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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/28/15

December 28, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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I must have been very good because Santa brought me a new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 to play with. As much as Windows 8 gave me fits last year, the transition to Windows 10 has been just about seamless. I’m enjoying its small size and the touch screen even though it has run through a couple of upgrade cycles in the few days I’ve had it.

The only downside has been that I haven’t been able to get my Outlook .pst file to import into Office 2016. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m making a large jump in versions or because I’m going from regular Office to 365, but it’s going to be a non-starter if I can’t get it done before my next client engagement.

I can’t believe 2015 is coming to a close. It’s certainly been an interesting one, with lots of ups and downs for everyone. Many of us have bonded through the trials and tribulations of ICD-10, although more than a few people have expressed their happiness that they’ll likely be retired before another version of ICD goes into use.

Depending on how fast that becomes a reality, I can probably arrange to be in that category if I keep picking up extra shifts at the urgent care and invest well. I’ve spent so much time on the road this year that my living expenses have been lower than usual, so once I finish my taxes, I might be able to make a pretty good contribution to my nest egg.

I knew I had been on the road a lot since going the consultant route, but it really hit me when I started receiving the year-end summaries from my frequent traveler programs. I gained status on one airline and lost it on another – too bad we can’t use accumulated miles to buy our way up because I’d be able to keep status for a long time. I rarely use my free miles since I’m usually out with clients.

Since I was in quite a few smaller towns, I ended up splitting my hotel nights among three major chains, so I didn’t have enough nights at any of them to keep the highest reward tier. Two are merging, though, so we’ll have to see what happens with that. My favorite summary was from National Car Rental, which not only listed the number of rentals for the year, but also the total miles driven. I’m very glad I wasn’t putting that mileage on my own car!

Also in my mailbox were some year-end messages from vendors. Although most were of the folksy greeting variety (pine trees, snow, fireplaces) one was extremely salesy and seemed to have the undertone of a company desperate to meet quarter-end numbers. It probably would have been OK a month or two ago, but in the flurry of holiday niceties, it stuck out like a sore thumb. It wasn’t surprising, though, because this particular company has been in a relative tailspin for some time and constantly misses the mark on knowing its audience and managing social media and other communications channels. If you think this might be your company, I know some tremendously savvy PR people who could help if you’re interested in making a change.

Just for entertainment, I did a random sampling of the 100-odd pieces I wrote for HIStalk this year. There were definitely some consistent themes across the year, including data breaches far and wide and the push for interoperability. Hackers have also been big news, although it feels like they’ve been busier with other industries besides healthcare. Our harm is more likely to be self-inflicted although no less alarming. If hackers decide to consciously target healthcare rather than banking or other industries, it’s certainly going to be a wild ride.

There was also a consistent theme of market consolidation through vendor mergers, acquisitions, and closures. That can often be bad news for physicians and hospitals, although I suppose it could be a good thing if you have a bad vendor and are the kind of group that has to be pushed in order to jump.

Even among customers that aren’t struggling, there have been quite a few de-installations and it’s obvious that Epic will continue to dominate in the large health system space. My former employer is knee deep in migrating to a single vendor system and I enjoyed catching up with some of my old colleagues last week. The project is already behind and over budget in the first year after contract signing with the first go-live being almost a year in the future. It should be interesting.

Other big news included the repeal of the SGR payment system through the so-called “Doc Fix” bill. In addressing other new payment models, it’s going to add complexity for many customers and vendors who will have to add code to address new requirements and the need for additional robust reporting around shared risk arrangements. Less-prominent government-driven news included reporting from the Open Payments law, which is still less accurate than needed, but a good start.

The end of 2015 also saw the final state approving e-prescribing of controlled substances. Although it’s legal in all 50 states, that doesn’t mean it’s well-adopted. Most of my clients don’t have it live due to lack of pharmacy participation, but maybe we’ll do some projects around that in 2016.

In consumer news, the topic of whether wearables have peaked was fairly big news, as was the rise and fall of Theranos. The latter should continue to be an interesting topic in 2016 and I expect we’ll hear more tales from the inside as some of the investigations continue.

Interoperability was a huge buzzword and there has been a lot of push around it, but I’m not sure it’s making a huge difference in the lives of the average physician unless you’re just referring to being able to see data across your entire health system or hospital platform. I’m certainly not seeing competing hospitals doing any data sharing at all and it looks like RHIOs and HIEs are on their deathbeds in some parts of the country.

This year gave me several things to celebrate, including being able to practice my way from multiple part-time and locum tenens gigs to a steady one working for people I not only respect, but have a lot of fun with. Their decision to opt out of the Meaningful Use program (and the subsequent removal of many time-consuming and sometimes useless clicks from the EHR workflow) was one of the highlights of my year. I also made it to AMIA and caught up with old friends, made some new ones, and learned a few things along the way.

This is the close of my fifth year writing for HIStalk, which has been a tremendous experience. It seems like just yesterday I was sending Mr. H my humorous “Top 10” list of reasons he should hire me. It’s been exciting to watch us grow beyond the blogs to hosting webinars and supporting the next generation through the DonorsChoose projects. I’m looking forward to another year of healthcare IT news and opinion.

What are you looking forward to the most for 2016? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/21/15

December 21, 2015 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

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The year is rapidly coming to a close. Typically this is the time when things are relatively slow in the industry trenches, at least until the first of the year when the frenzied run-up to HIMSS begins.

I’ve got my countdown page ready, not because I’m dying to go to HIMSS, but because I’m excited to see many of the friends I’ve made in the IT world that I only get to see once a year. Although we stay in touch through email, it’s just not the same as being able to get together in person, share a drink, and swap stories. Of course I’m also excited about HIStalkapalooza, although I haven’t given a single thought to my shoe wardrobe yet.

Several of my colleagues are still waiting to see if they will be able to make it to HIMSS. Those who are vendor employees have seen cuts in the number of attendees sent by their companies the last several years. Others from the provider side sometimes find HIMSS to be not only overwhelming, but given the current economics of medical practice, not worth the cost. There are also those who work at faith-based organizations that will not pay for conferences held in Las Vegas, but at least those folks know outright that they’re not going to attend unless it’s in Orlando since everywhere else seems to be out of the running.

I’m wondering what the big buzz will be about this year. Meaningful Use is old hat, although there will still be some picking over the bones of Stage 3. Value-based reimbursement has been on the rise, although for many, it’s more of a buzzword than an actual strategy.

The reality of putting together some of the IT infrastructure required to maximize the promise of value-based reimbursement is daunting. Although the large health systems and academic medical centers can be demanding about their networks and try to control their physicians, it’s put a terrible strain on independent practices and also on patients who want to see physicians across multiple systems but are being steered to stay within the vertical. It was bad enough when insurance networks were restricting choice, but to have your physicians negatively incented to refer you to the consultant of your choice is another thing entirely.

Many people think that interoperability should solve this problem, but the reality for many physicians is that interoperability is a joke. Not only are there incentives biased against sharing from the hospital side, but as an independent physician, I can’t even get access to the hospital web portals in my area because I’m not on staff.

Being a member of the medical staff has not only a financial cost but a professional one, with many hospitals requiring physicians to provide call coverage for patients in the hospital. Although that requirement can often be shifted to a hospitalist physician, they also require physicians to be available for outpatient follow-up, which is nearly impossible when you are a part-time physician at a practice that doesn’t have scheduled appointments and doesn’t provide primary care.

I would love to be able to log into a hospital portal and get follow up on the patients I have to transfer to the hospital. We’re seeing more and more of them as cost-shifting drives them to urgent cares when they really should have been in the emergency department in the first place. Although we’re pretty advanced at my facility, the last few shifts I’ve worked have included multiple ambulance transfers for people who were actively having heart attacks. There was one just the other night with a life-threatening stomach bleed, which let me tell you looks pretty much exactly like it does when they show it on TV medical programs.

All of the patients I’ve had to transfer have cited cost and access as the primary reasons they chose us instead of another facility. Since my roots are in primary care, I always wonder how they are doing, but I never see a discharge note or any kind of communication from the hospital despite my multiple Direct addresses that should make it easy. Maybe I should head to the mall and ask Santa to bring me some discharge summaries for Christmas. I’m not sure if the elves have signed a BAA, however.

I’m winding up the year with a last-minute lab interface project that is keeping me pretty busy. The client is super nice and had an issue with their lab vendor canceling their contract with minimal notice, so they’re in a hurry to get a new one live before their interface is shut down. The work is somewhat tedious, but that will be good to keep me busy.

Today is the shortest day of the year and I’m glad it’s here. I’ve missed having light in the evenings and have had to spend more time on the treadmill than I like. I’m looking forward to longer days and being able to get back on the streets without fear of a broken ankle from tripping over something in the dark. We certainly can’t have that in the run-up to HIMSS. Once this project is done, I’m laying low until the New Year.

What are your plans to wind up 2015? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr.Jayne 12/17/15

December 17, 2015 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

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Time is flying and it’s hard to believe that HIMSS16 is barely two months ahead. My annual preparations have started, including the creation of the social schedule. It can be difficult to juggle meeting up with colleagues I only see once a year, sessions, sponsor events, and of course stalking the exhibit hall with some of my BFFs.

I booked my flights really early this year and didn’t realize that HIMSS had shifted to the Monday start, but it was easy to fill Sunday with some spa time. I have a penchant for something called Watsu, which is water-based Shiatsu massage, and there aren’t many practitioners in my part of the country. The Bellagio has a wonderful therapeutic pool, so I’m definitely going to get my Watsu on so I’m plenty relaxed for the week.

Flu season is upon us and we’re already being inundated with patients, many of whom opted out of vaccination. It’s not too late to get yours if you’re interested. Although it takes several weeks for them to reach maximum effect, flu season runs through April, so it can still be useful.

I was surprised to learn that payers are playing games with vaccination payments. Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective interventions we have in our arsenal and the flu vaccine is pretty inexpensive in the grand scheme of things. We have one payer who refuses to cover any vaccines when administered at our practice, simply because we’re an urgent care. Even if a patient comes in with a laceration that merits a tetanus shot, we can’t give it unless the patient pays out of pocket.

Patients are already paying big dollars for their healthcare premiums and don’t want to have to pay cash on top of it, so some of them decline and plan to follow up with their primary care physician. That can lead to gaps in care, and frankly PCPs have better things to do than give vaccines sometimes, like managing chronic illnesses and diagnosing new problems. Plus, the hardship of patients having to go two places to be treated for a single problem when we should be able to do it all at once is just a waste of resources. Just another aspect to our broken healthcare system. Although coverage is mandated, payers are finding a way around it.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the practice and have picked up some kind of a respiratory virus. If we weren’t so focused on patient experience I’d love to hang out a sign that says, “If you’re not sicker than the doctor, you need to go home and try some cold remedies.” That’s not how we roll, though, so I apologize to the patients who are subjected to my sniffles. I like to think that I’m providing some level of patient education, since if I’m still sniffling it’s clear there’s no magic bullet to resolve all the symptoms.

I’ve been sad ever since the decongestant phenylpropanolamine was pulled from the market, because it actually worked. One of the most-used products around, phenylephrine, has been re-examined and found to be ineffective. But it’s easier to obtain than pseudoephedrine, so a lot of people try it anyway. Still, I’ll keep up with my humidifier and hot tea and hope for the best.

I’ve been playing around this week with my new technology purchase, a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I am enjoying it, although I can’t get Outlook 2016 allow me to set up my inbox like I had it on my old computer. The change is just enough that it’s making a mess of my muscle memory, but I’ve tried everything I can think of. The settings screen looks just like it does in Outlook 2013, but it doesn’t behave the same way. Maybe it’s a bug or maybe I should just get used to it.

Speaking of bugs, the American Medical Association emailed yesterday to offer me tips and resources on how to pass the USMLE Step 3 licensing exam. Since I’ve been licensed for more than 15 years, they’re a little late. They did send a follow-up email asking me to disregard it and to enjoy my complimentary 2016 resident membership, which is even funnier.

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Speaking of funny, I spent some time surfing Glassdoor looking at reviews for a couple of employers that are clearly in a downward spiral. A friend had sent me a few links and the email arrived at a time when I really needed a laugh. For the one employer, it’s clear that they have someone occasionally posting anonymously that the company is great, but 95 percent of the other reviews are negative and the themes go back several years.

I’m sure disgruntled employees make up a good chunk of the postings, but everyone has disgruntled employees and when you look at similar companies, you don’t see that kind of skew towards the negative. If you’re in HR and you haven’t looked at your own employer’s reviews, it might be worth a few minutes of your time. Reviews with titles like “Rome is Burning” should definitely catch your attention.

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I’ve also been catching up on my holiday baking, and in the spirit of the holidays, I’ll share one of my favorite recipes. Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Chubbies are one of my favorites the last few years. They’re insanely chocolatey and you can modify the recipe by using different kinds of chocolate (or non-chocolate if you prefer) chips or different kinds of nuts. Personally, I like mine with Hershey’s Special Dark chips and chunky peanut butter.

What’s your favorite holiday cookie? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/14/15

December 14, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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In my experience, this time of year is always a mixed bag in health IT. Sometimes it can be extremely busy, with groups trying to frantically spend any remaining budget before the end of the year if their fiscal year follows the calendar. Those are always interesting clients to work with because some of them just want to book the work and not really do anything until after the holidays, while others want to try to cram the work in as well as getting it on the books. I try to avoid the latter since I typically plan for a lull at the end of the year so I can enjoy some downtime.

Then there are other kinds of clients who have either run out of money (often long before the end of the year) or are short on staff and are trying to figure out a way to complete projects before the end of the year. I also try to avoid these clients if possible since it’s often someone’s bonus requirements that are driving the work. There is typically a lack of planning (hence the end-of-year approach) and the team is often not resourced correctly to get the work done even with support. The handful of times I’ve done consulting engagements around projects like this, I’ve always made sure that I have enough backup resources to just do the work for the client rather than with them.

I was approached by a client last week who was clearly desperate and fell into multiple categories. It’s a small practice that has been working on Meaningful Use. They attested to Stage 1 in 2013 and planned to attest to Stage 2 in 2015, but their project went way off the tracks. They have four providers and about 10 staff members, but have not been able to figure out how to dedicate anyone on the staff to shepherding a Meaningful Use project.

They spent the first half of the year knowing that they needed to upgrade their EHR to a version that would support MU2, but doing everything possible to avoid it. Much blame was placed on the vendor despite the practice not having adequate servers to support an upgrade. They had worked with another consultant to get through the upgrade, which luckily included a migration to a hosted platform so that servers won’t be an issue moving forward.

Despite having upgraded over the summer, the practice hasn’t done much to further their MU efforts. They haven’t been running reports to see how they are doing on their quality metrics and haven’t really checked their workflows against the best practices recommended for MU documentation. They also haven’t yet purchased (yet alone installed) a patient portal. They were under the impression that all they had to do was to get the portal installed, which is why they called me. It never crossed their mind that they would actually have to have patients live on the portal or actually using it. They just thought they could hire me to run interference with the vendor, get a proposal, get the contract signed, and then “turn it on.”

I know the vendor is more than happy to send them a contract immediately, but scheduling an installation during the holidays never goes well. Not only do many vendors have people taking time off, but usually people who work in a medical practice also hope to take time off to spend with family and friends. Not to mention that hurrying this through isn’t going to help their cause with Meaningful Use since there are many other requirements that they are not meeting.

I’m not typically one to turn down work, but in this case I elected to take a pass. Not only would it add a lot of stress to my planned downtime, but I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do for the client.

What the client really needs is a solid sit-down with the owner to actually create a strategic plan for the practice. He needs to figure out whether he really wants to participate in the Meaningful Use program and if so whether he is willing to dedicate resources (either a single staffer who can own the project or money to hire someone outside to do the job) to create a comprehensive plan. If he is agreeable to that, then he needs to commit to dedicating time for staff members to receive training and adapt their workflows for success.

In addition, he will need to get the employed providers in line with the expectations. He needs to agree to a plan that not only covers the installation of a patient portal, but also a campaign to engage patients and get them to sign up and to incorporate the use of the patient portal into the daily workflow of his office.

I tried to schedule a meeting with him to discuss all of this, only to find out that he has taken the rest of the year off. The fact that a practice owner would just hand off a task to staff such as, “Hey, let’s do a patient portal” and leave town is just shocking.

As a consultant, it’s also a key indicator of marked unhealthiness in the practice. It’s unlikely that I’ll be doing any work with them even as much as I like a good challenge. The longer I’m in this business, the less interest I have in total train wrecks regardless of how well they pay.

I’m going to maintain my planned downtime and continue contemplating my career plan. Although my clinical employer’s offer was somewhat open-ended, I don’t want to keep them waiting if that’s the way I’m going to go. During the lull, I have some craft projects planned and of course some pastry therapy.

What are your end-of-year plans? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/10/15

December 10, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

A couple of reader comments on my piece about employer wellness programs caught my attention. I have to thank Al Lewis, who provided my laugh of the day when he asserted that, “There is no adult supervision in this field, so vendors can do things that doctors would get sued for doing.” He goes on to call out a vendor who provides carotid artery disease screening even though the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) specifically recommends against screening the general adult population. I didn’t know this was creeping its way into employee wellness programs, so thanks for the warning.

I have, however, seen mass carotid artery disease screening in a promotional offering for senior citizens that I can only describe as predatory. For an upfront cash fee, it touts the benefits of multiple “screening” tests that aren’t recommended. In addition to the carotid artery test, it also offers abdominal ultrasound screening (only recommended for men aged 65 to 75 who have ever smoked, and selectively recommended for men in this age group who have never been smokers). It also offers screening for peripheral arterial disease via an ankle brachial index (insufficient evidence to assess) as well as multiple blood tests that aren’t necessarily recommended for average-risk individuals.

When looking at the flyer and the number of tests offered, it may be easy for some to come to the conclusion that it’s a good deal based on the sheer volume of diseases they talk about. However, no test is without risk and just getting them because they’re cheap and available is a bad idea. Although we did tend to “shotgun” batteries of tests on our hospitalized patients when I was in medical school, by the time I reached residency training, the focus had shifted to doing fewer tests and only those that were evidence-based. That was good, because I can’t even count how many wild goose chases we went on due to abnormal labs that should never have been ordered in the first place.

The worst wild goose chase of my career still haunts me and I wonder if a different attitude (and better interoperability) would have prevented it. The patient was a delightful lady with significant and complex medical problems who had been my patient for three years during my residency. When I decided to stay in town and open a practice, she asked if she could follow me. Although I said yes, I cautioned her that there would be a two-week period between when I graduated from the training program and when I hung out my shingle when I would have no malpractice insurance and could not be her doctor. I advised her to remain with the residency clinic for continuity until my doors were open.

Unfortunately, one week into the gap (while I was cramming for my board exam) I received a call from the emergency department of my “new” hospital where the patient’s caretaker had taken her, not realizing I could not yet care for her. She was admitted and placed in the care of a hospitalist and three specialists who were working up her problems, unaware that they had been worked up thoroughly in the past. Because the patient was non-verbal, her ability to consent to the evaluation was limited. She had abdominal pain and her exam was challenging due to her other conditions, so someone ordered a cancer antigen test, which was positive. They didn’t realize it had been positive for some time with a completely negative workup and a previous informed consent decision to stop pursuing it.

I attempted to reason with one of the house doctors, begging them to request the chart from the residency program so they could provide good care. Unfortunately the goose chase persisted and the patient remained hospitalized, developing a life-threatening problem with her platelet function. This was in part due to the blood thinner injections she was given in the hospital to prevent blood clots due to her immobility. Oddly enough, the patient has been immobile for the better part of 50 years and survived without blood thinners, but the doctors were just following the hospital protocol for giving heparin to immobile patients.

The cancer workup was completely repeated, including several invasive procedures. By the time I assumed care of her barely a week later, she had suffered multiple complications, including a heart attack, and was being considered for bypass surgery.

Thank goodness I was able to corral things before that happened because the patient and I had previously discussed her surgical prospects and she had clearly indicated that she didn’t want anything like that done. I realized that for most of the hospitalization, she had been without the computer she uses to communicate with people (she has mobility of one hand and creates computer-generated speech using it) and probably hadn’t consented to most of what she had been through.

At that point, my goal was just to get her out of the ICU, and then out of the step-down, and then to the regular floors, and then home – one day at a time. Eventually we accomplished all of those and she did well despite the “care” she received. Even years later, just thinking about this scenario wants to make me track down whoever ordered that initial (inappropriate) blood test and give them a good talking-to. Whenever one of my students or supervisees orders an unnecessary test, they hear this story. I hope it sinks in.

Another comment was from John Lynn, who asks that if a patient showed up in my office and said they were healthy and wanted to stay healthy, what would I do? I agree with him that some doctors would offer a physical and try to find something wrong. However, many physicians (especially those trained in family medicine and other primary care specialties in the last two decades) would know exactly what to do. We’re well trained in health promotion and disease prevention, but many of us don’t get to use those skills often enough. My personal recipe includes the following:

  • Find out if the patient has any concerns about their health, even if they think they’re generally healthy. Those concerns should be addressed through additional history and a targeted exam and a specific workup if warranted.
  • Take a detailed family history to review the patient’s risk factors and discuss ways to mitigate those risks or avoid developing additional risk factors.
  • Discuss general health behaviors (diet, exercise, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, sexual behaviors, seat belt use, etc.) and advise accordingly in line with current evidence. Refer to appropriate resources as needed (nutritionist, smoking cessation, psychology, social work, etc.)
  • Assess psychosocial and other determinants of health as needed (social supports, financial ability to get care if needed, etc.)
  • Targeted physical exam as recommended for evidence-based screenings and to establish a baseline rather than “looking for” something.
  • Recommendation for additional screening tests and preventive services as appropriate based on evidence-based recommendations. This may include in-office services such as vaccines or external testing such as mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.

There are more things involved, but you get the idea. It’s about the doctor and the patient sitting down and talking about things. Which in our system doesn’t get you paid very well, and because of that, we don’t have anywhere near the time we need to do it right.

Add in the fact that patients often have to change doctors every year or two due to insurance changes and it’s hard to develop the rapport needed to work together on some of the more challenging situations that come up when you actually talk to people and get to know them. I’d love to be able to have a solid hour with patients to do a wellness visit and to leverage proven techniques such as motivational interviewing, but that’s just not how it works.

In my ideal world, I’d not only have the time to do it right, but the resources – access to other clinical professionals as needed (psychologist, social work, nutritionist, health coach, etc.) at times that work for the patient so they don’t have to take off work. I’d also like to see these preventive services fully covered by insurance. Although the Affordable Care Act mandates coverage for preventive services recommended by the USPSTF, patients on so-called “grandfathered” plans may still not have coverage. Until recently, I was on one of these plans so know exactly what is involved.

I’d love to see all preventive services fully covered. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because they have been proven to be cost effective. I remember the first time I realized that Medicare wouldn’t pay for blood sugar monitoring supplies for certain diabetic patients but they would pay for amputations. I was appalled.

If that ideal world existed, I’d likely still be a primary care physician rather than a mercenary CMIO and part-time emergency doc and blogger. It’s something for the politicians and pundits to think about when they talk about the shortage of primary care physicians and wanting to bend the cost curve. But unfortunately, I don’t think it’s anything I’m going to see in my lifetime.

What’s your ideal care paradigm? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/7/15

December 7, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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A Tale of Two Articles

I subscribe to quite a few news digests, including some from the AMA and other professional organizations. The headlines are always attention-grabbing, so “Framework evaluates 20 top EHRs – and they don’t quite measure up” definitely caught my attention. It links to a usability analysis done by the AMA and MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors.

Using an EHR User-Centered Evaluation Framework, they looked at data that 20 vendors (15 ambulatory and five inpatient) provided to meet ONC certification requirements. The Framework goes “beyond the ONC’s criteria… to encourage the ONC to raise the bar for usability certification.”

Being a good clinical informaticists means being a critical reader and making sure that one understands the information being presented before coming to conclusions. That approach has served me well when providers would storm into my office with “conclusive evidence” that our EHR was bad, waving copies of articles in my face such as a reader survey that had a grand total of 13 respondents using our product from a nationwide sampling.

In reading the introductory information carefully, one can see that they’re somewhat comparing apples to oranges. They looked at what vendors submitted for certification, not the totality of what a given vendor did or did not do with regards to user-centered design.

I have several friends who work for vendors and have heard that providing more than what is required for certification is the equivalent of being on the witness stand and offering more than a single-word answer to a yes or no question. The “just the facts, ma’am” approach seems to be preferred.

You can’t blame them. Vendors don’t want to get tangled up in showing something not required that might lead to questions. The certification process is already onerous enough.

The AMA blurb goes on to conclude that, “Out of those 20 products evaluated, only three met each of the basic capabilities measured.” I’m not surprised by this since they were measuring information from a data set that was designed for a different purpose than that for which they decided to use it.

I fully understand that they’re trying to make the point that they think the ONC certification process for usability best practices isn’t robust enough. Unfortunately, it seems to tar and feather some of the vendors despite the process they’re actually doing (but didn’t include in the ONC documentation because it wasn’t required).

The AMA blurb also didn’t include clear language that was included in the actual MedStar Health documentation on the User-Centered Design Evaluation Framework. It clearly says it is not designed to look at actual usability by clinicians, but to look at vendor practices as reported to ONC on the eight required patient safety capabilities.

I’ve personally used many of their top-scoring systems and found them to have major usability issues. Casual readers aren’t going to dig into the details. This piece is likely to be misleading.

I found the whole thing even more interesting when I opened this month’s JAMIA to find an article by the same lead author, Raj Ratwani. This time the researchers actually visited 11 EHR vendors to look at their user-centered design processes. I found this data much more interesting (not to mention peer-reviewed).

Six of the vendors visited have more than $100 million in revenue, with the top three being over $1 billion, so you can guess who they are. Interestingly enough, four of the six were found to have “well-developed UCD” processes and another was found to have “misconceptions of UCD.” I actually laughed when I read this, likening it to delusions of grandeur somewhere in the back of my mind.

The specifics of what the researchers define as misconceptions include that, “vendors do not have any UCD processes in place although they believe they do.” This also includes vendors who cite being responsive to user complaints and feature requests as evidence of UCD.

The overall distribution of the vendors was four with well-developed UCD, four with basic UCD, and three with misconceptions of UCD. The authors go on to cite the fact that even the “misconception” group is certified by ONC, illustrating why certification requirements may need an adjustment. They do at least mention the challenge of creating requirements that lead to improvement for the poor performers but don’t hamper those that are already doing well.

My favorite quote of the article is one vendor who stated, “Our product is used by thousands of people every day. So if it was that bad, it would already be out of the market.”

I certainly prefer the scholarly approach of the latter article, although I’m sure it didn’t get anywhere near as much press as the first one. I was trying to figure out what category my EHR vendor fell into. It turns out they weren’t one of the participants.

How does your vendor perform on UCD and what do you think about it? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 12/3/15

December 3, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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I engaged this week in what might become my favorite annual holiday event – crashing the medical staff Christmas party at a hospital where I’m not on staff. My good friend Anjali called, again asking me to be her rent-a-date. Last year her husband had to travel, but this year he’s apparently studying for final exams for his master’s program. I think it sounded like a convenient excuse to avoid being around doctors talking shop, but was happy to go with her again even though last year’s party had more EHR discussions than social time. Now that I’m freelance, it doesn’t hurt to network when I can.

Last year there were some, shall we say, “senior” physicians wearing some rather loud plaid jackets. I almost died laughing when I saw that some of the more junior physicians had taken the trend to an ironic new level, sporting so-called “Ugly Christmas Sweater” suits. The first gentleman was wearing the blue and red number above with a pair of white patent leather shoes. I tried to get a photo, but with the dim lighting, it was impossible and I didn’t want to be too conspicuous with my flash. Several of his companions had similarly awful ties and cummerbunds and I can’t help but think that this is going to be a new trend and I’d better secure my invite for next year’s party early.

I ran into a couple of old friends who recently moved from my previous employer to this hospital’s medical group. It was somewhat gratifying to hear that they found the grass wasn’t really any greener in their new positions and that they find their new EHR just as awful as the one I used to be responsible for. Given some of the major shifts going on with value-based care and new reimbursement models, it will be interesting to see if physicians begin shifting alliances or if we start to see even more consolidation among the employed physician ranks.

My other excitement this week was the quarterly provider meeting at my practice. Because of travel conflicts, it’s the first one I’ve attended. Given some of the news that was announced, I was glad to be there in person so I could see my colleagues’ faces. Effective immediately, we are opting out of the Meaningful Use incentive program. There was actually applause and a couple of high-fives. This weekend the EHR will be modified to disable all the extra screens that were added so we could check all the boxes that ended up not being all that relevant to our model of care. The providers were ecstatic to say the least.

The practice owners are extremely process-oriented and determined that the changes to the system will remove literally hundreds of thousands of clicks for users over the next year. I admire their dedication to detail and their gutsiness in deciding to just say no. Our patient volumes have grown dramatically since I started working with this group and it’s fair to say that the revenue from additional patients we’ll be able to accommodate if we can work more efficiently will more than cover any penalties. Having been in the EHR driver’s seat for so many years, it’s been very interesting to work with them as an end-user.

They asked me to stay after for a few minutes. I’m the most part-time of all the physicians and work the fewest hours each month, but had previously volunteered to work some of the less-desirable shifts to allow the full-time staff to have more time with their families. I suspected that they were going to ask me to pick up a couple of extra shifts over the holidays since I had mentioned to the COO that I’m not traveling this month. What I did not suspect, however, was that they would offer me a leadership position in the organization.

I would be going back to formal CMIO duties with a bit more operational authority than I’ve had in the past. I’d also be spending dedicated clinical time at one of our expansion locations, which the organization plans to use as a pilot site for new initiatives and for vetting workflow changes. Our workflow is already pretty serious as far as quality, efficiency, and patient satisfaction are concerned so I’m very flattered by their belief that I could help take it to the next level. I have to say that the idea of being able to return to a CMIO position without dealing with Meaningful Use or hospital politics is seriously tempting.

Although I’ve enjoyed doing more consulting this year and have learned a tremendous amount, the travel quickly becomes less than fun. Based on what I’m being offered, they’ve done an outstanding job of figuring out what makes me tick and what I might find compelling enough to give up my frequent flyer status. They know me well enough to not expect a quick decision on such a weighty matter and I’m sure we’ll have additional discussions over the next few weeks. A wise man once told me that you should spend 10 percent of your time looking for your next gig. Sometimes I guess your next gig might just fall in your lap, though.

What’s your dream job? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/30/15

November 30, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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I wrote last week about open enrollment for health insurance and other benefits. A reader sent me this screenshot of his company’s enrollment management system, giving it an “F” for usability. Although the rolling hills are probably supposed to calm employees before they see what their premiums will be this year, the fact that they obscure half of the labels is likely to increase anxiety. Not to mention, can you trust a company that doesn’t care if you can read the password requirements or not?

Another reader wrote about the expanding list of employee-paid options his company offers. In addition to medical, dental, and vision insurance and flexible spending accounts, employees also had the option of choosing pet insurance and a legal services PPO.

I admit that I don’t know anything about contract legal services, but found it kind of funny that lawyers would start down the slippery slope that got physicians to where we are today. We’ve seen what having third-party payers has done to the healthcare system and are still trying to cope with payments that are spiraling down while insurance company profits continue to climb. If anyone has inside knowledge on this trend, I’d be happy to run comments.

Nearly everyone I’ve talked to about open enrollment and health care coverage has mentioned that they get either a premium discount or a penalty (whichever way you look at it) depending on the presence or absence of certain health-related behaviors. Anecdotally, the most common are discounts for being a non-smoker or participating in a smoking cessation program.

Close behind are discounts for having certain lab screenings done, although the results aren’t taken into account. My former employer required lab screening for all employees to get the lowest rate, regardless of whether the labs were evidence-based or indicated. Although I’m sure they got a volume discount for having the lab work done, the concept of coercing people into having screening tests isn’t exactly driving down the cost of healthcare.

Looking at my former team (which was fairly young), only 20 percent of them were in an age bracket where the blood work was actually indicated. I’ve had plenty of conversations with Medicare patients who want a specific test regardless of whether it’s indicated simply because “Medicare covers it and I’ve earned it,” which is no way to practice medicine. Seeing this type of behavior reinforced by private payers is disappointing.

The other troubling thing about the whole business is the aspect of coercion. Those of us who believe in evidence-based medical care have spent our careers trying to order the right tests for the right patients at the right time, not just doing things because they’ve always been one way or another. Even simple laboratory tests are not without risk. There is a chance that they will uncover an “abnormal” but irrelevant value that will lead to patient distress or to further unnecessary testing. There is also the loss of the patient’s time in going to have the test and jumping through related biometric screening hoops.

Additionally, I’m not aware of a significant amount of high-quality research that shows that these programs actually work as far as driving healthy behavior or reducing overall healthcare expenditures. There are a handful of papers but the design and execution are somewhat variable. I’m not sure how I feel about employees being part of an experiment – when I was in academics, I would have to get approval from the Institutional Review Board to do something like that with my staff. Employers, however, have carte blanche to do whatever they want.

Everyone is awfully keen on these “wellness” programs, but they’re of varying quality. I saw a patient at the office last week who just needed documentation that he had a “physical” so he can get a discount on his insurance. There was no description of what exactly was to be included in the physical. The general “physical” has not been shown to reduce morbidity or mortality. Age-appropriate preventive and wellness visits can have an impact, but they’re best performed by a primary care physician who knows the patient and his or her history.

Unfortunately he showed up at our urgent care, where in the absence of specific criteria (such as pre-participation sports physical or a pre-employment physical), the content can be somewhat variable. Half our physicians are Emergency Medicine certified and they’re not that into continuity of care. He also presented to the office the day after Thanksgiving, which is historically one of the top three busiest days of the year at our practice and probably not the best choice for a preventive medicine visit unless you want to catch influenza or an upper respiratory infection in the waiting room.

I picked him up rather than one of the ED docs, so he did receive a full age-appropriate preventive medicine visit with preventive health counseling and notes on what screenings he should start having and when. I’m not sure how much he actually absorbed, though, and since we’re a walk-in urgent care, there’s not likely to be much continuity.

Another spin on this is the employer-owned health practice, where employees actually see on-site physicians for wellness visits, chronic disease management, and associated services. A friend of mine started working in one of these practices last year and found it to be much harder than she anticipated. She finds a tremendous conflict of interest with patients tending to want to conceal certain information that they wouldn’t want their employers to know. Although there are supposed to be safeguards in place, patients don’t always trust them.

Another negative aspect of open enrollment is the annual churn of patients having to change physicians when their coverage changes. Often this means starting over in the middle of treatment or having delays in care due to the need to obtain new referrals and authorizations. When I was in a traditional primary care practice, January always brought a flood of requests to transfer medical records, often with notes from the patient apologizing for leaving and asking us to let them know if we ever decide to start taking XYZ insurance plan.

For someone who became a family physician because I hoped to care for people longer than a year or two at a time, it was just sad. I’m personally averaging five primary care physicians in the last 15 years, which isn’t ideal as a patient.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I hope it involves the ability of patients to choose physicians based on quality and cost and without network restrictions or burdensome processes. Somehow I think that’s just too much to ask, though.

What do you think the answer might be? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/23/15

November 23, 2015 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

I’m still tunneling out after having been at the AMIA conference and then on site with a client who scheduled an emergency board meeting to discuss pulling the plug on their EHR. They’re a mid-sized multispecialty group that is physician-owned, so the entire board is made of physicians. The board meetings can be extremely contentious.

Apparently this one was in response to some agitation among doctors who recently joined the group and are not happy with having to give up their previous EHR, so they’ve united with some other unhappy doctors to push the idea that the entire group should change platforms.

My role was largely to support the IT department and the rational members of the physician leadership who don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. They’ve had some bumpy upgrades in the last year, but the group is also experiencing growing pains courtesy of some physician acquisitions as well as general growth in their geographic market. They’re also experiencing some Meaningful Use-related challenges with workflow (which is how they came to be my client). 

With all of that swirling around, it’s hard to lay blame on the vendor. Unfortunately, the vendor hasn’t had good communication through all of this and hasn’t been as participatory in troubleshooting some of the issues, so they already have a black eye.

Although the board meeting ran nearly three hours, we were able to achieve a reasonable resolution. I’m going back in a few weeks to do not only a workflow assessment, but also some stakeholder interviews to try to get to the root of what is going on as well as to try to uncover any other factors that haven’t fully bubbled up yet. Once we have the full picture from all the physicians (including those who are happy and therefore weren’t at the meeting screaming), we’ll be able to put together an action plan and make some interventions to improve things.

I did a follow-up call with the vendor on Friday. I don’t think they know what to make of a consultant who is not only a physician, but also knows her way around infrastructure. I left them with a to-do list of troubleshooting that they hadn’t even looked at yet, so I’m sure we have additional amusing (for me) and/or uncomfortable (for them) conversations in our collective future.

Also on Friday I listened to the Athenahealth Leadership Institute webinar, “An Interview with Dr. John Halamka and Jonathan Bush.” Although they had some audio troubles at the beginning, it was a good interview. I enjoyed John Halamka’s comments on information blocking and the perception that vendors, hospitals, and health systems are charging too much for interfaces. Halamka cited one survey that said physicians would be willing to pay $5 per month for information exchange, which is a far cry from the hundreds to thousands it may cost to implement an interface. Having seen it from both sides myself, it’s a great topic that needs further exploration.

They also discussed Halamka’s genome since it’s been sequenced and available, and how knowing his genetic status makes a difference in the screening services he should receive. I’m not sure if it’s recorded or available, but if it is, it might be worth a look.

I spent most of Saturday doing a community service project, which was a great way to reset after being gone for the week. I’m a mentor for a local youth organization and it’s particularly nice to see teenagers out serving the community, even if it means being in the snow and slush when they could be home watching TV and texting each other. This is my tenth year doing this particular project and some of the kids I started with are now old enough to drive, which is a bit of a scary thought. It does give me hope for the future, though.

As most of you know, I left my CMIO position some time ago. My hospital, however, still has not removed me from the email distribution lists, a fact which continues to provide ongoing entertainment. This week’s email gem (sent on November 19) outlined all the changes that took place in the system on November 17. I know I wasn’t perfect, but at least I got the change notices out before they happened. I know they’re in the middle of a system replacement and whoever is responsible for the communications now is probably distracted, but I still feel for the physicians and end users.

I also feel for all the employees who are going through open enrollment right now. Several of my friends have been cursing the rising premiums and shrinking benefits even with self-insured employers. I’m eligible for benefits through my clinical position, which thank goodness has no change in medical premiums and only 1 percent change in dental with the same level of benefits for both. I don’t know what kind of good karma we’re riding, but I know it’s making our employees very happy.

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Looking at the open enrollment statistics for the federal marketplace, the happiest callers might be the Spanish speakers, who averaged an 11-second wait for a representative vs. the average four and a half minute call center wait time. That’s still a lot better than I get with either my Internet provider or my cellular carrier. Looking at the data, there are a lot of window shoppers out there as well.

In other CMS news, I’ve seen several headlines about the Affordable Care Act leading to $2.4 billion in consumer rebates on health insurance premiums. This sounds like a lot of money until you realize how many patients it is divided among. My clinical employer was a recipient of one of those rebate checks, which ended up dividing out to $0.48 per employee – not even enough to cover a stamp. I’m sure our administrative staff spent a lot more than $0.48 per person dealing with questions and helping people understand how tiny it was. Personally I was in favor of taking the refund and donating it to a local food pantry, but they did go ahead and post the amount to each person’s paycheck. The CMS press release claimed $470 million in rebates for 2014 alone, averaging to $129 per family. Based on the math, some people might have gotten some nice rebate checks.

How’s your open enrollment process going? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Dr. Jayne Goes to AMIA-Wednesday

November 19, 2015 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

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Today marked the closing of AMIA, with presentations in the morning and a final keynote by Robert Wachter, MD, one of the founders of the hospitalist movement. I had been looking forward to the keynote, but due to an unforeseen crisis at one of my clients, I had to leave earlier than planned. That’s the hazard of being a workforce of one. At least I have enough clean clothes in my bag to pull off an urgently-scheduled board meeting. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed, so I’m now camped out at the San Francisco airport catching up on work.

I mentioned the other day my disappointment at not being able to attend Monday’s ONC Listening Session. ONC Chief Health Information Officer Michael McCoy, MD graciously emailed me to apologize because they did indeed have room for more attendees. I sorted out the problem and the miscommunication was on my end, with my new (and very part-time) assistant confusing the ONC session with another meeting next week that I was also trying to register for. I haven’t had an assistant since I left the health system and I am reminded that “what’s the status on that meeting for Monday” is an ambiguous question. I truly appreciate his reaching out and I apologize for the confusion. I heard in passing that the session went well. I’d be interested to hear specific comments from anyone who attended.

My absolute favorite panel of the conference was on Tuesday and was titled “What Could Go Wrong? Migrating From One EHR to Another.” Since I have done quite a bit of work in the migration and conversion space, I was interested to hear how my experiences stack up against those of others. I was hoping to have the slide deck before I wrote about it, but it doesn’t look like it has been posted yet. Luckily for this session I joined the legions of people snapping pictures of the slides, since not only was it content rich, but had some outstanding clip art ideas.

The session was heavily attended. After some excessive microphone checking “check check, hey hey, check check” it was off to a great start. Richard Schreiber, MD, CMIO of Holy Spirit Hospital (a Geisinger affiliate) talked about the published research literature to date looking at system migrations. It’s scanty at best, with only five peer-reviewed studies and a few surveys. Not surprisingly, there are numerous blogs and anecdotal stories, however. One study looked at a hospital one year after migration and found heavy access of the legacy system. The hospital’s legal team consulted with AHIMA and recommended that even with a data conversion, they may need to have the legacy system live for up to 10 years in a read-only status.

Data conversions were a hot topic, specifically the fact that customers might not get what they asked for or paid for. There was discussion around the need to manage expectations around a system transition, as some sites have noted lower satisfaction due to high expectations that were unrealized. There was some interesting data in some of the studies: that 40 percent of providers are on their second, third, or even more EHRs. As practices and hospitals continue to consolidate, this will only continue. My former employer is on its second ambulatory EHR headed for its third and is consolidating multiple hospital systems into one. Schreiber noted that EHR changes often accompany cultural and political shifts in addition to ownership changes.

He went on to talk about the “think freeze” that occurs around EHR upgrades. Because of code cut-offs and system and environment freezes there is less consideration of what the end users need. With a migration, this is even worse, with that freeze occurring for potentially years rather than months or weeks as the organization prepares for the transition. Community hospitals are particularly challenged by a lack of resources, training, and support. Physicians experience “large efforts with small teams” that mean “army swarms and then retreats.” For providers who aren’t in the hospital consistently, they may have limited support after a go-live.

Sociologist Ross Koppel, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania then took the podium. I got a kick out of the fact that his bio in the AMIA app lists him as, “Among most hated by some vendors, but appreciated by clinicians.” He talked about the fact that the average hospital has between 150 and 400 separate IT systems that link with the clinical system, not counting outside systems such as reference laboratories. “Each one is an opportunity for a screw-up” also known as a “vulnerability.” He talked about how “hospitals are unique fiefdoms” and the fact that new systems bring a loss of institutional memory, such as the work-around done by a unit secretary to actually get things done for patient care.

He discussed the problems that customization can cause with system migrations. Looking at two different Epic systems in neighboring hospitals revealed that the systems were related “like Spanish and Italian” but that “data and interfaces differed enough that assumptions of similarities could be treacherous.” Having gone live on Epic at two community hospitals in the same summer several years ago, I can agree with that assertion. Koppel also discussed issues with calculating return on investment and the difficulties with hospital bookkeeping on some projects. ROI research is also commonly done by vendors, confounding the issue. He discussed the $1.7 billion implementation at Harvard as being $400 million in software, $700 million for Deloitte, and the rest internal.

The next presenter was John McGreevey III, MD of the University of Pennsylvania, talking about the PennChart project. With six hospitals, 2,524 beds, and 84,000 admissions a year, this is a massive project. He talked about their lessons learned:

  • Not enough operational leaders. He felt they needed three to four times what they had.
  • No health system budget for clinical subject matter experts to design note templates, order set content, etc. EHR tasks were added on to their regular responsibilities. Doing a project like this without SMEs and adequate human infrastructure is like a fire department that tries to fight a house fire by hiring firefighters after it’s already started and paying them zero.
  • Not enough “internal housekeeping” prior to the project. He stated that after signing a contract, vendors should tell the hospital “thanks for your check – call us in a year” after you’ve done your housekeeping.
  • Vendor liaisons were relatively green – most had only one or two implementations under their belts. They could not cite definitive best practices from other academic medical centers or make good recommendations about decisions. He did note, though, that other customers were very gracious with their time despite being heads-down in their own implementations. This might be a future role for AMIA, as a clearinghouse for best practices.
  • Build decisions may have created barriers to interoperability. Standardized approaches to naming, organizing data, etc. are needed. This results in “big data we can’t use and can’t share.” Vendor guidance often oversimplified complex decisions, leading to rework.
  • Siloed project teams led to lack of understanding, fragmented work, and wasted time.
  • They got a late start on changed management, leading to lack of shared urgency or mission. He recommends “bathing the organization” in change management before any work starts, not just before go-live.

Catherine Craven, MLS, MA of the University of Missouri closed out the panel talking about system migrations among Critical Access Hospitals. There is even less data on these hospitals, because as of 2010, fewer than 3 percent had EHRs. A good number of facilities (300) haven’t attested for MU Stage 1 yet, although 150 did receive Adopt/Implement/Upgrade funding. She completed her doctoral dissertation last year and studied four hospitals. The statistics are shocking: many CAHs have less than 30 days’ cash on hand and often the cost of an EHR is between 75 percent and 100 percent of total cash assets. In other words, these hospitals have to bet the farm on their EHR project. Craven did an excellent Peggy Lee impersonation.

She went on to note that the CAHs she visited did only basic installations without workflow transformation. They often relied wholly on vendors because there was no budget for consultants. They were also rushing to implement, with one hospital having less than five months from contract signing to its go-live.

Tuesday afternoon I ran into a friend from the VA and attended a session on human factors. The room was packed as presenters shared their work. Topics included observational studies of user workflow while accessing both the EHR and a RHIO, cognitive demands of EHR via task analysis, and cognitive support for ICU data. I noticed Brian Dixon in the front row with his jacket from The Walking Gallery, but wasn’t fast enough to get a picture.

Throughout the conference, there were a couple of things nagging at me, although they are decidedly first-world problems compared to the plight of the many homeless in San Francisco:

  • The use of “MD” as a substitute for physician, not only in presentations, but in the official printed publications. There are plenty of DO informaticists and international physicians with slightly different degrees.
  • Interchangeable use of the terms “sex” and “gender.” Especially among people who are talking regularly about coded data and the need for specificity and interoperability, it’s time to learn the difference between the two.
  • Continued references to Epic, even if they’re veiled. We know it’s the predominant system among academic medical centers, but it’s not the only system out there. I got a kick out of two physician users of a less-prominent EHR vendor who looked at each other and said, “Ours does that” when the speaker lamented a particular lack of Epic functionality.
  • Late arrivals. The conference encourages people to drop in and out of sessions to “follow the conference buzz,” but that doesn’t mean you need to enter the room like a herd of elephants or climb over and disrupt those that area already there.
  • Seating arrangements included excessively close chairs that nearly prevented people from sitting next to each other unless they were both less than 14 inches wide. This led to a lot of empty chairs between people, but that made it a little easier for those with large bags that they’re using as a mobile office. Also the rows were close front to back, making it difficult for people to slip in and out without tripping over legs, feet, and bags.

On the flip side, I was happy to see one of the presenter’s children at the conference, complete with badge and ribbons. I’m sure the conference was a highlight for both of them. I also saw a couple of dogs at the conference, which made me chuckle. They didn’t appear to be service or support dogs, but they were well behaved.

I was considering attending AMIA’s iHealth conference in May since its more focused on clinical and operational informatics. I may already have something on the docket for that week, but would be interested to hear people’s impressions on that conference’s usefulness to CMIOs vs. the annual symposium. I want to make the most of my conference budget, and considering that this one set me back almost $3,500, I want to choose wisely. For those of you in the MOC trenches, that’s nearly $175/hour for the sessions I attended.

What’s your favorite conference? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Dr. Jayne Goes to AMIA–Tuesday

November 18, 2015 Dr. Jayne 6 Comments

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Another busy day at AMIA today. I started the morning with a panel, “Looking Back and Moving Forward: A Review of Public Health Informatics.” Neither of these disciplines is something I do in my daily work, but I’ve always been interested in public health, so I thought I’d check it out.

I admit that global health is entirely outside my comfort zone, but was interested in learning more. I appreciated that the presenters spelled out how the articles and events were selected for review as well as their admission that they slides weren’t quite ready to share with the world yet. I’ve been hunting for presentation slides all week without much luck. They shared a URL link to a Google drive, but said it may be a few days before everything is available. I’m looking forward to getting them.

Presenter Brian Dixon shared a couple of interesting vignettes:

  • In one study looking at provider prompts for immunizations, there was no difference between the control and the intervention. The clinical decision support intervention didn’t use data from the immunization information system, only from the local EHR. The authors believe this may be part of the problem. I was surprised that there was no difference, but that’s why we do research.
  • Another study looked at direct to consumer portals for self-testing regarding sexually transmitted infections. Essentially patients could go online anonymously and request a testing kit, which was to be mailed to the lab. They could receive their results securely, and if they tested positive, receive a prescription via eRx or telephone. They didn’t have to actually present to a healthcare provider. Out of the thousands of patients eligible, only a few hundred followed through. I would have thought the uptake would be higher since testing in the privacy of one’s home is less embarrassing than going to the office.
  • Another study looking at healthcare-acquired infections concluded that most research is done in academic medical centers or the VA, institutions with “considerable financial resources” and technical skills not widely available. Dixon noted that although people in those settings likely feel they never have enough resources, they’re relatively wealthy compared to some public health settings.
  • The Biosense surveillance system was rebranded this year to the National Syndromic Surveillance Program and moved to the cloud. The goal is to have it be more about disease surveillance and less about bioterrorism detection, but how well that is achieved remains to be seen.
  • Public health applications aren’t just about MU anymore. This year there was a rise in use of mobile solutions, patient portals, and social media. The research base for public health informatics is increasing.

The presentation shifted to global health informatics with presenter Jamie Pina, who explained that typically these are resource-constrained environments and are defined as “low- and middle-income countries” based on the World Bank definitions. Often there is external or donor funding, such as philanthropies or other countries. There is generally a weak market for global health informatics products, so organizations typically use open source or homegrown tools. There were many articles on mHealth and telehealth found in their review.

There are data quality challenges and other limitations, including the fact that traditional medicine doesn’t fall into the same paradigm or concepts that we have in what we consider modern medicine. One study from Bangladesh looked at linking local traditional medicine practitioners with trained physicians through a call center. Another study found (no surprise here) “cultural misalignment between IT and healthcare providers” in Botswana. At least something is consistent globally. Other notable facts: 80 percent of users in rural Africa are computer illiterate or beginners, but more than 95 percent have a positive attitude towards computers. He did also mention the end of the current Ebola crisis as a notable event that solidified the need for attention to global health issues. Programs are starting to focus on implementing the lessons learned from that crisis.

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There was also some buzz today about changes to the clinical pathway for board certification in Clinical Informatics. I had a couple of people ask me if I heard anything, but I admit I didn’t. Hopefully someone in the know will see this and provide an update if there really is going to be a change.

I’m going to save writing about my favorite presentation of the day until the slides are available. Some of the ideas put forth are just too good not to share. Of note, today’s multitasking included some impressive knitting by one attendee who was using nearly microscopic needles. I never figured out what she was making, but it was fun to watch.

I ducked out for lunch at the Ferry Building Marketplace with the always-entertaining Matthew Holt. He had just returned from a whirlwind trip including Japan, Finland, the UK, Seattle, and finally San Francisco. There were many stories of lost baggage and adventures including the most polite people in the universe (Japan) and time in the sauna (Finland). Our conversation ranged all over the place and included startups, conferences, HIMSS preparations, and the exorbitant cost of Epic projects. My adventures are not nearly so interesting, but he humored me in listening to stories about my current practice situation (which I dearly love) and my ongoing consulting road show. Next stop, Des Moines!

I hustled back to the conference and caught a panel on “Needs of the Digital Native: Adolescents and Access to PHRs.” It was one of the more compelling panels I attended, with speaker Pam Charney talking about her own experience as a parent of a child with medically complex issues. In her state, patients can’t have access to personal health records or patient portals after age 13 to when they turn 18, which created a lot of complexity due to the loss of online scheduling, secure messaging, and test results. Rather than being able to manage her daughter’s health online, she became trapped in an ongoing maze of phone calls, faxes, and lost test results.

Speaker Fabienne Bourgeois has it a little easier in Massachusetts, where there can be graduated changes in access for adolescents. They initially had a parental consent requirement for portal access, but dropped it after a large number of obviously forged consent forms were returned. She provided an excellent discussion on the various needs of flagging data by category (HIV diagnoses and labs) vs. by patient or provider tagging. Catherine Arnott Smith noted that there have been only 13 studies on PHR use in adolescents and young adults since 1991, which is pretty thin. She gave an excellent discussion of academic accommodations for young adults after they leave the K-12 education system. These patients go from a system where their family is involved in advocating for them to one where they have to advocate for themselves, often without a full understanding of their medical history.

Consider the scenario of a child who turns 18 while away at college and whose parents no longer have access to health information. He or she is expected to manage on his or her own, and if there hasn’t been enough education or transition prior, it can be disastrous. Apparently the process for seeking academic accommodations resembles that for Social Security Disability. Having helped patients through the latter, I can’t imagine trying to manage the reams of data required while adjusting to life as a college freshman. Healthcare entities are often not helpful because they send reams of patient notes and data which may not be relevant or useful to the college in determining a valid disability requiring accommodation. My favorite comment of the day was from an audience member who highlighted the need for “a curated record vs. a raw sewage record.”

There were additional questions and comments on the fact that EHR data is much like the proverbial “permanent record” many of us feared in school – that it persists and can follow adolescents into adulthood, potentially creating difficulties when behavioral health diagnoses may be present. Attendee Adam Davis stated, “EHR is forever, but paper dies.” It’s definitely something to think about in the digital age.

On the fashion and social front, I’m happy to report that overall, bowties are leading standard neckties by a factor of six to one, although I feel I should give double credit to the attendee who paired his traditional tie with a snappy vest. After hitting another panel and a corporate member focus group, I headed out to dinner with some industry movers and shakers. On the way back I breezed by the Dance Party social event, which had several attendees cutting a rug and others continuing to network. By this time, though, my toes were tired and my brain was lagging, so I decided to call it a night.

Tune in tomorrow when I’ll cover the rest of Tuesday’s sessions and wrap up my overall thoughts of the conference.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Dr. Jayne Goes to AMIA–Monday

November 17, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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After having seen the long lines for breakfast in the hotel over the weekend, I stocked in some provisions and enjoyed sleeping a few minutes later. I’m glad I did since the line to just get coffee was well over 60 people long when I passed by. The meeting has felt significantly more crowded today, although the conference center’s slightly wacky multi-level, multi-building layout helps spread things out. I’m also very pleased that there is plenty of seating throughout the common areas for those of us who want to get to know new friends, catch up with colleagues, or just take a break.

My morning session was a panel on “Harmonization of ICD-11 and SNOMED CT.” Yes, ICD-11. Experts have been working on it for years and particularly in how they plan to address some of the challenges in mapping between the two systems. Since mapping can lead to errors, they’re leaning towards a common framework of sorts that will make things better for those of us who have to use both systems.

This is going to require some changes in how both systems are currently structured. However, it will reduce the need for crosswalks and therefore errors. It took owners of the two systems nearly three years to agree to a memorandum on collaboration and I’m sure it will take years to work it all out. I personally hope to be retired before it hits.

Looking around the room, at least 10 percent of the people were using their phones or tablets to take pictures of the slides at one point or another. This really underscores the need to have the slides available to participants. At another conference I attended earlier this month, the presentations were linked to the entries in the conference application, which made it nice to follow along and to magnify slides that were difficult to read. So far, the didactic panels I have attended have featured 5-6 speakers giving mini-presentations on a main topic and that would help sort out who said what.

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I spent a little time in the exhibit hall, which was significantly less crowded today. Although there are a few vendor booths, there many booths representing various informatics training programs and graduate schools. I had a good conversation with IMO about their work not only in the US but with health systems in other countries. We’re all facing the same issues, but it sounds like there are many approaches to solutions. Having been a user of their tools embedded in several different vendors’ EHRs, I’m looking forward to their next generation of solutions to make physicians’ lives easier.

Break service was again offered in the aisles of the exhibit hall, which made it crowded and difficult to move, especially with people stopping randomly to check their phones regardless of the people flowing behind them.

My next session was a very-well attended one about the “Clinical Quality Framework Initiative to Harmonize Decision Support and Quality Measurement Standards.” Presentations (again in the multiple mini-talk format) included some of the federal initiatives via HHS to align various measurements and reporting systems.

There was quite a bit of laughter when a slide was shown asserting a government mandate for “full interoperability” by 12/31/2018. In addition to aligning existing systems, though, the US government is also adding new metrics, such as the appropriate use criteria for advanced diagnostic imaging studies. Providers are going to be asked to document whether they’re using clinical decision support to avoid ordering expensive tests. Although this is a good thing at face value, I’d like to also see it coupled with a patient-facing program to educate patients on the fact that they don’t need these tests.

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Front-line physicians in the United States are constantly barraged by patients wanting the most high-tech (and often expensive) tests whether they need them or not. There is a cultural “need to know for sure” that something is or is not OK and patients see technical studies as the means to reach that end. In many cases, patients don’t want to play the odds or listen to statistics — they just want a test. If physicians don’t order the test and are insufficiently able to talk the patient away from it, our patient satisfaction scores suffer. We’ve seen this phenomenon with antibiotic use as well. I’m a huge fan of how England’s NHS does it. They have many direct-to-consumer campaigns about how healthcare should work. I’ve included my favorite above.

I attended a corporate member roundtable over the lunch hour. I’m not going to name the vendor because there were very few women in attendance and my cover might be blown. It was interesting to see where various participants were in their journey with informatics in general with specific kinds of technology. There was a nice mix of participants from research, training programs, large health systems, third-party firms, and end users.

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I tried to attend the ONC listening session that also occurred over the lunch hour but wasn’t able to register. Space was limited to 65 seats but the session was to include Chief Medical Information Officer Andrew Gettinger, Chief Health Information Officer Michel McCoy, and Chief Nursing Officer Rebecca Freeman. They were seeking specific feedback regarding the federal IT strategic plan, interoperability roadmap, precision medicine initiative, and other key initiatives. I’d be interested to hear from anyone that made the short list of cool kids attending.

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I spent some time after lunch cruising the poster presentations in the exhibit hall. My favorite was one from a group in Japan, who created a “Smart Snack Box” system to record snacking behavior. They’re looking at the timing of meals on metabolism and how it impacts health and disease. Using Raspberry Pi technology and Python, they created a box that records how many times it is opened as a method of tracking snacking without patient self-reporting. Currently they’re limited because it only tracks the opening of the box, not the amount of snacks that were consumed or if the patient was only window shopping. I have a pre-teen nephew who is all about Python, so I sent it his way. Maybe there’s a future for him in biomedical research.

The AMIA format lends itself well to session hopping and I did that a fair amount today. Topics included social media within consumer health informatics, natural language processing, precision medicine, patient portal use in safety net healthcare systems, and care team communication. Although intellectually stimulating, it is truly exhausting trying to attend all the presentations that grab my interest.

There were a couple of social events tonight: the “Top of the World” Meet-up and Tweet-up and a movie premier for “No Matter Where,” which is a documentary following the journey of some of our field’s pioneers as well as how health information has impacted patients, providers, and other interested parties. I ended up opting instead for dinner with an old friend and former colleague who helped me stand up my first HIE way back when. Usually we only run into each other in the whirlwind that is HIMSS, so it was good to catch up in a lower key setting. We wound our way through Chinatown to the Marina District and various points in between and I’m grateful for him not making fun of my white knuckles on the near-vertical streets.

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Dr. Jayne Goes to AMIA – Sunday

November 16, 2015 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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This morning was the last of my pre-symposium sessions. I attended a talk on clinical decision support led by some heavy hitters in the field: Jerry Osheroff, Robert Jenders, Jonathan Teich, Robert Murphy, and Dean Sittig. I was pleased to see that they provided clear objectives and a time-boxed agenda up front. Although a lot of the content may have been review for those of us who have been championing clinical decision support projects, I managed to pick up a couple of useful tidbits including a new term “ehrophilia,” which is your positive disposition towards EHRs.

I appreciated learning “Murphy’s Rule of CDS” which is that everyone wants the alert to fire to someone else. I’ve found that to be true and most egregious when operational people want to put physician-facing alerts on patient charts. We lost a fair number of people at the coffee break, but those that returned took part in small group discussions moderated by the presenters. It had been a bit rainy this morning (much needed here, but I don’t think it made the AMIA Fun Run very fun), so I took advantage of today’s longer lunch break to hit the streets and get some fresh air.

The afternoon started with an opening session. AMIA Board Chair Blackford Middleton highlighted the presence of 2,100 attendees as well as some member perks, including the fact that the Journal of Applied Clinical Informatics is now an official AMIA journal with online access. AMIA has over 5,000 members and it looks like a good chunk of them are here. Also during the opening remarks, the Morris F. Collen Award of Excellence was presented to Jan van Bemmel, one of the pioneers of medical informatics.

Keynote speaker and security specialist Avi Rubin thoroughly entertained the crowd with some great stories about “security researchers – some people call them hackers.” Interesting tidbits included that the Nest thermostat has roughly 10 million lines of code, which is comparable with a 1995-era operating system. Since the number of bugs is a function of the number of lines of code, complexity of development is leading to more points of exploitation for those intending mayhem.

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He also schooled the crowd on buffer overflow attacks. You could tell from the ears that perked up in the seating areas which attendees were more or less techy than others. I did spot a couple of people multitasking including Facebook and Sudoku. For those of you who weren’t playing along, the USB Banana was a hoax. Rubin closed with a great quote: “Just because you can connect something to the Internet does not mean you should.”

The opening session was slightly marred by people in front of me who could not stop talking despite multiple shushing and meaningful stares. Finally, someone walked up from the back of the room and told them to be quiet and they generally complied.

Following the keynote, I attended a panel on “Wearable Health Data and the Quantified Self.” It featured five panelists speaking on different mini-topics. I’ve not been to a session like this and have to say I liked it, although I missed the more formal opening we usually see with continuing education sessions, where presenters list their objectives.

I hope the slide deck gets posted because it was a great presentation. I would like to have had it in advance so I could annotate on it, but didn’t find it on the conference website. I got some interesting examples of the Quantified Self movement to use with some of my peers, including an anecdotal story about one patient who tracked his sneezes for two years to discover how allergies were actually affecting his day-to-day life. I also was not aware of the Open Humans Project, which allows research participants to receive their own data and helps match people with future studies.

The final speaker of the panel was patient Craig Braquet, a self-described “gadget geek” who began to use wearables to analyze his symptoms of fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. It was great to hear from the patient’s point of view. It sounds like having his own data has made a difference in how he manages some of his conditions.

The evening was chock full of social activities, starting with a welcome reception in the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall was extremely crowded during the reception with appetizer stations set up in some of the aisles, which made navigating difficult. I did happen to run into a medical school classmate that I haven’t seen since graduation. There are several of us from my class and the class following who have landed in the field of informatics. Even though it was a very quick catch-up it was good to see him.

I breezed by the Clinical Informatics Diplomate reception on the way to dinner with a colleague, hitting the NavigateAMIA reception on the way back. It is targeted to new members and first time symposium attendees and featured desserts in addition to networking opportunities.

I didn’t stay long because I wanted to head up to the Women in Informatics Networking Event (WINE) at the Cityscape restaurant on the 46th floor. It was a great way to cap the evening with lovely views of the city in all directions. I chatted with a doctoral student doing work in predictive modeling for ICU patients and a couple of other students in nursing informatics programs. It was fairly crowded, but I didn’t see any other CMIOs there so I headed back to my room for some much-needed rest. Tomorrow is definitely going to be a day for (sigh) flat shoes.

Are you attending AMIA? What’s your take on the meeting? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Dr. Jayne Goes to AMIA–Saturday

November 15, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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Since I live in a city with multiple academic medical centers, I expected to run into a friend or two on the way to the conference. I was surprised, however, to see two other physicians on my parking shuttle. Although one was headed to AMIA, the other was headed to The Liver Meeting 2015, which is also being held in San Francisco.

Given my crazy frequent flyer status, I was one of the first on the plane and watched at least a dozen other physicians and health informatics professionals pass by. I was relieved that if the question was to be asked whether there was a doctor on the plane, I would have backup (although as an emergency department doc, I’d likely be a better choice than the pediatric hepatologist for most in-flight issues).

I had the chance to catch up on the flight with a friend of mine who works for my former health system. They’re on a journey to a massive rip-and-replace. There is no shortage of informatics work to be done as they retire dozens of major systems in the name of single-database efficiency.

There was another informaticist seated near me and it was interesting to eavesdrop on his chat with his seat mate. He was explaining what he does. There was a brief discussion about data sharing and the difficulties of doing it not only technically, but also about the nervousness of physicians in sharing some of the more sensitive health information that is out there.

We’ve gotten to a point where the incidents of hacks and breaches are too numerous to count. I get the sense that physicians are at the tipping point of being more worried about unauthorized access to medical data than they are about patients having the data. In some ways, that’s a good thing because my peers are getting over their resistance to patient ownership of their own health information. It’s been a long time coming.

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The Hilton Union Square was also hosting a nursing convention, where I spotted several people wearing this tee shirt. I’m going to have to seriously think about ordering a few for some of the people I’m working with right now.

I was able to check in to my room a couple of hours early, which was much appreciated and allowed me to head to Union Square. I got a kick out of watching the ice skaters, most of whom didn’t have much experience, but were giving it a good try. Several were watching one man who was there teaching his son and who clearly had spent some time on the ice. I was tempted to rent skates and show off my winter sports skills, but decided to head to the cable car line instead. No less than 30 minutes after I left Union Square, there was a horrific crash of two double-decker tour buses. I wish a speedy recovery for all those injured.

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After a couple of hours roaming the city, I returned to the hotel to register for the conference. I loved the Wall of Ribbons and picked up a couple of gems to wear during the week. The conference program guide had a lot of helpful information such as “remove your lanyard when you leave the hotel so you’re not immediately recognized as a tourist,” but it didn’t include a warning that apparently in San Francisco, you’re expected to bring your own bag for carry-out restaurants. Oherwise, there is a bag charge. I’m pretty good at the reduce/reuse/recycle game, but got caught off guard when picking up lunch earlier in the day. That kind of local color information might be helpful in future programs. I appreciated the adjustability of the AMIA lanyards, which allows those of us on the shorter side to hang our badges somewhere north of our navels.

Fast forward to Saturday, when the pre-symposia sessions began. I attended one on “Health Information Exchange Challenges and Methods.” There was a lot of good information covering the different models of HIE and the evolution from early systems to where we are today. There are still quite a few barriers to effective data exchange, including lack of a unique patient identifier or universal physician directory. I learned about a couple of new approaches to bridging between centralized and federated models, but based on the amount of multitasking going, on I’m not sure everyone in the room was as interested.

Maybe they were distracted by the “Data Mining for Medical Informatics – Predictive Analytics” session being held in the next room that must have been pretty exciting judging by the seven rounds of applause heard through the wall in the first 90 minutes of the presentation. For the people who were multitasking, though, may I recommend 3M’s lovely line of privacy screens to keep your neighbors from seeing everything you are doing if you choose to multitask? Surfing Facebook doesn’t make you look like a serious informaticist, although debugging code does. I felt for the gentleman who was doing the latter.

At the break, I ran into HIStalk songwriter extraordinaire Ross Martin, who happened to be seated next to a friend from my customer days at a shared EHR vendor. It’s the first AMIA meeting for both of us and neither of us had dinner plans, so I appreciated the serendipity of running into her.

During the afternoon, I attended a session on “Practical Modeling Issues: Representing Coded and Structured Patient Data in EHR Systems.” Presented by Intermountain Healthcare’s CMIO Stan Huff, it definitely earned its stripes for Maintenance of Certification credit. The session was highly detailed and I got a lot out of it, but I’m sure it was overwhelming for some. I hadn’t heard about the Clinical Information Modeling Initiative becoming one of the HL7 workgroups, but it sounds like it has a lot of potential.

One of the interesting points Stan brought up was the challenge of handling data from a subject who might not be the patient. For example, information on fetal characteristics documented when treating a pregnant woman, or information on tissue donor characteristics for the recipient’s chart. It’s not something I’ve had to do much of in the ambulatory space, but it grabbed my attention. I also enjoyed watching a physician at the next table doing origami with dollar bills. It just goes to show that informatics professionals are a talented bunch.

Do you multitask during conferences? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/12/15

November 12, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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I’m headed to San Francisco for the AMIA meeting and will be reporting from there for the next several days. I haven’t been to a conference that is this academic in a long time and I have to say that planning for it has been more rigorous than I expected.

From everything I hear as well as from the pre-symposium orientation webinar, there is going to be more to do, see, and learn than one person could possibly do. There are more than 2,000 pages of content available already, plus a few hundred pages of questions and answers for Maintenance of Certification (MOC).

There are also Twitter feeds and an event app for managing your schedule. I’ve enjoyed going through everything and flagging the sessions I plan to attend or that I want to keep on my list as a backup. For someone like me who dabbles in many different areas of informatics, it’s a bit like being a kid in a candy store.

I’ll be attending some of the pre-symposium sessions as well. Dealing with them has been the only negative part of my experience so far.

When I signed up for AMIA several months ago, the list of sessions that are available for MOC credit for clinical informatics wasn’t available. Even though they’re no charge, the pre-symposium sessions required advance registration. Once the list of MOC-approved sessions was available and I had time to go back through them and see whether they matched what I had registered for, those that I wanted to switch to were full.

Attending conferences is expensive. Given the status of MOC for Clinical Informatics, I want to maximize the amount of credit I bring home. Although I’m not choosing sessions strictly by whether they are approved or not, given two sessions at the same time that I’m equally interested in, I’m going to lean towards the one that will give me credit.

I suspect AMIA is seeing a spike in registrations due to being one of the few providers of relevant and approved continuing education credit for our subspecialty. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out. In the mean time, I’m going to continue refining my battle plan to get the most out of the conference.

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Whenever I head out for an extended trip, I gather up any hard-copy publications that can be read during taxi, takeoff, and landing so I can read and recycle them on the way. I saw this Healthcare IT News headline and it just struck me as somewhat offensive. Although IT is a key player in most industries, to say that a hospital would be “nothing” without its IT department is obnoxious. It would still be a hospital, it would still provide patient care, and it most certainly wouldn’t crumble to the ground.

The associated article is about best hospital IT departments, so I don’t expect it to address the fact that there are worse things than having no IT department – namely, having a bad IT department that creates chaos. Or one that behaves aggressively towards clinicians and doesn’t respect the input of various stakeholders. Or one that’s flat-out incompetent.

As a culture, we’ve become obsessed with these “best of” lists. I always think about one of my good friends that continued to make the “best doctors” list in my city despite having moved away several years prior.

The loss of any department — whether clinical, administrative, support, or other disciplines — would negatively impact any hospital. Headlines like this don’t help bring people together. I’d love to drop this in the physician lounge and see what kind of responses it gets. Maybe that’s an idea for a reality show – kind of a candid camera for healthcare IT users. I know some people who would watch.

What’s your idea of good entertainment? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/9/15

November 9, 2015 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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My parents are quite the travelers. Although they’ve avoided most illnesses on the road, they did wind up recently at a walk-in clinic in rural Australia. The facility is staffed by a rotating slate of physicians who fly in periodically. They were eager to be seen before the doctor flew out.

Given my career with electronic health records, my father thought I’d get a kick out of his visit note. It’s a grand total of four pages (two which really matter) and features such complex notations as “unwell” and “sinusitis.”

The physician note is the haiku of clinical documentation and made me wonder what kind of job satisfaction this physician has related to topics such as “administrative simplification” and “regulatory documentation.” I think it’s pretty good since he doesn’t appear to have too concerned with gathering bullet points or capturing all the screenings that we’re required to document on patients in the US regardless of their presenting problem.

I’m betting the form was captured electronically since he was discharged with the original document. Talk about OpenNotes and transparency for patients. It reminded me of a note I saw in a chart when I first went into practice. We had purchased a retiring physician’s charts and it said simply: “Sore throat – PCN – $10.” You can bet the patient paid at the checkout desk and that the note was complete before the patient left the room. It may not be interoperable, but it certainly is elegant in its simplicity.

My mother also had a visit. Both were treated appropriately for their conditions and with low-cost generic medications. It’s interesting to hear about healthcare delivery in its purest form. Although their situations were low complexity and low risk, not every visit needs to have a full-court documentation press. There may be times where minimalist documentation is appropriate, but unfortunately our systems don’t support that. Even with the push for value-based care, I don’t see any payers loosening their documentation requirements.

It was with that situation in mind that I headed out this morning to work with a practice on a population health initiative. They’re a mid-sized primary care group that’s already running pretty lean, but they want to try to figure out how to better reach patients who need preventive services or who may have missed follow up steps on their chronic conditions.

Although it’s really a productivity and optimization project that doesn’t necessarily need clinical oversight, practices like to hire me because I’m an actual doctor. They feel like I have a better understanding of their needs because I’ve been a practice owner myself and have been in their position. Sometimes it makes things difficult, though, because I see clinical issues that are outside the scope of my current role but still need to be addressed.

Today was one of those days. While I was shadowing the triage nurse to get an idea of her workload and the flow of her day, she was interrupted by a call from a patient’s family member. Apparently the 87-year-old patient has been having low blood sugars after recently being placed on diabetes medication. Her sugar has been less than 50 several times in the last few weeks, which typically isn’t compatible with good brain function and puts her at risk of falls and other serious complications. As she was talking to the family and later the patient, I was watching over her shoulder to see the patient’s lab values.

Hemoglobin A1c is a marker of longer-term blood sugar control. Hers was barely elevated even before she was started on medications. She immediately had low sugars when starting drug therapy, so the physician had changed her dosing to three days a week and she was still having issues. I started wondering why in the world this doc had her on medication to begin with. With many diabetic patients, if you can keep them at a reasonable level with just diet and exercise, you try to avoid medications. Her near-normal value was certainly reasonable by most physician’s standards.

The whole goal of keeping people’s sugars in the normal range is to prevent the long-term complications of diabetes. I didn’t see any complicating diagnoses on the patient’s chart – no kidney disease, nerve damage, eye problems, etc. There’s plenty of literature that shows that especially in older patients, it’s more risky to try to keep blood sugar control too tight. Once the patient was scheduled for an appointment, I gently queried the nurse about the physician’s typical treatment of these kinds of patients.

She mentioned that he is “obsessed” with his performance scores and this isn’t the first time she’s dealt with this issue. Apparently he’s worried about “being dinged” in reporting and “losing his star” with a payer. It made me immediately remember the old adage from medical school about needing to “treat the patient and not the numbers,” which means to consider the person in front of you and not just their labs or the data. I asked her if they knew how to exclude these kinds of patients from clinical reporting if there were good reasons that they shouldn’t be treated in a certain way or managed to a certain level.

She hadn’t heard of the ability to do this in their EHR, so we asked a couple of other nurses and none of them knew it either. Excluding the patient from reporting on this particular parameter would prevent the physician from being penalized for less-tight blood sugar control in this patient who clearly should not be managed so aggressively. By lunch time, we were able to grab a few minutes with the physician in question and he didn’t know about the ability to exclude, either.

Although he was initially offended and felt that I was questioning his care, he realized that I was not only trying to help the patient, but to help him be able to practice in a more rational patient-centric manner without running afoul of the scorecards that we’re all slaves to now. Excluding patients such as this one may take a few more clicks, but they’re well worth it. Although Big Data can provide impressive insights and help us change how we practice, we need to make sure we’re changing in the right way and for the right reasons.

How has Big Data impacted your care delivery system? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/5/15

November 5, 2015 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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A shout-out to representative Steve King of Iowa for attempting to inject some Midwestern common sense into the Meaningful Use chaos. His “Putting Patients and Providers Ahead of Compressed Regulatory Timelines Act of 2015” would sunset meaningful use penalties and rebate 2015 penalties back to providers and hospitals. It doesn’t have a realistic chance of passing, but I applaud him for trying.

I mentioned last week that I’ll be attending the AMIA meeting. During my email cleanup, I happened to come across an invitation to a pre-symposium educational session and registered for it. It was lucky that I did my cleanup when I did because the session was the following morning. The late registration caused a couple of hitches in accessing the session, but the team at AMIA still got me connected in time.

I’ve attended a lot of conferences, but appreciated the ability to get some solid recommendations for first-time attendees. One of the pieces of advice that surprised me was their openness with attendees dropping in and out of sessions and following the “buzz” on social media.

One conference I attended last year required attendees to declare their intentions weeks in advance under the pretense of predicting room sizes. In reality, they were using the attendee information for target marketing in advance of the conference. They also had some pretty aggressive door-checkers who scolded attendees for leaving sessions or trying to enter ones already in progress. I understand minimizing disruptions, but I would rather people move to another session where they may learn something than to sit in a session where they don’t find value.

Now that I have more information on the meeting, I can spend my free time putting together my social schedule. There are several networking events planned, including one called WINE (Women in Informatics Networking Event). How can you go wrong with a draw like that? Unfortunately, a couple of my favorite San Francisco-area colleagues will be out of town while I’m there, but that gives me an excuse to look for new and exciting things to do in my free time.

Also in the email clean-up, I found a direct marketing piece from Pfizer about October being Gaucher Awareness Month. Although Gaucher disease only affects 50,000 – 100,000 people worldwide, it has a disproportionate impact on people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (one in 600) and medications are available for treatment that can make a dramatic difference for patients. Unfortunately, it’s extremely expensive (cost was $150,000 per patient per year when it first launched in 2012) despite its obvious benefit. I’ve never actually seen a patient with Gaucher Disease (treated or otherwise) as compared to other more prevalent conditions, so it seems an odd choice for a direct marketing piece.

I also found yet another email from Doximity asking me to review the residency program where I trained. I’ve been deleting these for several months. When it first launched in 2011, Doximity tried to brand itself as the LinkedIn for doctors. I’m not sure how successful they’ve been, but I suspect they’re somewhat struggling for relevancy.  I laughed, though, when I read the body of the most recent email, where they asked me to review the program because “choosing a residency program is one of the biggest decisions new physicians face in their careers” and “reviews help medical students find the right training program.” Thankfully, the program where I trained bears no resemblance to what it looked like when I was there. There have been tremendous changes to graduate medical education in the last decade and frankly anything I write would be wholly irrelevant to anyone considering the program today. I’d think that a company that is supposed to understand physicians would have a better handle on this.

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A reader contacted me about how hospitals handle Daylight Saving Time. “Our hospital claims that every hospital in the US that deals with Daylight Saving Time turns off their EHR from 1:00 to 2:00 a.m. so there are not duplicate orders, meds, notes out of order, etc. For 15 minutes prior and 15 minutes after — a total of 90 minutes — we have “Zombie Hour” every year for DST. No medical care happens in the system for one hour. Is this your experience? That if you are an unlucky soul that hits the ED from 1:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. on November 1 that you do not exist for 90 minutes? Isn’t there a better way? Use UTC or GMT time for meds and timestamps? I cannot imagine that EHR vendors and ONC did not think of this when it has come up before. Help me understand this.”

I was a bit puzzled by this because it hasn’t been a factor in any hospitals where I’ve worked. I double checked with one of my former hospital colleagues and our system handles timestamps in UTC but uses an adjustment for the display, whether regional standard time or regional daylight time. I polled a couple of colleagues at other systems, though, and several of them have Zombie Hour. The reader named a specific vendor in his email, which surprised me that they would not have a better solution than dropping to paper. I’d be interested to hear from vendors how they handle this issue. In the meantime, I found this NIST document on DST rules.

How does your facility handle DST? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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