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EHRs and patient safety

If you wonder where I’ve been, I’ve, for one thing, been blogging a bit for (very little) pay over at Forbes.com and writing a lengthy cover story for the September issue of Healthcare IT News.

The Healthcare IT News piece actually breaks down into a fairly short lead story and several sidebars, which aren’t all that evident from the traditional Web version. (The digital edition has everything.) For the sake of convenience, here are links to all elements of the cover package:

Main story: “Patient safety in the balance: Questions mount about EHRs and a wide range of patient safety concerns”

Sidebars:

The issue also contains a reprint of my May 2012 blog post, written just a week after my father’s death: “Medical errors hit home.”

Happy reading, and happy Labor Day weekend.

August 29, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

APSO vs. SOAP, continued

A couple weeks ago, I had a story in Healthcare IT News about the growing use of the “APSO” notes for documenting patient encounters. APSO flips around the traditional SOAP format (subjective, objective, assessment, plan), ostensibly making it easier to view progress notes in electronic health records.

As I reported, APSO is in wide use at University of Colorado Health and at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass., found that hospitalists focused most of their attention on the “impression and plan” sections of patient records, essentially the AP part of APSO/SOAP. Physicians at Epic Systems, according to University of Colorado’s Dr. C.T. Lin, are recommending APSO as a best practice.

Yet, the inventor of the SOAP note, Dr. Larry Weed, still believes his format is superior. You saw his comments in the Healthcare IT News story. But every time I have the privilege of speaking to the nonogenarian Renaissance man, he always has more to say than I can fit into the average article. I often can’t keep up in my note taking, but, fortunately, in this case, Weed and his son/occasional co-author Lincoln, took the time to put their thoughts in writing for me.

I left most of their comments out of the story due to space limitations. I don’t have that problem here, so I present their entire statement to me:

The following represents our collective thoughts, including references to relevant portions of Medicine in Denial [their 2012 book].

The supposed advantage of the APSO alternative — that it begins with the physician’s assessment rather than data — is actually a failing. This sequence tends to make the note provider-centered rather than patient-centered, and judgment-based rather than evidence-based.  In contrast, beginning the progress note with data disciplines the provider’s assessment. The provider must think in terms of specific data, specific problems on the problem list to which the data relate, and the interrelationship of each problem to the other problems on the list. Moreover, it’s important to begin the progress note with subjective (symptomatic) data from the patient rather than so-called “objective” data,  As Medicine in Denial states (p. 168):
“… progress notes should begin with subjective data, because progress should be assessed from the patient’s point of view.  Practitioners should be alert to discrepancies between subjective and objective data (for example, where the patient does not feel better when lab results show improvement). These discrepancies may signal an error in data or misstatement of the patient’s problem.”
In short, provider thinking can be disciplined with problem-oriented SOAP notes as a standard of care. Yet, regulators and academics who are in a position to act on this issue have shied away from the whole notion of standards of care for organizing data in medical records. See our comments on ONC’s Stage 2 regs and our comments on the PCAST Report.
The need for standards of care in medical records goes far beyond the SOAP vs. APSO issue in progress notes. In fact, that issue is secondary. Two more fundamental issues for medical records are the following:
  1.  Determining initial inputs to the record. Initial inputs are determined by selection of data needed for the patient’s problem situation, and once the data are collected, analysis of the results.  Both selection and analysis are fatally compromised when determined by the physician’s clinical judgment. External standards and tools, based on a combinatorial standard of care, must govern the selection and analysis. Once that happens, then judgments of patient and practitioners (not just physicians) may supplement the combinatorial minimum standard.  See Medicine in Denial, pp. 53-61, 69-79, 136-37, 145-52.
  2.  Organizing the medical record around the problem list. Once initial data are collected and a complete problem list is defined, then care plans, orders, and progress notes should be problem-oriented, that is, labeled by the problem(s) to which they relate on the problem list. This disciplined practice is essential to justifying provider actions in terms of defined patient needs. Yet this practice is not followed or enforced with consistency. Indeed, some EHR systems do not even enable electronic links between the problem list and care plans, orders and progress notes. See Medicine in Denial, pp. 134-35, 144, 159-60, 166-67.
Like so much else in medicine, medical record practices are a Tower of Babel. Medicine need standards of care for managing clinical information (knowledge and data) no less than the domain of commerce needs accounting standards for managing financial information. This failing is a primary root cause of the health care system’s failures of quality and economy.

For that matter, Lin had more to say than what you saw in the story. He discussed the supposed importance of the subjective and objective elements. “That’s true in cases where there is diagnostic uncertainty,” Lin said. But he added that those components are still there for reference, jut not up front.

Lin called SOAP “a phenomenal innovation,” but suggested that EHR complexity sometimes makes it difficult to find the assessment and plan. For example, he said that a non-Epic EHR in the emergency department at UC Health has as many as 17 different screens for progress notes. “At least with APSO, you would collect the assessment or plan in the first half,” Lin said.

Because SOAP is so entrenched, Lin ran into much resistance when he proposed switching to APSO at 40 affiliated practices. He, of course, heard the tired, “But we’ve always done it this way” defense.

“I learned myself about culture change very acutely,” Lin said. “I was literally shouted out of the room by our physician leadership.” He had neglected to prepare the heads of various departments and clinics for the change in advance of the meeting where he announced the plan.

He subsequently had to have individual conversations with all 40 practice directors. And then Lin dropped a great quote from none other than Niccolo Machiavelli (speaking of Renaissance men): “Those who benefited from the old order will resist change very fiercely.”

Yes, that’s absolutely perfect for an industry as resistant to change as healthcare. But is APSO superior to SOAP? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

May 20, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

All my HIMSS coverage in one place

The last of my 10 MedCity News stories from HIMSS14 has been posted. It’s a nice mix of news, features, analysis and commentary. Here are links to all of them, in chronological order.
NantHealth launches Clinical Operating System – biggest of big data startups – with $1B (Feb. 25)

Body + biology + behavior: Intel exec explains how technology is making N=1 care possible (Feb. 26)

Tavenner: 2014 is your last chance for a hardship exemption for Meaningful Use 2 (Feb. 27)

HIMSS crowd skeptical of promise for flexibility on MU2 hardship requests (Feb. 27)

Google Glass startup expecting third healthcare client in less than 6 months (Feb. 27)

DeSalvo: True EHR interoperability – and a national HIE – is possible by 2017 (Feb. 28)

DeSalvo meets and greets – briefly – while Tavenner keeps her distance at HIMSS (March 3)

HIMSS Intelligent Hospital tracks patients, pills and clinicians in completely connected loop (March 5)

Interoperability Showcase uses car crash to show how connected data really can improve patient care (March 5)

Athenahealth’s first inpatient product isn’t quite an EHR, but a ‘Trojan horse’ into hospitals (March 10)

 

March 12, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Podcast: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber, 2014 edition

It’s time for my annual podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, this time from the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on the day before the official opening of the 2014 HIMSS Conference, rather than in his Chicago office a week or so in advance.

Lieber reiterated HIMSS’ position that the federal government should extend the attestation period for Meaningful Use Stage 2 by one year. I wasn’t there, but today at the CIO Forum, one of the preconference educational symposia, ONC Chief Medical Officer Jacob Reider, M.D., hinted that there will be an announcement on Stage 2 flexibility, possibly Thursday morning at a joint ONC-CMS town hall. That session will feature CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and new national health IT coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D. I’ve never heard either of them speak, and now I’m excited to be covering that session.

We also discussed other aspects of healthcare reform, trends in health IT and expectations for HIMSS14. Of note, on Monday morning, HIMSS and two other organizations will announce a new initiative on “personal connected health.”

Near the end, I reference the podcast I did last week with Dr. Ray Dorsey about remote care for Parkinson’s patients. For easy reference, here’s the link.

This is, I believe, the seventh consecutive year I have done a podcast with Lieber at or just before the annual HIMSS conference. Another interview that has become somewhat of a tradition won’t happen this time, as Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush is not making the trip to Orlando this year.

 

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, Feb. 23, 2014, at HIMSS14 in Orlando, Fla. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 36.2 MB. Running time 39:35.

0:40 “It’s time to execute.”
1:40 Challenges for small hospitals and small practices
3:10 New ONC EHR certification proposal and continued questions about Meaningful Use Stage 2
5:00 Prioritizing with multiple healthcare reform initiatives underway, including proposed SGR repeal
6:30 Surviving ICD-10 transition
7:35 HIMSS’ position on MU2 timelines
9:05 Remember “macro objective” of Meaningful Use
10:00 Letter to HHS from organizations not including HIMSS calling for what he says are “very vague” changes to MU2 criteria
11:40 Things in MU2 causing providers fits
13:05 Fewer EHR vendors certified for 2014, but more HIMSS exhibitors
15:00 What this means for providers who bought products certified to 2011 standards
17:20 Progress on Meaningful Use so far
21:00 Looking toward Stage 3
22:42 What healthcare.gov struggles might mean for health IT
25:35 Other aspects of the Affordable Care Act being lost in the public debate
27:10 Political considerations related to health IT
29:40 Patient engagement and new HIMSS exhibitors
32:20 Why healthcare spending and provider shortage forecasts don’t account for efficiency gains made from technology and innovation
35:10 Demographic challenges for healthcare
35:45 Shift from hospitals to ambulatory and home care and consolidation of provider organizations

February 23, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

OpenNotes, changing roles in health IT and a Friday, um, funny

I’ve just had two new stories published on the US News & World Report Hospital of Tomorrow site: “OpenNotes Helps Keep Patients Informed and Engaged” and “The Evolution of Health IT Continues.” The latter is subtitled, “New roles signal new realities and priorities as hospital information technology changes,” and goes in depth and the changes underway in hospital HIS and HIM departments in response to various healthcare reform imperatives. I’d appreciate your feedback here, on the U.S. News pages and on Twitter.

Since it’s Friday, I’ll share something offbeat. I’ll let you decide if it’s a good idea or a gimmick. Nestlé Fitness has created the “Tweeting Bra,” with a Bluetooth-enabled sensor that sends a tweet every time the wearer unhooks the undergarment, reminding women daily of the importance of breast self-exams. Here’s a video, in Greek with English subtitles.

 

If you want more information, here’s a short interview with the keeper of the Tweeting Bra, Maria Bakodimus, a Greek celebrity. It’s only in Greek, without subtitles, but it does show the sensors in more detail.

If you want to get one, well, sorry.

 


It was a one-off prototype created for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

February 7, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

‘Escape Fire’ leaves out IT, ultimately disappoints

I finally got the opportunity to catch the documentary film “Escape Fire,” a good 15 months after it went into limited theatrical release and became available in digital formats. I thought it would be an eye-opening exposé of all that ills the American healthcare industry, particularly for those who somehow believe we have the greatest care in the world. I excitingly ran this graphic when I first mentioned the movie on this blog back in October 2012:

The well-paced, 99-minute film interviews some notable figures in the fight to improve American healthcare — safety guru and former CMS head Dr. Don Berwick, journalist Shannon Brownlee, integrative medicine advocates Dr. Andrew Weill and Dr. Dean Ornish — as well as some lesser-known people trying to make a difference. It goes through a laundry list of all the culprits in the overpriced, underperforming mess of a healthcare system we have now, and examines approaches that seem to be producing better care for lower cost.

I expected the movie to have a liberal slant, but it really stayed away from the political battles that have poisoned healthcare “reform” the last couple of years. About the only presence of specific politicians were clips of both President Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell both praising a highly incentivized employee wellness program at grocery chain Safeway that reportedly kept the company’s health expenses flat from 2005 through 2009, a remarkable achievement in an era of escalating costs.

However, filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke did discuss all the lobbyists’ money presumably buying off enough votes in Washington and at the state level that has helped entrench the status quo. They even scored an interview with Wendell Potter, the former top media spokesman for Cigna, who became a public voice against abuses by health insurers because his conscience got the better of him. As Brownlee noted in the film’s opening, the industry “doesn’t want to stop making money.”

Other reasons given for why healthcare is so expensive, ineffective and, yes, dangerous include:

  • direct-to-consumer drug advertising leading to overmedication;
  • public companies needing to keep profits up;
  • fee-for-service reimbursement;
  • the uninsured using emergency departments as their safety net;
  • lack of preventive care and education about lifestyle changes;
  • a shortage of primary care physicians;
  • cheap junk food that encourages people to eat poorly; and
  • severe suffering among the wounded military ranks.

The filmmakers also kind of imply that there isn’t much in the way of disease management or continuity of care. Brownlee described a “disease care” system that doesn’t want people to die, nor does it want them to get well. It just wants people getting ongoing treatment for the same chronic conditions.

One physician depicted in the movie, Dr. Erin Martin, left a safety-net clinic in The Dalles, Ore., because the work had become “demoralizing.” The same people kept coming back over and over, but few got better because Martin had to rush them out the door without consulting on lifestyle choices, since she was so overscheduled. “I’m not interested in getting my productivity up,” an exasperated Martin said. “I’m interested in helping patients.”

Another patient in rural Ohio had received at least seven stents and had cardiac catheterization more than two dozen times, but never saw any improvement in her symptoms for heart disease or diabetes until she went to the Cleveland Clinic, where physicians are all on salary and the incentives are more aligned than they were in her home town. As Berwick importantly noted, “We create a public expectation that more is better.” In this patient’s case, she was over-catheterized and over-stented to address an acute condition, but not treated for the underlying chronic problems.

The film also examined how the U.S. military turned to acupuncture as an alternative to narcotics because so many wounded soldiers have become hooked on pain pills. One soldier, a self-described “hillbilly” from Louisiana, got off the dozens of meds he had become addicted to and took up yoga, meditation and acupuncture to recover from an explosion in Afghanistan that left him partially paralyzed and with a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The only laugh I had in the movie was when he told the acupuncturist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, “Let’s open up some chi.”

I kept waiting and waiting for some evidence of information technology making healthcare better, but I never got it. After leaving the Oregon clinic, Martin took a job at a small practice in Washington state where she was seen toting a laptop between exam rooms, but, for the most part, I saw paper charts, paper medication lists and verbal communication between clinicians.

What really bothered me, however, is the fact that there was no discussion of EHRs, health information exchange or clinical decision support, no mention of the problem of misdiagnosis, no explicit discussion of patient handoffs, continuity of care, medication reconciliation and so many other points where the system breaks down. You can’t truly fix healthcare until you address those areas.

 

January 21, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

The ‘Hospital of Tomorrow’

WASHINGTON—I’ve just finished 2 1/2 days of helping US News and World Report cover its inaugural Hospital of Tomorrow conference. My assignment was to sit in on four of the breakout sessions, take notes, then write up a summary as quickly as possible, ostensibly for the benefit of attendees who had to pick from four options during each time slot and might have missed something they were interested in. Of course, it’s posted on a public site, so you didn’t have to be there to read the stories.

Here’s what I cranked out from Tuesday and Wednesday:

Session 202: A Close-Up Look at EHRs — ‘Taking a Close Look at Electronic Health Records”

Session 303: The Future of Academic Medical Centers — “Academic Medical Centers ‘Must Become More Nimble'”

Session 305: Preventing and Coping With Infections — “How Hospitals Can Better Prevent and Cope With Infections”

Session 401: Provider and Patient Engagement — “Hospitals Grapple With Patient Engagement”

The one on infection control was particularly interesting, in large part due to the panel, which included HCA Chief Medical Officer and former head of the Veterans Health Administration Jonathan Perlin, M.D., Johns Hopkins quality guru Peter Pronovost, M.D., and Denise Murphy, R.N., vice president for quality and patient safety at Main Line Health in suburban Philadelphia.

The session on patient engagement was kind of a follow-on to my first US News feature in September.

If you want to read more about the whole conference, including US News’ live blog, visit usnews.com/hospitaloftomorrow

November 7, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Top 10 things wrong with Fox News smear job on EHRs

Today, FoxNews.com published a hit job on health IT and EHRs in the guise of another hit job on Obamacare. I found out about it courtesy of this tweet:

First off, it’s clear that Mostashari feels unshackled from having to watch his words now that he’s no longer national health IT coordinator. Secondly, he’s right. This story contains so many errors and misleading statements that it’s almost funny. Let’s count down the top 10.

10. “Under a George W. Bush-era executive order, all Americans should have access to their medical records by the end of 2014, part of a concept referred to as e-health. President Obama then made electronic medical records (EMRs) central to the success of the Affordable Care Act”

When Bush issued the executive order in 2004 that created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, he set as a goal interoperable EMRs for “most” Americans. The “all” part came after Barack Obama took office in 2009.

9. Though Obama did reiterate the 2014 goal and up the stakes by saying “all Americans,” nobody realistically thought it could happen. After all, the HITECH Act, which created Meaningful Use, didn’t pass until March 2009 and Meaningful Use didn’t even start until 2011. Before the HITECH Act, ONC barely had any funding anyway. For five years, Congress failed to pass much in the way of health IT legislation, even though a federal EHR incentive program had bipartisan support, symbolized by an unlikely alliance between Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton.

8. “Doctors, practitioners and hospitals, though, have been enriching themselves with the incentives to install electronic medical records systems that are either not inter-operable or highly limited in their crossover with other providers.”

Meaningful Use was never intended for enrichment, or even to cover the full cost of an EHR system.

7. While systems mostly are not interoperable yet, that wasn’t the intent of Stage 1 of Meaningful Use. Stage 1 was meant to get systems installed. Stage 2, which has barely started for the early adopters among hospitals and won’t start for 2 1/2 months for physicians, is about interoperability. That’s where the savings and efficiencies are supposed to come from.

6. We’re years away from knowing whether Meaningful Use program did its job, though I don’t fault members of Congress such as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) for putting pressure on the administration to demand more for the big taxpayer outlay.

5. “‘The electronic medical records system has been funded to hospitals at more than $1 billion per month. Apparently little or none of that money went to the enrollment process which is where the bottle neck for signing up to ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges appears to be,’ Robert Lorsch, a Los Angeles-based IT entrepreneur and chief executive of online medical records provider MMRGlobal, told Fox News.”

The money wasn’t supposed to go to the insurance enrollment process. The Meaningful Use incentive program was from the HITECH Act, part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, came a year later. Again, someone is confusing insurance and care. They are not the same thing.

4. “Lorsch, at MMRGlobal, offered the U.S. government what it describes as a user-friendly personal health record system for one dollar per month per family – a fraction of what it has cost the taxpayer so far.”

MMRGlobal’s product is an untethered personal health record. No untethered PHR anywhere is “user-friendly,” which is why adoption has been anemic. Without data from organizational EHRs, PHRs are worthless. Besides, the direct-to-consumer approach in healthcare has failed over and over, since people are used to having someone else — usually an insurance company — pick up the tab.

3. For that matter, MMRGlobal is a bad example to use as an alternative to EHRs. (The Fox story is correct in saying that other vendors do have close ties to the Obama administration, though the former Cerner executive’s name is Nancy-Ann DeParle, not “Nance.”) I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that MMRGlobal isn’t much more than a patent troll.

2. “But this process could have been easier if a nine-year, government-backed effort to set up a system of electronic medical records had gotten off the ground. Instead of setting up their medical ID for the first time, would-be customers would have their records already on file.”

Actually, as I wrote in a story just published in Healthcare IT News, we could have had national patient identifiers 15 years ago, as called for by the 1996 HIPAA statute. But Congress voted in 1998 not to fund implementation of a national patient ID and President Bill Clinton signed that into law. Since then, interoperability and patient matching have been mighty struggles.

1. “‘Plus, unlike under ObamaCare, the patient would be in control of their health information and, most importantly, their privacy,’ Lorsch said.”

Where in Obamacare does the patient lose control of health information? Less than a month ago, I was in Washington listening to HHS Office for Civil Rights Director Leon Rodriguez say, ““There is a clear right [in the HIPAA privacy rule] not only of patient access, but patient control over everything in their records.” This may come as news to some people, but patients own and control the information. They might not know it, but the language is pretty clear.

Already, the Fox story has been reposted in a number of blogs shared all over the Internet, so it’s being accepted as fact in some quarters. If you want the truth, you sometimes have to do the work yourself.

October 15, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Patient engagement: Check me out in ‘US News’

I’ve just had my first story published in a major national magazine, or at least the online version of one, namely US News and World Report. It’s about patient engagement strategies for hospitals and medical practices in the context of EHRs, for the magazine’s “Hospital of Tomorrow” feature, and I’m getting good feedback so far. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. Check it out here.

Also, I’ll be presenting on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. EDT at the American Telemedicine Association’s Fall Forum in the non-American (but very North American) city of Toronto. It’s there because this year’s ATA president is Dr. Ed Brown, president of the Ontario Telemedicine Network, right there in the T.O.  Steve Dean of Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System’s Inova Telemedicine Program and I will be counting down a top 10 of mobile apps we deem to be prominent, successful or highly useful. (The description in the online program is wrong as of this writing.)

September 7, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

‘Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive’

AURORA, Colo.—”Blue Button Plus is totally disruptive,” Frost & Sullivan health IT analyst Nancy Fabozzi just told me at the Healthcare Unbound conference. Why? Because the enhanced Blue Button Plus format can eliminate the need for healthcare providers to invest in patient portals in order to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2.

I tend to agree. The Stage 2 rules don’t require a portal, just the ability to transmit records securely from provider to patient. Providers, whether they be hospitals, clinics or even small physician practices, can just put a Blue Button widget on their Web site and give patients easy access to their medical records, transferred securely by the Direct protocol, itself a disruptive force for health information exchange.

Longtime readers might recall that I had dissed Blue Button in the past. More than once, in fact. That’s because the original Blue Button format was plain, unstructured text when it was an experiment at the VA. My opinion changed this week, when I realized that Blue Button Plus adds structure such as the Continuity of Care Document, and third-party vendors like Humetrix, make of the iBlueButton mobile app, provide additional context.

I don’t think this will kill the portal business because portals provide additional services such as secure messaging, appointment scheduling, refill requests and online bill payment. But it will make a lot of providers think twice about springing for an advanced portal when Blue Button Plus will fill the Meaningful Use need so easily.

July 12, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.