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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 6/6/19

June 6, 2019 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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The American Board of Family Medicine takes a step towards interoperable encounters of the professional kind by becoming the first American Board of Medical Specialties member Board to implement automated licensure updates for US licensees. Instead of Diplomates having to log in and update their state licenses annually, ABFM will receive the data directly from the Federation of State Medical Boards. Licensure details will automatically update monthly and providers will receive notification when updates occur so that they can confirm accuracy. It’s a small thing, but can be a big issue for physicians who fail to update. Automation makes it one fewer thing to worry about.

I truly enjoy working in the realm of informatics, but would miss patient care if I didn’t get to do it as well. Being in a patient-centric practice environment helps since we’re all working together to ensure our patients have a great experience. Even when it’s a difficult day, it’s still better than a lot of the days I have had with other employers.

Today I celebrated the best chief complaint ever and made sure to memorialize it in the chart: “Patient states: We were walking out of Starbucks and saw you open over here, so we decided to come in.” I probably wouldn’t have heard that one a decade ago, but it underscores that patients sometimes value convenience and accessibility more than other variables. The flip side of this was the patient who arrived at the front desk at 5:30 p.m. and wanted to be sure she could be out of the office by 5:50 since she had plans to meet someone for dinner at 6:00. We get 90% of our patients out in under an hour, but trying to squeeze it under the 20-minute mark is pushing it when there is only a single provider on duty and other patients are awaiting care.

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Device of the week: Researchers conclude that the home use of video goggles that measure eye movements can provide an early and accurate diagnosis of vertigo. Patients were instructed to use the goggles to record eye movements that can help confirm which specific type of vertigo is occurring so that providers can determine the best course of action. Since vertigo symptoms can wax and wane, this would be a benefit to patients whose symptoms might be gone before they make it to a provider, or who have issues limiting travel to see a clinician. I’ve had vertigo that forced me to crawl through the house because I couldn’t stand, so I can’t imagine the frustration of patients who have symptoms frequently but may not have a definitive diagnosis.

Speaking of devices, it might be time to fire up those Fitbits. An article recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine and presented at the American College of Sports Medicine 2019 Annual Meeting shows that the risk for all-cause mortality fell among older women who walked at least 4,400 steps per day. As the number of steps increased, the risks continued to fall, leveling off at 7,500 steps per day. This is great news for individuals who might not be able to meet the oft-touted but poorly-researched 10,000 steps per day.

The authors note that current US Health and Human Services physical activity guidelines recommend a weekly time goal for exercise, but that counting steps may be more easily translated into real-world practice given the widespread nature of step-counting devices. The mean age of women in the study was 72 and they were followed for a mean of 4.3 years. The study adjusted for other risk factors including age, smoking status, alcohol use, general health, and 10 other factors related to risk for cancer or cardiovascular disease. As with many studies, there were some limitations – participants were predominantly Caucasian and of high socioeconomic status, which may have made them more active than the general population, so the results may not apply to different demographics or to men.

Telehealth continues to be a hot topic, and Epic recently added the American Well telehealth app to the App Orchard. The app is supposed to add one-click virtual consult functionality within the EHR workflow. It includes control of remote cameras and digital collaboration for non-Epic sites.

I have a couple of colleagues who use Epic and are trying to get into the business of virtual consults, but their organizations haven’t committed to allowing providers to block time to handle the requests. It is becoming just “one more thing” that causes time pressures in the office. It’s disheartening to see that administrators think they can just add these programs without a thought since that’s a recipe for employee dissatisfaction. One of my former employers tried to add evening appointments and it was a bust – patients didn’t take advantage of the appointments as much as was hoped and providers felt they were losing even more time away from family.

A reader sent me this article about health skills for the Amazon Alexa platform. Functionalities include diabetes management tracking, virtual physical therapy, and general health management.

Although I don’t doubt that personal assistant-based technology can be a benefit, especially for patients who have access issues or who otherwise wouldn’t go to a brick-and-mortar healthcare facility, I would caution people about changing to this manner of care without data that shows it’s at least equivalent. The virtual physical therapy in particular makes me nervous. I have several friends who are PTs and understand how difficult it is to get patients to do exercises correctly even when they’re present in face-to-face encounters. Doing PT incorrectly can not only lead to stalled progress, but it can actually cause harm.

The author notes one of the major consumer concerns about telehealth, that “my doctors have long answered my questions and dispensed phone and email advice for free.” It’s difficult for patients to accept that physicians are not only tired of doing this for free, but that the constant ratcheting down of healthcare payments and the addition of administrative burdens have made it untenable. You wouldn’t call your lawyer for free advice and even my auto mechanic won’t talk about my car without a diagnostic visit (which isn’t free).

She notes that her OB offered great advice, but probably doesn’t realize that OB care for a pregnancy is part of a global fee that the OB is paid for the entire episode of care. Virtually no one outside the industry understands those nuances of healthcare finance. She complains about a $235 bill for a virtual visit, but never says what the accepted amount or the actual payment was. I bet it wasn’t $235.

What do you think of the rise of personal assistants in healthcare? Leave a comment or email me.

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