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Readers Write 4/13/11

April 13, 2011 Readers Write No Comments

Submit your article of up to 500 words in length, subject to editing for clarity and brevity (please note: I run only original articles that have not appeared on any Web site or in any publication and I can’t use anything that looks like a commercial pitch). I’ll use a phony name for you unless you tell me otherwise. Thanks for sharing!

Thoughts on the Department of Defense/VA
By Arturo

Back in the 1980s, Congress, responding to the clamor for greater productivity and using the private sector should the private sector be more efficient (hence leading to such things as outsourced waste pickup and selling of municipal-owned utilities), mandated a competition for selection of the information system to be used by the VA.  And so there was a competition involving EDS, McDonnell Douglas, SMS, and the VA (if I recall properly). 

At that time, the VA VistA system was, in many respects, kludgy, somewhat proprietary (after all, what OS or application isn’t somewhat proprietary in one way or the other for the general population?), had a user interface not particularly friendly to many end users, and quite disjointed. 

By disjointed, I mean that various modules were written at different locations, sometimes with different standards and feels, and that was simply not a standard or uniform implementation of the system throughout the system. There was no such thing as a general release of the system.

The competition ended up with the selection of the VA system.  Now, I’ll never really know if it was the right decision, but I suspect that it really wasn’t. 

Shift forward a couple more years and we had another competition for the Department of Defense TRIMIS system – CHCS (Composite Health Care System). The selection didn’t compare apples to apples in the beta implementations (a single site installed by each competing vendors). The winner in this one was SAIC, which had used the VA system as its basis.

The SAIC bid for the five-year deployment came out about a half billion dollars lower than its nearest competitor. Interestingly enough, SAIC required another $500KK to complete its implementation and the DoD had a system that really wasn’t ready for the future — a database that wasn’t SQL compliant, a more or less command-driven system (MUMPS at work) that wasn’t ready to meet the demanding needs of clinicians, etc.

Eventually, sometime in the first half of the 1990s, as I recall, there was a DoD RFP for a clinical workstation.  I believe that this ultimately led to the 3M proposal for a clinical workstation and clinical data repository which was to become the foundation for DoD’s computer-based patient record system. (3M continues to support the DoD repository – a good thing, I suspect.)

Then came CHCSII.  Now I guess that it’s AHLTA.

And throughout all of this, we just don’t have a tight linking of DoD and VA EHRs.

Now we could talk about some of the inflexibility of VistA, its inability to provide workflows and screens tightly linked with different disciplines, the need for a more robust database manager, or the fact that VistA (and the VA) just didn’t know how to deal with female veterans. Or why the VA delivery system was perceived as being substandard for so long before emerging as a leader in preventative healthcare (although why did we have the disaster with veterans returning from Iraq not so long ago?)

Is it time to use a commercial product for the DoD and VA? Or should the DoD and the VA have taken the lead long ago in providing a robust EHR for deployment throughout our healthcare delivery system? Or if VistA was so good, why didn’t more provider organizations deploy it sooner? 

Something for thought. And, Epic, despite all of its success — is it really the right product or is it really any better?

Filling in the Holes in Your EMR/EHR
By Tim Elliott

4-13-2011 4-44-28 PM

With all the hype about electronic medical/health records (EMRs/EHRs) and pressure from internal folks (everyone from the executive team to various committees), hospitals often rush into their EMR projects without seeing holes between their systems, people, and departments. These typically get filled in later, often with inefficient manual processes. This approach reduces the productivity gains delivered by the EMR and frustrates the IT/IS team, clinicians, and administrative staff members who thought they’d be leaving paper pushing behind.

It’s a good idea to get people from each department that’ll be using the EMR to analyze the potential gaps in their areas well before vendors come on site instead of waiting to find and address these gaps later. Involving experts from outside your organization in the process is often beneficial, because they have the objectivity that it can be difficult to get when you’re running through processes you’re involved in. They’re also not going to be worried about hurting anyone’s feelings, which can be a concern when analyzing your colleagues’ daily tasks.

If you didn’t do this before going live with your EMR, it’s not too late. A good place to start a post-deployment review is to ask yourself and your team the same questions that you posed during project planning. By getting feedback from multiple departments (patient registration, HIM, clinical areas, etc), you’ll figure out how the EMR system is working well in some ways, and how can it can do better in others.

Again, consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. What are your goals for people, processes, and systems? How do these impact your overall initiatives, such as patient safety and disaster planning?

Don’t accept a process that isn’t working just because of a vendor’s limitations. If something’s not working right, call them and tell them exactly what the challenge is and what you need to achieve. Chances are they’ve heard a similar question before and will get right on it. Maybe you need a custom workaround, additional functionality in a newer release you didn’t know about, or a couple of extra training sessions for your staff.

We vendors spend lots of dollars on building products that solve problems. It pains us to see customers not using all of the tools we created to make their facility run smoother. Maybe you don’t want all of it, but if you need additional functionality, please ask. If your vendor is worth their salt, they have it, can build it, or will include it in a future release if several facilities share that same challenge.

We want to help you to cut your costs, enable your staff do their jobs better, and improve your patients’ care and safety. Often, the first step is you picking up the phone.

Tim Elliott is founder and CEO of Access.

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