wonder what life would be like for them if all they did was provide the best patient care to those who came to their office. The problem with concierge medicine was highlighted in a tweet I saw recently that said, “Concierge Medicine – Does it really work?”

The answer to that question is: it’s still too early to know for sure. Although, my prediction is that concierge medicine will work in certain situations and communities, but won’t be able to provide the widespread change of reimbursement that we need for healthcare to alleviate doctors concerns.

When it comes to EHR, concierge medicine is quite interesting. None of the mainstream EHR vendors really work for concierge medicine since they’re all focused around reimbursement and concierge throws that out the window. Plus, think about how few of the meaningful use requirements a concierge medicine clinic cares about. In fact, implementing many of the meaningful use and EHR certification requirements gets in the way of the concierge doctor’s workflow. I expect many doctors would love a concierge focused EHR software.

The other solution is likely going to be EHR vendors yielding to the idea that they’re the database of healthcare. Once they make this decision, EHR vendors can really open up the proverbial EHR kimono and let outside developers really make their EHR useful for doctors across all specialties, all regions, all sizes, and every unique workflow. One company can’t satisfy every doctor the way a community of empowered developers can.

No One Feels Bad for Doctors
I’ve written about this idea before, but almost no one feels bad for what most people think of as “well paid doctors.” Far too many doctors are still driving around Mercedes and BMW’s for most people to feel too bad for them. Compared to many people who don’t have a job at all, I don’t feel bad for them either.

While we don’t have to feel sorry for them, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge the pressures that doctors are facing. Plus, I see this only getting worse before it gets better. As an entrepreneur, I see this as a tremendous opportunity. Plus, I see a number of companies that are working to capture this opportunity. However, far too many companies are blind to this physician discontent. I’m not sure if it’s purposefully blind, ignorantly blind, or arrogantly blind, but many are ignoring it. As I predicted in the beginning of this post, I see this reaching a boiling point soon which leads to some fireworks.

Let me highlight what I’m talking about using the words of a doctor’s message I literally received in my email as I was writing this post:

EMR’s are making it more and more difficult to practice medicine. They used to be fun and helped my daily work. Now, they are getting so complex that is takes much more time to do them. MU is becoming a nightmare for physicians.

EMRs Can Spark Creativity

Posted on June 15, 2012 I Written By

Katherine Rourke 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.

Today I’ve been letting a few curious little theories germinate in my head. So I thought I might try out an idea on you good folks.  For those who have read my previous rants about breaking a doctor’s workflow, this may seem rather contrary, but hey, we can always duke it out later.

Yesterday, I went to see a specialist who’s a member of a decent sized practice (about a dozen docs, give or take).  The office is completely paper-based, efficiently and elegantly if my patient’s eye view is any indication.  The practice is something of a zoo — super-high volume — but I seldom if ever feel rushed or impatient.  In other words, we’re talking what looks like a pretty well-run shop from the pre-EMR era.

When I saw my doctor, we puzzled together a bit over a medical issue I’m facing, one which could be drug-induced or could be organic.  We spent some time talking about standard solutions and how to manage them and then, boom, my specialist had an inspiration.  We agreed that I should taper off one medication and begin the other shortly.

Luckily for me, my doctor was engaged and seemed interested in digging into the problem.  But in other cases, realistically, I might have gotten a physician that stuck blindly to the obvious and didn’t dig up what might be a slightly unconventional solution.

Here’s where I contradict myself to some degree.  In past essays, I’ve written on how inelegant and undesirable it can be to break physicians’ workflow for the sake of squeezing an EMR into place. I’ve argued that EMRs should be designed for physicians and not for administrators. And so on.

This encounter, however, convinced me that when EMRs break passive, standard workflows, it could be a spur to creativity in some cases.  In the right situation, if the doctor I saw was distracted or bored, the EMR could throw second line solutions at him or her just when they were ready to e-prescribe and sign off on the visit. (Yeah, a “do you want to leave this chart now?” prompt with a med recommendation might be annoying, but it could be productive!)

Of course, no system can force a physician to engage if they simply don’t want to do so, or don’t have time to think. But if the system is designed right, maybe the changes EMRs engender can lead to fresh ideas, better grasp of details or just a reminder on a bad day.  At least I hope so. What do you think?

Physicians Don’t Want to Be Told What to Do

Posted on July 21, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

It seems like a theme is cropping up around meaningful use. It has little to do with the regulations themselves. Instead it has to do with the fundamental concept of meaningful use essentially “Telling Physicians How They Should Practice.”

A comment on a previous post described it well when they said, “I am willing to bet that no matter what the final rule was, the majority of those involved in this industry would be upset with them.” It’s an enlightening point since I think it’s right on point.

It also illustrates that it’s not the meaningful use regulations that really bother people. Most physicians want to provide great care to their patients and many of the meaningful use requirements are no brainers. Physicians just don’t want to be told what someone else defines as great care. Physicians aren’t alone in this either. Just take a look at children’s reactions to their parents and you’ll see that for the most part humans don’t want to be told what to do and they kick against anything or anyone that tries to tell them what to do.

Anthony Guerra, founder and editor of Health System CIO, in an Information Week article highlights some similar points. He aptly points out that optimal performance is achieved not by issuing “prescriptive directives,” but by creating high level goals and let ownership of those goals take effect.

Anthony even suggests that the HITECH act money should have been spent to create a “set of best practices around EMR readiness assessment (think gap analysis), vendor selection, workflow redesign and system maintenance (think ASP/SaaS) for the providers that do care” While a certainly noble and worthy goal, I think there’s little evidence that this would have much impact. Why would doctors look to a government process to provide a best practice any better than they now look on meaningful use guidelines?

Meaningful use and the pile of EHR stimulus money reminds me a lot of a parent child relationship. The parents think they know what’s best and so they tell the child what they should do. The child kicks against those things regardless of whether it’s a good or a bad thing that the parent’s asking them to do. The parent then dangles the money in front of the child and says that if they want the money, then the child better do what the parent told them to do.

This is where we’re at with meaningful use. The parents (the government) have required something (meaningful use) of the children (the physicians) if they want the benefit (Stimulus Money). Now we’re waiting to see if the children will rebel or listen to their parents. I’m predicting physicians to be a little more rebellious than the average child. It’s not like the parents in this situation have a great history of past responsibility.