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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 8/6/15

August 6, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


I’ve always been an early adopter of technology. When personal computers first came out, my parents made sure we had one. Sure, it was an Apple II+ and it TYPED IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME, but it put us on the cutting edge. It also put me on track to disassemble and modify devices after the Apple IIe came out (with its functional shift key) and I figured out you could run a jumper wire to make the II+ stop YELLING. My brother procured a used modem from his football coach and there we were, dialing up all kinds of trouble.

I learned the virtues of the “pretzel” key with a Macintosh Classic, then finally joined the world of color monitors with Windows Millennium Edition. After surviving a medical school that made us use Lotus Notes, I headed off to residency at a hospital with a half-baked Cerner system and finally found myself in practice with Medical Manager. I felt like I was really on the cutting edge, especially since some of my private practice colleagues still billed using ledger cards and made their appointments in the same kind of schedule book used by my hair stylist.

Through my continued interest in technology and a willingness to serve as a guinea pig on multiple occasions, I worked my way up in the world of “big” hospital IT. Having spent a good chunk of the last decade convincing physicians to add technology to their practices, I never thought I’d find myself feeling such a backlash against technology. According to USA Today this week, “46% of physicians report burnout: cynicism, less enthusiasm, low sense of accomplishment, too much bureaucracy.” Physicians feel overworked and are unable to cope with the stressors they currently face. They report being less empathetic toward their patients. Many cite EHR use as a key part of the problem, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that.

I’m wondering whether we as a society are becoming increasingly burned out and think that technology is a significant part of the problem. Instead of freeing us, smart phones are increasingly tethering us to the workplace. One of my friends recently reported working nearly 10 hours during her week-long vacation, citing the need to “protect” her boss from covering while she was out. I was certainly guilty of checking email on vacation when I was an employee, but I always felt supported in taking time off and knew I could forward critical emails to the person covering me so that she could address them. In turn I covered others while they were away. Eventually I learned to not even open Outlook.

Through social media, we’re under constant pressure to document every moment of our lives and share it so the world can see how interesting our lives are. There are plenty of studies citing Facebook and other social media services as actually making people feel like their lives are less meaningful or less satisfying than others because of what they see posted. Luckily most of the people I follow on my personal Facebook account are pretty mature – there are rarely photos of what they’re eating (unless there’s a great story attached) and don’t post their every move throughout the day. Although they post some spectacular vacation photos, when I see them I’m more likely to tease them about the risk of having their houses burglarized since they just advertised they were away than I am to be jealous.

I didn’t think too much about how technology is changing us as a society until I had the recent pleasure of taking my nephew on a trip to the East Coast. We visited several historical cities and quite a few monuments and landmarks. I was surprised to see that the atmosphere was very different than when I was in the same places just a few years ago. Rather than taking photos of the sights, everyone seemed to either be trying to take a selfie with the monument in the background or to take pictures of each other at the monument, blocking others from even seeing it in some cases.

Some of them were so obsessed with getting the perfect picture that they completely missed out on what they were supposed to be seeing. At one museum, I watched a mother force her children to wait in line to have their picture taken with an artifact and then she immediately bustled them off to do the same thing with another artifact. None of them spent any time looking at the phenomenally interesting collateral around it. (Moon landing note: Did you know the Apollo command module had to detach from the module with the lunar lander, turn 180 degrees, and re-dock with it? What could possibly go wrong? Learned it reading the sign.)

My brother is a photographer and once made a comment about his children’s generation being the most photographed but least seen. With the advent of digital technology, people don’t have to ration their shots any more. I tried to explain to my nephew about film coming in cartridges of 10 or rolls of 24 to 26 pictures back in the day. You had to choose your subjects carefully and you certainly didn’t take a picture of every single thing you found interesting. Although you might entertain your family and friends by showing them 35mm slides projected on a bed sheet (carousel if you were fancy, stacker if you weren’t) you definitely didn’t take hundreds of photos at a museum and make a nuisance of yourself. At one location, there were so many people taking pictures with tablets (including full-size iPads) you could hardly see the exhibit because of the air clutter. I hadn’t intended on seeing the world through someone else’s screen held aloft.

It turned into a teachable moment. My nephew and I had a good discussion about the psychology of all this and how technology makes people feel. We also talked about how it can physically affect people as well. He mentioned hearing that Disney had banned selfie sticks, and after this week, I think it’s a fantastic idea since I was almost hit a couple of times. I’ll be interested to see 10 or 20 or 30 years from now how immediate access to information has impacted our ability to leverage human memory. Personally I think we’re losing the ability to make good memories – rather than being in the moment and experiencing something, we’re either multitasking on our phones, listening to music, or trying to take a picture of ourselves doing it.

What’s worse is seeing people allow their children to be cheated by the lure of technology. At one famous site, I watched a family of four sit next to each other, completely absorbed in their devices. The pre-teen daughters were playing games, the dad was checking sports scores, and mom was just surfing. None of them were talking about the history of the property or why it was significant to our country’s history. Technology could have been a tool for them to talk about the site or the Civil War (which I also heard referred to as the War of Northern Aggression, which was slightly amusing in 2015) but instead it was a distraction. They certainly weren’t giving it the reverence it deserved as a burial site.

We also watched people on the subway interacting with children in strollers with some clearly generational behaviors. Older individuals (who appeared to be grandparents or hired caregivers based on some of the conversations) turned the strollers to face them so they could keep an eye on the children, which also meant they were interacting. Younger individuals tended to leave the strollers facing out and often had earphones in while using a smart phone, so there was very little interaction. If this is a common pattern, will it cause attachment problems, anxiety, or other disorders? And what about the toddlers using electronic media for hours a day? We know that’s an issue. While kids need to learn patience and how to deal with situations they may find boring, it’s helpful for parents to engage with games of “I Spy” or “Twenty Questions.” (Some of the answers this week: Robert E. Lee, Thomas Edison’s light bulb, and a bald eagle.)

As technology professionals and leaders in our field, I think that some re-examination of how technology impacts our lives may be warranted. We may not be able to change the technology demands of our organizations, but we can certainly advocate for wise use in our workplaces. Let’s start with rational email policies. My favorite boss had a three-day policy – if you needed a response within three business days, you weren’t allowed to send an email but had to actually talk to another human being. It was one of the most cohesive teams I’ve ever experienced. We also need to support our employees and colleagues in taking real vacations that don’t involve the expectation of checking email or voice mail. If something doesn’t change, we’re going to need a bunch of new ICD codes to address it.

What do you think about the pervasiveness of technology in today’s society? Did you know that you can turn your toast into a selfie? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/3/15

August 3, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I spent most of this weekend doing something that I really enjoy. Most physicians dread it, IT people tolerate it, and vendors may or may not love it (depending on whether they’re getting paid for it.) I won’t keep you guessing on the riddle of what I was doing – I was running a client’s upgrade project. As a CMIO, I picked up a lot of skills I never dreamed I’d have. It’s fulfilling to use them to help clients who are struggling or who want to take on something that’s bigger than they’re used to handling.

This wasn’t just any upgrade – the client wanted to install new hardware, upgrade the operating system, and upgrade the EHR/billing system all in the same weekend. There are varying opinions on whether that combination of tasks should be done at the same time. Does it make it too hard to troubleshoot? Does it create too much stress for the team? Is it just a bad idea?

Ideally most of us would prefer not to have to do all of these things at once, but unfortunately this client’s parent organization backed them into a corner from a timeline perspective, so we had to make it work. They realized the need to have some project management support so they could focus on other things they needed to complete prior to the upgrade. I was happy to agree, although somewhat nervous about the whole idea.

The client is one that I’ve been working with for some time. Even before I left my full-time CMIO gig, I had done some side consulting work and was therefore familiar with the team’s abilities and work ethic. I knew they had a strong leader – one of those “the buck stops here” types – who wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty if needed. They also had a proven track record for solid communication and problem-solving. Upgrades of this magnitude aren’t without issues and I strongly suspected that with those factors in place that we would be successful.

The other asset of this team is its culture. They’ve embraced the idea that it’s OK to ask questions even if it seems to be challenging the status quo or questioning someone’s expertise. All the members seem genuinely motivated to deliver a quality product whether that product is software, connectivity, training, or support. They also have relatively thick skins and don’t take things personally, which is my favorite part of working with them. Sometimes the role of the consultant is to turn over every rock and make sure there isn’t anything hiding under it, even if it makes people uncomfortable. I appreciate being able to do my job without any hurt feelings or drama.

This team also has a strong record of aggressive project management, detailed planning, and constant refinement. They’ve done many individual upgrades over the last half-decade and have continually modified their plans to make sure that every detail has been attended to and that they have planned for a variety of contingencies. When they decided they wanted to try this plan, they already had proven methodologies for doing each of the component parts and it was fairly easy to figure out how we could fit them together.

When they first presented their plan, I was impressed. They had data on each of the last several upgrades they had done, including the elapsed time for various steps and a log of what didn’t go as planned as well as the modifications they identified for the future. They also had worked with the various vendors involved to identify potential timelines and to determine whether the combined project was even possible. A review of their documentation showed that the planning was sound, so the next step was to perform a tabletop exercise and walk through all the moving parts to identify any other potential gotchas.

This was several months ago, but I still remember how they walked through it all, talking through each step and verbalizing the handoffs. Several team members also added specific comments on their steps, such as, “… and now I’m going to stop process A, because we know that if we just pause it we’ll have a problem. Process A is now stopped. Clear for the handoff to the DBA.” It was overkill from anything I’d ever seen, but it let me know that they knew their stuff and were ready to tackle something larger. It did feel a little bit though like being in mission control for a spaceship launch, however.

Over the last several months, they’ve performed each upgrade separately in a test environment except for the hardware piece. Although they experienced some performance issues, they were within the expected realm considering that their test servers were several years older than their production servers. They started training end users several weeks ago and ensured that not only did the users demonstrate mastery of the content, but of the support process and troubleshooting steps and downtimes procedures that would be needed if something didn’t go as expected.

Our final test came about a month ago when they received their new hardware and did a complete dry run. There were a couple of glitches, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed. All training was complete the week before last and they’ve been in a code freeze, so all that was left was to review the downtime plan and train a couple of stragglers.

Most of my work with this client has been remote (I do so love working in my fuzzy slippers), but I wanted to be on site for the go-live. They’re in a city that has a lot to offer and I headed to town on Thursday to spend time with friends as well as to make sure I was in position if anything unexpected happened. When we took the system down on Friday evening and the clock started ticking, I admit it was a little bit of an adrenaline rush. I wasn’t prepared for what was next though – this is the most anxious I’ve ever been on an upgrade project. It wasn’t necessarily because I was worried, but because it was so quiet. I’m used to getting phone calls here and there with questions about sticky situations and I wasn’t hearing anything from this client.

When we reached our first pre-scheduled checkpoint call, everything was under control and they were even a little bit ahead on the timeline. I’m not used to working with a team that is this capable and organized and found myself having to come up with strategies to just mentally let it roll. The friends I was staying with have a pool, so I spent the better part of the weekend contemplating the mysteries of various kinds of rafts and floats while waiting for my next checkpoint call.

Everything finished early Sunday morning and we were able to get some end users on the system for quick testing before we released it to the urgent care locations that were just getting ready to open. I have to admit, with all the pool time this is the most relaxed I’ve ever been going into post-live support. The urgent cares represent only 10 percent of the typical user load, however, so Monday morning might be a different story.

We’re as ready as we can be – issue tracking processes are in place, people know where they need to be, the communication plan has been reviewed, and I’ve ordered enough food into the command center to feed an army. Every practice site will get a personal visit from someone on the team at some point during the day, whether there are issues or not. And every visit will be accompanied by a snack basket. Maybe it’s because of my roots (don’t ever go visiting without a covered dish, seriously) but I believe in letting the users know that we care how they are doing and wanted to bring a little something to brighten up the day.

It’s now Sunday evening and the daily close process is running. The nightly backup will kick off soon and I hope everyone is settling in for a good night’s sleep. I’ll let you know later in the week how it goes. Despite its magnitude, this has been a lot of fun.

What’s your favorite kind of IT fun? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 7/30/15

July 30, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I received a fat envelope in the mail today. Unfortunately it was from my former employer’s credential verification service, reminding me of the need to renew my medical staff privileges. I thought it was odd since I resigned my appointment when I quit, but a call to the medical staff office confirmed they never received my letter. In keeping with the digital age (even if it doesn’t comply with the medical staff bylaws) they let me resign via email and confirmed receipt. This is the first time I’ve been without hospital privileges since finishing residency and it feels a little odd.

Speaking of receipts, my new pet peeve: Outlook users who have their accounts set up to request a “read receipt” for every email they send, regardless of its importance. One of my consulting clients gave me a corporate email account and my inbox is plagued by two analysts with this behavior who also engage in extreme carbon copying. You can bet our next discussion of their communication policy will include these elements.

Another pet peeve: sales teams who use physician directories to try to drum up business from people they think might have money. “I called your office earlier and spoke with Katherine, but wanted to follow up with you via email about our event.” Interestingly, I’ve never worked with anyone named Katherine and haven’t had an office for months. I’m not sure I’d trust someone to manage complex affairs like asset protection and financial advice if they can’t manage the truth.


From Cardinal Fan: “Re: BJC HealthCare experienced a system-wide computer outage lasting over 20 hours across more than a dozen facilities. It wasn’t just the clinical systems – everything was down including email. Corporate mouthpieces celebrated our contingency planning, but things were far from smooth. Emergency departments went on diversion and transfers from other hospitals were impacted. Although there is no official root cause, lots of employees are speculating hackers might be involved.” Local media agree with the lack of smoothness, noting problems with moving patients from the emergency department to patient care floors without a functional bed tracking system. An internal email forwarded to me described “system-wide information systems non-functionality.” I admire their fine use of synonyms to avoid saying “outage” or “downtime.” Definitely a bad week to practice medicine in St. Louis – about four hours into the incident, a 20-inch water main broke outside flagship Barnes-Jewish Hospital, sending water into lower levels of the facility and shorting out electrical equipment. At least one backup generator failed and over 130 patients were evacuated.


Some physicians I was having lunch with earlier in the week were discussing the recent Forbes article about curing “Doctor Dropout.” Young physicians see the stress levels of their teachers and mentors and are selecting careers outside of traditional practice. The piece cites Stanford as having just 65 percent of their students going on to residency training in 2011. That doesn’t surprise me – although it was a few years before 2011, nearly 10 percent of my medical school graduating class elected not to pursue residency training or even physician licensure. Of those who did complete their training, quite a few of us have left the careers we trained for.

The author comments that “trying to combine revenue maximization into a clinical process results in a system best described as a Gordian Knot designed by Rube Goldberg. Common sense would suggest that adding yet more complexity (e.g. new payer reporting requirements) on top of an already-flawed model is a recipe for disaster.” That about sums it up.


In case you were getting bored waiting for the Meaningful Use final rule, CMS released proposed rules addressing long term care facilities. The nation’s 15,000 nursing facilities would be required to send care summaries when patients are transferred. I’m disappointed that they’re not requiring electronic transactions in the same formats required of the rest of us. Instead, they’re just proposing a set of information to be communicated. Problems with transcription errors and inaccuracies were cited as why the rest of us need to exchange data electronically with prescribed formats, but I guess CMS thinks nursing homes don’t need to be held to the same standard. The actual language states:

Transfers or Discharge: We propose to require not only that a transfer or discharge be documented in the clinical record, but also that specific information, such as history of present illness, reason for transfer and past medical/surgical history, be exchanged with the receiving provider or facility when a resident is transferred. We are not proposing to require a specific form, format, or methodology for this communication.

I can’t believe that not even a problem list, a medication list, or an allergy list made the cut. At least when they’re done torturing eligible providers and hospitals, CMS will have plenty to work on with other facilities.

What do you think about the proposed rule for nursing facilities? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 7/27/15

July 27, 2015 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

There are many reasons to use consultants. Sometimes an organization needs an expert resource that they don’t have on staff or don’t have time to develop. Sometimes they need staff augmentation for a critical project. Sometimes they need an outside opinion to validate their goals and the plan to achieve them.

At least in my current consulting practice, however, most of the organizations I’m working with just need a consultant to save them from themselves.

Healthcare has always been a fairly dysfunctional business. The emphasis on shifting models of care and the relentless pursuit of technical tools has added stress to an already challenged system. Although a couple of my clients were referred to work with me early when things started heading in the wrong direction, my newest client waited until they hit rock bottom. I’m never one to shirk a challenge (particularly during the slow summer months when other clients don’t want to do much because too many key staffers are on vacation) but this one is a doozy.

This client was referred by one of my existing clients, who I had worked with on creating policies and procedures for Meaningful Use-related workflows and making sure that they had solid workflows prior to their reporting period. They had been a dream to work with. I knew that the physician owner had a brother who was also a physician, but in a different specialty.

Scope of practice not withstanding, the two practices couldn’t be different. My existing customer was a dream to work with. The new client called me incessantly demanding we set up an initial call. He apparently didn’t listen to my outbound greeting which explained that I was on vacation and would not be returning any calls until a certain date.

One of the benefits of working for yourself is being able to set your rates however you feel is appropriate. From the tone of this physician’s calls (increasingly desperate), I suspected he would be in my top billing tier. I also knew before even talking to him that if I did decide to take him on as a customer, it would be for an extremely limited engagement.

When we finally were able to have an initial discovery call, he had calmed down quite a bit and our discussion was entirely reasonable. We discussed the services he was requesting and what an engagement would look like.

His situation is not unusual. He is an independent physician who accepted subsidies from a health system to implement the EHR they were offering. Now he has decided to move off that platform and needs assistance with selecting a new system and actually making the transition.

One red flag, though, is that he wants to leave the hospital’s EHR system due to “philosophical differences,” which can mean a variety of things when you’re a high-profile surgeon. As far as finding a replacement, he’s already been largely swayed by a couple of vendors who should be easy to work with. I’m always happy to take any complications out of the mix.

Despite his desperation in trying to contact me initially, he had no problem dragging his feet when it was time to execute our consulting agreement. My standard contract is pretty simple – less than two pages – and spells out exactly what will be done and on what timeframe. He wanted to argue about the duration of the engagement (as a rule, I never do more than a six-month engagement the first time I work with a client) and didn’t seem to understand that in this situation, the consultant has the power. I don’t have to work for him and don’t have to agree to his terms.

He eventually figured that out and agreed to my proposal, so we jumped right in to his system selection problem. If I thought my contract negotiation with him was a challenge, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for him to execute a software agreement. I haven’t worked with either of his top choices (both are specialty-specific offerings) so am not able to give him much guidance in how best to work with them.

He’s still trying to decide and hasn’t been very receptive to my advice on how to weigh the pros and cons of different vendors and features. He refuses to use checklists or document his thoughts immediately after demos. When he can’t remember what he saw or what he thought about it, he just demands another demo, which results in a lot of schedule juggling. I’m fortunate to have a retired project manager I can throw at the problem so we can start to document for him and reduce the overall craziness.

In the mean time, we’re working to clean up the data in his existing system and create a plan to extract the data he wants to load into his new system. A good chunk of his documentation was dictated and he still has the original text files, so those will hopefully be easy to add to the new system. It’s the first time I’ve ever been grateful to not have very much discrete data.

He also didn’t attest for Meaningful Use yet, so I’m grateful to not have to deal with archiving that data for audits or dealing with how to synchronize his reporting period with the migration to the new system. I’ve got a young informaticist working with me who is excited about dealing with what data there is, so that is off my plate as well.

It’s a little strange to be delegating this work when I’m used to doing so much of it myself. It was one thing to delegate when I was a CMIO and working for a large health system, but it’s another thing to delegate when your name is on the door and it’s your company. Right now, though, my main function is to “handle” the customer and make sure we meet his needs. I’m OK with that. I’m not sure the people assisting with his engagement feel the same way, but we’ll have to see how things unfold. If nothing else, it’s putting experience under our collective belts.

How do you handle difficult customers? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr Jayne 7/23/15

July 23, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments


This week has been chaotic. It’s amazing how being out of the swing of things even for a couple of weeks can interfere with our habits and processes. I thought I had this week’s EPtalk nearly written and saved it out to the cloud, only to now be unable to find it (along with another presentation I was working on). A keyword search wasn’t helpful nor were some of the other tricks I tried, so those thoughts will have to wait until they turn up which will hopefully be before next week.

Luckily the presentation is for something several weeks out, so I have time to rebuild it if I can’t find it. I’m also traveling and my laptop’s wireless has been on the fritz, which might have played a role in the mystery of the missing documents. At one point today I was working at a blazing fast 512 kbps, which I haven’t seen in a long time. There’s nothing quite like cloud storage gone wrong.

I’ve also been tunneling through more than a thousand emails that came in while I was away. Many are related to social media and things like LinkedIn, so shame on me for not having adequate filters set up to prevent it my inbox from being an overwhelming mess. I’m grateful for the legitimate mail from readers that keeps me soldiering on.

From Commanding Officer: “You wrote about an ICD-10 code for the psychotic reaction you were going to have when kids were playing games on your flight without headphones. My recommendations are:

  • R45.4 Irritability and anger
  • F63.81 Explosive disorder, intermittent; Aggressive episodes frequently result in physical or verbal assaults or property destruction (for example, road rage). The individual may report feeling tension prior to the episode, immediately followed by relief.”

I agree with the reader’s suggestion of leaning towards the road rage code. Although we occasionally hear about airline passengers behaving badly, the more I fly the more I continue to be amazed that there are not even more incidents occurring.


From Jimmy the Greek: “With the number of conference calls I’m sure you’ve been on in your career, I thought you’d get a kick out of this quote of the day. A coworker actually said, ‘That’s impossible for us to do, because we’ve never done it before.’ I resisted the urge to ask how she managed to get out of her cave.” Hearing stories like that always makes me feel better about the places I’ve worked. No matter how bad you think it is, the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. The fact that this comment is from a technology professional at a company known for communications solutions makes it all the funnier.

As for summer adventures, several readers have written to share theirs: hiking, camping, and a safari were included on the list. At least three readers plan to spend time at scout camps with their children. One reader noted that although it was great to unplug, it was not so great to have to spend two whole days reading emails after returning to work. Another travels every year to a working ranch in Montana that I have to say looks pretty incredible.

From High Adventure: “I’ve enjoyed several treks to places with minimal cell phone coverage and what was there, was enough to get the occasional text message or phone call out to family to let them know we’re safe. Not enough to download email or anything like that. As an IT professional who deals with the daily deluge of electronic communications, I find these trips refreshing. But, I’ll confess, you need to learn how to unplug and let go of the work. It’s not easy but you have to trust your team and co-workers to do the right thing. As a leader, if you can’t trust them to do that, you’ve failed in one of your key jobs.” I remember reading a blog piece attributed to Jonathan Bush where he talked about taking a month off for summer vacation with his family. He cited the need to let his team have the experience of managing without him as one of the reasons for taking an extended vacation. That’s great when leaders have seasoned teams below them, but as a consultant, I see a fair number of dysfunctional teams where that would never be an option.

Speaking of vacation, several readers responded to my piece about vacations in modern business culture. One mentioned that his company, Lexmark, went to an unlimited vacation policy in 2013.  One reader suggested SCUBA as a great vacation since cell phones don’t function well underwater. Another offered tips for vacationing as a corporation of one:

I also have my own solo business as does my twin sister in the legal field. When one of us is going to be seriously out of touch, we cover each other’s voice and emails just scanning for “must do now” things and sending reassuring messages to those who can wait until the owner gets back. We also have a deal that the person vacationing knows that the other will contact them if something comes up but that they are supposed to relax and not check since they have a proxy on duty who is filtering. You do have to trust the person you partner with (and I know it is harder to get closer than an identical twin) but perhaps something like this would be helpful to you.

That’s a great story. My brother is also an independent business person, but given his entrepreneurial tendencies, he’d probably charge me for the coverage. Luckily right now my file of consulting clients is small enough that I was able to tell everyone my plans in advance and most know me well enough that even if anything urgent came up I’d be able to turn it pretty quickly on my return. I’m sure it won’t be that way forever and I appreciate the idea.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 7/20/15

July 21, 2015 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments


Mr. H mentioned that I was away last week. I had the pleasure of spending it on a wilderness adventure and was able to seriously unplug for the first time in a long while. Being forced to make do with what you remembered to pack and what your companions are carrying definitely casts a different light on the idea of accomplishments. I wasn’t away very long before I had some experiences that made me question how important some of the things we all worry about on a daily basis really are in the grand scheme of things.

My active clients and my practice knew I was going to be away and to not expect any responses to email until today. Although our group had a solar charger with us, most of us were pretty serious about putting our technology away on day one. Being able to wake up without the blinking light on my phone was priceless. I went from a world of worrying about hundreds of minute details to a world where the key worries were having enough water, making fire, having adequate food, and staying dry were the real priorities (and not always necessarily in that order).

Teamwork has an entirely new meaning when you are depending on each other to share the load (literally) and look out for each other. Being in the backwoods means getting creative with solutions when you don’t have ready access to everything you wish you had. I administered some fairly primitive medical treatments – fortunately the standard of care doesn’t apply when you’re many miles from nowhere. Everyone made it home with all their limbs and most of their senses of humor, so I guess my wilderness first aid skills were OK. It was certainly nice to be in a world where I didn’t have to worry about documentation, although I did have to have my companions do a “sanity check” on my plan of care since my mind was trying to operate in a Level I trauma center while my patient was sitting on the ground in the dirt.

The best thing was being away from federal (and other) mandates. When your main directives are “Leave No Trace” and to not do anything stupid or that might get you dead, it’s a lot more simple. None of my fellow hikers were in healthcare and only one was in IT, so we didn’t get sucked into beef sessions about work or coworkers. I’ve spent the last decade and a half using the better part of my waking hours to deal with unhappy physicians, poorly functioning technology, and whether my employers were sane. It was nice to just worry instead about how far I could push myself mentally and physically and whether my feet were staying dry and happy.

I learned that I’d rather deal with venomous spiders and reptiles any day than with RAC audits and PQRS calculations. I also learned that having the right kind of supplies turn up at the right time makes all the difference (and indeed what I would do for a Klondike Bar, when presented with one that had been delivered in dry ice following three days with the heat index well over 100F). I shared my tent with a fascinating spider – do you know how long it takes her to eat a fly? I do. I also shared my path with a flock of wild turkeys (not the liquid kind), mosquitoes the size of hang gliders, and what one of my trail mates insists was a chupacabra (personally I think it was a raccoon).

I think the best part of the experience was being mostly without the need to keep track of time. You wake up when the sun comes up and go to bed when you feel like it. There are no double-booked meetings or back-to-back conference calls. You rest when you’re tired and pick up again when you’re ready. You have the luxury of watching spiders build webs because you don’t have anything else pressing to do.

Coming back to civilization was initially a rude awakening. The first person I encountered at the airport was a twenty-something man using voice-to-text for messaging his best friend about why the friend’s girlfriend was bad news. I got to hear all the gory details and doubt he even thought that everyone around could hear. (By the way friend – it’s going to backfire. Your friend needs to figure it out on his own.)


Civilization did redeem itself, however, when I discovered I was sharing my flight home with the BYU Ballroom Dance Company. They were extremely courteous travelers as well as being classily dressed. I almost thought I had fallen into a 1960s air travel dream with the men in crested navy blazers and the women in matching tangerine travel dresses. I found it amusing that although the ladies’ jewelry matched, they all had their own choice of shoes.


Nearly 70 miles of hiking later, I’m back in the saddle with quite a few emails and a couple of conference calls. It’s hard to be back, but I’m interested to see how my new perspective influences my day-to-day work. I’m exhausted but invigorated. I’ve already started planning next summer’s wilderness adventure and it’s great to have something to look forward to.

What’s your next adventure? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 7/9/15

July 9, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

Lots of chatter about the NYSE crash in both the IT and physician spheres today. Despite assurances by the US Department of Homeland Security that hacking was not a factor, conspiracy theories are running rampant. Couple the apparent technology failure with the financial crisis in Greece and a stock market slide in China and people are feeling unsettled. Physicians are starting to fear hackers as much as they fear inquiries by Medicare Recovery Audit Contractors.

I’m closely following the #DataIndependenceDay movement and Mr. H’s efforts to get his health records. I wrote in May about a friend who had knee surgery. She has requested her records to no avail, although she did get a refund check from the hospital. A call to the patient accounting department failed to yield an explanation. Since the amount she paid upfront for the surgery was actually less than what her insurance carrier identified as the patient responsibility amount, the refund doesn’t make much sense.

We’ve been having a good time reviewing the various “explanation of benefits” notices during our biweekly girls’ night in (kind of like girls’ night out, but without the need for one of us to be the designated driver). If the accuracy of her medical records is anything like the accuracy of the billing documentation, she’s in real trouble. She’s been overbilled twice, both from the initial injury. The first time was for an upfront physical therapy co-pay when the provider was contracted to deliver services with no patient responsibility. The second time was for radiology services through the emergency department. When she called to protest the bill, they claimed they had no knowledge of her insurance information even though both the hospital and the contracted emergency physicians seemed to be able to figure out how to bill her insurance carrier.

The most surprising part of the billing situation is that some of her providers have failed to submit bills at all despite it being some time since services were provided. I guess they’ve either never heard of a timely filing deadline or they really don’t need the money. In addition to being unable to get her medical records, she has also found it impossible to get itemized bills from any of the providers. Although her insurance statements list line item charges and adjustments, there are no CPT codes or descriptions to use in trying to figure out exactly what procedures were performed.

So far the winner of the billing game is the physical therapy provider, who submits bills every other week and then immediately bills the patient after receiving their electronic remittance advice. Usually she receives the bill for the patient portion within a day or two of receiving her insurance explanation of benefits. The bill has detailed explanations of the services provided. They offer online bill payment with a no-nonsense interface that gets the job done in seconds. It’s clear that they have their revenue cycle under tight control. Then again, I’d have it under control too if I was only being paid 10-15 percent of the amount I was billing.

Back to the data independence movement. The initiative is not just about patients having access to their data, but for families to be able to participate and collaborate where needed. Another way that families really need to participate and collaborate is advance care planning. Medicare recently announced plans to make such counseling a covered service starting January 1. Whether it’s billable or not, physician counseling on end-of-life issues can be helpful, especially in the context of a long-term physician-patient relationship. Often physicians are too rushed to include the discussion in routine office visits.

There is a large amount of data on the tremendous cost of end-of-life care. Often procedures are done that not only fail to prolong life, but may actually increase suffering. There have been multiple articles on how physicians die compared to the general public. I created my own advance directive at the end of my intern year after watching bad things happen to otherwise healthy young people.

I’d like to encourage everyone to consider talking to their family members about how they would want to receive care in the event of a catastrophic injury or a terminal illness. After the discussion, it’s important to get those wishes documented and provide copies to the appropriate people.

Do you have an advance directive or health care power of attorney? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 7/6/15

July 6, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

During my travels, I’ve been catching up on my journals. Given my current clinical work, I read both primary care and emergency medicine journals, and then there are the informatics articles that appear across a number of specialties.

I was amused by an editorial about cystic fibrosis in the June 15 edition of American Family Physician. It states, “The continuity and closeness that a family physician has with these patients has the potential to be a stabilizing and encouraging force in assisting with compliance and disease prevention, enabling patients with CF to maximize their quality and quantity of life.”

One of the main complaints I hear from primary care physicians across the country is an increasing lack of continuity. Patients are forced to change insurance when their company decides to update plans, or their providers may be dropped from insurance panels due to cost or quality profiling. Generally speaking, most primary care physicians I know entered the field because they wanted to have longstanding relationships with patients and wanted to help those patients live longer, healthier lives. Considering the average physician compensation across specialties, they certainly didn’t get into it for the money.

Because of my IT work, I’ve spent the last several years practicing in non-continuity settings such as urgent care or the emergency department. Although I occasionally work as a locum tenens in primary care practices, in those situations I usually see acute visits or overflow patients that can’t be accommodated by the other physicians in the practice. Not every practice has the luxury of bring in a locum when a physician is on vacation or leave, however. Many of them end up referring patients to local urgent care centers or walk-in clinics in order to address their needs.

Capacity isn’t just a problem when providers are out. In many of the practices I encounter, the physicians are carrying patient panels that are much larger than they should be to deliver quality care. This results in patients being directed to urgent care centers more often than they should, as well as patients electively choosing the urgent care route due to access and convenience issues. This in turn can drive up the cost of care and lead to increasing fragmentation. Physicians are carrying larger panels not only due to decreases in the primary care workforce, but also in attempts to tweak their payer mix to ultimately bring in more revenue.

Although we can celebrate interoperability and the portability of our health information as a way to smooth this fragmented care, that’s only part of the answer. There is a certain element of quality provided by being able to see a physician who knows you well over time. Merely having more pieces of information doesn’t always give physicians the information they need to provide the best care for their patients.

As the population ages and the burden of chronic disease increases, patients become more complicated. With the technology boom, we’ve seen an increase in the options available to manage patients and this also drives up the complexity of care. Complicated patients with complicated problems require more time and thought to manage. I can’t imagine how personalized medicine is going to play into the mix. We can throw layers and layers of technology at the problem, but that approach seems to frequently create additional problems.

In some situations, new therapies lead to the need for increasingly personal conversations with patients about whether a treatment is right for them and what the various costs and benefits might be. Additionally, we don’t have long-term studies on some of these treatments, so we’re trying to predict risk with our patients without adequate data.

In one of my journals, there was a write-up about a new diabetes medication that has a unique mechanism of action. This may be perceived by many patients as new and improved, but there is no long-term data on the morbidity or mortality benefits of the drug. In one study, it was shown to be equally effective as traditional therapies. My translation of “equally effective” is “no better than,” but there’s quite a different emotional response depending on which words you use.

Although the medication is newly approved and heavily marketed, it comes at a cost. A one-month course of treatment costs $335 compared to the “equally effective” older drug which costs $4 per month. It also is associated with higher risk of urinary tract infections and bladder cancer. Having that conversation with a patient you know well and who trusts your advice is very different than with a patient with whom you don’t have an established relationship. It’s hard to provide culturally competent care (one of the new markers of quality) when there’s not adequate time to develop rapport or resources to form an assistive care team.

The newer models of care delivery include Patient-Centered Medical Homes and other structures designed to deliver care in our increasingly value-based models. We’re offering physicians reimbursement for care coordination and increased payments for higher quality. However, it creates a chicken-or-egg cycle where you have to have more staff to form and train a care team to get more money, which you need in order to have more staff, etc. It’s easy for those of us in the IT and policy trenches to think that physicians should just cut their pay to hire staff. Although that might work in a physician-owned practice, it certainly doesn’t work in employed situations.

Regardless of employment status, new medical school graduates are coming out with record debt – another reason not to choose primary care. Most of the new physicians in my community are entering practice with over $300,000 in student loans. Even at a 30-year repayment it’s like having an extra mortgage payment (or two). Many of those new grads opt for employed positions because they can’t take the financial risks required to open their own practices (assuming someone would even loan them the money to do so with that kind of debt). They wind up in a different kind of bind where their hospitals or employing health systems control staffing and expenditures and often create barriers to developing effective care structures.

I know by this point some readers are wondering what this has to do with healthcare IT and why it’s in HIStalk. In the field, I see many practices where work is being shifted up to providers rather than down to support staff due to increasingly complex systems. A recent engagement involving multiple EHRs revealed clinical reconciliation processes that were so confusing that physicians were reluctant to have anyone else perform the task. Even as an advocate for work redistribution, I agreed with them. I saw two different patient portals in use, both of which had serious usability issues and one that had some potential patient safety issues. Although they may have performed well in some kind of laboratory testing event, they were not meeting the needs in the complex realities of the average office.

Vendors need to have clinicians on staff as well as a network of client and non-client physicians to test new products and proposed changes to products. This also goes to other types of users – clinical, financial, etc. We need to see technology vetted in more real-world environments if we expect to be able to revolutionize how care is delivered. We need vendors to be more nimble and use best practices to translate emerging federal and payer requirements to viable code. We need processes and procedures (both vendor and governmental) that allow product delivery in enough time for practices to implement upgrades and features without the rush and chaos we currently see.

Having better systems, processes, and workflows will help mitigate what sometimes feels like an assault on our nation’s caregivers. It might even convince some physicians who might otherwise be motivated to leave or curtail their practices to consider staying. Ultimately, it might even result in better care.

What are your thoughts about the future of medicine? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 6/29/15

June 29, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I agree with Mr. H that this is a slow time of year for healthcare IT news. Not only is it a slow time for news, but it seems to be a slow time for overall productivity as well.

I’m working with a client right now that is having a hard time getting anything done. Their teams are extremely lean and most staff operate without a backup, so vacations have a significant impact. Additionally, it feels like when we have the right people in place from the client side, there is a good likelihood that someone will be out from the vendor side.

I did some work a couple of years ago that involved a Swedish vendor. We were up against an extremely tight timeline because we had been warned that the entire company (literally) would be on vacation for four weeks during the summer. I remember thinking they must be terribly progressive, some kind of Scandinavian high-tech outlier going to extremes to keep their staff happy. After a little digging, we determined it wasn’t that unusual at all – since the late 1970s, Sweden has mandated five weeks of vacation for their workers. Many take the majority of them in the summer.

There are a variety of reasons that approach wouldn’t get very far in the United States. In addition to the political and economic factors opposing it, think about the planning needed to pull it off. Even for a small company, it would involve a great deal of strategic planning to ensure that the time off is factored into all projects. It would also require that projects are actually executed on time so that there are no last-minute pushes into the vacation.

In digging into the economic factors, though, I wonder if the return on investment for something like that might be real. If you look at the lost productivity encountered at a hospital like my current client, it’s significant. Workers are continually coming to the office late or leaving early for a variety of issues: traffic patterns are different with children out of school; childcare situations may be less predictable during the summer months; and tourism picks up in the city, resulting in parking and other logistical issues. We’re also seeing more people working from home to keep an eye on their children, resulting in a greater percentage of online meetings with barking dogs, background noise, and the occasional yelling dad who forgets to use the mute button.

I was looking for information on countries with more liberal vacation policies and came across this great Washington Post summary. It discusses the work of Swedish environmental psychologist Terry Hartig, who notes that those returning from a relaxing vacation tend to return to the office relaxed. I see more and more people “vacationing” with their smartphones, laptops, and piles of documents. Not only are they not enjoying their time away, but I’ve also seen feelings of guilt for those back in the office who feel bad for having to contact them. For those staffers who manage to avoid calling in for meetings, there are productivity-sapping discussions when their colleagues discuss the Facebook posts of those who are soaking up the sun.

Hartig’s research looked at prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs in Sweden over more than a decade. When people vacationed simultaneously, there were fewer prescriptions. The article (from 2014) lists the annual cost of depression at $23 billion a year in the US, so we can add that into the ROI calculation. Hartig also notes that Europeans spend less on healthcare and live longer than Americans – and have 20 to 30 vacation days a year. US companies seem to be cutting back on vacation unless it’s contractually mandated.

A couple of years ago, my health system did a “realignment” of vacation and sick time policies. They essentially declared that ours were too generous and out of line with other employers in our metropolitan area. We had previously been allotted seven corporate holidays and two personal holidays. The personal holidays were originally intended to allow employees to have time off for those holidays that were not corporately-declared, such as Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Columbus Day, Presidents Day, Martin Luther King Day, Veterans Day, etc. if they were important to the employee. The HR people found out that no one else offered anything like that, so the personal days were cut.

That began a race to the bottom that ended with not only the elimination of the personal holidays, but all personal days in general. They also reduced the ability to carry over vacation days from year to year and eliminated the existing vacation buy-back program. They announced the new carry over rules during the last two months of the year. Many departments were getting ready for a major system migration after the first of the year and vacations weren’t being approved, resulting in many more employees who had to lose it rather than use it. Managers were given virtually no flexibility to accommodate their employees. The end result felt a lot like theft.

The Washington Post piece also notes that “the US is the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy (unless you count Suriname, Nepal, and Guyana).” Nearly 25 percent of workers have no paid vacation at all with those who do have vacation averaging 10-14 days a year. When I left my CMIO role, the vacation policies were a total patchwork. Employed physicians in direct patient care were allotted 15 vacation days and five continuing medical education (CME) days for a total of 20 days plus the corporate holidays. Administrative physicians had the same number of vacation days and holidays, but were allocated no CME days. I suppose that means that once you are an administrator you either lack the capacity to learn or the organization assumes you already know everything.

Anyone less than a manager title only got 10 vacation days, regardless of seniority. Even the sick-time policy was confusing. Hourly employees could take their time in one-hour increments but salaried employees had to take it in four-hour blocks. Although they told us that as salaried employees we had the ability to take an hour off here and there without formally requesting it, there was a lot of pressure to make up any time out of the office. The net result was that very few salaried employees were actually able to take advantage of their sick time unless they were seriously ill.

Losing vacation and sick days is fairly common, with the article mentioning an estimated 577 million unused days each year which equates to “$67 billion in lost travel spending and 1.2 million jobs.” Adding that to the ROI, I’m starting to wonder if we can afford to NOT take more vacation. It also mentions some interesting political facts:

  • In 1910, William Howard Taft proposed giving American workers two to three months of paid vacation each year.
  • John Muir recommended compulsory vacationing as better for the country than compulsory schooling.
  • The 1938 Congress proposed the 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, and two weeks paid vacation.

I’m taking several vacations this summer, mostly to make up for the lack of them during the last several years. I also have the luxury of being my own boss right now, so it’s much easier than before to schedule a vacation. It’s a bit harder to execute, though, since I’m a corporation of one. Even when clients are understanding and know I will be out of the office, it takes a conscious effort to disconnect. Checking my phone is tempting but it usually results in at least half an hour of work, so I try not to do it at all.

I’m staging all my projects for the next couple of weeks in preparation for some wilderness adventures. I can’t wait to be not only out of the office but in a place that literally has no cell towers or electricity. It also has no running water, but I’m not exactly looking forward to that. I’m sure some of my fellow travelers will be bringing solar chargers or Biolite stoves, but I’m not even taking anything with a USB port.

What’s your strategy for disconnecting when you’re out of the office? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 6/25/15

June 25, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I’ve been on the road fairly often over the last month. Most of my trips have been to work with small or mid-size provider groups for ICD-10 training. The sheer amount of misinformation floating around the physician lounges across the country appears to be staggering.

At the site I visited today, the physician leaders were actually cringing at some of the questions their providers were asking. I’m sure they thought they had already done a fairly good job educating their providers, but it just goes to show that you can never have enough training. It reminded me a bit of when our residents used to teach a sex education class at the local middle school and kids had the opportunity to ask anonymous (and often myth-laden) questions on slips of paper. We saw some doozies, but this was even more fun because very educated people were asking these wild questions out loud and in front of their peers.

Most of the questions revolved around creative ways to avoid ICD-10 or the lack of need to learn it since it has so many codes it might as well be impossible. It’s hard to convince people that it’s not going away when we’ve had unexpected delays before. It’s also hard to keep them from acting out of fear or panic because they haven’t done anything to prepare for the last several years despite plenty of advance warning. I’m hoping that the fact that their organizations paid good money to bring in an honest to goodness physician to deliver their training will help add a reality check.

Despite the fear and resistance, most of them have done just fine during our structured practice sessions. The fact that they’re using EHRs is going to make the transition pretty seamless, unlike having to use pocket reference cards or laminated cheat sheets.

One of my clients made me smile as their planning document kept going back and forth in email. They wanted me to train onsite at their clinics and were trying to figure out the best way to block schedules and ensure adequate time with the care teams as I crisscrossed the city. When the last document arrived, it was named “Copy of copy of copy of final schedule working copy version8.” I’m glad that explaining document versioning was out of scope for this engagement because I probably couldn’t have done it with a straight face. I give them full credit for trying, however.

Since I had six flights this week, I honed my personal ICD-10 skills:

  • H91.23 – Sudden hearing loss of bilateral ears due to having your music playing so loud I could hear it through your headphones like I was wearing them myself.
  • G47.62 – Sleep-related leg cramps for the passenger across the aisle.
  • S37.20xA – Injury of bladder, initial encounter for the passengers consuming a mammoth cup of coffee prior to takeoff, then being foiled by a persistent “fasten seat belt” sign.
  • R45.82 – Worry, for the kindly older woman next to me who kept waking me up to see if I wanted a drink, pretzels, or crackers

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a code for “personal psychotic reaction due to child playing games on iPad without headphones.” so if anyone locates it, please let me know. I heard from a fellow road warrior that there is a restaurant that allows you to relive the glory days of flying as you dine aboard a replica Pan Am 747. I’m thinking it might be time to find a client in Los Angeles so I can check it out.

Mr. H mentioned earlier this week about his LinkedIn pet peeves. Although he focused on problems with user profile pictures, I wanted to throw in my two cents. If you’re going to try to connect with me, I am more likely to ignore you if you use the stock “I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn” greeting. Even if we just met in passing or you’re a friend of a friend, at least add a personal comment that lets me know you’re not an anonymous “medical researcher” or a medical student from halfway around the world just looking to connect with MDs.

From Jimmy the Greek: “Re: patient recording colonoscopy. Please tell me this is at least as good as a Weird News Andy piece.” Yes, yes it is. A Virginia man receives $500K after recording his physician’s inappropriate comments during a colonoscopy. Although I don’t in any way condone the physician behavior, I wonder why the patient had his phone during the procedure. At most of the facilities where I’ve worked, patients who are being sedated have to put their personal belongings in a locker during procedures. Even if you’re not sedated, I doubt they’d let you take your phone to the GI lab. I’d hope that clinicians would be professional at all times, but this should be a lesson for our colleagues with borderline (or over the line) behavior.


My nephews like to play Mad Libs, the word game where you one player asks for a list of nouns, adverbs, and adjectives then reads back a funny story populated with the words. I received a spam email the other day that must have come from the creators of Mad Libs. Rather than parts of speech, though, it was populated with random, techy-sounding words strung together to form the name of the company and its services. Anyone asking for “thought leadership content” cracks me up, as did the suggestion that the sender had met me at a party at my home in a state where I’ve never lived. Nice try, but no go.

What’s your most entertaining variety of spam? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 6/22/15

June 22, 2015 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments


A reader commented on last week’s Curbside Consult asking about effective leadership teams:

I would love to hear about effective leadership teams and how they become that way. I am not part of our organization’s leadership, but occasionally interact with them and also hear info from people who more frequently interact with them), and it just seems that the more layers we add – VP, SVP, EVP – the more work is created without true hierarchy and responsibility. We don’t even have a clear IT leader. Is it our VP of IT? Our Chief Innovation Officer, who replaced our Chief Information Officer, but she seems to have limited interest in core IT functions? Our new EVP of “peripheral” services like IT, Finance, Pharmacy, etc.? God only knows. And yet even with an expanded leadership “team,” they all give the impression of having too much on their plate to concentrate at the issue at hand or even, yes, show up for meetings (much less on time!)

There are plenty of books out there about building effective leadership teams. Although they may have good information from an academic standpoint, it’s often hard to put those theories into practice, especially in an environment as chaotic as healthcare.

Most of my early experience in leadership was not on the IT side but rather the operational side of an employed medical group. As I moved through the ranks to CMIO, I was exposed to a lot of different leadership structures within my own health system and was a member of several highly functional teams. Unfortunately, I was also a member of several highly dysfunctional teams. Through interacting with other customers sharing our core vendors I’ve been exposed to even more teams all across the spectrum. Those experiences have given me a lot to consider in answering the question.

Now that I’m in consulting, I’ve had to put together my own methodology for helping people move in the right direction. There’s no one answer for how to get a team to be effective, but there are some key characteristics that have to be present.

First, the group has to communicate effectively to lead effectively. Although some people are naturally strong communicators, most aren’t. In order to drive people in the right direction, I’m a huge fan of applying a great deal of structure regarding communication. All of my clients have to sit through a communication skills for leaders class with me and do a communication matrix exercise where the team decides and documents how they’re going to communicate, at what points in the project/initiative, with what methodology, to what audience, and by whom. Once they put pen to paper, I ride herd on them to make sure they’re sticking with the program. A successful team will realize that they don’t need a consultant to keep them in line and will take on the tasks themselves. I continue to prod them a little to make sure it’s sustainable.

Communication isn’t just how they report things out — it’s how they document things day to day and operate when they’re communicating (for example, in meetings). Do they have written (and time-boxed) agendas before the meeting? Does someone facilitate the meeting, allowing people to participate without worrying about minutes or timekeeping? Does someone take good minutes and get them out the same day? Are meetings halted when key people are missing rather than wasting everyone’s time because topics will have to be revisited with the appropriate people in the room? Are there ground rules for meetings to make sure everyone plays nice with the other kids? Making sure the answer to all those questions is “yes” helps a leadership team become more effective.

Second, effective teams have buy-in to their project. Ideally the team has been together since the project’s inception, participating in charter creation, writing a mission statement, etc. That’s usually not the case for most organizations, where people come and go or restructuring seems like its own constant. Teams that actually understand and agree to try to deliver the mission do much better than those with only a loose understanding. For people who don’t natively buy-in, an organization needs strategies to either coach them to arrive at that point or employ incentives (or penalties) to elicit the desired behavior.

Even people who may not agree with a given mission tend to be motivated by financial or other incentives. Consider Meaningful Use: whether it was the carrot or the stick, it sure got a lot of physicians who didn’t natively give a hoot about EHRs to actually install them in their practices and start using them. In working with end users, recognition and small rewards (giveaways, raffling off gift cards, etc.) can make a huge difference in aligning people’s actions with the end goals. Teams that either have buy-in or are otherwise motivated tend to show up on time and ready to participate.

Third, effective teams have to have clear leadership. I sympathize with your comment that the more leadership layers that are present, the less effective the leadership is. I recently worked with an organization that suffered from what I can only call “title bloat.” Their VP level people were what would have been considered directors at best in my former health system. Did I mention they had assistant VPs, associate VPs, VPs, senior VPs, executive VPs, system VPs, and more? Many of the titles had no discernible meaning, but were used as ways to try to elevate people or reward performance without giving raises. It led to an arms race where they had to keep promoting others to keep parity among the ranks.

Regardless of what people are called, someone has to be in charge. There has to be, in the words of one of my favorite executives of all time, a “single neck to choke.” That person should come into the office every day asking, “What’s at risk today, this week, this month” and address the issues when his or her team answers the questions. In shared initiatives, there have to be clear leaders for operational, technical, and clinical pillars. For those types of shared structures, I like to add additional necks to choke in the form of a steering committee that meets regularly and addresses a standard list of project metrics (budget, timeline, risks and mitigation strategies, etc.) People always ask me who is best to own a project. Operations? IT? Clinical leadership? I’ve seen them all work, provided the structures are in place to ensure accountability. I’d rather have a well-organized leader from an “underdog” part of the organization than a disorganized alpha dog.

The leader has to have skin in the game. They should feel personally responsible if their project is not meeting expectations. The right person will have this quality intrinsically. Others can be motivated (again, think bonus goals or incentives) to put it on the line. The leader also has to have dedicated time and resources to lead the project. In a stakeholder assessment I did recently, the designated IT leader was overseeing hospital revenue cycle and ambulatory EHR implementations, both at the same time. The projects were headquartered on opposite sides of town and both were billed as “highest priority” for the health system. The sheer logistics made it almost impossible for her to be hands-on in the way needed for success because she always seemed to be driving to one location or another for a meeting, while taking another meeting in the car. It was no surprise that both projects were failing.

In my opinion, these three elements are key. When they’re not well defined or executed, things can very quickly fall apart. Of course there are dozens of other “essential” facets of effective teams, but these are the ones I see malfunctioning the most often. Sometimes they’re easy to fix and sometimes you scratch your head figuring out how in the world you’re going to patch things together enough to get the job done. Sometimes it takes an outsider to figure out which person is the square peg in the round hole and how to rearrange them. Sometimes it takes a major project failure to get people to wake up and pay attention. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

Have an opinion on what it takes to build an effective team? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 6/18/15

June 18, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


Some days I have a love/hate relationship with social media. There are simply too many things to read and not enough time in the day, especially while I’m trying to grow my consulting business and regain my sanity after years in the non-profit health system universe. It was with great dread that I read Mr. H’s comment on Twitter upping its character limit from 140 to 10,000. I have a hard time keeping up with the current twitterverse, where people are forced to parse their thoughts. I can’t imagine what things will become. I know I had to think more along the lines of Haiku than Soliloquy when posting and that was a challenge. We’ll have to see how it flows once the change becomes real.


Crushed by alligator: W58.03XA

One of my clients is arriving at the ICD-10 dance a little late. Although they thought they had been preparing, they lost some key resources and really aren’t sure where they stand. I would bet that they’re fairly representative of small-ish physician owned practices across the country. They aren’t large enough to have dedicated resources, so ICD-10 became “other duties as assigned” for members of the practice. Once those resources moved on, they were in a bind.

I have to give them full credit, though, for realizing that they have an issue and reaching out for help. My first task was to go through the former employees’ computer files (which thankfully the office kept copies of) and identify any ICD-10 preparedness work or documentation that already existed. There was actually a decent amount of material – especially vendor documentation, a couple of partially completed assessment matrixes, and a library of vendor contacts.

I reached out to their EHR vendor and found that they were already offering an ongoing series of webinars. It’s a specialty-specific EHR that I hadn’t worked with previously, so I signed up. At first, I was skeptical because the webinar started late (normally a black mark in my book). However, my opinion started to turn when I realized that they had already placed ICD-10 under the hood of the application almost a year ago. Since it’s a hosted product, the client just has to open a support ticket to get it turned on. Whenever they’re ready, the client can start with dual coding workflows.

The conversion will occur by payer, and based on an effective date of 10/1, so it doesn’t hurt anyone to go ahead and get ICD-10 going. Once the switched is flipped, providers will see an extra column in their diagnosis grid that will hold the ICD-10 codes. Additionally, when selecting an assessment, they’ll be prompted for laterality (right, left, bilateral, unspecified) on applicable diagnoses before they can make their final selections. That all looked pretty good.

I wasn’t impressed, however, by how the providers have to modify their custom lists for past medical history and assessments to associate ICD-10 codes. This provider mapping has to be done through the practice management system. Although they have embedded crosswalks to assist, it doesn’t look like the mapping process shows the native ICD-10 descriptions but rather just the ICD-9 ones. For me as a physician, it would be difficult to trust the mapping without being able to see the native description. Additionally, when walking through the provider mapping process, some diagnoses didn’t appear to have bilateral as a choice even though right, left, and unspecified were present.

They offered interactive question and answer time after the formal presentation. The attendees were pretty quiet, despite there being a number of them dialed in. It was difficult to tell whether they had no questions because they were: a) deer in the headlights; b) confident in the workflow; or c) tuned out and just attending the webinar because someone told them to. The vendor did provide a document with frequently asked questions that was pretty solid, explaining the testing processes they’ve used and their plans for handling billing should something go dramatically wrong on October 1.

I found it interesting that in the FAQ they admitted that they had to use third-party development resources to help meet the timeline. Additionally, they said that their clearinghouse is positioned to provide additional support should there be any issues with claims submission. They also explained in the document that they’ve been using SNOMED coding all along and that is the intermediary by which they are going to transition the ICD codes. The FAQ document also made it clear that they anticipate there may be some downstream issues with payers having “varying levels of preparedness for the deadline.”

Having come from the client-server, self-hosted world, I appreciated the fact that the vendor has done significant claims testing that individual customers do not have to repeat. The vendor uses a single clearinghouse, so I’m sure that made the testing a bit easier than it might have been. I feel pretty confident this client will be OK from a technology standpoint, but am planning some face-to-face provider education as well as structured practice sessions in their test environment. I’m already looking for funny scenarios to break up the monotony of training and found this one today: Z63.1: Problems in relationships with in-laws.

What’s your favorite new ICD-10 code? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 6/15/15

June 15, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment


As a free-range CMIO, organizations often hire me to do work that they should be able to do themselves. Sometimes there are valid reasons why they can’t, such as the unexpected departure of a key employee. More often, though, it’s due to lack of organizational structure or even outright chaos.

I was working with a group in the latter position this week, putting together a plan to try to get them back on their feet. It’s a mid-sized group of employed physicians associated with a mid-sized hospital. They were initially referred to me by one of their physicians after we met at a conference.

I knew I would be in for an interesting time after the first discovery call. I usually set up a meeting or two to figure out who the key players are and why they think they need assistance. The calls usually reveal that why they think they need my help is not actually why they need my help. More often than not, they think there’s a problem with their software, or that they have problems with individual physicians refusing to get with the EHR program. When we start to talk about the specific concerns, it tends to show that they have problems with communication, resource allocation and prioritization, or perhaps strategic planning. If I’m lucky, it might be a project management issue.

This time it was all of the above. The first time we tried to do a discovery call, only one of five client attendees bothered to show up. The second time, we had several “leaders” (and I use that term loosely) attend, but two of them had no idea why they were on the call or why the organization was seeking outside help. We spent the first half of the call with one of their internal IT resources trying to explain to them who I was and why they had contacted me. Ideally that would be done before we all get on a call together, but then again if they had their act together, they wouldn’t need my help.

We talked about their key concern of “we’re not going to get Meaningful Use” money and did a quick exercise to determine root cause. I love techniques like the Five Whys for their simplicity. The premise is that you can get to the heart of an issue by asking why something occurred, then following each answer with another “why” question. Usually after three to five repetitions, it becomes clear what the real problem is. People are often astonished when you start identifying the real reasons behind their situation. Of course, there are a lot of other formal methodologies you can use to do a true root cause analysis, but when there are “soft” issues at play, the Five Whys is usually enough.

We quickly identified some major issues contributing to their lack of MU confidence. Their EHR is poorly configured and overly customized. When physicians complain about the workflow, there’s no routine analysis. Instead, the IT team just adds fields and checkboxes to the EHR because they perceive they’ve been given a mandate to “make them happy.”

The operations team, on the other hand, feels that IT coddles the physicians and that the customization interferes with their ability to control the providers. The finance team thinks the whole thing is too expensive and the consultants they’re using to customize the system are laughing all the way to the bank.

I’ve been working with them for a couple of months to put together a proposal and actually get them to approve it. Through that process, I was able to identify that they have some pathological corporate policies that certainly aren’t helping things. One major issue is their email retention policy – all emails delete after 45 days unless they’re manually archived. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have time to go through my emails on a regular basis and manually archive things on that kind of cycle. My former employer had a six-month retention policy, which was reasonable – after six months, you know whether something is archive-worthy (and they actually had a class in how to best manage folders and filtering to make the retention policy easier). These folks just leave their employees hanging.

Inability to manage and retain emails led to a lot of requests to resend documents and repeat conversation threads that we thought were already resolved. It also was instructive in warning me that I needed to dramatically increase the block of time that I was planning to allocate to this client.

Once they accepted the proposal, I was able to do a fair amount of remote work with them while we waited for calendars to open up for our first onsite visit. I had requested documents related to their organizational structure, roles and responsibilities, contracts between the client and their EHR vendor, and service level agreements between IT and their internal customers. Although it took weeks to get some of the documentation, eventually most of it turned up.

What surprised me (but probably shouldn’t have) was the lack of awareness of some parties regarding their own documentation. Interestingly, no one could actually produce the policy about the 45-day email retention standard. Needless to say, unless they can validate why they want to allow that to contribute to their dysfunction, I’m going to push to lengthen it.

This week was my first time at their offices. I had scheduled a number of one-on-one interviews with identified members of their leadership. Usually I walk through an interviewee’s understanding of the EHR initiative and its purpose, what they think is in it for them, what they hope it will accomplish, etc. For the first few interviews, I felt like I should be charging behavioral health CPT codes because the leadership interviews turned into therapy sessions. I felt like I was in junior high school again, but instead of dealing with cliques and mean girls, I was dealing with organizational silos and power-hungry players with grossly inflated titles.

Of course, most of them want me to just jump right in and “fix the EHR.” Having been in this game for a fair length of time, I know that without putting the right leadership structures in place and making sure we have functional processes to sustain any changes to EHR content and workflow, we might just worsen the chaos and make the physicians even less happy. Once we identify who the decision-makers will be and what the strategic goals are (besides just “get that MU money”), we’ll be able to really figure out how to solve the problem.

I wasn’t able to finish all the interviews last week (of course, many “emergencies” prevented people from attending, but they wouldn’t tell me what those urgent problems were) so I do have some phone interviews to finish this week. At least I won’t have to hand out tissues since we won’t be in the same room. I also don’t have to worry as much about maintaining my poker face when the stories of one department slighting another get petty or silly. Once the interviews are complete, I’ll deliver a formal assessment and recommendation and we’ll see how it is received.

Having done this more than once, I know they’ll go through some of the stages of grief (particularly denial, anger, and bargaining) before we can arrive at a real plan to move forward. They have some strong physicians who seem to be buying what I’m trying to sell. They’re not ‘titled’ leaders, but rather informal ones, so I’m hoping they’ll be able to help drum up some grassroots support. The titled leaders will be a bit of a challenge, but I’m hopeful that the burning platform of MU will help move them in the right direction.

What is your current stage of grief? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 6/11/15

June 11, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment


Only a couple of days remain to submit comments to CMS on the proposed modifications to Meaningful Use. Comments are due on June 15. Be sure to have them in by 11:59 p.m. if you’re submitting electronically. If you opt for mail, courier, or hand delivery, they need to be there by 5 p.m. I wonder just how many people submit them by hand? I’ve been watching episodes of “The West Wing” on Netflix and recently viewed one where they put a campaign volunteer in a chicken suit to heckle the opponent. I think it would be great to hand deliver comments dressed in ironically themed costumes.

In other news, CMS released the Medicare Shared Savings Program Accountable Care Organization final rule last week. It addresses beneficiary assignment methodology as well as beneficiary protection during data sharing. The rule also looks at measurement benchmarking and adjustments based on an organization’s previous performance. I’m still torn on whether I am on board with the whole ACO concept. I understand that we need to generate savings for Medicare and deliver more quality care to patients, but it seems overly complex.

In my market, the ACOs are all over each other and it’s confusing for patients, who may not be motivated to seek care in the way that the ACO wants them to. Some may not even realize they’re part of an ACO. Many of us who have insurance through our employers receive premium discounts for healthy behaviors. How about something similar for the Medicare set? Let’s split the savings between Medicare and the patients when diseases are managed through lifestyle interventions rather than drugs or surgery. I bet that would drive the needle in the right direction.


With the tagline “It’s time to rebuild medical education from the ground up,” the AMA launches an initiative called Accelerating Change in Medical Education. They’re accepting proposals for the ChangeMedEd 2015 conference in October. Additionally, a new policy statement calls for medical students to experience hands-on use of EHRs during training. I like the idea of actually teaching future physicians how to use EHRs well rather than just throwing them out on the wards and hoping for the best as many programs still do. Using an EHR well in the patient exam room is a learnable skill. Not everyone takes to it easily, but being able to interact well with patients while documenting and accessing information is a key skill that many end users still lack.

I hope that while they’re “rebuilding medical education,” they push for courses in the other key areas that none of us realized were part of the practice of medicine:

  • Quasi-Mandates 101: Managing participation in federal and payer programs while keeping your sanity. (Prerequisite is “Zen Breathing 101: Skills to avoid strangling people who say this isn’t mandatory and that physicians have choices.)
  • Open Wallet 101: Understanding all the outlays required to practice medicine. Includes coverage of AMA’s stranglehold on CPT code licensing as well as discussion of state licensing, DEA, state controlled substance permits, medical staff dues, professional liability coverage, specialty board fees, maintenance of certification, and more.
  • Administralian 200: Learn how to speak fluent buzzword and translate what you are hearing from administrators. (Co-enrollment in Hospital Administrator language lab required.)
  • IT Support Practicum: Learn how to work through help desk blockades and the magic words to getting administrative privileges so that you can install useful medical apps on your personal device.
  • Medical Review Practicum: Learn how to navigate payer phone trees and multi-level case reviews to ensure your patient receives the care he or she needs.

Most of my professional friends know I’m pretty happy in my new role as a free-range CMIO, but that doesn’t stop them from sending potential opportunities my way. Some are serious and some are hilarious. They also send clippings form sites like Glassdoor with reviews of potential employers. One I received today wins the prize. It was from a hospitality employee at a major teaching hospital. “Pros: great benefits, discounts on meals, yearly bonuses. Cons: you have to interact with a lot of sick people at work.”


I’ve always been a sucker for Vespa scooters. After today, though, I know that if I decide to move to fewer than four wheels, it will have to be in one of these. Thanks to the intrepid reader who sent it, making my day. I’m sure I can get a matching helmet to complete the ensemble.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 6/8/15

June 8, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I was visiting some friends this weekend and we drove past a niche primary care clinic. It advertised “Healthcare for Guys!” which certainly caught my eye. Although the location I saw was next to Costco, a quick Web search revealed that they apparently also have a location next to a home improvement store. I’m always interested in new models of care and thought I’d find out a little bit more. Unfortunately, their website was pretty sparse without even a listing of their physicians or the fact that they now have multiple locations. Their Facebook page had multiple posts with grammar errors and typos. Not exactly a vote of confidence, but a great example of why physicians need to pay attention to their social media presence and webpages.

On the flight home, I noticed that the ever-present SkyMall catalog was missing — apparently it’s gone digital-only. After some procrastination (check out the automated pill dispenser above), I was forced to read journals instead. An article in the Annals of Family Medicine caught my eye: “Health IT-Enabled Care Coordination: A National Survey of Patient-Centered Medical Home Clinicians.” The study set out to assess “the feasibility and acceptability” of some of the care coordination objectives in the proposed Meaningful Use rule for Stage 3. Specifically, they looked at referrals, transfer of care, clinical summaries, and patient dashboards.

Researchers surveyed primary care practices that had been recognized as patient-centered medical homes (by the National Committee for Quality Assurance) in addition to participating in Meaningful Use. They also surveyed community health centers with patient-centered medical home recognition. The survey looked not only whether the sites had implemented the proposed objectives, but also at whether the practice thought those objectives were important. The results were similar to anecdotal comments I’ve heard in the field. While 78 percent of the physicians thought it was important to be notified of hospital discharges, only 48 percent were using IT systems. Conversely, while 77 percent of practices were providing clinical summaries to patients, only 48 percent of them considered providing summaries to be “very important.”

Similar to what we know about vaccine delivery (namely that non-physicians do a better job of following protocols and ensuring vaccination), the study found that care coordination was more often done using IT systems when a non-physician was responsible. The practice’s “capacity for systemic change” was also positively associated with using health IT for care coordination as was being in a non-urban area. The study concludes that “health IT capabilities are not currently aligned with clinicians’ priorities” and that “many practices will need financial and technical assistance for health IT to enhance care coordination.”

Those aren’t earth-shaking conclusions for anyone who has been in the trenches during the Meaningful Use era. While those practices that had already transformed care coordination prior to MU will continue to do so, those arriving later to the dance are struggling. It’s hard to identify dedicated resources to manage patient panels without negatively impacting the bottom line of practices already on thin margins. Although there is the promise of future money for demonstrable outcomes, you have to demonstrate quality to get the money. It’s a somewhat perverse chicken-egg-chicken loop.

I also wasn’t surprised by the fact that the survey only had a 35 percent response rate. Additionally, the study found that the most commonly implemented care coordination processes were not those with the most IT involvement. Respondents cited the top barriers as time, money, and IT systems. There were several other interesting data points from the practice demographic data: approximately one-third of clinicians were concerned about practice financial health; more than three-quarters of practices received help improving care coordination; and referral tracking was less than 100 percent. My former risk/compliance department would have a field day with the latter statistic since everyone was expected to track 100 percent of referrals 100 percent of the time.

Now that we’re getting a critical mass of providers involved using IT systems, we need more surveys such as this to determine where physician priorities really are and whether we can align systems to support those clinical priorities rather than trying to drive clinicians based on what systems will support. Interestingly, the next article I read discussed the idea that payment reform isn’t the only factor turning medicine on its ear. The NPR headline caught my eye: “A Top Medical School Revamps Requirements To Lure English Majors.”

Having been a non-science major myself, I support approaches like this aimed at bringing more diversity into the field. Some of the problems we’re trying to solve are extremely complex with a high number of psychosocial factors. It’s going to take more than biochemists and fruit fly-counting biology majors to help solve them. There were a decent number of non-traditional majors in my entering medical school class, but it certainly wasn’t the norm.

What was your undergraduate major? Would you do it again or is it just good for cocktail party discussions? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 6/4/15

June 4, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

Pharmaceutical companies are major users of direct-to-consumer advertising. Although we see a lot of EHR vendors advertising in medical journals and at conferences, I haven’t seen a lot of direct mailings to non-administrative physicians. This week at my clinical office, I received a direct-to-physician mailing from Imprivata regarding electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS). It was actually a nice piece – educational with respect to Meaningful Use requirements and the current status of EPCS.

Rather than relying on MU-related scare tactics, it appealed to the concepts of streamlining physician workflow and reducing prescription fraud and abuse. Enclosures explained the DEA ruling in detail and laid out strategies for planning a successful implementation. They did, of course, market their solution, but it was tastefully done. I also appreciated the fact that the entire packet was devoid of flashy marketing distractions. Maybe I’m getting more boring with age, but it’s nice to see something straightforward.

Health Datapalooza took place this week in Washington, DC. The agenda listed sessions on personalized medicine, patient-reported outcomes as quality indicators, data privacy and security, and advancing technology. I’d be interested in hearing from readers who attended. What were the best sessions? Anything earth-shaking?


The May-June issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine surprised me with a special issue including multiple healthcare IT articles. One reviewed existing studies on physician use of scribes, concluding that scribes may improve clinician satisfaction and productivity. The researchers were only able to find five studies done between 2000 and 2014, so the validity of the results is limited. Another discussed the notion that “primary care researchers are uniquely positioned to inform the evidence-based design and use of technology.” It suggests leveraging existing research programs and methodologies from human factors engineering, which sounds like a great idea. A third examined how physicians use previous visit notes to prepare for an upcoming visit, suggesting that the note output of EHRs needs an overhaul to reduce cognitive load.

A friend shared Atul Gawande’s recent piece titled “Overkill,” which discusses continued recommendations for unnecessary tests and treatments. These not only drive up the cost of healthcare, but can lead to additional testing, which often leads to a spiral of waste. It also leads to overdiagnosis, which creates stress for patients and can also lead to additional unnecessary treatment. Theoretically our EHR systems should help us avoid these pitfalls through the use of clinical decision support and better availability of patient data at the point of care. However, until we spend time educating the populace that there are risks to “doing too much,” we won’t be able to take action on the information before us.

Gawande cites specific examples, stating, “We’ve tripled the number of thyroid cancers we detect and remove in the United States, but we haven’t reduced the death rate at all.” It’s not just the United States facing this issue – South Korea is seeing similar problems. I often hear patients talking about the nation having the most advanced technology in the world and the best procedures, so it’s challenging to help them understand that often less is indeed more.

We’re putting steps in place to encourage physicians to proceed thoughtfully and avoid unnecessary expenditures, but I haven’t seen the level of national programming needed to bring patients around to this new way of thinking. Choosing Wisely presents evidence-based lists of tests and procedures to reconsider, but I don’t see them being used on the front lines of care. Patients often don’t want to rely on a physician’s education and clinical judgment; they want hard proof and this leads to testing. The relentless pursuit of higher patient satisfaction scores doesn’t make it easy to say no to patients, either.

It will be interesting to see how the healthcare landscape shifts over the next five to 10 years. Billions of dollars in Meaningful Use funds haven’t shifted the needle as much as we’d hoped, so it might be time to try new strategies.

How can we make the most of the next decade? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 6/1/15

June 1, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


I had lunch this week with some former colleagues. One of the topics of discussion was the 21st Century Cures initiative that was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May. Supporters such as Representative Frank Pallone state that it “will ensure that innovative treatments are getting to those who need them most, giving real hope to patients and their families.”

For those of you who may not have seen the non-IT details, the bill has significant goals:

  • Reauthorize National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding through FY2018
  • Establish an innovation fund at NIH
  • Require strategic planning and greater accountability at NIH
  • Increase funding for pediatric research
  • Require sharing of data generated through NIH-funded research
  • Standardize patient information across trials housed in ClinicalTrials.gov
  • Establish a public-private Council for 21st Century Cures to “accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of innovative cures, treatments, and preventive measures”
  • Increase patient-focused drug development
  • Require the FDA to issue guidance on precision medicine
  • Streamline policy to facilitate development of new antibacterial and antifungal agents
  • Formalize vaccine recommendation processes
  • Modify FDA review requirements for certain categories of drugs and devices

Most of us have heard about the language on ensuring interoperability and “holding individuals responsible for blocking or otherwise inhibiting the flow of patient information throughout our healthcare system.” There is also a section on expanding telehealth under Medicare.

As a primary care physician, I also liked the section addressing issues where Medicare beneficiaries can’t get certain services covered because care is delivered in the home setting. My favorite part, though, is Medicare site-of-service price transparency. I hope all the health systems doing so-called “provider-based billing” take note of this. It’s going to be harder to trick patients into paying exorbitant facility fees if this makes it through. Rebranding free-standing physician offices as hospital departments as a thinly-veiled cash grab is one of the more despicable practices I see among hospitals and health systems.

The Senate is working on its own version of the bill, so it remains to be seen whether all of this passes, and if it does, how much the individual sections are modified. Funding research and cutting edge therapies is important, as is dealing with various Medicare oddities that complicate care delivery. In talking with my colleagues, however, we all balk a little at the call-out for precision medicine. Although it’s an interesting concept, is it really going to be pivotal for the majority of patients?

I’m a huge fan of public health. Basic sanitation and preventive measures have made a tremendous difference in quality of life for people around the world. However, I’d like to see more discussion (and also funding) of the basic health services that many people either cannot access or lack understanding of their value. It is still difficult to get insurance companies to pay for nutrition counseling or sessions with a registered dietician except for certain disease states. We can try to get patients to self-pay for these services, but it’s a difficult proposition when some are already paying large premiums for minimal coverage.

I’d like to have the time and resources to try to convince patients of the return on investment for these interventions (both in quality of life and lower health costs), but it’s hard to make headway during a 10-minute office visit. Watching Congress debate legislation that impacts rare diseases and drug development is difficult when one realizes how much work is still yet to be done on diseases that have 19th and 20th century cures already. A good number of the diseases on which we spend the most can be markedly improved (if not cured) through behavioral and lifestyle interventions, but these are the most difficult to implement. It’s much easier to take a pill for many Americans.

I’m not sure what primary care will look like in the next century. I can’t wait for the next generation to be able to scan patients with a Tricorder and synthesize antidotes and treatments Star Trek style. That seems such a long way away, though, when we’ve yet to figure out how to implement some of the basics such as universal vaccination, healthy eating habits, and regular exercise.

Looking back through the Bill’s history, I did see a small step that actually will make an immediate difference. At the same time the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee was hearing about 21st Century Cures, they were also considering HR 1321, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. It caught my eye because I’ve been aware of the microbead problem for a while, especially the fact that the US lags other countries in banning them. I must say, this Act is probably the shortest piece of legislation I’ve seen in a long time – a grand total of two pages and 14 numbered lines. If only Meaningful Use was that simple.

What’s your favorite Act of Congress? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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