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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/6/14

January 6, 2014 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


I wrote in Monday’s Curbside Consult about a reader’s comments to my recent EPtalk piece. His comments were similar to those shared by many physicians I meet, so I’m responding to some of them. As background, my organization is seven years into its ambulatory EHR journey (many more on the hospital side) so we’re definitely not new to this game.

There is no infrastructure for EHR outside of big groups. CMS subsidized us to buy Ferraris and then we have to drive them in a corn field. A bike would be much faster in a corn field. Meaningful Use should have required EHR vendors to provide infrastructure to connect all the computers involved in a patient’s care. Our EHR doesn’t talk to our hospital and the vendor wants $100,000 to write an interface for a single clinic. Who can afford this?

It’s great that MU requires interoperability, but the infrastructure is still a challenge for many, especially independent groups. We’ve been struggling with this for years as we’ve watched RHIOs go bankrupt, competing HIEs squabble within the same state, and more. My own state was one of the last to have an immunization registry.

Other competing factions make interoperability more difficult even if the infrastructure is in place. Our health system gave away access to our HIE and we still struggled with physicians reluctant to participate due to privacy concerns. Patients are eager to participate, but don’t get me started on the complexity of the whole patient identity problem and data integrity. I’m pretty sure it has taken years off my life.

Some of our rural clinics are still regularly taken down by well-meaning guys with backhoes. A cut T1 line doesn’t help patient care at all, and that’s assuming you can even get a line there in the first place. One site took nearly six months to get an appropriate line installed.

Trying to get all the vendors to work together is an adventure. More money earmarked specifically for physician connectivity would be helpful. I think there were a lot of physicians out there that thought $44,000 in MU money would actually pay for their EHRs. The true cost of doing an EHR (and doing it right) is far more than that, and considering maintenance, the expanding burden of Meaningful Use requirements, and other costs, I don’t see a long-term ROI over paper. Depending on how much you leverage the system you purchased and how much potential it has, you might be neutral at best.

I like your “bike in a corn field” analogy, especially being a farm girl. I may have a good story involving a broken leg and trying to take a motorbike across a corn field, but it will cost you a martini to hear it. Providers were lured into purchasing EHRs with more bells and whistles than they can understand, let alone use.

The late adopters are at a huge disadvantage because vendors now have thousands of customers to get ready for MU Stage 2. There’s not enough time to do phased implementations like we used to do. Everyone is rushing towards October 1.

As for that charge for an interface (knowing the vendors in question, although keeping their names out of it since I can’t confirm it) that’s exorbitant. Look outside the box for other strategies, like exchanging CCDs or doing a daily extract. You could hire contractors to double-key the information in both systems for several years and still be revenue neutral.

Our EHR is ranked near the top, so I wonder what kind of disasters the rest of the EHRs are? When I read about people who use them and say how good they are, I wonder what is behind their enthusiasm? Is it bribes or just pure ignorance and/or ego of the ones who refuse to see the truth?

There are plenty of disasters out there from all vendors, and plenty of good installations as well. I’m a user of five vendors at the moment (on staff at three different hospitals plus one system I use in the office and one ER I work at makes me use two different systems.) Two of the hospitals use the same system and one works well, yet the other drives me batty. Those kind of situations make it hard for me to understand tarring and feathering any vendor based on anecdotal reports.

As far as enthusiasm, I can understand where a lot of groups are coming from. When you have a good system and it’s running well, it can make a tremendous on patient care, especially where population health is concerned. On the other hand, I’ve been a user of one of those “disasters,” and when it happens to you, it’s not pretty. My previous EHR vaporized parts of nearly six months’ of chart notes because it wasn’t set up properly and there were some database issues that kept the problem from being detected.

Before someone asks how many people might have been harmed from faulty charts, I’ll say it’s far less than the number who might have been harmed had I lost all my paper charts in a fire, flood, or tornado. I’m grateful for EHR because unless it’s a cataclysm that takes out our two data centers 35 miles apart plus the offsite backup vault in South Dakota, we’re OK.

I lived through a year of hell after that while we went through the entire purchase process again. I’m convinced that clinical conversion and reconstructing parts of all those charts took years off my life. I use those experiences to motivate me as I help other users and provide feedback to vendors in the hopes that no client will ever have to go through something like that again. I’m pretty much my vendor’s QA nightmare. If it’s broken I’ll find it. They actually include some of my real-life patient scenarios in their testing process now. It’s much easier than having me yell at them if I find defects later.

As for the results, however, we’re not delusional. We’ve had great clinical outcomes (data proven) but we’ve worked really hard to get there and it hasn’t been easy. For us the key has been emphasizing people and process much more than the technology, which needs to be seen as the tool that it is. Too many groups view the technology as the be-all, end-all and that can be detrimental to their success. Vendors don’t help this perception and need to be spending more time helping customers work through policy / procedure and workflow issues before they implement rather than dealing with train wrecks after.

As to your last comment. there certainly are some egos out there. Our ambulatory vendor once brought a client with a failed implementation to visit our organization. We went through our standard site visit presentation, basically gave away thousands of dollars in free consulting on how to be a success, gave them our implementation plan, etc. and showed them how we did it.

Their CMIO was one of the most arrogant people I’ve ever met. His response was, “I’m sure that worked for you, but we have our own plan.” I wanted to jump across the table and ask him why he was even there. Why did his team of ten fly hundreds of miles and take up three days of my team’s time? If he was so successful with his own plan, why was he starting his implementation over? I had over 150 live docs at full productivity at the time. He had 10 docs who tried to go live and who were only seeing 60 percent of their desired volume and his vendor was paying other customers to try to help his team save their implementation.

I’ve got one more set of questions I’ll answer next time. Tune in to hear my thoughts on Meaningful Use vs. meaningful patient care. Wouldn’t you like to see that in a steel cage match? We’ll also talk about conspiracy theories and whether real live physicians have anything to do with EHR design.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. This EHR discussion parallels what TPD experienced when introducing a high performance PACS to fellow employees at a past employer. They said it will never be used because it can’t handle different modalities! Also, because of the various flavors of DICOM that won’t talk to each other a separate archive will be needed for each version. If they bothered to first ask how it was constructed they would find that the design was based on native DICOM thus allowing multiple DICOM versions to work with this design concept! If you can take a positive view of new technology you will open further discussion, and can expand your knowledge base for future endeavors. Now, more than 10 years later the design work I was involved in has evolved into an information system flow that has greatly enhanced patient care.

  2. I have a story about a snowmobile and a broken leg and I like Martini’s – let me know when I can take you up on your offer!

    On a serious note, it’s great to see you write ” Too many groups view the technology as the be-all, end-all.” I couldn’t agree more and I wish more of us in the industry communicated this to our C-suite leaders on a consistent basis.

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