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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 3/16/23

March 16, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I’ve been carefully following the Silicon Valley Bank implosion, especially the stories about the electronic transactions that contributed to its death spiral. The most striking data point: customers were attempting to withdraw more than $42 billion within a 24-hour period, which works out to approximately $500,000 per second.

I admit that I’m one of those people who has grown used to being able to transfer money on a timeline of minutes to seconds, but the idea of that much money moving around is nearly unfathomable. The bank failure, along with concerns about other lenders, has led to the flow of more than $15 billion to Bank of America. Other large banks, such as Wells Fargo and Citigroup, have yet to comment on the amount of new money flowing in.

People frequently compare what we’re doing in healthcare IT to the digital revolutions that have occurred in other industries. I enjoyed this article about accounting firm PwC and its plans to use an AI chatbot to help its legal team boost efficiency. More than 4,000 workers will have access to an AI-enabled chatbot provided by Harvey with the expectations that it can assist with tasks such as due diligence and contract analysis. Harvey works with large language models in the legal space and uses OpenAI and ChatGPT technology.

Even though we’re several days past the Daylight Saving Time transition, several people I know are still struggling with sleep/wake cycles, especially where children and pets are involved. There’s plenty of push for making Daylight Saving Time permanent, but the medical establishment isn’t convinced. A recent article in JAMA notes that medical societies such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine “overwhelmingly” support the continuation of Standard Time if we’re going to stop jumping back and forth. They note that during Daylight Saving Time, “the body’s internal circadian clock, which synchronizes to solar time, is out of step with the social clock, or local time.” This results in higher numbers of motor vehicle crashes, depression, and stroke, not only during the transition period, but throughout the summer. There’s not a ton of research on time changes, though, with the authors noting that only 159 articles have been published since 1962.

The reality is that there’s a finite amount of sunlight each day, and choosing one time paradigm over the other determines whether that extra light is in the morning to help us get going or whether it’s later in the day for after-work and after-school activities.

Interestingly, some of the most prominent research in the field stems from Russia, which instituted permanent Daylight Saving Time from 2011 to 2014 before moving to permanent standard time. In a retrospective study of adolescents and young adults, researchers found that ongoing Daylight Saving Time created a dissociation between social and biological clocks which “potentially exerts a negative influence on adolescents’ sleep habits, mood, and behavior.” People also forget that the US tried year-round DST in January of 1974, resulting in an extended period of dark mornings during the winter when children are headed to school. Standard time was restored by October of that year. There’s plenty of other great information in the article, so if you’re looking for a deep dive, I’d give it a read.

I was interested to learn about proposed legislation that would prevent companies from using health data for advertising and marketing purposes. US Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Mazie Hirono introduced the Upholding Protections for Health and Online Location Data (UPHOLD) Privacy Act, which would curtail the profits companies generate by using personally identifiable health data for advertising. Where HIPAA focuses on covered entities, this bill takes protections to the next level, allowing patients even more control over their health data when it resides with apps, tech companies, and other organizations. The bill would impact the numerous companies that harvest health information but aren’t regulated by HIPAA and would also ban the sale of location data.

From Igloo Fan: “Re: organ donation. Did you see this article about the donated liver that got stuck due to road closures for a marathon?” I hadn’t seen it, so I appreciate the share. Apparently the liver was stranded by the Philadelphia Half Marathon with 30,000 participants hitting the streets. Dr. Adam Bodzin ran into the field, traveling half a mile to where the van carrying the organ had reached a literal road block. Fortunately, police were able to transport him back to the hospital with his precious cargo. I had the privilege of working on my hospital’s transplant team during training and it was an unbelievable experience, if often surreal. Our team treated each organ procurement surgery with the reverence and awe it deserved and as a surgical subintern I was honored to be left behind to help return the donors to the best appearance possible for their families. Once those cases were complete, we caught up with the team performing the actual transplant procedures, and the sense of awe continued. There’s nothing like watching a donor organ start functioning. If you’re an organ donor, make sure your family knows your wishes. If you aren’t, please consider making it possible to give the gift of life should something unforeseen happen.

I love it when readers send me funny emails, even though I don’t always have time to reply to them. I’ve had some long-term back and forth correspondence with some readers to the point where I feel like I really know them. One of those readers and I have had an ongoing dialogue about virtual workplaces where you’re constantly expected to be on camera. It was the best laugh of the day when I opened a message to read this: “I’m on a Zoom and this woman is casually sipping a bottle of magnesium citrate.” I’m just hoping his co-worker was knowingly drinking a laxative and didn’t have it confused for some other beverage in the refrigerator. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so perhaps she was getting ready for a recommended screening test.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen on a conference call? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 3/13/23

March 13, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

A recent article in JAMA Health Forum caught my eye with this title: “Association of Primary Care Visit Length With Potentially Inappropriate Prescribing.” The study’s goal was to answer the question, “Are primary care physicians more likely to prescribe potentially inappropriate medications during shorter visits?” in part as a proxy for seeing whether shorter visits resulted in lower-quality care.

The authors looked at visits from 4.3 million patients, noting that “those who were younger, publicly insured, Hispanic, or non-Hispanic Black had shorter primary care physician visits.” These visits were associated with higher rates of antibiotic use for inappropriate conditions, such as upper respiratory infections. They were also associated with prescriptions for both opioid analgesics and benzodiazepines in patients who presented with painful conditions. The authors concluded that shorter visits were associated with some measures of inappropriate prescribing, but not all.

It’s a difficult study to analyze, especially looking at the demographics included in the study. We know from other research that there can be racially and ethnically associated differences in care quality. We know that black women have higher maternal mortality and less prenatal care compared to white women, and there are plenty of other examples of racial disparities in care. It’s also difficult to understand from the write-up exactly what kind of EHR data was used in the study, which was conducted from March 2022 through January 2023.

The researchers pulled a dataset from multiple states across the US that encompassed both claims and EHR data from users of the Athenahealth platform. EHR timestamp data was used, including flags for check-in, patient intake, the clinician encounter, checkout, and signoff. In some clinics, these stamps can be a poor proxy for patient visit duration, especially when there’s a lot of waiting involved or when physicians don’t appropriately change the status of visits as they move through their schedules. I would be interested to see data on the concordance of those timestamps with actual visit durations as observed in the practice before using them as a proxy.

The visit time was variable between physicians, and although the median visit length was 18.9 minutes, the range was 14.1 minutes to 24.6 minutes. There was some data I didn’t expect when looking at visit length alone. Those visits that were scheduled for 30 minutes rather than 10 received more physician attention, as one would expect. However, the difference in time spent was only four minutes for the longer appointments. That might indicate that triage algorithms or human schedulers aren’t doing a great job predicting the correct appointment slot for a given patient.

Not surprisingly, visits that had five or more diagnoses were 9.1 minutes longer than those with only one recorded diagnosis. New patient visits were 4.1 minutes longer than those with established patients. The data supported previously proven conclusions, such as female patients having longer visits than male patients and older patients having longer visits than younger patients. It also showed that patients with commercial insurance had slightly longer visits than those with Medicaid or other payers.

The researchers found a correlation between longer visits and a decreased likelihood of inappropriate antibiotic use. On the flip side, longer visits had a positive association with potentially inappropriate prescribing among adult adults, which was an interesting finding. The authors note that “many of the prescriptions that we observed may have been refills; thus, it may have taken the physician less time to refill the medication than to engage in a discussion about de-prescribing.”

The authors end by stating that there are opportunities for additional research and operational interventions for visit scheduling and prescribing decisions in primary care. They also note that data showing that non-Hispanic black patients had shorter visits than non-Hispanic white patients seeing the same physician, which could result in accumulation of time disparities that can potentially contribute to racial disparities. They conclude that the data “should motivate organizations and policy makers to detect, interrogate, and address underlying systemic causes such as structural racism.”

It would be interesting to compare data pulled from Athenahealth users and that from users of other EHRs that may have varying levels of clinical decision support or guidelines content within the clinical workflows. In my community, the user base of the Athenahealth EHR tends more towards an independent primary care practice user base. Practices that are owned by or affiliated with the large health systems or academic institutions tend to use a different EHR, as they do across the US. Therefore, using data from one vendor alone might not be representative of primary care practices across the US.

It would also be interesting to control the data for owned versus independent practices, large versus small, and those who are participating in risk-based contracts versus those who aren’t. I’ve found that certain kinds of practices tend to have a more systems-based approach that can make short appointments more efficient than they might be elsewhere.

I work with physicians who practice in a face-to-face environment, those who practice entirely via telehealth, and those who either do a hybrid approach from within their practices or who practice at separate in-person and telehealth jobs. I’ve seen telehealth physicians held to standards that some of their in-person counterparts aren’t monitored for, because there’s a suspicion that somehow telehealth physicians are doing a worse job at following guidelines and standards than their in-person colleagues.

It would also be interesting to compare and contrast the data for telehealth visits done by third-party providers versus those delivered by the patient’s medical home. You would also have to look at hybridized care models such as a primary care office that uses an acute care telehealth pool that’s part of an overall health system, or primary care offices that allow third-party providers to work within their own EHR.

There’s not a tremendous body of literature looking at the length of telehealth visits compared to the outcomes of those visits, and maybe someday I can be part of the research into how telehealth can best be used for what kinds of care and what clinical decision tools work best to provide care in different environments. It’s been a long time since I was involved in research, but I enjoyed it. I’ve just entered a new Maintenance of Certification cycle with my specialty board and a practice improvement project is in order, so one never knows.

What do you think about the association with visit length and care quality? What have your experiences been from the patient side? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 3/9/23

March 9, 2023 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

I survived my trip to the ATA conference, but I can’t say I’m glad to be home. Leaving beautiful the warm and sunny environment of San Antonio for the rainy chill at home was definitely an adjustment. I’m glad I left my heavier coat in the car so I would have it when I got back.

Overall, it was an interesting conference, in that I met some great people and learned about some novel use cases for telehealth. From a logistics standpoint, though, I heard a fair amount of grumbling from attendees and exhibitors alike. The themes:

  • Meal service hours were tightly controlled. Although beverages were laid out 25 minutes before lunch was to be served, the catering staff literally had guards in place blocking anyone from even getting water from the lunch service tables. On the other hand, meals were served throughout the show floor, so that made it easier to pop out and get something. There was no break service upstairs where the majority of sessions were held, however.
  • Breakout rooms weren’t ideally sized for the attendees. Some were standing room only, where others seemed like vast caverns with presenters speaking into a dark void. I don’t recall having the option of indicating interest in a session in advance, which would have helped with room sizing if that’s something the event planners are interested in for the future.
  • The Saturday through Monday scheduled really seemed to mess with people’s sense of time and date. Although they enjoyed being able to focus on sessions on Sunday without dealing with work email, most people still missed three days of work with Friday and Tuesday travel, plus lost their weekend.
  • Exhibitors felt the event wasn’t as well attended as they expected. Exhibit hall hours were long, running from 10:40 a.m. to 6 p.m. On opening day, they let attendees in before it opened, which ruffled some feathers since people weren’t in their booths yet. On Sunday at 5 p.m., the aisles were a ghost town, and on Monday by 4:15, attendance was slim.

On Monday I attended a great Executive Deep Dive session and really enjoyed the first panel, which included veteran healthcare IT guru John Glaser. He’s been a voice of reason over the years and has good advice on how to run projects in a mindset that increases the changes of them being successful. I enjoyed his comments on the different ways that projects tend to turn out: 30% successful, with the rest being divided among options such as “trainwrecks” which are the spectacular failures, or “the great disappointments” which are ultimately worse.

His solid advice of keeping the transformation aspect at the forefront, as well as making sure everyone understands that transformation never ends, still rings true. Other advice such as making sure you have candor and openness on a project and making sure you aren’t trying to do too many things at once are sometimes overlooked but critical to successful initiatives. I also appreciated his advice to know how to pull the plug on an initiative when you see it’s not going to work out or drive value. One of my favorite takeaways from the panel was Glaser’s description of political support for transformation projects: “it’s like a slowly leaking balloon…. You have to re-inflate it every day.”

Monday night was the ATA social event, held at the Hard Rock Café as well as next door at the Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar. The Hard Rock scene was a little more chill, with people sitting and chatting while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and drinks. It was considerably less tame at the piano bar, where some of us retreated to the outdoor balcony in order to be able to have a conversation. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the apartments on the other side of the Riverwalk had soundproofed windows or how the residents otherwise coped with such noisy neighbors.

Still, it was a fun event to meet other attendees, learn what they’re doing in the industry, and to catch up with old friends. I’m at the point in my life where I can’t hang with the party crowd as well as I used to, so I headed back to the hotel while things were still in full swing in order to be ready for my early morning flight.

Wednesday was catch-up day. I’m privileged to have a great team who always has my back while I’m away, which is a big change from when I was doing interim CMIO work. The email volume was manageable and I caught up on some clinical reporting and other projects. The bright spot in my day was talking to one of my favorite graduating college students who is on the receiving end of some career recruiting by an EHR vendor. It was interesting to hear how the company portrays itself to potential applicants who are in non-healthcare fields and what they think of the recruiting pitch compared to other companies who are trying to catch their attention.

Since his major is highly specific and he’s got a very specific career in mind, he plans to look elsewhere, but it was an interesting conversation nonetheless. One of his close friends was also recruited and plans to pursue the opportunity, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about their journey.

I reached out to a couple of friends to ask about their HIMSS plans as I plan my Chicago travel. It sounds like even some of my die-hard attendee friends have opted not to attend this year. It’s a combination of working for companies that still have travel restrictions in place, not wanting to be away from family events given the later spring dates this year, and having limited conference budgets.

I’m not sure if large conferences will ever be what they once were in the pre-COVID era. From a HIMSS perspective, healthcare organizations are still recovering from the financial impacts of the pandemic, and if they have technology dollars to spend, they tend to be looking in focused areas. I’m not sure the large-format boat show of old is relevant to today’s buyers, but would be interested to hear from others with spending authority.

What’s the primary way you engage vendors for technology purposes? Are conferences and trade shows on their way out? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 3/6/23

March 6, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Jayne Goes to ATA


I have arrived at the American Telemedicine Association meeting in San Antonio, escaping the freezing rain of the Midwest for the blindingly bright sun of Texas.

Since it’s been a number of years since I’ve been to the downtown area, I did my usual walkabout. I’m always stunned by how small the Alamo is and how surreal it is to be in the middle of downtown surrounded by tourist shops and a wax museum. Although the Riverwalk was bustling Friday night, the surface streets were more subdued. I saw police responding to two restaurants, one near the Alamo and the other on the Riverwalk, due to disorderly patrons. By 7 p.m., Alamo Plaza was all but deserted, but the Riverwalk was bustling.


Saturday morning, I got my four miles in along the Riverwalk before many tourists were up and about. Most people don’t realize that the touristy section of the San Antonio River is made possible by a dam, which can control the height of the pool in the Riverwalk section. I grew up along a major river and had many trips to the lock and dam complexes with my dad, so I’m more prone to notice these kinds of things than the average tourist.

San Antonio is definitely doing its part to keep the area clean, with ample service workers out hosing off sidewalks and picking up trash during the early morning hours. It’s a shame that people have to throw trash in the river in the first place, but maintenance workers were fishing it out nonetheless.


On the way to registration, I stumbled upon San Antonio’s own “love locks” bridge near one of the less traveled sections of the Riverwalk.


At the convention center, I found a street artist working on this piece using paint pens. It was fascinating to watch how they controlled the lift with one hand and painted with the other.


Registration was a breeze, and the friendly check-in agent even asked me about the marathon shirt I was wearing. The conference bags were minimalist in nature and I like that. This is the kind of bag I keep in my suitcase for grocery runs when I’m traveling. It contained the usual flyers and postcards, along with a COVID-19 test kit from sponsor EMed, which is a great thing to include in a conference bag since many people have decided COVID is “over” and I suspect that a lot of the allergies people are complaining about might just be COVID.

On the other end of the useful spectrum is this single sock from ProAssurance. Attendees have to go by the booth to get the other one. Although it seems clever, it has the potential to generate a significant amount of waste, and attendees are becoming more attuned to that. Given the pattern on the sock, I’ll probably go by to get the other one for my favorite MD/JD, however. There were a couple of flyers in the bag, along with a couple of white papers, but none of the random junk I’ve gotten at other conferences, which was much appreciated.

After a brief sojourn to my hotel room to catch up on some of the working hours I missed while traveling yesterday, it was time to head back to the conference for a “Deep Dive” session on the business aspects of telehealth. It was a great session with lots of detail and a ton of attendees, resulting in standing room only conditions and people sitting on the floor around the edges of the room. Topics included compliance, professional liability, cyber liability, and the new proposed DEA regulations on controlled substances within telehealth.

I liked the seating arrangements – large round tables in the front for those who prefer that configuration, and standard rows of chairs in the back. The audience seemed engaged, with few people leaving until the end. I found the event photographers distracting, though. They were constantly in the room and would move around to take a new round of photos every time new panelists took the stage, often blocking the view of the speakers. A couple of them were also using 360-degree flash units even when shooting photos from far away, and although I don’t think they did much to illuminate the subjects they did a great job of blinding the audience momentarily. I wasn’t super keen on them taking long slow video panoramas of the audience, but I guess that’s just the nature of the beast these days.

From there we were off to the opening session which included speakers from the ATA, Optum, Google, and Microsoft. Topics were far ranging and there was a lot of discussion about how telehealth should evolve and expand in the post-COVID era. The presenters were largely industry folk. I overheard some people talking afterwards that it would have been good to hear from some patients whose lives had been touched by telehealth or whose care was made better through the technology. It’s nice to understand how the work we do impacts people at the point of care, whether they are clinicians, patients, or their families. Maybe ATA will consider incorporating something like this next year.

After the opening session, there was a casino night-themed social event with food and beverage service, although based on the attendance, I think a lot of people ventured out for dinner. I’m not much of a gambler, but it was fun to watch people celebrating at the craps table and to catch up with people I don’t normally get to see in person.

I’ve got some sessions picked out for the next couple of days of the conference, including ones on health equity, telehealth reimbursement, policy and advocacy, interoperability, and usability. I’ll also be hitting the exhibit hall and checking out some potential vendors as well as meeting up with a couple of old friends.

Hopefully there will be some time to soak up a little bit of sun in between sessions because the weather is certainly nicer here than it is back home. My step count was off the charts for today, so it’s now time to put my feet up and settle in with a good book to ensure I’m ready for what looks to be a pretty long day.

What kinds of things do you most like to experience at conferences, and what do you like the least? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 3/2/23

March 2, 2023 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

The hot topic around the virtual water cooler this week was the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision this week that employers can no longer use two specific strategies to silence laid-off employees. Employers are not permitted to include overly-broad confidentiality clauses as terms of a severance agreement. Additionally, they are not permitted to include broadly written non-disparagement clauses that prohibit discussion of previous employment with third parties.

The case involved hospital employees in Michigan who were furloughed when non-essential services were halted during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision applies to all US employers with the exception of railroads and airlines. There’s always the chance of an appeal, but for now, the decision is in force. It’s 23 pages of dense reading if you are looking for a sleep aid at the end of a long day.


I’ve mentioned that I’m on the teaching staff for a leadership seminar for one of my volunteer organizations. The participants will be spending five days with us and we’ll be covering a variety of topics around project planning, team development, managing diverse people, and effective communication. I’ve been prepping for some of my sessions and have three presentations on communication, so I was excited to see the Grammarly State of Business Communication report hit my inbox. It was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Grammarly Business and surveyed 1,000 knowledge workers and 250 business leaders. The respondents were full-time workers at corporations with 150 employees or more and were across a mix of industries and job functions. Business leaders were at the director level or higher with decision-making authority over strategy, development, customer experience, budgeting, or hiring.

Findings that caught my attention:

  • The time spent on written communication is up 18% from 2022, but the quality of written communication is waning. This aggregate of 21.4 hours per worker includes writing and responding to written communications, creating materials to be shared, reviewing and editing the work of others, revising materials, and other writing tasks.
  • Effectiveness of written communication has declined 10% over the past year.
  • Miscommunication is frequent, with 100% of respondents reporting miscommunication at least once per week, 66% reporting it once per day, and 48% reporting multiple instances per day. Miscommunication costs US businesses $12,506 per employee per year and comes with decreased productivity and increased worker-reported stress.
  • One in five business leaders feel that inadequate communication has eroded brand reputation, with 19% reporting lost deals due to poor communication. Conversely, one in three leaders feel that effective communication has helped them gain new business.
  • Confident writers are more likely feel confident in their work and engaged in their roles than non-confident writers. They also report higher mental well-being at work.
  • Increases in asynchronous work creates greater urgency for projects aimed at improving the quality of written communication.
  • More than one in five workers report that they have considered finding a new job due to poor communication.

There’s such a great push for many industries to bring workers back to the office that I think people sometimes lose sight of the benefits of asynchronous work. The majority of respondents felt asynchronous communication made their jobs more flexible. Additionally, a good percentage of workers in key demographics felt asynchronous work made them feel more included: 40% each for millennial and Latinx workers, and 39% for neurodivergent workers.

I was particularly interested in learning the details of people’s specific struggles with written communication. The majority of respondents (71%) struggle to choose words that don’t offend others and with finding the balance between formal and casual written speech. Additionally, 63% say they spend too much time trying to convey their message in the right way. There are additional challenges for workers with English as their second or less familiar language, who report higher levels of uncertainty than their primarily English-using colleagues on things like tone, word selection, communication length, jargon, and idioms.

The long and short of it is that communication is key, and I’m looking forward to being part of a leadership development experience that puts some useful skills and well-accepted methodologies in front of people who might not otherwise receive formal communication training. As a side bonus, this is an outdoor leadership program so I get to do all of my teaching in front of a picnic table rather than in front of a Zoom screen. There will also be some sleeping in a tent, which is fine by me, although I’m crossing my fingers for beautiful spring weather rather than the rain and hail I’ve had teaching previous outdoor leadership courses.


From Bianca Biller: “Re: March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Look what greeted me on a practice visit. Hopefully the patients will identify with it and get their tests scheduled. The practice had a whole ‘Patient Communication’ wall with at least 10 signs taped to it.” Bianca included a picture of that wall that I can’t run due to the practice letterhead being all over the documents. Some of them are laminated, and based on the photo, they range from knee height (diabetes) to about seven feet from the ground (Affordable Care Act and preventive visits). The fonts were pretty small and I can’t imagine anyone being able to actually read it all. Hopefully they are using other methods to communicate with patients such as their website, patient portal, email outreach, and chatbot campaigns.


The practice also uses a super fancy inventory management system for the exam rooms, placing the burden of managing inventory on the people who are in direct contact with patients and using the supplies in the rooms. I guess the days of having the staff clean and restock rooms at the end of each day have passed. I understand the “just in time” approach here, but I guess the idea of working at the top of your license might not be top of mind in this practice. Compared to regular checks by support staff, this also increases the risk that you could run out of something if you inadvertently let supplies get lower than the time it takes for someone to notice that the magnets have moved and to find the time to get an item and restock it.

At my last clinical location, there was a designated support staff member that started going through the office with a supply cart in the final hour before closing. Despite seeing up to 20 patients in each exam room each day, we never ran out of anything, we always had what we needed for patient care, and delays were nonexistent. It’s a brave new world, I guess.

As I get ready to head to the American Telemedicine Association’s 2023 Annual Conference & Expo in San Antonio for the first time, I have to reflect on the fact that it is the spammiest conference I’ve ever attended. There are only 220 exhibitors on the list and it feels like I’m getting emails from all of them. Some have a tone of increasing urgency, asking if I missed their previous email and pushing for a response. I understand the sales strategy here, but it’s annoying and actually makes me less likely to consider you as a vendor when you do this. I also loathe emails that address me as “Hey Jayne.” An email isn’t a formal letter and personally I don’t think it needs a salutation. I’d rather receive one with no salutation than one with the “Hey” at the top.

What’s your greatest pet peeve when it comes to email? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/27/23

February 27, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I’m headed to several conferences over the next two months. I spent some time this weekend going through the agendas and looking at the details to identify specific sessions I’d like to attend.

Smaller conferences tend to have smaller agendas, so it was fairly easy to determine what I planned to attend at the first of the series, which is the American Telemedicine Association Annual Conference & Expo in San Antonio. Given the frigid weather across most of the US, I have to say I’m looking forward to the San Antonio weather as much as I’m looking forward to any of the sessions. The topics I’m excited about most include remote monitoring, legal issues, and health equity.

Regarding the latter, telehealth holds huge promise, but there is still significant concern that large groups of patients are being left behind due to technology and connectivity issues. My focus is more on health literacy and the barriers it creates as far as care delivery, so it will be interesting to see what the speakers have to say.

The agenda for the CHIME/ViVE mashup was a little more complicated to navigate since it has a lot of sessions that run concurrently across a half dozen different tracks, along with a number of CHIME-only sessions and events. I found a fair amount of overlap in the concepts behind the ViVE tracks and ended up having to really look at the session descriptions versus being able to use the tracks or titles to help thin out the options. I also looked at the speakers and will be making sure to hit sessions with speakers from organizations that are constantly in the news, such as Amazon Clinic and Teladoc.

I didn’t attend ViVE last year, but the way it’s set up seems similar to HLTH. Many of the sessions are focused around experts discussing their opinions. Although those can be interesting, for those of us who have been heavily into evidence-based medicine, we know that when assessing the strength of a recommendation based on a body of evidence, expert opinion is the weakest. When attending those kinds of sessions, I often find myself thinking, “that’s great, but the proof will be in the proverbial pudding,” so I anticipate having that feeling often during the conference.

If you’re going for talks that hit higher up the evidence-based scale, HIMSS is the place to be, at least as far as its concurrent education sessions are concerned. I’ve made fun of HIMSS in the past because the submission timeline for sessions is so far ahead of the conference that material can become stale. However, that significant lead time is useful when you’re performing an advance review of what is going to be presented and assessing it for things like level of evidence and commercial bias. For those sessions where continuing medical education or other credits will be offered, they must include designated learning objectives, along with disclosures of any financial relationships that might be related to the content of the presentations.

Although some of the HIMSS sessions I’ve been to have been dry, they’re usually well put together and the presenters are happy to correspond with you afterwards if you want to dig into their topics. Of course, several of the sessions I’d like to attend are on top of each other, which is a shame. In the past, I’ve found the recorded sessions to be variable in quality, and if I remember correctly, the lower-cost pass I bought for this year doesn’t include access to the recordings. 

Some of the presentations I’m looking forward to at HIMSS cover health equity, standards and interoperability, using automated care programs to improve clinical outcomes, and integrating virtual care with other healthcare delivery options. I’m doing some volunteer work with underserved populations, so I’m particularly interested in one of the sessions on street medicine and delivering care to the homeless. I’ve worked previously with one of the organizations that is presenting and I’m excited to see how their program has grown in the intervening years. It sounds like they’ve added a lot of technology tools to their approach while they still manage to maintain the focus on whole-person care.

It’s always fun to see where people have ended up in this industry, It feels like we were so green trying to do some of these technology initiatives back in the pre-Meaningful Use days. Some of my favorite clinical informaticists have crossed the 20-year mark in the business, so I’m looking forward to catching up with them in any downtime we can find.

Of course, one of the most fun parts of conference season for the HIStalk team is making the rounds at vendor events and reporting on the overall buzz. In the post-COVID era, those vendor events have been fewer in number and lower in key than when healthcare IT was in its more glamorous phases. That’s to be expected given the economy and the fact that marketing folks know that throwing a big bash with a lot of random attendees who don’t even have decision-making authority isn’t likely the best way to spend their cash. Still, if you’re throwing a blowout event where general attendees can register, feel free to send invites our way and we’ll consider anonymously dropping by.

As long as the weather holds, Chicago is one of my favorite cities for HIMSS because it’s easy to get around and has plenty of non-conference activities going on, unlike Orlando, where everything is mostly concentrated in that one section of International Drive. Unlike Las Vegas, you don’t have to walk through a smoky casino to get to where the action is, so that’s a plus.

Several people have told me that Nashville has turned into a fun conference location, although I haven’t been there since one meeting in 2008 that was held entirely at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. I’m looking forward to seeing what it has to offer and will be happy to have the opportunity to catch up with one of my favorite people in her hometown. It’s always good to have a friend who knows where the real fun is to be had and how to avoid the tourist traps and overhyped restaurants and bars.

If you’re taking part in upcoming conferences, what are you looking forward to the most? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/23/23

February 23, 2023 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

In the “not a major surprise, but it’s nice to see some data” category, a recent study published in the Journal Healthcare finds that scribes are linked to a 27% reduction in primary care burnout rates. The authors looked at using remote scribes to assist primary care physicians in an effort to boost physician wellness.

The research was performed at University of Wisconsin Health and included approximately 200 physicians in the specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, and adolescent medicine. Individual scribes were paired one-to-one with physicians. The intervention group included 37 physicians and the control group numbered 160. The scribes used an audio-only cellphone connection to listen to visits and create documentation in real time. Orders were entered and held in a pending status for physicians to execute. The final notes also underwent review, editing, and signature by the physicians.

Prior to the intervention, more than 70% of physicians reported burnout. Post-intervention, that number was down to 51%. Although that change is dramatic, it is accentuated by the fact that for those physicians who didn’t work with a scribe, their burnout rates rose from 50% to 60%. Additionally, those working with scribes were more likely to describe their workplace as “joyful” and “supportive.” Measures of EHR-related stress were lower than those clinicians who didn’t have scribes. Working with a scribe slashed up to 66 minutes of EHR time out of an eight-hour physician day, with half of that being outside the scheduled workday.

Interestingly, looking at the study design, those receiving scribes were self-selected and had to agree to not only participate in program evaluation efforts, but to see one additional patient per half-day clinic session in order to offset the costs of the scribe. Both of those factors may have had an influence on satisfaction.

The authors noted that four of the intervention group dropped out of the project within the first year, and it would be interesting to look at the reasons given. They also noted that the project began just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, “which dramatically disrupted clinical operations and could have affected the post-intervention wellness and EHR measurements.” Still, they conclude that “the fact that a scribe program can be revenue-neutral with modest increases in productivity makes them an attractive intervention to help organizations improve the wellness of their physician workforce.”

I think that if primary care colleagues fully did the math, many of them would be willing to see one or two more patients per day in order to shave time off their after-hours documentation.

Working with scribes was critical to my survival in the early days of the pandemic, when my urgent care’s volumes spiked. It would have been impossible to see 80+ patients per day without a scribe. A good chunk of those visits were for COVID testing or COVID concerns without any symptoms, and my scribes were able to capture not on the patients’ stories, but all of my counseling and medical advice, before I left the room.

Unfortunately, many of our practice’s best scribes gained admittance to medical school in the summer of 2020, decimating the program. It wasn’t able to recover prior to the subsequent COVID peaks, and the lack of scribes was directly associated with a number of physicians leaving the organization in the first half of 2021. There is definitely some work effort involved in onboarding a scribe program, but if your organization is experiencing clinician burnout, it’s worth considering.

My Approved Portraits

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is going after health system Ascension. In a letter to the health system’s CEO, she calls out the fact that “Ascension is required to provide charitable benefits to the community and operate solely to serve a public, rather than a private interest. Despite these requirements, Ascension has significant for-profit investment activities that dwarf what the system providers in annual charity care.” She goes on to state that “by operating like a private equity fund, Ascension is squeezing staff, closing facilities, and extracting cash from its member hospitals for dubious ‘management fees’ all to advance its investment activities and provide compensation to its executives.”

Baldwin also calls out the fact that at the recent J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Ascension’s CEO talked up its $18 billion in cash and investments, noting “This number raises questions about why Ascension, a mission-driven health system with non-profit status, is not prioritizing reinvestment into serving vulnerable communities and its own operations – which should include increasing pay and improving working conditions for its burned out and overextended health care workforce.”

She cites data that Ascensions investment funds lost the system more than $200 million more than the organization provided toward charity care during the most recent financial quarter. She closes with a demand for data covering fiscal years 2015 through 2022 that describes investments, returns, charity spend, debt collection practices. She also asks for information on management fees charged to hospitals, how monies from the Provider Relief Fund were used to address hospital staffing, details on over $250 million in charitable care during the last three months, and a list of compensation packages for executives and board members.

I’ve worked for several health systems that sat on billions of dollars while the proverbial city burned. I’ve seen essential frontline workers struggle to maintain full-time status while managers are incentivized to turn them into part-time workers so they don’t have to pay benefits. I’ve seen these systems put the squeeze on primary care physicians while they build fancy non-clinical additions on their buildings. And we’ve all seen some of these organizations aggressively pursue patients for their portion of payments, while barely paying heed to their supposed charitable missions.

On my most recent patient-side visit to one of these systems, I experienced understaffing, scheduling issues, and dirty facilities. With cash in the double-digit billions, it feels like they shouldn’t have baseball-sized dust bunnies in the waiting room. They also shouldn’t be shifting patients away from established physician relationships to brand new mid-level providers because the physician panels are full and they “can’t afford to hire” additional physicians.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out with Ascension, and I’m sure other nonprofits will be following closely.

What do you think about so-called non-profit health systems who have billions in the bank? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/20/23

February 20, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

ChatGPT and similar tools continue to be some of the hottest topics around the virtual physician lounge. Plenty of clinicians are experimenting with using the tools to help respond to patient messages, and the bravest souls are even looking at using it to create visit documentation.

Although it’s tempting to think that we might be on the cusp of having reliable tools to help us with some of the most time-consuming parts of our jobs, the reality is that the technology is not yet ready for prime time as far as using it in clinical scenarios. Unfortunately, many frontline physicians may not understand the limitations of the system and are wading into some pretty deep water where it comes to patient care.

Some of my non-medical friends have been using it as well and have a lot to say about the fact that its output can sound completely convincing, but is factually incorrect. There are some examples going around, such as where it lists the peregrine falcon as the fastest marine mammal. The computer science folks note that in order for models like ChatGPT to be useful in healthcare, constraints need to be placed on their predictive capabilities.

For example, if you were using the tool to summarize a patient’s chart, you don’t want to allow it to predict procedures or treatments that didn’t happen. My friends seem to think that the easy answer in healthcare is to just have the physician review everything to make sure it’s accurate. However, those of us who practiced back in the days of heavy use of medical transcription know that’s easier said than done. The number of transcriptions that went out the door without proofreading or corrections was staggering, and led to outcomes running the spectrum from laugh-provoking to malpractice.

There’s also the not so small matter of HIPAA and the risks of feeding large quantities of patient information into the dataset used by the tool. Additionally, trying to leverage AI-based technologies for healthcare isn’t cheap. I’ve seen several startups that try to pass their solutions off as “AI-enabled” when all they really have is a bunch of sophisticated decision trees. There’s a certain threshold of money that has to be raised in order to be able to afford the work needed to truly move into the AI space, and understanding whether a company even has the resources to realistically do AI work should be one of the first steps in determining if they’re blowing smoke.

In related topics, some of my colleagues were discussing a recent editorial in JAMA Health Forum titled “Garbage in, Garbage out – Words of Caution on Big Data and Machine Learning in Medical Practice.” The piece opens with a quote from Alan Turing: “A computer would deserve to be called intelligent of it could deceive a human into believing that it was human.” It goes on to talk about machine learning and the use of data to predict clinical outcomes, such as adverse events related to medications. We know all too well the risks of using data sets that aren’t representative of the population in question or that don’t have all the information needed to generate a reliable prediction. The article uses the example of an opioid prediction rule that didn’t included data on cancer diagnoses or enrollment of hospice as a rule that isn’t ready for prime time.

Especially in the primary care trenches, physicians are often so busy just trying to get the daily work done that they may not be digging in to understand exactly how predictive rules are generated or how valid they are. They have to rely on regulatory agencies and the editorial staff of medical journals to vet proposals. Although this can delay the time for new tools to get to the point of care, it can be a valuable step for protecting patient safety. The article notes that it’s also important to reevaluate rules on a periodic basis, since medical knowledge continues to evolve. It gives the evolution of an HIV diagnosis “from a death sentence to a manageable chronic illness” as an example. It’s good food for thought.

Around the administrative / non-clinical physician water cooler, one of hottest topics over the last couple of weeks was that of annual performance reviews. Making the jump from clinical practice to management requires more than just an interest in administrative topics. It also involves understanding how corporations work and some of the tactics that they use to manage their human capital.

A physician who is new to administrative work recently learned that he would have to perform stack ranking when analyzing his team’s performance. For those who may not have run across this, it requires managers to score workers against their peers rather than against goals and objectives. The first time I ran into this was when I worked for a large hospital system, and a management consultant that had been engaged to “trim the fat” forced our department to implement it.

To make matters even worse, annual merit raises were tied to the stack rankings. For managers with exceptionally talented teams who were all working at or beyond their potential and who were achieving great results, it’s agonizing to have to allocate more of a raise to some and less to others when they were all working extremely hard and crushing their goals. As a relatively new physician leader at the time, I hadn’t been exposed to anything like that. It’s not something you learn about in medical school and it certainly wasn’t covered in the couple of physician leadership intensives that I was sent to as the health system prepared me for greater administrative roles. Fortunately, I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working in environments where this methodology isn’t used, and I felt more than a little disbelief at the fact that it seems to be becoming popular again.

I’m a firm believer that if an employee isn’t meeting expectations, that needs to be addressed early and often through individual conversations with their manager and potentially a performance improvement plan if needed. It shouldn’t be left until the annual performance review. On high-performing teams, members should be able to work without fear that they’re going to be unfairly compared to co-workers just because of a methodology. Stack ranking is hard on managers as well as employees, and contributes to an overall toxic workplace culture. The fact that it’s still out there despite the literature about its consequences says a lot about companies that continue to use it.

The last hot topic of the week was a recent study that looked at whether the board members at the nation’s top hospitals have healthcare backgrounds. Published earlier this month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, it found that less than 15% of board members had a healthcare background versus finance or business services. Other interesting findings: of those with a finance background, 80% had experience with private equity funds, wealth management, or banking. The rest were in real estate or insurance. Of those with healthcare experience, 13% were physicians and less than 1% were nurses. The authors only looked at top hospitals and there were challenges in finding publicly available information about boards. This could be even more challenging when looking at smaller institutions.

These topics are just a sampling of those that are on the collective minds of physicians who are often just trying to put one foot in front of the other as they slog through caring for patients.

What do you hear when you’re working with clinicians? Are there any particularly hot topics? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/16/23

February 16, 2023 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

As we approach the end of the declared emergency surrounding the COVID pandemic, it will be important to assess how shifts in healthcare policies including those involving payment, access, and prescription medications will impact health outcomes.

A recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Maternal-Fetal Medicine looked at hos telehealth care impacted racial disparities in visit attendance during the pandemic. As background, the US has a terrible track record for maternal care, with maternal mortality rates that are significantly higher than other high-income countries. Additionally, in the US black woman are more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth. During my time in the emergency department, the number of women I cared for who had no prenatal care was simply stunning given our time and place in history.

Researchers at Penn Medicine performed a retrospective cohort study looking at the issue by comparing data from 2020 to the same time period in 2019. Self-identified patient demographic breakdown included 63% black, 26% white, and 1% Latinx individuals. Prior to the addition of telehealth, black patients were less likely than others to attend a postpartum visit. They were also less likely to receive a postpartum depression screening or to breastfeed their infants.

After telehealth implementation, postpartum depression screening rates were equivalent, although black patients remained less likely to breastfeed. The authors concluded that “telehealth implementation for postpartum care during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with decreased racial disparities in postpartum visit attendance” in a way that was statistically significant.

Numerous studies are demonstrating that telehealth can improve patient outcomes in the right situations. Especially for patient populations that may be marginalized, telehealth options can open the door to care that patients might not otherwise receive. Benefit can be derived from both video and audio-only telehealth visits, assuming the right protocols and safeguards are in place. In the short term, there are just some things that can’t be done without a face-to-face interaction, but as technology improves those gaps are narrowing.

I had dinner with some of my favorite smart women tonight and telehealth was a key topic, as were other non-traditional care delivery opportunities including school-based health clinics, mobile care units, and more. There are so many dedicated people in the healthcare arena who want to make sure patients get the care they need. Now it’s just a question of aligning the right priorities and incentives to make it happen. There are more than enough dollars being spent on healthcare, from insurance premiums to facility and provider bills, that we should be able to do better. We should be able to be better. The next few years will be interesting, indeed.


As someone who has been officially classified as a remote worker for more than 12 years, articles that talk about how remote work will be the death of business tend to catch my eye. The most recent one featured investor Marc Andreessen and his warnings that remote work isn’t good for younger people in the workforce. I got a kick out of the quotes where he called the office a “continuation of a college campus experience” and where he hinted that remote work has prevented not only the development of workplace relationships, but has stifled office romances. For any of us who has had to manage a team where romance may be in the air, I think we could do without the latter.

He also alleged that remote workers don’t have a sense of connection to their co-workers and that they don’t even know who their neighbors are. I’ve been with a fully-remote team for more than a year now, and I have to say that my relationships with some of my coworkers are as strong, if not stronger, than those with people who live in the same ZIP code.

In my experience, it’s more about putting the time in to understand who people really are and how they work best than it is about seeing them in person every day. It’s about setting shared goals and supporting each other, whether you’re 10 feet away or a thousand miles away. My co-workers are engaged outside the workplace whether they are younger, older, married, or single; whether they have families nearby, or whether they don’t. They take non-career-related classes to broaden their horizons, volunteer with various organizations, and travel. They find their sense of community through a mix of virtual and in-person interactions.

As someone who is older and I hope wiser in the workplace, I personally think that it’s healthy to shift the culture away from the idea that the workplace should be our social center. Wanting to have a life outside of work is a significant reason why many want to embrace remote work situations, where they can live where they like and have less time commuting and more time for other pursuits whether they be solitary or with others. I think some of us have forgotten the things that happened with in-office work that made people uncomfortable and that were difficult to get away from due to close quarters. We’ve all dealt with generally boorish behavior, people trashing the lunch room, unwanted smells, unwanted noise, and HR-worthy happenings at company parties and functions.

Although bad behavior can still happen in a remote environment, somehow it seems easier to tune out. If it gets to the point of needing to file a formal complaint, it’s more likely to be documented through email, chat logs, recorded meetings, and other media. Those “your word against mine” situations may look entirely different in a distributed workplace. I know I’m significantly more productive not working in an office, and that includes both work and non-work tasks. Given my penchant for throwing a delightful loaf of Three Cheese Semolina bread in the oven and timing it to be done just in time for dinner, I’m not sure I’d ever want to be in an office full time again.

What are your thoughts on remote work? Will it be the death of us, or should we not believe the hype? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/13/23

February 13, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I went to a birthday party Sunday night, which of course overlapped with the Super Bowl, turning it into an impromptu Super Bowl party. It has been years since I’ve actually seen the game played since usually I volunteered to work Super Bowl Sunday because it’s a historically mellow day in the emergency department and urgent care arenas. People would typically only come in if they were truly sick, which meant a fair amount of downtime, the deployment of numerous Crock Pots, food that you could cook in a microwave or toaster oven, and plenty of camaraderie.

The worst place I ever worked on Super Bowl Sunday was labor and delivery. That is primarily because no one came in during the pre-game or the game itself, but waited at home as long as humanly possible before coming in. Once the final scores were tallied, people started arriving in droves and every bed was full, with babies arriving quickly. One year we even had to deploy a team to the parking lot to assist a patient who didn’t quite make it.

It was nice to be able to hang out with family and friends, although I did have to manage a patient callback in the middle of it due to some pharmacy-related shenanigans. The after-hours exchange was flustered and I wasn’t sure about waiting for the usual process to work, but I was happy to give them a ring. My family hasn’t seen me on call in years, so they were wondering what could possibly be going on.

The planned menu was all about the birthday person. By halftime, I was wishing that I had some taco dip, smoked queso, or Buffalo chicken wings. Certain foods just go with football, at least from my past, so maybe I’ll have to make up for it with this week’s meal planning.

I haven’t seen some of my extended family in some time, and it’s always interesting to try to explain to them what exactly it is that I do as a CMIO and how I can still be a physician if I’m no longer working in the emergency department. Usually I explain that I help manage all the clinical systems behind the scenes, including the patient portal and the software that the physicians use when they write their notes, order labs and tests, or send medications to the pharmacy.

Even with advanced age, many family members are used to communicating with their physicians through a patient portal or following their lab results on their phones. It has been fun to watch some of them become more active participants in their healthcare, although there is always the one relative that takes everything they hear from their doctor as gospel and refuses to question anything, even when the only doctor in the family says they might want to ask some questions based on some concerning prescribing patterns.

Some days are more difficult than others, such as when you have to explain to clinicians that although they have great ideas about workflows, they are not always possible. Especially when you are using a certified EHR, certain things, including workflows that are deeply connected to coding, billing, and other regulatory requirements, just can’t be changed. I’m a fan of giving my users choices, though. If you’re not happy with your current state, here are two potential future states that we can actually accommodate based on the EHR and regulatory guidance, so  which do you prefer? Often they end up preferring the current state, especially when it has been designed by board-certified clinical informaticists who have observed thousands of patient care encounters and who have worked in numerous EHR and documentation systems. 

Other difficult days happen when end users are raging against third-party requirements, but blaming it on the EHR. Sometimes these third parties have created the requirements because they are good for patient safety, and I’m not likely to budge on those. For example, when a physician doesn’t believe that they should have to associated a diagnosis with a prescription. I can certainly empathize with those two extra clicks, but as a primary care physician, I think it’s important that patients know what condition they are taking a medication to treat.

Additionally, when you work for a healthcare organization that has decided that this is a good thing and has created a policy and procedure around it, there’s not much I can do for you as an informaticist other than teach you the most efficient workflows and show you how you can use your clinical support staff to help you make some of these associations as they prep patients for their visits.

I’m always shocked by physicians who don’t know where their grievances should be directed. For example, if they don’t like the clinical policy and procedure, they need to take that up with their department chair or the chief medical officer, not the CMIO or a member of the clinical informatics team. I think sometimes we wind up at the tip of the proverbial spear because we are actually in the clinics interacting with people on a regular basis, which might not be the case with a CMO or a department chair, especially in a geographically diverse organization.

The best days are when someone proactively reaches out to you to let you know that they think a feature that you have recently deployed is cool. I remember vividly the technology that I deployed that generated the first non-hate email from a physician. That was more than a decade ago, and those emails are few and far between.

At my current institution, we were recently early adopters of a solution that I think is pretty darned revolutionary, and most of my physicians don’t have any idea how cool it really is compared to other commercially available options. It’s leaps and bounds better for our patients, has multilingual support, and uses data already in the EHR to drive a better user experience. However, because it has a purpose that some of our providers don’t think is necessary, it’s not getting the love it deserves. We’ll see if more users start to engage with it as they develop a greater understanding of what it can do, and I’ll still hold out at least a little hope that some clinician eventually says thank you.

Valentine’s Day is coming up on Tuesday, so consider showing a little love to your favorite clinical informaticist. If you don’t want to impress them with a witty card, conversation hearts, or an edible treat, consider thanking them for trying to make your user experience the best that their budget and staffing allows.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/9/23

February 9, 2023 Dr. Jayne 5 Comments

Mr. H’s current poll asks about the methods used by patients to send medical information to clinicians in the past year. I wasn’t surprised to see that patient portal messages are leading the way, followed by phone calls and electronic forms. Mailed paper forms and faxes are at the bottom of the list, as expected.

It would be interesting to see a poll around the topic of “In which ways have you had productive communication and/or a positive outcome” when looking at electronic communication and portal messages. I recently tried to use the online scheduling feature offered by my dermatologist, with whom I am well established. There were no spots available until June, so I used the feature located on the online scheduling page called “request an appointment.” I mentioned that the request was to be seen for a suspicious and changing mole that had already been seen by my PCP, who recommended I see dermatology. I listed my preferred days and times, but basically said that due to the nature of the issue, I was willing to take any open appointment.

Four days later, I received a portal message back that “we are not currently offering online appointment requests” and was directed to call the academic medical center’s access center. If you’re not offering online appointment requests, I might recommend disabling that feature so that patients can’t use it. I’ve used the access center before to request an appointment with this dermatologist and it’s a centralized scheduling nightmare. For urgent issues, they take a message and route it to the office who hopefully calls you, and then if you’re like me and tied up on calls and in meetings all day, you play phone tag, which is exactly what the online requests are supposed to prevent.

I mentally said, “forget it” and made an appointment with a new dermatologist who was happy to get me in within 48 hours given the history and PCP referral. Since my clinical issue was resolved, we will see if my original dermatologist ever follows up, who now has a concerning message documented in my chart. We are going on six weeks so I’m not holding my breath, but for a patient who isn’t as persistent in getting care, it could be tragic.

From Jimmy the Greek: “Re: chatter about using ChatGPT in healthcare. It might amount to the scene out of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ where Lucy is listing off phobias and asking Charlie Brown if he has them.” I’ve certainly seen some interesting applications, or should I say attempted applications, of ChatGPT recently. Today brought an email from a colleague that was most likely produced by some sort of bot since the syntax didn’t sound anything like her usual written patterns. I found it pretty annoying since what she sent was a reply to a pretty straightforward question that could have been answered in five words or fewer. It’s fine if you want to play around with it, and since we are both informaticists, it could have been “hey, check out what ChatGPT created as a reply,” but since there had to be a few more back-and-forths to get the original question answered, it wasn’t much of a time saver.

Everyone is trying to figure out how to streamline workflows in ambulatory medical practices. Solutions being implemented for pre-visit flows include patient portal-based check-in that can be completed at home up to a few days prior to the visit; chatbot-based flows that can be completed either at home or upon arrival; and self-check-in kiosks. A recent article in the Annals of Family Medicine looked at a “self-rooming” process implemented in primary care clinics from October through December 2020. Researchers found that most patients preferred self-rooming, although some felt less welcomed, more lost or confused, more frustrated, or more isolated compared to escorted rooming.

Based on the overall positive response, the organization decided to roll out the process to all remaining primary care clinics, and it will become a permanent change for the institution. The process design included some decidedly low-tech features, such a laminated wayfinding card that was used by the patient to reach their exam room. Once the visit was over and the room had been cleaned and prepared for the next patient, the card was returned to the front desk so that another patient could be directed to the newly prepared room.

I recently learned that my residency training program is celebrating its 50th anniversary and will be holding a gala in honor of the milestone. Unfortunately, they didn’t start promoting the event until 60 days out, which isn’t nearly enough lead time when you consider that most of us open our clinic schedules up to a year in advance and on-call schedules are done at least 90 days in advance. I circulated the information to my class and the residents in the years above and below mine, but it looks like only the handful of folks who can travel without taking off work are likely to attend.

I had no idea the program had reached such a major milestone and it really seems like a missed opportunity to bring people together. Other organizations I’m part of that have had similar events have sent cards anywhere from six months to a year in advance telling people to save the date, which is key if you want to try to get a couple hundred physicians together in the same place at the same time.

It’s technology upgrade time at the House of Jayne and I’m very happy about my first purchase, which was a Kindle Paperwhite. I’ve been using the Kindle app to read on a decade-old iPad and decided I wanted something smaller and lighter for travel. Amazon was offering a deal on the high-end version as long as you didn’t mind buying it in Agave Green. I’m thrilled with the purchase and have already burned through two books. I’m still getting to know all the features, but it’s a significant step up from my previous reading situation.

I also had to break down and replace one of my monitors, which started having some issues with static electricity. Every time I touched my keyboard tray after walking on the carpet and accumulating a charge, the monitor would suffer a blue screen of death that required a reboot to bring it back to life. Tomorrow is unboxing and installation day, so wish me luck as I crawl around and under the desk to get things hooked up. Still on the to-do list after that is a new phone, but that’s a much larger project, especially since I want a full featured Android device that’s on the smaller side.

What’s your favorite piece of new technology? What’s the one thing you’d recommend everyone consider getting? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/6/23

February 6, 2023 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


As a CMIO, there’s a lot of pressure on you to make sure that the healthcare information technology systems that are being implemented provide a solid return on investment. For many years, EHRs were promoted as a way to improve coding and charge capture. This led to physicians billing higher Evaluation & Management codes, which of course raised suspicion with auditors.

It also led to note bloat, as organizations created macros and templates that would ensure that clinical documentation was compliant with even the most rigorous audits. That meant that a certain percentage of notes actually became less useful than before since they were hard to read and full of nonsense that was required to support billing.

Fast forward to the Meaningful Use era and the rise of value-based care, when more organizations began entering into risk-based contracts. That meant that they needed to get a handle on how sick their patients really were to get the most money to care for those patients.

The Hierarchical Condition Category (HCC) coding paradigm had been created in 2004 and started to rise in prominence over the rest of the decade. HCC codes are tied to ICD-10 diagnosis codes. When combined with demographic information such as age or gender, those HCC codes are used to create a Risk Adjustment Factor (RAF) score for each patient. RAF scores can be used to predict costs, which were tied to payments. The higher your RAF scores, the more money you could bring in.

EHRs were also promoted as the solution to playing the RAF game. They were enhanced to remind physicians to document well so that HCC scores could be assigned and to make sure that they were documenting on those conditions at least annually. ICD-10 selection screens were enhanced to more prominently display codes that would lead to creation of a more complex patient picture.

Professional organizations also got into the game. My own organization published a series of “practice hacks” to encourage physicians to use team-based strategies to improve risk adjustment, essentially leveraging staff to massage documentation in the EHR with a goal of achieving higher payments. Sometimes this led to medical assistants or coders assigning additional codes as charts were reviewed following visits. Often these updates were not approved by a physician.

Practices that bet heavily on participation in Medicare Advantage plans became really good at playing these coding games. Technology made it easy to add highly specific billing codes to better capture patient complexity and to add those codes to the chart, even in visits where they might not have been actually managed.

As consulting clinicians, we could tell if organizations were playing these games. You would see a note for a straightforward visit for a self-limited illness and it would end up with six or eight diagnoses for chronic conditions, all with “continue current management” noted in the assessment and plan. As expected, payments to these organizations rose. However, when dealing with governmental payers, there’s always a piper who will get paid.

CMS is starting to play a mournful tune for many physicians and care delivery organizations with the release of a new rule that calls for organizations to pay back what could be billions of dollars in what CMS now considers overpayments. Auditors will be going after providers who may have indicated that patients were sicker than they actually were, or that they required higher levels of care than the charts can actually substantiate.

CMS won’t just be going after the overpayments, though. It will be using a revised Risk Adjustment Data Validation tool that uses the overpayments that are found during actual audits to extrapolate repayments for all the claims that were submitted during a given year for a given diagnostic subgroup or set of codes. The incorporation of extrapolated repayments applies to the 2018 plan year and subsequent payment periods.

CMS predicts that it will recover $479 million for the 2018 payment year alone, with a forecast of $4.7 billion in repayments over the next decade. An accompanying CMS press release quotes HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra as stating, “For years, federal watchdogs and outside experts have identified the Medicare Advantage program as one of the top management and performance challenges facing HHS, and today we are taking long overdue steps to conduct audits and recoup funds. These steps will make Medicare and the Medicare Advantage program stronger.”

CMS plans to focus its audit strategy on Medicare Advantage Organizations that have been “identified as being at the highest risk for improper payments.” I’ve been involved in consulting engagements at organizations that took fairly substantial liberties in their coding, so it will be interesting to see who winds up on the wall of shame first.

For the tech teams that support organizations that are heavily involved in Medicare Advantage, get ready to be on the looking for requests to look at current functionality and compare it to other features that may be available from EHR vendors or might be on the near-term horizon. It’s also an opportunity for startups to try to fill the gaps, making sure that care that is documented actually gets delivered, even if it’s through lower-cost third parties or use of technology.

For historically conservative organizations that might be quaking in their boots over this, it might lead to requests to restrict access to certain functionalities or workflows or to change the approval workflows when a coder or other personnel want to suggest that a visit’s coding should be changed.

This will also be a win for consulting organizations, who will now be out selling services to help organizations understand their audit risk and how to reduce it, as well as to help support them during the inevitable audit and request for repayments. It’s just one more example of how the complexity of the US healthcare system leads to gamesmanship as everyone tries to get a larger share of the money that makes up the healthcare pie.

Speaking of pie, this week’s pastry therapy includes Blueberry Sour Cream Scones, courtesy of King Arthur Baking. I got a little crazy with the powdered sugar drizzle, but they were the perfect addition to a chilly Sunday morning.

What’s your favorite weekend breakfast food? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 2/2/23

February 2, 2023 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments


I don’t change the clock on my laptop when I travel because it’s just easier for me to continue to operate in my home time zone. I also display multiple time zones on my Outlook calendar even when I’m at home, so it’s not difficult for me to sort out the local time from my usual time.

In the past, I have found the Microsoft Viva employee engagement platform to be mildly annoying, but last week it decided to tell me to stop burning the midnight oil based on what it thought was late night laptop usage. For those of you who haven’t experienced Viva, it also tells you things you already knew, like how busy your calendar is and that there isn’t any time between meetings for you to get work done.

According to the website, Microsoft charges extra for these insights. I wonder how many employees actually think they are beneficial. Employers should take note of these add-ons and make sure they are providing benefit. I know a lot of employees that would rather receive a Starbucks gift card every couple of months for the same price as “engagement” communications that make us feel busier than we already feel.


I have always found public health informatics to be fascinating, but I haven’t had the opportunity work in the field beyond the population health management that is done by CMIOs. I was excited to see this write-up about reorganization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH has announced the creation of new offices, including an Office of Health Equity and an Office of Public Health Data, Surveillance, and Technology. The latter will be charged with creating the infrastructure needed to solve the mess of federal, state, and local public health data management.

Walensky stated that the 75-year-old organization “did not reliably meet expectations” during the COVID pandemic, necessitating the reorganization. Those of us that worked the front lines at the beginning of the pandemic still feel acutely the fear and disillusionment we felt when the CDC told us we could wear bandanas as masks if our employers couldn’t provide appropriate personal protective equipment. Many providers have lost faith in the CDC and it will take years for it to attempt to recover to the chaos and confusion of the pandemic and the role the agency played in all of it.

Organizations are having to get creative to deal with ongoing nursing shortages, and I was interested to see that Trinity Health will be piloting the use of virtual nurses to care for hospitalized patients. The creation of the virtual roles provides an opportunity for nurses to continue practicing when they are unable or unwilling to continue in demanding bedside care roles. The so-called Virtual Connected Care Program was piloted at Trinity Health Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, MI during January 2022, with an update in June 2022.

Trinity is creating nursing teams with three nurses: one direct care nurse, one virtual nurse, and one licensed practical nurse. Virtual nurses will be used to make sure patients and families understand the daily care plan and manage patient concerns that might otherwise be reported through a call light or call bell system. Virtual nurses may also provide discharge teaching and help coordinate care with other professionals.

Speaking of virtual care, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to add a telehealth indicator to clinician profile pages on its Medicare Care Compare and Provider Data Catalog sites. The Telehealth Indicator is designed to help patients and their caregivers identify providers who deliver telehealth services, as indicated by a low-key graphic near the physician’s name in their listing. The indicator will appear for clinicians billing telehealth visits using Point of Service codes 02 and 10 or using modifier -95 on claims. They intend to use a six-month lookback period and refresh the indicator bi-monthly, along with other provider director information. The code will appear only on individual clinician profile pages, not pages for groups.

This announcement comes at the same time as one about a new federal telehealth program designed to treat COVID-19 patients at home. The new Home Test to Treat program from the National Institutes of Health will allow patients in select communities to receive home rapid test kits, telehealth consultations, and antiviral treatments, all from the comfort of their homes. The program will launch in Berks County, PA, which has up to 8,000 eligible residents. Telehealth services will be provided by EMed and UMass Chan Medical School will work with the provider organization to analyze data to determine what kind of impact the program has on patient outcomes.

I’ve been party to several discussions around the virtual water cooler about hospitals and healthcare delivery organizations contacting patients to recruit them to the donor ranks of associated healthcare foundations and endowments. In some reports, physicians have even been asked to approach patients while they are still hospitalized, laying the groundwork for future donations. I haven’t run across this personally (although I did care for a number of patients in my hospital’s VIP wing during medical school) until I started getting solicited after a series of visits at the local academic medical center. The messaging isn’t even remotely subtle. It makes clear suggestions that patients can “express their gratitude” and “inspire a healthier future” by making donations in the name of care team members who participated in their treatments.

The most recent mailing provided tips on how to solicit donations through an obituary, along with instructions for employer matching and estate planning. These were part of an ultra-glossy magazine that I’m sure wasn’t cheap to produce or distribute.

As a physician, I don’t like the idea of someone trying to coerce my patients into making donations in my honor, and I definitely dislike the concept of approaching people when they are vulnerable. Not to mention that these mailings might be arriving at homes where recent treatments weren’t successful, and I’m sure not all family members would appreciate such a delivery. The hospital in question is sitting on billions of dollars that could certainly be released to the community more generously than is currently happening, so they won’t be getting any of my donation dollars right now.

What do you think of hospitals and health systems soliciting patients and families for donations? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/30/23

January 30, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I’m putting my travel schedule together for the next few months, and I’m pretty excited about some upcoming conferences. Although HIMSS is back in Chicago, the other two are in cities that I don’t get to as often as I’d like. I’ll be attending the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) in San Antonio in early March, and then the CHIME/ViVE event in Nashville later in the month.

I typically register for conferences as early as I know I’ll be attending so I can get the early bird discounts – and for ViVE, the discount is just about a necessity. It’s one of the more expensive conferences I’ll be attending and I hope it lives up to the hype (as well as the cost).

Usually, the decision to attend a conference is based on a directive by an employer or a client, rather than me looking at specific sessions or content. Because of that, I don’t always look at the agendas in detail until they get closer. Depending on the conference, some of them don’t even post agendas until shortly before, meaning that many people make the decision to attend without all the information that would help them make a good decision.

Even though I’ve been doing work in the telehealth space for half a decade, I haven’t attended the ATA meeting. I dropped by their website today to think about what I might like to attend, and the first thing that caught my attention was the tagline on the home pages of “Telehealth. Is. Health.” Which is interesting since the organization has seemingly decided to stick with the “telemedicine” moniker.

Organizations rebrand all the time and spend lots of money doing so, as we recently saw with the rebrand of Intermountain Healthcare to Intermountain Health. The substitution of the word “health” where organizations previously used “medicine” or “medical” seems to have happened just about everywhere else, starting with the transition from electronic medical records to electronic health records. The change indicates that an entity is about something more than just medicine or medical practice.

The realm of telehealth has become significantly larger in the last five years and now includes more than just medical practice. Some of the hottest areas for growth aren’t even “telemedicine,” but include all the other ancillaries that patients need for comprehensive care. Some of these include remote monitoring, psychotherapy, counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, nutrition consultations, pharmacist visits, dental advice, and more.

In most states, these areas wouldn’t be considered as “medicine” under the state medical practice acts, so the broader term of telehealth makes more sense. It makes me wonder if the ATA is just keeping with tradition or if they think a rebrand isn’t worth it, or if they don’t see value in going with the broader terminology. From a marketing standpoint, they would still be the ATA, so at least that’s easy. Some of the possible domain names they’d need for a rebrand aren’t in use, although it can sometimes be tricky to get a domain you want if someone is already holding it, so that may be a factor. They do use “telehealth” throughout their publications, at least.

ATA shifted the dates of the Annual Conference and Expo this year, moving it from a Sunday through Tuesday format to a Saturday through Monday format in an attempt to reduce the number of days people need to miss from a traditional work week. Depending on where you are traveling from, however, as well as how much of the conference you are planning to attend, many of us will still miss two weekdays due to limited travel options. Flying into San Antonio isn’t as easy as going to Chicago, Las Vegas, or Orlando, so I guess that’s the downside of having it in a smaller metropolitan area.

The full agenda is available and there certainly isn’t a shortage of good sessions to attend. A couple of my medical school colleagues who are now involved full-time in telehealth will be there, so I’m looking forward to it. Not to mention that San Antonio’s climate in early March is a lot more alluring than the Midwest, as is the Tex-Mex scene.

As for CHIME/ViVE, the value of the ViVE side of the equation is a little more difficult to judge. I really enjoyed CHIME in the fall, especially the low-key vibe and the ability to have high-quality conversations with peers. ViVE is only in its second year and they have really been pushing hard for registrations. I was a on a CHIME/ViVE call last week that was advertised as a way for people to understand the value of attending, but ended up being entirely too salesy. If I heard one more person talking about how it was “curated just for people like you” I thought I was going to scream.

We are less than two months out and they don’t have a full agenda published yet, so it’s hard to judge the value on a day-to-day basis. It’s also hard to schedule meetings and times to connect with colleagues, because it’s inevitable that the time I pick will end up being in conflict with a session I’ll ultimately want to attend. The agenda “themes” are published and several are eye-catching for me. One has a tagline of “delivering virtual care with intention,” but I’m not enamored with its actual title, which is “That’s so Meta.” I’m also interested in sessions on: recruiting, retention, and team development; managing chronic care costs; technology cohesiveness and efficiency; and using technology to advance health equity (although I’m not a fan of using the new buzzword “techquity” to encompass it).

I’m looking forward to visiting Nashville for the conference, as I haven’t been there in years and it’s a good excuse to hang out with one of my shoe-loving besties who happens to be a local. The last time I attended a conference there, it ended up being one of the most crazy drunken vendor user groups ever, so I’m hoping for something significantly more tame. I’m sure my friend will give good advice for off-the-beaten-path adventures that will still let me be vertical the next day. It sounds like Nashville has become quite the foodie city since I last visited, so that’s something to look forward to as well.

What are you looking forward to about upcoming conferences? Is it the food, the people, or the content? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/23/23

January 23, 2023 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

Non-compete clauses have been a hot topic around the virtual physician water cooler. I was glad to see Mr. H’s newest poll looking at the issue and am eager to see the results. Physicians are used to being stuck with non-compete clauses in their employment agreements, although they can be highly variable. Having been in the clinical trenches for a couple of decades now and having advised plenty of other physicians, I’ve seen quite a few variations on the non-compete.

In a solo practice where I was employed by a health system, the restriction prevented me from practicing with any corporate competitor within a 20-mile radius of the practice. However, it didn’t prevent me from staying in my same location and creating my own private practice entity. It also specified that if I wanted to do this, I would have to pay 50 cents for each chart, which seemed ridiculously cheap.

Many of my colleagues had similar clauses, and after establishing their practices, they went out on their own. Given the non-punitive nature of the exit agreement, they continued to remain on staff at the sponsoring hospital and referring patients for services. Overall, this arrangement seems like a win-win.

As an emergency department physician contracted with a physician staffing agency, I didn’t have a non-compete at all. At a given facility, those contracts often change every few years, which often results in the physicians remaining with the facility but being employed by or contracted by a different firm. This also happens quite a bit with anesthesia groups and critical care groups if the hospital outsources those services. In that situation, when the hospital’s contract changed and I was left in the lurch because the new agency didn’t want to employ part-time physicians, my group even worked to help me find a new placement at a competing health system.

As an urgent care physician working for a local practice with two locations, the non-compete clause only specified that I could not go on to own or have a management role at an urgent care center within 30 miles of either location. Since I knew there was no way I would want to do either of those things, I had no problem signing it. In fact, that employer’s contract was only three pages long, and was one of the smoothest contract negotiations I ever experienced. When I was ready to quit (which was quickly, once I realized that there were some interesting financial practices), it was also the easiest practice I ever left. I simply wrote a letter and said I was no longer available to be scheduled for clinical shifts. They acknowledged via email and I literally never heard from them again.

My most recent urgent care employer also had the prohibition against owning or managing a competing urgent care within a set mileage radius. However, it included a clause that specifically said employees were able to work elsewhere during their employment period, provided that scheduling didn’t interfere with their responsibilities. I thought this was unusual until I realized that a good chunk of the workforce was actually employed at multiple places – perhaps with an EMS agency and with the urgent care, or with an emergency department as well as the urgent care. It made for some interesting transitions as employees would try out other employers to determine whether the grass was greener elsewhere before giving notice.

As a consultant, I refused to do business with any organizations that tried to include anti-competitive clauses in their agreements. I was constantly amazed at the number of organizations that didn’t understand what it meant to be an independent contractor and that when you’re not an employee, it’s much more difficult to try to place restrictions on you. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try, however. I have no problem signing agreements around intellectual property and not using it elsewhere, but I wasn’t about to sign a contract that tried to block me from working with other organizations that might remotely be considered competitors. Engagements like I did as a consultant have to be based on trust, and if a health system trusts me enough to give me access to the information I need to do my job, they need to trust that I’m not going to use it inappropriately.

Among my physician peers, however, I still see some pretty terrible non-compete clauses. The worst are those that still apply even when a physician is downsized. A local health system had a “reduction in force” following COVID and terminated 10% of employed physicians. Those impacted included well-regarded physicians, a beloved pediatrician, and the health system’s only pediatric gynecologist. The latter had a packed schedule with a nine-month wait for appointments, so it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Rumor has it that the health system included reminders about non-compete language in the termination notices, but they immediately backed down when confronted with legal action. Honestly, I think that if someone is laid off due to a reduction in force, non-competes should never apply.

A friend of mine was recently impacted by a draconian non-compete that did not allow for any practice of medicine within 30 miles of any location where any employees of the health system practice. When she originally signed the contract, the health system was concentrated in a major metropolitan area and centered on its academic medical center, which didn’t seem like such a bad deal. However, during the intervening decades, the health system acquired hospitals across a 90-mile radius and opened satellite clinics up to 120 miles away. She never thought to renegotiate that non-compete, and when she wanted to open her own private practice, she was out of luck. Instead, as an empty nester, she has entered the world of locum tenens physicians, and practices all across the US. I have to say, I’m jealous of the side trips she has made from some of her assignments, including such national parks as Badlands, Acadia, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Health systems argue in favor of such restrictions because it’s expensive to recruit and retain physicians. I don’t disagree that it’s expensive. However, over the 20-year course of her employment, the health system certainly made enough money off of my colleague and her referrals as to make up for any expense of recruiting her and starting her practice. Even if a non-compete was limited to a certain period of time, perhaps five years, to allow an employer to recoup those startup costs, they could have the unintended consequence of forcing employees to stay who might not be a good fit for the practice. I’ve also seen physicians leave medicine entirely due to a non-compete, which is its own special kind of tragedy.

The real answer here is to eliminate non-compete clauses and other restrictions on clinical practice. There’s already a shortage of certain kinds of clinicians, such as primary care physicians, and that shortage isn’t going to improve any time soon. Forcing clinicians to stay in a situation where they’re burned out and unable to serve patients effectively because of a non-compete doesn’t help anyone. Unfortunately, corporate healthcare employers aren’t going to see it this way anytime soon.

What do you think about non-competes for clinical employees? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 1/19/23

January 19, 2023 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

Most workers in the healthcare IT trenches are familiar with the US Meaningful Use program and its successor, the Medicare Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that MIPS gets it wrong by penalizing physicians who care for patients with complex medical needs. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College noted that “MIPS scores were inconsistently related to performance on profess and outcome measures, and physicians caring for more medically complex and socially vulnerable patients were more likely to receive low MIPS scores even when they delivered relatively high-quality care.”

If there’s one thing I learned as a CMIO, it’s that the team needs to be top notch at collecting the right measurements, which may or may not align with what is really important to patients and their care teams.

I’ve watched patients be treated in ways that aren’t necessarily appropriate for their situation, in the name of satisfying measures. I’ve seen physicians trying to maintain tight control of blood sugar in elderly diabetic patients because they didn’t understand how to exclude them from the measures and the physicians didn’t want to get dinged on their clinical quality metrics. The sometimes-mindless devotion to metrics just illustrates how misaligned the incentives in the US healthcare system can be.

For the love of all those elderly patients who are being overtreated due to poorly implemented clinical decision support in the EHR, if you’re in clinical informatics, please make sure your clinicians know how to properly exclude a patient to whom the recommendations do not fully apply. It will be interesting to see what comes after MIPS – I know clinicians are sick of it and primary care practices waste countless hours on the program every year.

Speaking of primary care physicians, many of my colleagues have come together for regular conversations about how to prevent burnout and promote wellbeing among physicians and office staff. When I started in solo practice, I had 2.5 full time support staff just to run the office, and I paid for a central business office to handle the back end of the revenue cycle. Most of the primary care physicians in my area are employed by one of three large health systems or a large investor-owned provider group, so they’re no longer in charge of their own destinies.

Due to the staffing crisis everyone is seeing, most of them are down to 1:1 support with a medical assistant. One of the doctors I recently spoke with is allocated 40% of a medical assistant’s time to support her 3,000-patient primary care panel. It’s frankly absurd, and she’s looking to leave when the school year is over. She has to give 90 days’ notice, so she will be resigning soon, and I can’t imagine how they are going to be able to recruit a replacement if they let the candidates visit the office and see what’s happening.

She has one child in college and one who has been in the workforce for a couple of years. One of the hot topics with her family over the holidays was the idea of a “slow work” mindset. Her eldest child works at a company that has adopted a four-day work week, which evolved after a couple of years of “focus Fridays,” where employees were encouraged not to have meetings but to give their effort to priority projects or personal development. At that employer, meetings have been either compressed into 20-minute check-ins or expanded into multi-hour collaboration session where people are encouraged to get the work done as a team rather than individually push things along an inch at a time.

Her youngest is interviewing with companies that have been deliberate in their communications about workplace flexibility and how they don’t want to be in the business of babysitting their employees. Despite stories in the media announcing the death of remote work, it seems like a lot of companies are still offering it. I know from experience that I’m more productive in a remote environment. I have fewer interruptions and can use break time productively, whether it’s rotating loads of laundry, baking a loaf of bread, or knocking out a little yard work on my lunch break. Once I’m back at my desk, I’m more focused and it seems like time flies compared to when I was in an office and had constant face-to-face interruptions from co-workers. Sure, there are interruptions, but I can manage a Slack message and respond in 1-2 minutes when I’m finished with my current train of thought versus having to immediately turn to an in-person contact and let that train run right off the tracks.

I get a ton of unsolicited emails and calls, mostly from people trying to sell me services I don’t want or need. Pro tip for those folks responsible for composing corporate communications: starting your email with “Dear Dr. HIStalk,” will at least keep me reading, where “Hey Jayne,” is going to be a direct trip to the “Block Sender” button. Sales and marketing people everywhere, please take a look at your templates and let’s all agree to make professional communications a part of general business discourse again.

Frankly, the Girl Scouts coming to my door with their much-awaited cookie order forms are doing a better job than some of the sales reps who’ve approached me lately. If you’re wondering, Samoas (Caramel deLites ) are my favorites, followed by Tagalongs (Peanut Butter Patties). Depending on which baker services your region, names may vary. And if you’re interested in appropriate wine pairings for your cookies, may I suggest this handy guide.

Several of my friends are in academics, and we recently got into a discussion about sabbatical leave. I was telling them about the sabbatical programs at some well-known tech vendors and they were surprised that sabbaticals exist outside the university world. It’s an interesting idea for companies that want to differentiate themselves and who want to make a clear statement that they want employees to be with them for the long haul. A recent opinion piece talked about the lesser-known effects of sabbaticals, including providing an opportunity for coworkers and teams to shine. The author had spent 10 years at a marketing agency and received an eight-week paid sabbatical upon reaching that milestone. She notes that in addition to providing “a proactive hedge against employee burnout, an antidote for attrition, and a protection from career wanderlust” her time away made her more passionate about her work and workplace than before.

In observing that those who managed her workload while she was out, the writer found that upon her return, those co-workers had increased confidence and willingness to provide leadership for projects. Experts agree, and she cites several studies that have reaffirmed the benefits of sabbaticals. Proponents of the practice find that sabbaticals are an investment in employee wellbeing. According to sources cited in the article, only 5% of employers offered paid sabbaticals with 11% offering unpaid leaves. When you consider how much it would cost to replace a valued employee, two months’ salary seems a relatively economical investment.

There’s a lot of discussion about the value of time away from work, particularly with recent announcements from Microsoft that it is expanding its unlimited time off policy to all US-based employees. For many, such a policy makes it tempting to take days off here, which may lead to fewer employees taking longer vacations. Research from the travel industry indicates that many individuals need at least three days away from work to de-stress, which is nearly half of the traditional week off. For most of my friends, having several four-day holiday weekends in close succession made people feel a little spoiled, and it will be hard to have only two-day weekends for a while.

Does your employer offer sabbatical leave? How has the experience been, not only for the person on leave but those left behind? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 1/16/23

January 16, 2023 Dr. Jayne No Comments

As a CMIO, one of my primary responsibilities is to make sure the EHR is configured in a way that makes it easy for clinicians to do the right thing. This involves everything from determining the content and display order of an order set to creating documentation templates and workflows that make sense for a given specialty, subspecialty, or particular type of visit.

In a large healthcare organization, managing this content can be complex. It can seem like we never have enough money, time, or personnel to do everything we want to do. We have to juggle priorities and manage conflicting requests from teams that might be in conflict with organizational priorities. Some days are easier than others, but when the going gets tough I’m glad that I have my “village” of fellow CMIOs that I can reach out to for advice.

During a recent call, one of them brought up this study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. The title was eye-catching: “Behavioral ‘nudges’ in the electronic health record to reduce waste and misuse: 3 interventions.” The authors, working with the EHR team at an academic medical center, identified three workflows that might be driving users towards medical errors, waste, and misuse. They modified the system to try to nudge providers towards high-quality outcomes. but with varying degrees of success.

They had a couple of strategies for how they updated the EHR. “By changing the direction of these nudges – in one case, via making the less appropriate order more difficult to find and use; in the second case, by making the more frequently desired imaging easier to find; and in the final case, by presenting an easy to find alternative – we attempted to nudge providers toward reduced waste and misuse.”

The first situation dealt with a blood test. There were several variations of the test available and having an alphabetical order display that placed the least-desirable option higher on the list was likely contributing to erroneous orders. The modification removed the less-appropriate option, replacing it with an order panel that included educational content to help the provider make a better choice, including pre-checking the more desired test.

The second situation addressed the issue of providers erroneously ordering a CT scan of the abdomen when it was more likely that they wanted to order a CT of the abdomen and pelvis. The researchers assumed that alphabetical placement was an issue here as well. They reordered the list to place the more desired option higher in the list.

In the third situation, the authors looked at prescriptions of benzodiazepines that are given to help patients with anxiety during medical procedures. Prior to the intervention, the default quantity for the medication order in the EHR was what one would prescribe for a patient who was taking the medication on a routine basis rather than just taking it before a procedure. This led to prescriptions for more pills than would be appropriate for the situation. The team created a new order that made it clear that the intent was for pre-procedure use. It dispenses two pills with no refills and includes an additional comment that it is to be used as needed for anxiety prior to a procedure.

The authors noted some challenges in determining how effective the nudges were. For the anxiety prescription, there was a very short baseline, so it was difficult to determine the level of improvement. They also commented that the benefits of changes to the system have to be balanced against the cost of implementing them. There was a fairly dramatic difference in the time needed to create each solution: six hours for the blood test, three hours for the imaging order, and 16 hours for the anxiety medication order.

The changes were presented to end users as part of general educational guidance that is released with monthly EHR updates. In my experience the uptake of monthly update documentation can be variable, so there’s a good chance that some users simply stumbled upon the changes in the system. It would be interesting to look at how different specialties interacted with the new orders. For example, whether they made more of a difference among physicians in a specialty that interacted with the orders at a higher frequency than those who ordered the tests less frequently.

In the article’s discussion, I was interested to learn that “as compared to interruptive alerts, nudges in the EHR literature have not been as well described.” That’s an interesting point, because alerts that interrupt the workflow have become general annoyances for many clinicians, where nudges can be embedded in the design to the point where users might not even perceive them as having been deliberately placed. I wasn’t aware of the “Nudge” group at the University of Pennsylvania, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for writeups of their work.

I also hadn’t thought of some of the work I recently incorporated into my own EHR as being nudges, but in hindsight, they are. I got the idea from a presentation I saw from one of the nation’s premier children’s hospitals and extrapolated a piece of it to the work that our clinicians do. It hasn’t been live long enough for me to know how well it’s been received, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Another interesting dynamic to explore would be whether there were any specific complaints from end users about the incorporation of the nudges. For items that appear in a list, changing the order or removing an item can interfere with muscle memory and will feel bothersome to those who had adapted to finding the right choice in the list in their own way. It can take time for those users to re-adapt to the new presentation. For items that appear as part of a search, changing those can be less bothersome.

Since the study was done at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Health, I’d be interested to hear from anyone who was on the team responsible for the changes or from end users who experienced it.

What user-facing nudges or interventions are you working on for 2023? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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  1. I think you're referring to this: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/how-technology-led-a-hospital-to-give-a-patient-38-times-his-dosage/ It's a fascinating example of the swiss cheese effect, and should be required…

  2. Yes, let me be clear about my statements. These things have happened at the VA, and these things have caused…

  3. 21 years working with the Oracle/Cerner system at many organization sites. Never once have I seen an order get placed…

  4. I think you may have never used an EHR, or if you did, you did not like it. I think…

  5. This reminds me of that story a few years ago where a doctor placed an order in mg/kg instead of…


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