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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/4/18

October 4, 2018 Dr. Jayne No Comments

ECRI Institute releases its 2019 list of the Top Ten Technology Health Hazards. The list is created each year by assessing various factors around each potential hazard, including severity, frequency, preventability, and breadth of the hazard. Insidiousness is also considered – whether the problem is difficult to recognize and whether it could lead to downstream errors before the problem is identified.

This year’s list contains some hazards that are clearly healthcare IT issues. but also some problems that healthcare has been grappling with for a long time:

  1. Hackers can exploit remote access to systems, disrupting healthcare operations
  2. “Clean” mattresses can ooze body fluids onto patients
  3. Retained sponges persist as a surgical complication despite manual counts
  4. Improperly set ventilator alarms put patients at risk for hypoxic brain injury or death
  5. Mishandling flexible endoscopes after disinfection can lead to patient infections
  6. Confusing dose rate with flow rate can lead to infusion pump medication errors
  7. Improper customization of physiologic monitor alarm settings may result in missed alarms
  8. Injury risk from overhead patient lift systems
  9. Cleaning fluid seeping into electrical components can lead to equipment damage and fires
  10. Flawed battery charging systems and practices can affect device operation.

Most of us are familiar with the need to address cybersecurity concerns, as we see ongoing cases of not only breaches, but ransomware attacks. However, I’m still surprised by the number of organizations that don’t keep their systems current with recommended patches and updates, or that are even on versions of software that are no longer supported by their vendors.

Other items such as alarm settings may be addressed by policy and procedure, which can be harder to institute than technological safeguards unless the organization is truly invested in a culture of safety.

Items 2 and 5 are simply gross and it seems they should be straightforward. Unfortunately, the situation is complicated by some manufactures not providing detailed cleaning recommendations or institutions using harsher cleaners than recommended, which damages the surfaces of equipment and allows absorption or sequestration of contaminants.

Retained surgical sponges are an issue that hospitals and surgery centers have tried to address through technology, including special thread in sponges that shows up on x-rays. Other technologies augment the manual counting process and can be effective if they are used correctly. These vary from special counting racks to radio frequency locator systems.


The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics recently updated its guidelines regarding hurricanes. These go into effect October 1. The hurricane piece is located on pages 19-20 of the 120-page document, which I’m sure all physicians, coders, and billers will be lining up to read. It mostly addresses the ICD-10 codes for external causes – although they have been in place for years, the guidelines direct physicians how they should be used. The guidelines also address the use of Z codes, which can explain why patients presented for care, including homelessness, inadequate housing, poverty, and lack of availability or inaccessibility of health care facilities.

Speaking of CMS, a recent blog by administrator Seema Verma addressed the topic of “Better Data Will Serve as the Foundation in Modernizing the Medicaid Program.” Essentially, CMS is seeking to demonstrate how the ever-growing Medicaid budget is driving better health outcomes. CMS is also looking for ways to “improve program integrity, performance, and financial management in Medicaid and CHIP.” CMS has identified core sets of quality measures that will be used to monitor outcomes, although reporting is voluntary at this time. It admits that reporting is burdensome and has tried to mitigate the burden through the Meaningful Measures initiative, noting future intent to “leverage existing and more automated data reporting systems to generate these Medicaid measures on behalf of states, thereby reducing reporting burden while also improving data consistency, comparability, and comprehensiveness.”

That’s a buzzword bingo winner right there. Theoretically, isn’t CMS already receiving the data through individual provider reporting as part of Meaningful Use? Wouldn’t that allow CMS to aggregate the data rather than having states submit it? I’m not in the details on Medicaid MU very much any more, but maybe someone who is can shed a little light on this for me. All I know is that as a practicing clinician, fewer of my peers are accepting Medicaid patients and those who are have generally stopped booking new patient visits, leaving a continuing gap in care delivery and pushing patients to the emergency department.

Flu season is officially upon us, with positive cases being reported even though the 2018-19 season is not yet being named on the CDC website. We’re seeing plenty of cases in my practice, along with a particularly nasty influenza-like illness that walks like the flu and talks like the flu but comes out negative in testing.

Our urgent care volumes during last year’s flu season were largely driven by patients who either couldn’t get in to see their primary care physicians or who didn’t want to go to the emergency department due to potential wait times, overcrowding, and perceived lack of service. We’ve hired several new providers and a small army of paramedics and scribes to help us get through the upcoming season. If you haven’t received your vaccine yet, now is the time.


We already knew it in our hearts, but I was saddened to see the Journal of the American Medical Association call out the “Southern diet” as deadly. Its main mechanism is thought to be elevated blood pressure. The study looked at nearly 7,000 people who were part of a larger long-term study of diet and lifestyle. It tracked weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, alcohol use, income, and exercise habits along with symptoms of stress and depression. The study notes, “The largest statistical mediator of the difference in hypertension incidence between black and white participants was the Southern dietary pattern, accounting for 51.6 percent of the excess risk among black men and 29.2 percent of the excess risk among black women.” Hispanic and Latino individuals were excluded from the study.

I looked in the full-text article as well as in the references for the link to the “Southern diet score” they used but didn’t find it. I’m curious how my own diet stacks up – I do love a good fish fry with cheesy potatoes and apple cobbler.

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