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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.

Patient safety update

I’m passionate about patient safety. I’m happy to report a couple of things that aren’t exactly breaking news, but still worth bringing to your attention.

First off, there is a fairly new peer-reviewed journal called Diagnosis, and it’s about exactly what the title suggests. The first, quarterly issue, from German academic publisher De Gruyter (North American headquarters are in Boston), came out in January, so the second issue should be published soon. The online version is open access. That means it’s free. (A print subscription is $645 a year.)

A highlight of the premiere issue is a submission from the legendary Dr. Larry Weed and his son, Lincoln Weed, discussing diagnostic failure and how to prevent it. “Diagnostic failure is not a mystery. Its root cause is misplaced dependence on the clinical judgments of expert physicians,” they begin. The answer? Clearly defined standards of care and wider use of clinical decision support tools. It’s not anything new. Larry Weed has been advocating this for a good 50 years and saying that the unaided human mind is fallible for probably 60 years. Yet, medicine still largely relies on physicians’ memory, experience and recall ability at the point of care.

This doesn’t mean evidence-based medicine ,which is based on probabilities. Probabilities are fine when the patient has a common condition. They’re useless for outliers. No, Weed has long said that IT systems should help with diagnosis by “coupling” knowledge to the patient’s particular problem, and this starts with taking a complete history.

Weed, of course, created the SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan). I recently talked to a CMIO who is advocating flipping that around a bit  into an “APSO” (assessment, plan, subjective, objective), which he said works better with electronic records. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming article for a paying client, and I’ll probably want to dive into that again in the near future.

For those who still believe American healthcare is safe, effective and efficient, ProPublica worked with PBS Frontline and marketing firm Ocupop last year to produce a video “slideshow” called “Hazardous Hospitals.” It’s worth a view for healthcare industry insiders, and definitely merits sharing with laypeople. I recommend that you share it. Please. Do it. Now. I’m serious. Patient safety is a problem that doesn’t get enough attention. :)

 

March 25, 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.

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.

Podcast: A quick chat with Farzad Mostashari

Friday is the last day on the job for departing national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari, who is stepping down after four years with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, including the last two years as head of ONC.

I was in Washington two weeks ago and stopped by the HHS headquarters for ONC’s Consumer Health IT Summit, the opening event of National Health IT Week, and got a few minutes with Mostashari. (I suppose that was good timing, because I imagine the government shutdown that took effect this week would have canceled the summit and even prevented me from entering the Humphrey Building.) I had the recorder rolling for a brief chat, which lasted less than 15 minutes before Mostashari’s handlers ushered him out to his next appointment. But I did get something.

The interview actually goes on a bit longer than what’s on this track, moving on to a discussion about Food and Drug Administration guidance on mobile medical apps. (You can read about that in this story I wrote for MobiHealthNews.) As it turned out, the FDA issued its final recommendations Sept. 23, which also happened to be the same day new HIPAA regulations—modifications called for in the HITECH Act—took effect.

I might get another chance to talk to Mostashari at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives Fall CIO Forum at the end of next week, after he officially leaves government service and is allowed to discuss his future plans and perhaps be more candid about his tenure; CHIME has confirmed to me that he will keep his speaking slot. For now, enjoy this short interview.

Podcast details: Interview with outgoing national health IT coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari, Sept. 16, 2013. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 7.1 MB. Running time 7:44.
0:00 Why he’s leaving
1:20 Different “tribes” of health IT
2:25 Balancing competing interests and the pace of change
4:30 Difficulty of culture change
5:35 Patient control of data and confusion about HIPAA

 

October 2, 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.

Video: My interview with Hands On Telehealth

I recently was a guest on a vodcast with Nirav Desai, founder and CEO of telehealth consulting firm Hands On Telehealth, whom I met because I moderated a panel he was on at the American Telemedicine Association‘s annual conference in May. In a Skype interview that went up late Friday, we chatted for 45 minutes about telehealth, the broader  health IT landscape and how it all fits into U.S. healthcare reform.

I’m unable to embed the video on this page, so please visit the Hands On Telehealth page to watch the interview. (That’s a screen grab below.) The page contains a detailed description of the interview, much as I like to have for my own podcasts. Perhaps next time I’ll spend more time looking directly at the camera. :)

Hands On Telehealth screen grab

July 1, 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.

About that Friedman editorial

Did you happen to catch Thomas Friedman’s commentary in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “Obamacare’s Other Surprise”?

On first read, I gave it a big “Duh!” for the explanation that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (that’s how the law is officially known, Mr. Friedman) creates a “new industry” of innovation by encouraging the federal government to release of terabytes of health data — information already legally in the public domain — and then allowing the private sector to figure out how to structure, interpret and use the data. As you probably are, I’m well aware of digital health, Health Datapalooza, federal CTO Todd Park and some of the companies Friedman mentions. (Health Datapalooza IV is less than a week away.)

But on second read, I realized Friedman needed to write that column because America needs a lot of education about the Affordable Care Act, education that the Obama administration and its supporters don’t seem all that willing to provide. The public still thinks of Obamacare largely in terms of health insurance coverage. It’s much more than that, including, as Friedman points out, an attempt “to flip this fee-for-services system (which some insurance companies are emulating) to one where the government pays doctors and hospitals to keep Medicare patients healthy and the services they do render are reimbursed more for their value than volume.”

Coupled with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which created the $27 billion EHR incentive program for “meaningful use” of electronic health records, the ACA takes some steps toward actual reform of actual care, not just insurance coverage. Friedman does not discuss Accountable Care Organizations, an experiment in realigning incentives around care coordination, nor does he mention the Medicare policy, dictated by the ACA, of not reimbursing for preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of initial discharge for certain specific conditions, currently heart attack, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. Likewise, he fails to bring up outcomes research, another component of Obamacare. But at least he gets something out there that’s not about insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, many of the online comments posted in response to Friedman’s commentary predictably focus on insurance coverage or government control, but some actually discuss EHRs, population health, healthy behaviors and payment incentives. That’s good. Still, those are just people who read Friedman and the Times. Hyperpartisan conservatives — probably even some hyperpartisan liberals, even though the ACA is more centrist than a lot of folks wish to admit — and the less-educated won’t read the column and won’t comment on the Times site. Those are the people who misunderstand this imperfect but occasionally reform-minded law the most.

 

May 27, 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.

HIMSS CIO survey visualized

I already reported the results of the annual HIMSS healthcare CIO survey in a story I wrote for InformationWeek the other day. Since everybody seems to love infographics these days, HIMSS produced one visualizing some of the highlights, including the finding that two-thirds of U.S. hospitals already have met Stage 1 meaningful use. Based on this, I’m guessing that close to 90 percent should be there by the end of the year, which means that CMS and ONC will have achieved their objectives for Stage 1, at least on the hospital side. (Of course, the physician part is proving to be much more difficult.) Someone in the know at ONC told me last night that people in that office are expecting 80 percent hospital success by the time fiscal year 2013 closes Sept. 30.

March 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.

Podcast: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber: 2013 edition

Once again, as has become custom, I sat down with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber at the organization’s Chicago headquarters the week before the annual HIMSS conference to discuss the conference as well as important trends and issues in the health IT industry. I did the interview Monday.

Here it is late Friday and I’m finally getting around to posting the interview, but it’s still in plenty of time for you to listen before you get on your flight to New Orleans for HIMSS13, which starts Monday but which really gets going with pre-conference activities on Sunday. At the very least, you have time to download the podcast and listen on the plane or even in the car on the way to the airport. As a bonus, the audio quality is better than usual.

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber about HIMSS13 and the state of health IT. Recorded Feb. 25, 2013, at HIMSS HQ in Chicago. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 46.0 MB. Running time: 50:17.

1:00        Industry growth and industry consolidation
2:50        mHIMSS
3:45        Why Dr. Eric Topol is keynoting
6:00        New Orleans as a HIMSS venue
6:50        Changes at HIMSS13, including integration of HIT X.0 into the main conference
8:55        Focus on the patient experience
9:35        Global Health Forum and other “conferences within a conference”
13:00     Criticisms of meaningful use, EHRs and health IT in general
17:00     Progress in the last five years
20:45     Healthcare reform, including payment reform
22:30     Why private payers haven’t demanded EHR usage since meaningful use came along
23:50     Payers and data
26:28     Potential for delay of 2015 penalties for not meeting meaningful use
29:15     Benefits of EHRs
30:40     Progress on interoperability between EHRs and medical devices
32:52     Efficiency gains from health IT
35:27     Home-based monitoring in the framework of accountable care
36:55     Consumerism in healthcare
39:40     Accelerating pace of change
41:10     Entrepreneurs, free markets and the economics of healthcare
43:25     Informed, empowered patients and consumer outreach
46:30     Fundamental change in care delivery

March 1, 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.

My first portal experience

Yes, after all these years of writing about EMRs, EHRs, PHRs, patient portals and the like, I have had my first real personal experience with a patient portal, courtesy of my internist.

He still has a small practice, with four other physicians, including one fresh out of residency. Those small practices are a dying breed, but this doctor is changing with the times, too. He recently offered a concierge option for a few hundred patients. I declined because I don’t need to reach him that urgently.

The portal has been in place for a couple of years, and I may have logged in once or twice before to set up an account, but didn’t really do anything other than look around. This time, prompted by an e-mail informing me of a new URL, I logged in and checked my medication list. I remembered that another doctor had changed the dosage of one of my medications a while back, so I fired off a secure message informing this practice of the change. (It was a new URL presumably because the EHR vendor formerly known as Sage Healthcare adopted the Vitera Healthcare Solutions name a year ago and was switching its customers to a common, white-labeled portal.)

I also looked at some of my test results from a year and a half ago just to confirm that everything was more or less OK then, though I did see one abnormality with my HDL cholesterol. I last went for a physical in March 2011, about a month after I ungracefully cut my face open on a bathtub in Orlando during HIMSS11, so I was probably due. This practice lets patients request appointments — not actually choose open slots — online, so I sent my request. Tonight, about 24 hours later, I got my confirmation, and I’ll be seeing the doc in a couple of weeks.

It’s not a perfect system, but it was convenient enough for a night owl like myself who might not remember to call during business hours to make an appointment or simply not want to wait on hold or press a bunch of buttons to navigate a telephone menu. I did not see the Blue Button option to download my record that the federal government is pushing private vendors to adopt, but I’m sure that will be there by the time the practice is ready for “meaningful use” Stage 2 in a year or two. I don’t have a PHR anyway, so I wouldn’t be able to do anything with the data other than print it.

I suppose I should set up an emergency PHR at some point, even though I doubt any hospital or specialist I might get referred to would take the time to download my data from a USB drive or log into someone else’s portal. Untethered PHRs simply don’t fit physician workflow. That might change in MU Stage 2 when providers will have to send electronic discharge statements and patient summaries during transitions of care, but I’m still not convinced a patient-controlled PHR will be the right vehicle for these data transfers.

 

October 31, 2012 I Written By

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

‘Meaningful use’ Stage 2 visualized

This may have made the rounds a month ago, but I just starting to dig myself out of a major work hole I’ve been in for a good six months, thanks to the terminal illness and subsequent death of my father that caused me to put off working on a major project for a long time. I’ve finally finished my part and it’s in the hands of the editors, so I spent most of my flight from Chicago to LA Thursday reading hundreds of e-mails, including this one I received Sept. 6.

HealthPoint, the health IT Regional Extension Center for South Dakota, based at Dakota State University, produced this infographic explaining the major differences between Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the “meaningful use” EHR incentive program. As far as I can tell, it’s accurate.

Feedback is welcome. Read more..

October 5, 2012 I Written By

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