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E-Patient Update: Sometimes Tech Gets In The Way

Posted on September 22, 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.

Being such an enthusiastic tech user, I tend to assume that adding technology to the healthcare equation is a plus in almost any situation. Why not automate scheduling?  Data gathering? Pharmacy?

To me, it’s always seemed like a no-brainer that tech adoption works to my advantage as a patient. The more I can avoid going through basic motions manually, the better processes work, giving me more time to spend with my clinicians. Right?

Apparently, not so right. When you take patients into account, sometimes doing transactions the old-fashioned way may actually be more efficient – or at least more flexible – than running things through an automated process. If nothing else, it may be easier to accommodate patients if you don’t have to run them through your workflow.

That, at least, is the lesson I’ve gleaned from studying the day-to-day flow at Kaiser Permanente, where I get all of my healthcare. After watching Kaiser employees work, and asking a few unobtrusive questions, I’ve come to believe that going offline may actually be better in some situations.

Tech-friendly, but not tech-dependent

Now, make no mistake: Kaiser isn’t in the stone age technically. For example, it seems to build most of its clinical operations around what is reputed to be the mother of all Epic installations. (Back in the day, it was rumored that Kaiser spent roughly $4 billion to roll out Epic, a massive sum even by national organization standards.)

Throughout my care process, the fact that clinicians and support staffers are all on Epic has played to my advantage, particularly given that I have a few chronic illnesses and see several specialists. I’ve also benefited from other Kaiser technology, such as kiosks which automate my check-in process for medical visits.

In addition, I’ve gotten a lot of benefits from using Kaiser’s robust web portal, which offers the capability to exchange email messages with clinicians, set appointments, pay premiums and co-pays, order and track prescriptions and check test results.

All that being said, I’ve encountered manual processes at many steps in my journey through the Kaiser system. While some of these processes seem wasteful – such as filling out a standard pre-visit form on paper – others turn out to be more useful than I had expected.

‘People forget their card’

One situation where technology might not be needed is taking people into the doctors’ suite for consults. In theory, Kaiser could set up an airport- or DMV-style ticker letting people know when their doctor was ready to see them, but having nurses yell last names seems to work fine. I’d file this under “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

The pharmacy is another area relying on a mix of low- and high-tech approaches. Interestingly, the pharmacy offers an airport-like board displaying the names of patients whose meds are ready. But when it comes to retrieving patient info and dispensing drugs, the front-line staffers enter the patient numbers by hand. I would have expected there to be a barcode on the membership card, but no dice.

According to one pharmacy tech, it has to be this way. “People forget their [Kaiser member] card all of the time,” she said. “We can’t assume members have It with them.”

These are just a couple of examples, but to me they’re telling. I may be missing something here, but it seems to me that Kaiser’s approach is practical. I’d still like to automate everything in my healthcare world, but obviously, that doesn’t work for everyone. Clearly, offline patient management models still matter.

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.

The Good News About Patient Portals …

Posted on January 14, 2014 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

I recently wrote that it’s not clear whether patient portals do much to improve health care.

Now a new study suggests they help in at least one area: medication adherence.

The research involved diabetic patients who were using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and had registered for online portal access. Among those who started using the system’s online refill function as their only method of getting the medication, “nonadherence” dropped 6 percent.

LDL or “bad” cholesterol also decreased.

The researchers concluded that “wider adoption of online refills may improve adherence.” No decline in nonadherence was seen in patients who didn’t use the online refill function.

The Kaiser Permanente study was published in the journal Medical Care.

The study included plenty of subjects — 8,705 people who used online refills and 9,055 who didn’t. But if there’s a cause-effect relationship at work in this study, you have to wonder in which direction it might run. Might the people who tend to take their medicine as prescribed be more likely to sign up for online refills in the first place?

Still, the study is an intriguing hint that patient portals might be worth at least some of the attention they’re getting. Nonadherence to medication regimens is a huge issue for health care because of both the human toll it takes and the inefficiency it fosters in the system.

Typical nonadherence rates are in the 30-60 percent range, depending on the condition, the medication and other factors, according to Medscape. It’s especially easy to slack off when symptoms disappear.

The study builds on another piece of good news for health IT. Researchers recently found that EMRs can make diabetes care better by rendering care coordination more efficient, as Katherine Rourke wrote here at EMR and HIPAA.

Portals are, of course, experiencing tremendous popularity because they help health care providers to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 patient-engagement requirements. But, as I wrote earlier, in a review of 46 studies related to portals, researchers didn’t find evidence for much in the way of patient benefits.

Physicians have a major job ahead of them if they’re to make full use of patient portals and receive the available federal incentives. Perhaps this study, modest as its results are, suggests that their efforts will have some benefit for the patients they serve.


Parents Using PHRs More Likely To Get In All Well-Child Visits

Posted on October 18, 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.

Parents using an integrated PHR were more likely to take their young children to all recommended well-child visits, according to a Kaiser Permanente study reported in iHealthBeat.

More than 4.3 million members are registered to use Kaiser’s PHR, My Health Manager, on During the first half of this year, patients have viewed 17.5 million lab test results, sent 7.4 million secure e-mails to their care providers, refilled 7.1 million prescriptions and scheduled 1.8 million appointments, reports News-Medical.

The study, which was published in The Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed data on more than 7,000 children ages zero to two living in the Northwest U.S. and Hawaii.  The children were enrolled in KP health plans between January 2007 and July 2011.  To determine the appropriate number of well-child visits, researchers  used performance measures listed in the 2010 Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set that state that children aged 0 to 15 months should attend at least six well-care visits, News-Medical says.

The study found that in the Northwest region, children whose parents used the Kaiser PHR during the study period were 2.5 times more likely to bring their child to the recommended number of well-child visits. These children were also 1.2 times more likely to get all of their immunizations.

In Hawaii, meanwhile, children in this group were two times more likely to get all well-child visits, but results related to immunizations were statistically insignficant, iHealthBeat notes.

While it may be too soon to call it a trend, this is one of a growing number of projects which use the PHR concept to help patients engage and take responsibility for their health behaviors.

For example, this summer Howard University Hospital rolled out a mobile PHR for pre-diabetic young adults designed to help them take control of their health.  Howard has given the young adults in the program — aged 18 to 24 and diagnosed with pre-diabetes — access to a mobile version of the NoMoreClipboard PHR for their smartphones.

The program sends a variety of text messages to the young adults targeted by this intervention, which include reminders to interact with the PHR. The program participants are also given a FitBit Zip wireless activity tracker which keeps track of steps taken, distance covered and calories burned per user.

Projects like these, which help patients make the PHR the fulcrum point for better health, are a smart way of using the technology. I expect to see a great deal more of this “PHR=patient engagement=better health” model going forward.

“The Kaiser Way” – Kaiser Permanente’s Approach to Mobile Healthcare

Posted on June 24, 2013 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

Kaiser Permanente is the healthcare provider I went to since the time I was born, until I went to college. Imagine my surprise when I headed off to school and discover that it didn’t even exist in the state I moved to. In my limited scope of knowledge, I think I thought Kaiser was the only healthcare provider out there!

Even though I’ve come to realize there is definitely more than one healthcare provider out there, I think I’ll always like Kaiser. My husband and I are back in Colorado, and are currently working to get a plan covered by Kaiser. As I’ve heard my parents talk about them, and seen some of the services offered, I’ve been impressed with what they have to offer, and how it seems like they’ve been very involved in mobile healthcare. So I wasn’t too surprised when I saw this article that talks about how Kaiser has made it possible for their patient’s to connect with their doctors via email.

In the article, Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser Permanente’s Incoming Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said of this mobile app that “It’s something our members wanted, they have it and they love it.” I think that this goes to show that Kaiser is really trying to be intune with the changing healthcare world, and what their patients wnat. Since being launched, there have been 14 million e-visits, Tyson said, and members can access these visits through a free mobile app.

Patients are able to connect with their doctor through the app by emailing them questions, making appointments, and accessing lab results. It allows patients to decide whether or not they actually need to make an appointment, as well as build a stronger relationship with their physician. Kaiser has worked hard to ensure the safety of the patients using this app, as that is definitely a big concern across the board when it comes to mHealth.

Personally, I love the idea about being able to email your physician. Back in Utah, I was overall impressed with the patient portals that were available to me, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t easier to connect with my doctors. In fact, there was one instance where I tried to get in contact with a physician for over a month, just getting the run around from her assistants, and I eventually just gave up. The doctor seemed very on top of things, but her staff was not, and I always wished I had been able to just contact her quickly and easily through a method like the one that Kaiser has in place.

I won’t go over everything that is talked about in this article, but I highly recommend reading it. It sounds like Kaiser has a lot in store for the future. Tyson mentioned that the obvious next “natural progression” is for telehealth. I really found this article to be really excited, and I can’t wait to see what Kaiser has in store. Hopefully other healthcare systems will take note and follow in their suite.

Kaiser Permanente Accused Of Using EMR As Smokescreen

Posted on March 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.

Kaiser Permanente, California’s largest healthcare provider, has been cited by state officials for using its EMR to work its way around requirements to see mental health patients promptly, reports EHR Intelligence.

Potentially risking their own jobs, Kaiser’s own mental health team brought the discrepancies to the attention of the state.  Their complaint not only slams Kaiser’s practices regarding wait times, but also its overall clinical approach to treating mental health patients, going so far as to accuse the giant HMO of defrauding Medicare by upcoding cursory visits as complete.

According to the California Department of Managed Healthcare, Kaiser has been keeping two sets of records, one in its official EMR and another on paper that hid violations of the state’s law mandating short wait times for mental healthcare. The EMR also fails to retain a record of booking dates, so if an appointment date is changed, the wait time is being calculated from the most recent booking date, not the original date, the state charges.

The dual record keeping procedure allowed Kaiser to hide the fact that mental health patients may have waited weeks longer than the state’s “timely access” law requires, for illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and suicidal ideation, as well as other serious conditions.

In defiance of the state-required two days between contacting an enrollee and booking an appointment, Kaiser had been recording initial contacts on paper, then asking patients to call back during the next window for appointments, up to four weeks later.  The EMR would then record the initial contact as taking place during the later booking windows, leaving out completely the weeks of waiting mentally-ill patients endured.

Kaiser has said that it addressed the discrepancies noted by the government, which were first brought to its attention last August, but the Department of Managed Healthcare has concluded that the changes needed have not yet been made.

Kaiser’s Mobile Health Approach

Posted on July 10, 2012 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.

As I mentioned in my previous post about laptops and iPads in healthcare, I had the chance to meet with Kaiser at the Health 2.0 conference in Boston. I had a chat with Brian Gardner, head of the Mobile Center of Excellence at Kaiser Permanente and learned a bunch of interesting things about how Kaiser looks at mobile healthcare.

The first most interesting thing to note was that Kaiser currently does not support any sort of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at this time. Although, they said that they’ve certainly heard the requests from their doctors to find a way for the doctor to use their own mobile device. Since this means that all the mobile devices in use at Kaiser are issued by them, I was also a little surprised to find that the majority of their users are currently still using Blackberry devices.

Brian did say that the iPhone is now an approved Kaiser device. It will be interesting to check in with Brian and Kaiser a year from now to see how many Blackberry devices have been replaced with iPhones. I’m pretty sure we know exactly what’s going to happen, but I’ll have to follow up to find out. What is worth noting though is the time delay for an enterprise organization like Kaiser to be able to replace their initial investment in Blackberry devices with something like an iPhone or Android device. While I’m sure that many of those doctors have their own personal iPhones, that doesn’t mean they can use it for work.

I also asked Brian about the various ways that he sees the Kaiser physicians using their mobile devices. His first response was that a large part of them were using it as an email device. This would make some sense in the context of most of their devices being Blackberry phones which were designed for email.

He did say that Kaiser had done some video pilots on their mobile devices. I’ll be interested to hear the results of these pilot tests. It’s only a matter of time before we can do a video chat session with a doctor from our mobile device and what better place to start this than at Kaiser?

Of course, the other most popular type of mobile apps used at Kaiser were related to education apps. I wonder how many Epocrates downloads are used by Kaiser doctors every day. I imagine it gets a whole lot of use.

What I found even more intriguing was the way that Kaiser used to discover and implement apps. Brian described that many of their best apps have come from students or doctors who had an idea for an app. They then take that idea and make it a reality with that student or doctor working on the app. It sounded like many of these students or doctors saw a need and created an app. Then, after seeing its success Kaiser would spread it through the rest of the organization.

This final point illustrates so well how powerful mobile health can be now that the costs to developing a mobile health innovation is so low. Once you lower the cost of innovation the way mobile health has done, you open up the doors to a whole group of entrepreneurs to create amazing value.

Laptops End Up With Kids, iPads Don’t

Posted on June 8, 2012 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.

As I mentioned previously, I had the great opportunity to talk with Kaiser recently about their mobile initiatives at Health 2.0 Boston. It was a great chat with Brian Gardner, head of the Mobile Center of Excellence at Kaiser Permanente.

At one point in the conversation I asked Brian about Kaiser’s approach to devices. Did they allow physicians to bring their own device? Were they deploying their own devices and which devices did they use. Brian made a couple of comments that I found really intriguing.

First, he stated clearly that Kaiser issued all of their devices. They were looking at the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) idea, but currently they didn’t support any BYOD options. Based on his response to this question I could tell that there were a lot of conversations about this topic happening at Kaiser. I got the feeling that they were likely getting quite a bit of pressure from their doctors to do something along these lines.

Brian then also provided what I find to be a really compelling observation. He commented that from their experience the laptops they issued to doctors always seemed to end up with their physician’s kids using them. I assume they could see this based upon the software the physician’s children installed on the laptop. Then, Brian observed that they hadn’t seen the same thing happening with the iPads they’d given out. He surmised that this was possibly because many of the doctors that got iPads saw it as a privilege and those doctors didn’t want to lose that privilege?

How intriguing no? Why is it that a laptop feels like a commodity and an iPad feels like a luxury item? One you don’t mind your children touching and the other is a luxury that your child shouldn’t touch.

I’d also extend this observation to say that working on a laptop feels like work. Using an iPad feels more like play. At least that’s the feeling I get. I imagine many doctors feel the same way. I wonder if that will change as the iPad starts to get more applications that really help you do work on it.

Health Tech Next Generation Conference – See You in San Francisco

Posted on July 30, 2011 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.

I haven’t been to a healthcare IT conference in a little while. Mostly, because I hadn’t seen one that I really wanted to attend. So, I’m excited that August 12th I’m going to the Health Tech: Next Generation Conference in San Franscisco, CA.

I’m actually going to be there the whole weekend since there’s a WordPress conference happening that weekend as well. Plus, there are a number of people I’m planning to meet with while I’m there. If you’re in San Francisco that weekend, let me know so we can get together. I always love meeting readers of this site.

I’m really excited for this healthcare IT conference. They have the amazing Guy Kawasaki as one of the keynote speakers. He’s a dynamic person and I can’t wait to see him speak in person for the first time. Plus, I’m sure he’ll offer an interesting “outsiders” perspective on healthcare IT. I believe every attendee gets a free copy of his book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.”

I’m going to be moderating a panel about EMR 101. Most long time readers of this site won’t likely want to attend. Although, hopefully it will be a great session for those doctors who are diving into the EMR and EHR world. So, if you’re a doctor near San Francisco, come and learn. Nice thing is that it’s only a one day event so it’s not a huge ordeal. Plus, there are some other really smart people that will be at the event as well.

Here’s the full description of the Health Tech healthcare IT conference from their press release:

HealthTech:NextGeneration will host it’s first upcoming Conference & Exposition at the Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront Hotel, Burlingame, CA on August 12th 2011. This one day comprehensive event will assimilate leaders & professionals in Healthcare & Information Technology under one roof. It will showcase up-and-coming strategies and technologies to tackle today’s healthcare delivery obstacles, shaping and advancing the healthcare industry forward into tomorrow’s paradigm of patient controlled environments.

HealthTech:NextGeneration will feature expert speakers from both the Healthcare and IT industries, including renowned author Guy Kawasaki & Dr. Mattison who is CMIO at Kaiser Permanente. The track sessions will address crucial topics such as Data Privacy and Security, Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records, Role of Social Media, Cloud Computing In Healthcare, Health Information Exchange, Funding Opportunities for Healthcare Businesses and Global Healthcare Systems. The conference is designed for Healthcare & IT Executives, Consultants, Entrepreneurs and Professionals. Attendees will also include Policy Makers, Vendors, Insurers, Medical Administrators, Directors, Managers and VCs.

I hope to see a number of my readers at the event. If you can’t make it to the event, but are in San Francisco, definitely drop me a line and I’d love to meet up with others as much as possible. If enough are interested we could do a dinner event or something one of the nights I’m there.