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Readers Write 4/27/11

April 27, 2011 Readers Write 3 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!

There is Nothing Normal about the “New Normal”
By Tom Carson

4-27-2011 6-34-25 PM 

I recently had a conversation with a physician friend of mine. He shared the experience of their hospital system’s EMR implementation for their ambulatory practices, which is, so far, an 18-month project and counting.

This project has resulted in a 12% decrease in physician-generated revenue, 75% of which is attributable to reduced physician productivity. Fewer patient visits, in other words. When I asked what they intended to do about what sounded like a serious problem, he told me, “Nothing. Our administrators are calling this the ‘New Normal’ for production.”

If this had been the first time I heard this explanation, my jaw would have dropped. I mean, really, whoever heard of implementing technology to decrease the productivity of the most expensive resource in the healthcare delivery chain?

As it is, the “New Normal” mantra is being repeated often. Vendors of these products (and their customers) must be hoping it catches on as truth, preserving the reputations of both.

Here is my problem with reduced productivity as a “New Normal.” Management doesn’t really believe it. If they did, hospital administrators in these provider organizations would be reassuring all the physicians involved that to make up for their productivity losses, they would all be given 12% raises and their visit quotas would be reduced accordingly.

No longer would doctors be spending 2-4 hours each day off the clock to catch up on documentation responsibilities made more burdensome by their new system requirements. Instead, the dark side of the “New Normal” is the implied expectation that doctors will suck it up and find a way to return to former levels of productivity, regardless of personal cost. That is simply not sustainable.

Every business leader I know understands the correlation between happy employees and satisfied customers. An unhappy work environment creates stress in all parts of our lives. it is destructively unsustainable for both individuals and the companies that employ them. When doctors are free to practice medicine on their terms, the organizations that employ them can attract better doctors. The result is satisfied patients and better outcomes. This is a positive feedback loop that is sustainable.

I don’t know when this breakdown of honest communication and respect occurred, but it would be in the best interests of patients, physicians, and provider management to fix it. Here are my ideas. 

Management, you do not have to settle for a “New Normal” that reduces your economic performance and crushes the enthusiasm of your staff. Ask yourself if you would have made the system purchase under the terms you did if the vendor had explained up front that you should factor in a 12% revenue reduction. If the answer is no, then do your fellow administrators and the industry at large a huge service and start raising Cain. Eventually, your vendor, or his replacement, will honestly address the problems.

I have never seen a documented case in which average physician productivity in an ambulatory setting did not decline following implementation of an EMR system. There are ways to recover productivity outside of the vendor’s design, including the use of virtual scribes, physical scribes, and speech recognition for some physicians. These won’t be free, but they will cost much less than what good physicians cost.

Physicians, you owe it to yourselves to not fall into the trap of believing that you can overcome long-term limitations through the short-term measure of working more hours. You owe it to your management group to provide fact-based feedback on the realities of what is going on at the patient encounter level.

I am not anti-EMR. Far from it. My company has been committed to moving physicians to electronic records for 11 years. However, we have always believed that the transition will work best when working with and for the physicians — not around them.

Tom Carson is president and CEO of MD-IT of Boulder, CO.

Build IT Right
By Guy Scalzi

According to Modern Healthcare’s 32nd annual Construction and Design Survey published March 14, the healthcare construction industry continues to show signs of rebounding. There’s pent-up demand from years of capital freezes that will soon explode, so it’s more important than ever to get the information services right the first time when designing and building any new facility.

Timing is Everything. IT professionals need to be involved as soon as possible in the planning or design specification stage and stay actively plugged in throughout the project.

IT – A Critical Element of Design. IT must be involved before the design specification is generated to define what applications and technology will be used in the space. It’s important that as soon as required work space is estimated, the space needs of the hardware to support the activities are included and the plans reflect those needs. This is the time to get it right, so the workflow will be enhanced by the space, not compromised.

The overall project budget should incorporate IT requirements. Many times, the square footage needs to be reduced or the planned services have to be scaled back to fit within the amount of available dollars. Don’t try to retrofit old IT equipment into the space to save on budget because this technology is often at the end of its life cycle or not powerful enough to run the current software.

Best Practices and Next Practices. The new space should make optimal use of the next release of major software applications and functionality. iPhones and iPads are already being incorporated into new releases of HIS software. This means fewer requirements for viewing data on workstations, but a heightened need for docking stations and additional places to enter data. New space will most likely take advantage of RFID tags and generally richer user interfaces requiring powerful hardware.

Not a Night and Weekend Job. Depending on project size, there needs to be one or more IT staff dedicated from design to opening. Questions will arise on a daily basis, and bad decisions are made when there’s a lack of knowledgeable IT input.

New Sandbox for Strategic IT Direction. This is an opportunity to pilot new processes, systems, and technology. There’s no reason to move workflow, applications, or hardware that are only marginally acceptable, or failing. While beta testing of applications should be avoided, technology that’s proven elsewhere but still new to your organization can be piloted.

Test, Test, and Test Again. A few weeks before the opening, fully staff for two or three days with test patients cycling through the systems, at about half of what’s expected at peak volume. Data can be entered in a test database, so it’s easy to review but won’t interfere with production. Necessary changes can be implemented quickly and be ready for the next test session.

Blanket with Support. On opening day, have as many IT people and vendor staff as possible on site during all hours of operation. While the staff is in a learning mode, they’ll be receptive to new ideas and skills. A lot of progress can be made quickly.

By applying these and other industry best practices, IT can be strong partners in ensuring healthcare facilities meet the needs of patients and practitioners alike.

Guy Scalzi is a principal with Aspen Advisors of Pittsburgh, PA.

Summary of the ONC EHR Usability Meeting 4/21/11
By Vicente Fernandez

 4-27-2011 7-07-39 PM

”A computer makes it possible to do, in half an hour, tasks which were completely unnecessary to do before.” Larry Wolf, Health IT strategist, Kindred Healthcare (original author unknown)

”Cumbersome system design is the biggest threat to the ARRA investment.” Kamal (Bill) Hashmat, CEO, CureMD

“Every industry believes it’s ‘special’ and doesn’t want to deal with the issue of standards. Variability of design and display of common and necessary information is not creativity, it’s chaos.” Ben Shneiderman, PhD, University of Maryland, CureMD


Most of the discussion seemed to pivot around the pleas from the provider community to standardize usability measures by either making them a part of certification, creating a Consumer Reports-like system of reporting and comparing EHRs and/or mandating a common user interface.

There was also a call for EHRs to be held to accessibility standards, to support system-wide interoperability for the wholesale migration of data from one product to another, and to be more transparent with their internal usability and accessibility guidelines.

Probably the most intriguing testimonies were from Ben Shneiderman from the University of Maryland, Stanley Wainapel MD of Montefiore Medical Center, Eva Powell from the National Partnership for Women and Families, Mary Kate Foley of AthenaHealth, Carl Dvorak from Epic, and Doug Solomon of IDEO.

Cerner was also represented by David McCallie, who contributed this interesting insight: “The tools [EHRs] are designed for the volume of documentation instead of the value of the information.”

Executive Summary

Although the conference title specifically stated EHR (Electronic Health Record) Usability, the presentations and discussions were applicable to all types of electronic and Web applications across all healthcare environments. The resulting work and recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee will have far-reaching effects, and are likely to impact all forms of future human-computer interaction in healthcare settings.

The EHR Usability Conference presented fresh and insightful perspectives from five separate panels: Care Provider, Patient/Consumer, Vendor/Technology Developer, Measurement and Improvement, and  Options Around Usability.

The most important items addressed were:

  • The current state of usability in healthcare applications
  • Accessibility standards in healthcare applications
  • How usability affects the well-being and lives of patients/consumers
  • How usability should be included in health technology certification
  • The roles of vendors, providers and organizations in developing usability standards and guidelines
  • The role of the Federal Government in producing and enforcing usability standards and guidelines
  • The roles of vendors, providers and patients in ensuring that delivered products are usable

Dominant opinions and recommendations from providers, consumers, developers and experts included the following.

Current usability in healthcare applications is atrocious

  • Difficult to navigate.
  • Time consuming.
  • Frustrating.
  • Cluttered and disorganized.
  • Unsearchable.
  • Leads to fatigue and ultimately burnout.
  • Does not adequately support disabled community.
  • Does not adequately support clinical workflows.
  • Critical information is dispersed & buried.

Recommendations to vendors

  • Develop streamlined methods of entering, retrieving and displaying complex data sets.
  • Display data from disparate sources in fewer, simpler views.
  • Create navigation pathways that match the workflow and thought flow of clinical work.
  • Design and build applications within accessibility guidelines and enable integration with accessibility hardware and software.
  • Support patient-centered information flow.
  • Provide a mechanism or process for the customer to submit feedback for rapid changes and fixes.
  • Allow for customizable views of varied information from multiple sources.
  • Modularize and increase interoperability of product offerings.
  • Publicize internal usability guidelines and standards.
  • Work closely with the clinical community to develop best practices and appropriate workflows.
  • Limit or change the use of structured data capture for specific workflows.
  • Incorporate usability personnel and best practices in product development.
  • Design and build products to support effective partnerships between providers across care settings, and between patients and providers.
  • Design and build products to support a patient-centered healthcare system.
  • Work with regulators to develop standards and tests to measure usability.

Recommendations to HIT professional associations and certification agencies

  • Develop usability standards and metrics.
  • Work with regulators to develop standards and tests to measure usability.
  • Publicly report usability comparisons across healthcare applications.
  • Create reporting mechanisms for the healthcare community to voice their opinions and relate their experiences with healthcare applications.
  • Develop methods of measuring and relating usability to “effectiveness.”
  • Educate and provide guidance to vendors on a user-centered design process.
  • Educate providers on what to look for in a user-centered design vendor.

Recommendations to provider institutions

  • Allocate the appropriate personnel and resources for effective application implementation.
  • People, systems, processes, and hardware.
  • “Vote with your wallets” – create the demand and pay for products with high usability standards.

Recommendations to government agencies/regulators

  • Work with providers and vendors to develop standards and testing as a part of certification.
  • Require public reporting of comparative vendor performance of usability.
  • Foster an innovative vendor environment by requiring interoperability at the enterprise level to allow the wholesale migration of an organization’s data from one vendor to another and requiring interoperability at the modular level so that providers can select the best combination of applications that will work together seamlessly.
  • Require healthcare applications to meet accessibility guidelines.
  • Mandate consistency in the presentation of standard data types.
  • Mandate a common user interface.
  • Promote the wealth of usability science and resources already available.
  • Allocate resources to get feedback on usability from providers.
  • Develop simple, best practice guidelines for providers to follow in selecting, customizing and implementing healthcare applications.
  • Garner best practice workflows for safety.
  • Develop usability quality measures that coincide with the specific practices.
  • Increase transparency and discussions around usability efforts.

Vicente Fernandez is “just a dude trying to make a difference in healthcare with my skills as an interaction designer.”

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. “the healthcare construction industry continues to show signs of rebounding. There’s pent-up demand from years of capital freezes that will soon explode”

    Are you kidding me? The healthcare construction industry spent most of the last 20 years on the biggest construction spending spree of any industry in the United States. Even in the bust years recently it was affected less than other industries.

    Years of pent-up demand for Taj-Mahospitals, is what I think you mean. But be careful, the winds are shifting on hospital reimbursement and the next 15 years are very unlikely to allow annual revenue gains as high as they were in the last 15. This is a much less auspicious time to be taking on debt for capital improvements that aren’t going to improve the quality of care (as measured by care outcomes, not just satisfaction surveys).

  2. “Most of the discussion seemed to pivot around the pleas from the provider community to standardize usability measures by either making them a part of certification, creating a Consumer Reports-like system of reporting and comparing EHRs”

    Don’t we already have a Consumer Reports-like system of reporting and comparing EHRs in KLAS?

  3. Physician usability is the bottom line for any EHR to deliver value, so I applaud this initiative. This should ultimately give doctors a stronger voice at the negotiating table with vendors and hospitals. I also hope this encourages providers to identify and implement the best possible solutions – regardless of who delivers it.

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