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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/30/20

November 30, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

A recent study looked at the idea that including a patient’s headshot in the EHR could reduce order entry errors. Although providers typically place orders on the correct patient greater than 99.9% of the time, researchers wanted to address the remaining 0.1%. The study was performed in the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital over a two-year period. They concluded that “wrong patient” orders were 35% lower for those patients who had a photo in the EHR compared to those who didn’t.

Although I’m supportive of the concept, I’d like to offer my own shortlist of solutions for error reduction in the EHR. Unfortunately, all of these were scenarios I’ve encountered in the last few weeks seeing patients. For the ones that are specific to the EHR (as opposed to operations or staffing), I’m not sure if the issue is truly caused by the EHR or by my group’s implementation of it. Because they so tightly control access to the vendor’s documentation, I have no way of knowing.

Medication Order Entry

Formularies should be configured to only support appropriate routes of administration. For example, in my EHR, if I select a medication to be prescribed to a pharmacy, I’m limited to the routes that are appropriate for the drug. Eye drops only display “ophthalmic,” oral medications only display “oral,” skin creams display “topical,” etc. It’s physically impossible for me to accidentally tell a patient to take their amoxicillin tablet topically unless I personally type it in the free text notes to pharmacy box, and even then, the pharmacy is going to catch it. For our in-house medications, however, some of them have options that aren’t appropriate, such as an IV push route of administration for drugs that should never be administered that way. It’s easy to click the wrong button, but removing the button would make the error impossible.

Similarly, doses should be hard coded so you can’t goof them up. If the office protocol is to prescribe famotidine 20mg IV every single time and to never use a different dose, why are we presented with a free-text field where we have to hand type it every time? We also have an issue where the in-house prescribing screen has navigation issues. You can’t tab from field to field, but rather have to move your hand back and forth from the mouse to the keyboard, which increases the chances that you might accidentally type “30” or “10” rather than “20” in the field if you’re in a hurry.

Orders should also be linked to avoid errors of omission. For example, if I’m ordering a liter of normal saline for IV hydration, I shouldn’t also have to order an IV catheter. I guarantee no one is going to try to do a straight venous injection of saline – of course they’re going to use an IV catheter. The system should also default timed infusions where appropriate. If the practice requires all infusions to be administered for at least 31 minutes in order to play the CMS coding game, then why not default 31 rather than making each of us type it every time?

Discrete Data Fields Should Be Appropriately Discrete

I cringe every time I have to document vital signs in our EHR. Blood pressure is a single field and requires the user to type the “/” in the middle and has no limitation on the field size. If my tech is having a bad day, I can get things like “180/1000” and the system doesn’t bat an eye (although it does flag it in red, at least). Someone at the vendor must have missed the memo on usability and not having a color change be the only indicator of an alert, though, because there is no other flag on the screen.

Especially for something like a blood pressure that you might want to graph or trend, the numbers should be captured separately, and the fields should be limited to reduce the risk of nonsense data entry. We have similar issues with height fields that aren’t configured to block nonsense entries. If someone doesn’t notice there are separate fields for feet and inches, you end up with patients that are 67 feet tall rather than 5’7” or 67 inches. Don’t get me started on our lack of use of the metric system with pediatric patients, which is the gold standard trained at most academic medical centers.

Use Technology to Assign Diagnoses That Make Sense to Both Provider and Patient

I’m a huge fan of systems that map ICD codes to patient-friendly and clinician-friendly terminology. Patients don’t want to see “R42: Dizziness and giddiness” documented on their charts. They want to see “vertigo” or “dizziness” or “lightheadedness” as appropriate with the ICD code behind the scenes. This is a pretty straightforward example, but there are dozens of wild and wacky codes and descriptions out there. Physicians hate it and I’m sure other clinicians do too. Patients end up with the wrong diagnosis on the chart when the provider struggles to find the correct one. Kudos to the IT folks who installed “the good stuff” technology wise to prevent this issue.

Use Technology to Keep Up with the Times

My EHR still does not have patient instructions for COVID. It’s ridiculous at this point. I diagnosed my first patient eight and a half months ago.

Reduce or Eliminate the Need for Multi-tasking Behaviors

This isn’t an EHR issue per se, but it’s the root of many of the errors we see. Clinicians need to be supported by their organizations and not expected to see patient volumes that are unsafe. Looking back to the pre-COVID world, my organization placed constant pressure on us to make sure that more than 95% of our patients were treated and released in under an hour. Sometimes that meant having one provider trying to juggle care for up to 15 patients depending on the number of rooms at the clinic. This can only lead to disaster depending on the experience of the clinician and the acuity of the patients’ issues. All staffing is driven by dollar signs, however, regardless of where you work.

One good thing that has come out of the pandemic is that they’ve capped the number of patients that can be roomed at a time based on the number of support staff, which means I rarely manage more than six patients at a time. It’s been a godsend and I can’t help but think it’s helped reduce errors, but at times it can still be unrealistic, especially when the patients are really sick and have a lot of labs and tests to manage. I have no idea whether those caps will stay in place as the pandemic eases, but I’m hopeful.

What error reduction strategies has your organization employed, or what seems obvious but hasn’t yet been implemented? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/23/20

November 23, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (aka the CMS Innovation Center) announced the list of participants in the Primary Care First initiative this week. The program was delayed due to a variety of issues prior to the pandemic, which really pushed it back. It’s finally slated to start on January 1, 2021.

I wonder how the selected participants feel about having roughly 40 days to get everything in place? Most of them have been working on other initiatives that share the same goals as this program for some time, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually get a new program ready to launch in your organization. Trying to do so in what most people are experiencing as the largest peak of the pandemic is yet another level of pain altogether.

What is Primary Care First? It’s been so long since I talked about it that many of us have probably forgotten. It was designed as a voluntary alternative payment model slated to “reward value and quality by offering innovative payment model structures to support delivery of advanced primary care.” The program is supposed to last five years. More than 900 primary care practices were selected and there are 37 identified regional partnerships with commercial, state, and Medicare Advantage plans. Practices had to be in an area with a regional partner in order to participate, which excluded a good chunk of the country.

The program changes the payment structure for patients in participating plans, with the idea that even though not all the patients in the practice may be covered by one of the partner payers, that the practice would effectively up its game in delivering the same level of high-quality primary care services to all patients.

In exchange for performance-based payments and reduced administrative burdens, practices agree to assume financial risk as they try to reduce the total cost of care. There is also a so-called “seriously ill patient” option for practices that treat high-need, seriously ill patients who don’t currently have a primary care provider.

Overall, the model is supposed to revolve around patient-focused care and a high level of care coordination. The reduced administrative tasks are supposed to free providers to spend more time with patients. The program is also designed to “foster practitioner independence by increasing flexibility for primary care, providing participating practitioners with the freedom to innovate their care delivery approach based on their unique patient population and resources.”

Practices are scored based on clinical quality and patient experience measures which include: a patient experience care survey, controlling high blood pressure, diabetes hemoglobin A1c control, colorectal cancer screening, and advance care planning.

I’m sure the practices that applied many months ago had no idea where we would be come January 1, and I wonder if many of them might try to opt out. The final selection of 900-odd practices is quite a way off from being representative of the roughly 210,000 primary care physicians in the US. I’m not even sure, given some of the other variables that were involved in selecting the participants, that the cohort will be able to generate the statistical power needed to prove whether its outcomes (clinical and financial) are truly better than other care delivery paradigms. These practices have been at least dipping their toes in the waters of value-based care for years, with many of them being mostly submerged.

The list of payer participants is dominated by Humana, with a handful of other plans and a sprinkling of Blue Cross / Blue Shield players. Looking at the practice list, it’s a little tricky trying to tell who is who because the participants are mostly listed by the name of their brick and mortar entity, which may not portray the health system ownership behind them. I learned about these naming relationships the hard way: when I was employed at a practice owned by Big Hospital System, they were keen on each practice having its own brand, which wasn’t always the greatest idea when they upcharged you for customizing various things with the practice name versus just being able to say “BHS Medical Group” in your outbound reminder messages, etc.

A couple of the big players show up with a handful of practices each: AdventHealth (formerly Adventist), Ascension, Baptist Health, Beaumont, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cedars-Sinai, Cleveland Clinic, John Muir Physician Network, Temple Physicians, Virtua Primary Care, and Warren Clinic. The University of California has the most participation with 39 sites, and OhioHealth is the runner up with 26 locations. My state isn’t part of the identified Primary Care First regions, so I won’t be able to get very many in-the-trenches stories from regional peers, but I did see at least four of my former clients on the list. Hopefully my contacts are still working there and are willing to keep me posted on how things are going.

Even for the practices with the most value-based care experience, trying to launch this program during a surging pandemic will be key. Colorado is a participating state, and recent reports estimate that 1 in 49 Coloradans are COVID-positive right now. Practices that are reeling with those kinds of numbers are going to be hard pressed to spend time preparing to embrace prevention and management of chronic diseases, which are certainly being exacerbated by the pandemic.

In the urgent care space, I see so many patients who either can’t get in to see a primary care physician or whose physicians have frankly abandoned them. My friends in telehealth report dramatic increases in the number of patients requesting visits for COVID-like symptoms. There’s even a surge in people who have had COVID tests at drive-through clinics but who are struggling to reach their primary physicians and are reaching out to telehealth providers to get documentation that they meet CDC guidelines to return to work.

I wish the best for the Primary Care First practices. We need to bolster our primary care and public health infrastructures – of that, there is no doubt.

We had a conversation at urgent care yesterday around what the health care system will look like in the US after it’s been completely decimated by COVID. This was right after we were notified that four providers had been diagnosed the day before, including the one who had been sitting at my workstation less than 12 hours previously. The nearly 100 patients I saw have no idea what kind of bills are coming their way, especially if they are positive and need hospitalization. I see a tsunami of medical bankruptcies on the horizon. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed and more people have to pay out of pocket for preventive services, I don’t see them having tremendous cash reserves to do so, and this could drive even greater healthcare expenditures down the road.

I’ll continue to follow the adventures of Primary Care First and report back with what I find. If you’re involved in the initiative, I’d love to hear from you. Until then, stay healthy, stay safe, and stay six feet back.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/19/20

November 19, 2020 Dr. Jayne 6 Comments

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Although telehealth has certainly been helpful for many organizations trying to boost patient access during the COVID pandemic, a recently study shows that it was not fully able to offset the loss in available patient care slots. Overall, telehealth was able to help organizations recoup about 40% of the decline in ambulatory office visits. Not surprisingly, patients from low-income ZIP codes and racial / ethnic minorities were less likely to use telehealth services than those from more affluent areas.

The study looked at more than 6 million private payer claims, but there’s still a gap in understanding visits for patients with public payer coverage (Medicare, Medicaid) as well as those telehealth visits that may have occurred but not been billed since providers were struggling to understand how to get paid for telehealth.

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Office visits were most dramatically affected, but vaccine administration, mammograms, colonoscopies, and HbA1c tests were also reduced significantly.

I have to admit that I was part of that mammogram cohort and didn’t end up getting my semi-annual imaging until August. The facility where I usually have my mammogram didn’t bother to send me a reminder that I was overdue or let me know when they had resumed services, so it was completely on me as a patient to make sure I caught up. Good thing I did before COVID spiked and services were limited again.

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Sometimes the titles of articles say it all, and this piece in JAMIA definitely caught my attention: “Unveiling the silent threat among us: leveraging health information technology in the search for asymptomatic COVID19 healthcare workers.” The article reviews the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center’s approach to rolling out an Asymptomatic Staff Testing System. The Center is the 200-bed hospital arm of the NIH that delivers patient care and research support. Due to the type of research being performed, over 60% of the patients admitted are immune compromised either from an underlying health condition or an experimental treatment. This underscores the need to deliver continuous surveillance of healthcare workers and prompt identification of those who may be positive for COVID-19.

One of the program’s goals was to deliver weekly testing for eligible healthcare workers. They used existing EHR and other systems to identify workers and allow them to self-schedule their testing appointments. Automation was prevalent throughout the process, including check-in, specimen tracking, and laboratory interfaces. As the process was designed, they “identified the difficulty in following the organization’s formal software development process under the time requirements” and mitigated this by using existing systems where possible. The whole process from task identification to early adoption was only four weeks, which would be a near impossibility for many healthcare organizations.

To determine how successful they were, the team looked not only at the primary outcome of identifying infected workers, but also surveyed the healthcare worker customers on the process as well as the facility process owners. I wish I saw more organizations follow this approach with a 360-degree evaluation where they pay attention to all the feedback, not just internal customers such as infection control departments or human resources. One of the findings was a need to ensure that patients / workers set up accounts on the patient portal, which is a common challenge among healthcare organizations.

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I always get a kick out of articles that cover poor password management habits, and this year’s list shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Review of data from hacking forums and the dark web revealed that the most commonly used passwords in the US include “password” and “123456.” The latter (and the multiple variations similar to it) shows that it’s not just users behaving badly, but vendors who should have logic behind their password requirements that would disallow such sequential numbers. Humorous options in the top 20 include superman, iloveyou, football, and letmein.

Although some vendors may be complicit, the other side of this coin is the vendors or entities that make ridiculously complicated password requirements or rules for frequent changes. These approaches have been shown in some studies to actually increase security risk, as users may be more likely to write passwords down.

One of my clients falls into this bucket. They make you change your password every 30 days, and the requirements include upper case, lower case, numbers, symbols, and a length of at least 10 characters. Maybe their goal is to push people to use randomly generated passwords coupled with a password manager, but that’s not always practical when using shared workstations. Regardless, I wasted half an hour of their tech’s time this morning (and a billable 30 minutes of my time) dealing with an expired password after I missed the prompt to change it.

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Big thanks to the gals in my life who sent a couple of recent care packages. Jenn knows my love for putting my feet up with a good book and surprised me with the world’s softest socks, along with energizing foot lotion and an Amazon gift card, which I promptly swapped for a new read. There were also some addictive gummy bears, but I’ve had to tuck them in my snack drawer lest I eat the whole bag. My favorite revenue cycle informant, Bianca Biller, sent the famous “Bionic Apple” from Merb’s Candies in St. Louis. Let me tell you, this thing is a Granny Smith apple covered with the smoothest caramel you’ve ever seen and rolled in chopped pecans. Did I mention it was the size of a softball? It made an excellent lunch while I enjoyed a webinar presented by some of my favorite folks.

For your friends and colleagues at the tip of the clinical spear, the next few months are likely going to be some of the worst times they’ve ever experienced professionally. I’m thankful for my friends and their support. Hopefully my newly energized feet will give me a bounce as I head back to the trenches tomorrow.

What are the best pick-me-ups you’ve ever received? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/16/20

November 16, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

We’ve officially crossed into COVID hell in my part of the country.

The largest health system just announced the rescheduling of elective surgeries at all 15 of their hospitals, starting Monday and extending for the next eight weeks. Employed physicians have been instructed not to travel and must be ready to return to the hospital within 24 hours when summoned. Operating room capacity for scheduled cases is being reduced by upwards of 30% to allow for redeployment of staff to other areas. Another system has redeployed their operating room nurses to the medical/surgical floors and has brought in travel nurses to staff the ORs, but not everyone can find enough travel nurses even if they can afford them.

I imagine this is what it felt like to be in New York City in the spring. It doesn’t feel like we learned anything from their suffering because we’re now officially in the same boat.

Our urgent cares have tried to reduce volumes by limiting the number of COVID tests we do for patients who are asymptomatic, but it’s not much help since we’re in a phase where nearly every patient has symptoms. Schools are moving from in-person and hybrid models back to fully virtual, and parts of the state are headed back towards stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders.

My staff is working harder than ever, but they are most definitely at the breaking point. Sometimes I feel guilty about being only part-time for in-person care, and then I remember the work that I’m trying to do with my clients to better manage patients without the need for in-person encounters and their associated exposures.

Here are my free consulting tips for practices trying to figure out how to manage patients in the outpatient space more efficiently, since we’re all trying to do more with less. These are things that I have been recommending to practices for years, but for some reason, they still are trying to do things the hard way:

Refill management

If your system has technology to help with refill management, use it. If you don’t, consider a solution like Healthfinch to help tame the beast. If you don’t have technology, consider creating a policy that allows delegates to manage refills on behalf of physicians.

I still work with a lot of physicians who can’t let go of the idea that only they can manage refills, and their inboxes are flooded with refill requests. These are usually the same people who aren’t giving refills to their patients to last through the next scheduled visit, let alone to last through the year. I recommend that physicians who struggle with this idea start with one or two health conditions where medication refills are the lowest risk, and let their staff dig in. Make a list of the criteria for refills – this may include a visit within the last 365 days and no overdue labs – and start letting your support staff support you.

Inbox management

I’m a big fan of the “touch it only once” mantra. Use your technology to help you sort your inbox and then work it deliberately by section. If you only have a minute or two, select a lab result to manage or a refill request to manage, not a patient phone call. Don’t go through your inbox looking at things and trying to re-prioritize it over and over. You’ll waste a ton of time along the way.

Set up dedicated time during the day to manage the inbox, or plan to work it before or after seeing patients. Even if you’re used to calling your patients with results, consider leveraging the patient portal or secure texting if patients have opted in for these services. They’re much more convenient for patients and will save you time.

Invest in technology that can free your staff

Practices are still using humans to call patients and ask them COVID screening questions. If your organization has the ability to screen patients through a portal or other tools, use it. If not, there are many cool technologies out there such as Asparia that not only manage appointment reminders, but can help provide a safe arrival experience and triage patients who may need to avoid coming into the office.

You should also maximize the use of digital check-in or other workflows that might be available in your patient portal. For my most recent new patient visit, I uploaded copies of my insurance card and photo ID on my phone before even walking in the door, resulting in a contactless visit. When you save those minutes for your staff, it adds up, and those resources can be redeployed for use with patients who need real-time or face-to-face contact, or to better support you as you embrace telehealth visits.

Don’t be afraid of telehealth visits

With everyone being concerned about COVID and the availability of inexpensive devices for home biometric assessments, you would be surprised how many patients can provide a full suite of vital signs for a telehealth visit. Blood pressure cuffs and thermometers are plentiful, and pulse oximeters are becoming a regular part of the home first aid kit for many families courtesy of Amazon, Target, and other major retailers. Of course, this may vary depending on the patient population served, but I think physicians might be pleasantly surprised if they ask about access to these devices. If the patient doesn’t have one, they might have a neighbor or family member who does.

I’ve been practicing telemedicine for a while now and I’ve found it useful for picking up factors that I might not pick up at an office-based visit, such as fall risks in the home. I’ve also seen full ashtrays on the coffee tables of patients who claim to have stopped smoking, so you never know what you might find. Learn the rules for telehealth billing for your specialty – many specialty societies have published cheat sheets for their members.

Leverage your staff for telehealth visits

Staff can meet with the patient prior to the visit and update histories, document vital signs, flag medications for refill, etc. All too often I see the physician trying to do all these tasks even though they would have allowed support staff to do them in the in-person world. Sometimes the technology doesn’t make this easy, but there are ways to work around it to maximize the physician’s time.

Many of these elements go back to something that is so hard for some physicians to learn, and that is that they need to run their practices with everyone working to the top level of their licensure. If you’re lucky enough to have a registered nurse in the office, make sure you’re truly using them to deliver nursing services and not to do things that could be done by a medical assistant, patient care tech, or receptionist. I’ve been hearing the same arguments from subsets of physicians for decades, and if there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s the need to break existing paradigms because “business as usual” is effectively over.

How has your organization tried to streamline the ambulatory paradigm in 2020? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/12/20

November 12, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

My inbox has been bountiful this week, with so many good stories that link to healthcare IT that I just kept flagging items to come back and read later, only to find my entire screen full of flagged emails.

My urgent care is swamped with patients wanting COVID testing, and although there are enough supplies to go around, there simply isn’t enough staff. Since most of our payer contracts require patients to see a physician to document medical necessity for testing, and there’s only one of us at a site, it’s just an endless parade of testing visits. That is, until something acute comes in, and then there is an adjustment as we remember how to see “traditional” urgent care patients again.

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I was excited to see this article in Nature Medicine looking at how fitness trackers might be useful to detect biometric changes associated with COVID-19. I know patients will always want testing “to know for sure” as well as to make sure they can take advantage of workplace policies that require a positive test for paid time off, but it would be nice to have other tools that patients could use to help risk stratify themselves. That way they could figure out if they really need to stand in line for hours for a test at an urgent care center or if they could do a video visit with their primary physician and arrange testing at the health system’s drive through tent in a day or two.

The study Digital Engagement and Tracking for Early Control and Treatment (DETECT) study looked at data from more than 30,000 individuals from all 50 US states. They found that adding sensor data to symptom-based models improved their accuracy. Regional health officials in my area are lamenting the inability for temperature- and symptom-based screeners to identify infected patients, so at this point anything would help. Our schools just went back in person, and within 24 hours, were sending people home to quarantine due to exposure. The idea is that using device data could help identify clusters before infection spreads. That would have been useful in the aftermath of a recent parent-approved Halloween party thrown by some local teens, where over 200 high-schoolers attended.

A recent article in JAMIA looked at the advantages of human scribes compared to other options, particularly looking at patient safety aspects. They used a multidimensional sociotechnical framework to look at how different health systems use scribes. The dimensions were technical, environmental, personal, and organizational; 81 individuals were interviewed, including scribes and clinicians. They were asked about why they chose to use scribes as well as the background and training of scribes, along with pros and cons of their implementations.

One interesting finding was that since many health systems rely on college students for scribing, that geography is a factor in whether a practice can find a good scribe or not. That would definitely underscore why virtual scribe solutions are popular, since not every town has college students, let alone highly-motivated pre-medical or nursing students who would make good candidates.

Respondents did note a preference for real-time scribes versus using voice recognition software after the fact. The turnover in good scribes is an issue that was also validated in the research, and I experience that every year when medical school and physician assistant school acceptances are issued.

Fortunately, our scribe program staffs ahead of those transitions but it’s always a challenge to have the new scribes ramped up prior to flu season. You can bet that with COVID they’ve definitely earned every bit of experience they claim. I’m still waiting to hear from any readers (or friends of readers – come on, help a girl out here) who might be using one of the Ambient Clinical Intelligence solutions offered by Nuance or one of the other voice recognition vendors. There was a great deal of interest in the system at HIMSS a couple of years ago, but I have yet to encounter anyone actually using it in the wild.

The Journal of the American Medical Association tackled a weighty topic recently with its piece on “Science Denial and COVID Conspiracy Theories: Potential Neurological Mechanisms and Possible Responses.” Although this was a “Viewpoint” article rather than a research article, it has some interesting points. The first is the relationship between neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia with the adherence of an individual to false beliefs. Other psychiatric disorders include similar manifestations, such as delusions of grandeur and paranoia. The author proposes that false beliefs form due to faulty sensory information and impairment of brain systems designed to evaluate thoughts and beliefs.

Until reading the article, I had forgotten about Capgras syndrome, where certain dementia patients believe that a loved one has been replaced by an impostor. He explains the mechanisms by which that occurs as well as other delusions associated with dementia. He goes further to discuss the role of social media in amplifying conspiracy theories and other misinformation.

Based on what we know about dopamine and the addictive nature of social media, I can concur with his assertions. Mix in some low science literacy and we wind up where we are, with patients who legitimately believe that COVID is being spread by 5G cellular towers. He calls on the medical community to “mount systematic efforts around science education beginning in childhood and across the lifetime.” It’s a nice idea, but right now many of us are simply too exhausted from treating COVID patients.

From the Hall of Shame: Several towns along the east coast trusted a private physician to set up COVID testing clinics, but he proceeded to over test while billing exorbitant rates. Some patients were charged upwards of $1,900 and he was also recommending daily telehealth visits for a separate fee. Of course, his game wasn’t discovered until the bills started hitting, which typically takes at least 30 days for most patients with health insurance. Towns were effectively duped, with promises of a speedier economic recovery through greater testing. They in turn promoted the services, and then the physician took advantage.

Seems like a pretty clear ethics violation and I hope the relevant licensing boards take note. The physician is clearly delusional, stating that he tested for all kinds of other respiratory viruses because “just testing for coronavirus is one of the most dangerous things you could do… it is crystal clear that mentality is bad for public health.” I’d argue that unnecessary testing is also bad for public health, as is medical bankruptcy. People like him are the reason patients don’t trust the medical establishment. It takes far too many good experiences to undo the damage caused by a bad apple like this one.

Have you received a balance billing statement for COVID testing or related services? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/9/20

November 9, 2020 Dr. Jayne 6 Comments

It’s been a busy week in the clinical trenches. If you had ever told me that I would see nearly 150 patients over two urgent care shifts, I would have told you that you were crazy. Nevertheless, it’s the world we’re living in.

I’m continually impressed by the ability of my team to dig down deep, but we’re starting to push hard against leadership for some kind of daily cap on the number of patients we can see. As an urgent care, we’re not subject to the same rules as hospital emergency departments, which means we can turn people away. It’s not ideal, but neither is the reality of 12-hour shifts turning into 14, 15, or 16-hour ones, especially when staff is scheduled to see patients again the next day with less than eight hours turnaround time.

I’ve asked to cut my schedule down for our next scheduling block, but it doesn’t start until January. I have a sneaking feeling they’ll give me the same number of shifts regardless, because I don’t see us becoming less swamped when the projections show that COVID cases will likely be at their peak during the third week of January.

I’m keeping myself grounded with informatics projects as way to try to preserve my sanity. A couple of articles caught my eye, because even with a pandemic upon us, clinicians are still dealing with heavy burdens of non-clinical work and technical systems that don’t always deliver the support promised.

This piece in the journal Pediatrics highlights the fact that pediatricians are averaging nearly seven hours of EHR use each day. Researchers found that EHR documentation and review of patient records totaled 6 hours, 40 minutes of the time that the EHR was in use. That’s an average of 16 minutes per visit, with approximately 12% occurring after hours. Researchers looked at EHR log data from January to December 2018 for all pediatricians and adolescent medicine physicians who practice in the 2,191 health care organizations represented in the Cerner Millennium EHR Lights On Network database. This encompasses over 20 million outpatient encounters by 30,000 physicians.

The study is interesting because researchers could look at the variability in time as it compared to optimization efforts across similar EHR platforms, as well as roles and responsibilities for data entry and the differences in implementation and training across organizations. I’ve seen wide variability across organizations’ use of the same platform that can lead to “make or break” type workflows. The quality of training physicians receive also seems to be directly proportional to their success with the EHR and whether they succeed in the system or struggle. Other interesting facts from the study:

  • More than 94% of pediatricians in the US use an electronic health record.
  • Active users were defined as those who logged into the system with activities recorded <45 seconds apart; clicked  the mouse at least three times per minute; completed at least 15 keystrokes per minute; and who had mouse movement of greater than 1,700 pixels per minute.
  • After-hours use was defined as that between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time on weekdays and anytime on weekends (which may not accurately reflect “non-office” times for those working half days or coming in early to work on the EHR).
  • Physicians practiced at various locations: integrated delivery networks (34%), regional hospitals (30%), independent physician groups (22%), and academic medical centers (11%).
  • The physicians monitored on the Network represent a 44% sample of US pediatricians based on comparison with the 2018 American Board of Pediatrics database.
  • Pediatric rheumatologists spent much longer in the EHR at 30 minutes per encounter.

The study was limited by the fact that it only looked at physicians on Cerner Millennium. It also excluded other provider classes, such as physician assistants or nurse practitioners. The authors conclude that a need exists to “continue to identify and eliminate unnecessary and low-value activities across the entire physician workflow.” I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

The second article, from JAMA Network Open, looked at the impacts of e-consultations on the workload of primary care providers. The authors looked at Veterans Health Administration primary care providers who were using e-consultations to interact with subspecialists. Researchers interviewed 34 clinicians who had experience with e-consultations in 2017. Although primary care clinicians felt that the process improved clinician communication, they also felt that the burden for additional diagnostic testing and follow-up was shifted from the subspecialists to themselves. They also thought that they were being asked to diagnose and manage conditions that were not only outside their comfort zone, but possibly outside their scope of practice.

The study was limited by its small sample size as well as its qualitative approach, and researchers were not confident that participants were objective. Participants also noted the need to track and follow up on e-consultation requests as a barrier, which seems tangential to the actual consultations themselves, although still important. Participants also felt that the templates that were  used to document were not user-friendly and/or included required fields that were not relevant to care. I love qualitative research and appreciate the fact that the authors included actual respondent quotes in the article. The authors conclude that various workflow improvements could be made in tracking and documentation systems that would help the primary care clinicians.

However, they didn’t seem to mention the need for further analysis on the other end of the e-consultation request. What do subspecialists think about it? What kind of burden does it add to their day? Are there other modalities, such as virtual visits, that deliver the same outcome for the patients (including decreased time to subspecialist consult) that would be more acceptable all the way around? As in many studies, more research is needed, but I hope next time they look at both sides of the workflow.

These articles underscore the need for those of us on the healthcare IT front to continue to do what we can for better outcomes for patients and clinicians alike. We also need to feel empowered to challenge operational and clinical teams to address dysfunctional workflows that might not be helped by technology and to help those teams think through the idea that tech might not be needed to save the day.

Have you been involved in the e-consultation process at the VA? What’s your take on it? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 11/5/20

November 5, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Our friends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a cough detector that claims to identify COVID-positive patients even if they do not have symptoms. The system uses artificial intelligence models to identify characteristics of cough sounds that can’t be detected with the human ear. Researchers propose embedding the technology in cell phones as an early detection device. The work leverages technology that is already in process for early identification of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers note that AI algorithms can identify various factors from a cough, including a person’s gender, language fluency, and emotions.

Researchers used thousands of recorded coughs as well as voice recordings to train the model. In the COVID analysis sample of 1,000 patients, the model was accurate for 98.5% of COVID-positive patients, including 100% of asymptomatic patients. They acknowledge that the algorithm is no substitute for proper testing, but see it as a tool that could differentiate between healthy and unhealthy coughs, alerting people to the need for testing.

I started a new project this week with a client whose attempts at value-based care delivery were in shambles. They had someone on staff who was designated as the manager of quality initiatives. Apparently she would come to meetings and “talk big” about the work she was doing, but actually had a complete lack of understanding of the work that needed to be done in order to drive the quality needle. When the physicians’ contracted health plans would send membership rosters to the practice, she simply stuck them in a binder rather than actually doing anything with them, such as confirming whether the patients on the roster were active patients in the practice or seeing whether they were current on preventive screenings or recommended health services.

In meeting with the practice’s leadership in scoping the engagement, it was clear they didn’t understand some of the basic concepts of value-based care, including the need to understand patient attribution and to reach out to those patients for whom they had been deemed responsible. I felt like we needed to take it back to a 100-level course, so this week began with some educational sessions to explain the basics of attribution and empanelment.

They seemed so surprised to hear that a payer would use claims to attribute responsibility for care that it made me wonder whether they had been completely absent from all discussion of value-based care over the last decade. Certainly they hadn’t been reading the literature that was regularly put out by their specialty society. I’ve found that the American Academy of Family Physicians has done a great job creating materials for physicians, but unfortunately, they can’t force their members to read them.

The empanelment discussion was a good one as well, since it immediately devolved into an argument about how large their panels should be or whether it was acceptable for some providers to have larger panels than others. Fortunately, our engagement includes a subproject to look specifically at physician panel size since their wait times for appointments seem to indicate that their panels are too large. They have physicians who have cut back their hours due to health reasons, but who continue to accept new patients, and the process is creating a mismatch in supply and demand. I’m surprised no one ever recommended that they close panels, but then again by the time I wind up consulting with a practice, usually there has been a series of “things no one ever told us.”

Even though these engagements can be challenging because the client has a lot to learn and I have to figure out how to get them where they need to be without them feeling like I’m completely upending their world, they can be really enjoyable. I’m usually able to make a difference for staff as well as physicians, because staff has often been compensating for overloaded schedules and isn’t experiencing the fulfillment they could be if the practice truly embraces team-based care. The project will be a little slower going than I’d like because we’re doing everything remotely, so there’s not that burning platform of having a consultant on site. It should be a good counterbalance to the grueling months ahead in the land of urgent care.

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I had the opportunity this week to spend some quality time around a backyard fire pit with one of my favorite clinical informaticists. Even though we live in the same metropolitan area, we used to just run into each other at the annual AMIA meeting. Since there aren’t any in-person meetings this year, we made it a point to get together since the scheduling stars aligned to provide us an evening where we were both free.

He has always worked in the academic space, where I’ve been more in the health system and vendor arenas. We still face many of the same challenges, though, including clashes with upper management who don’t always see the value in physicians who work on the technology side. We’re also tasked with helping bridge the gap between organizational leadership and end users who might not understand why applications are implemented in a particular way that best supports organizational goals but might not meet specific users’ expectations.

Both of us have had a lot of job changes in the last several years, and it was good to get his perspective on how the pandemic has (or in many ways, hasn’t) transformed care delivery at his organization. Some things never change, and his practices are still doing manual appointment reminder phone calls and manual COVID screening, which seems to me a shocking waste of human capital. As a clinician, I’d much rather see those staffers redeployed as care navigators, health coaches, or in working with patients who aren’t candidates for digital reminders or screenings, or who have complex situations to navigate such as arranging rides, coordinating with family caretakers, etc.

I enjoyed filling him in on some of the interactions I have with startup companies and how they’re trying to solve various healthcare workflow issues as efficiently and economically as possible. There’s definitely some inertia at his institution, but it would be fun to do a project together some day. Until then, we’ll have to settle for commiserating by the fire, six feet apart.

What new solutions is your organization deploying to handle the next wave of COVID or to prepare for vaccination? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 11/2/20

November 2, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

I have to admit that being a blogger is a challenge sometimes. Although often the ideas for my columns come to mind easily after working in the clinical or IT trenches, some days are a struggle.

Today was one of the latter. I sat for a good hour without a solid idea in my head. I think a big piece of today’s writer’s block was the sheer stress I’m facing in the upcoming week. The clinical world has been completely out of control, with a good number of our providers down for the count with COVID or caring for close family members who have COVID.

Leadership is begging us to come in on our days off, which is a hard sell when you’ve barely been away from the clinic after your last shift. You also know that if you go in, you’’ll be crushed. So many patients who need to be seen that they are lined up before staff even arrives at the office. One of my receptionists had to park more than half a mile away, which led to a late clock-in and a fair amount of drama getting the situation remedied. Staff has to park in the lots of neighboring businesses and now has the worry of being towed to add to the stress of the day and concern about potentially becoming infected with COVID.

When you’re running with absurd patient volumes, any glitch in the technology becomes nearly catastrophic. At one of our sites, the Citrix client disappeared from multiple PCs. This led to a storm of calls to the help desk and frantic attempts to gain access to the system, all while the front desk was bringing patients in and filling the exam rooms. Trying to execute downtime procedures when you’re also trying to work with the help desk and get yourself up and running is nearly impossible. Trying to perform data entry from paper at the end of the day after you’ve seen 80 patients is just too much to ask.

Patient expectations are high and patience is low, for certain. We’re seeing over 2,000 patients a day and it’s taxing our radiology systems, with images slow to load. When you’re trying to diagnose COVID from chest x-rays because you don’t have enough rapid test kits, that’s a recipe for frustration.

The increasing hacking events directed at healthcare institutions aren’t reassuring. We’re getting daily reminders to avoid using email on work computers to reduce the risk of phishing. Employees who have been caught charging their phones via USB cables to the PCs have been disciplined. Websites have been locked down to the point where you can’t even access major pharmaceutical company information, which is always fun when you’re trying to find a package insert because you’re looking for the details needed to answer a patient’s questions.

Then there’s the thread of physical altercations. Although I haven’t had any at my worksites when I’ve been present, we did have an incident with an anti-masker patient who was ridiculing staff and other patients. He became physically agitated and had to be escorted out of the office. Businesses in our city are starting to board up in preparation for anticipated civil unrest, which is something we never planned for. Although we haven’t received a clinical bulletin on treating patients who have been exposed to pepper spray or other chemical irritants, you can bet that many of us have read up on it.

At least with my experiences in my own clinical office, I’m well prepared to meet the needs of my healthcare IT clients. Most of them are worried about the same issues, but with the hacking concerns magnified as the clients become larger in size. There are so many staff out of the office (both clinical and from a technology standpoint) that no one wants to implement any new solutions or features because they don’t want to stress already burdened caregivers or run implementation teams ragged. It sounds good to hit the pause button, until you realize that some organizations have received grant money or other awards that have strings attached, such as deadlines.

I spent a good chunk of the weekend re-engineering an implementation plan to make all the training virtual and asynchronous, including recording some of the training videos myself. Fortunately, the client has someone who can do some edits and cleanup. Although I can train with the best of them, my moviemaking skills are nearly nonexistent.

With the numbers coming off the Johns Hopkins COVID website this week, everyone is understandably worried about where the next few weeks will take us. Patients are continuing to travel and resume normal activities, and some are going overboard trying to stock up on experiences in advance of potential lockdowns. Mental health services are at a premium and those patients frequently find themselves in the urgent care setting because their primary physicians aren’t able to see them on a timeline that the patient finds acceptable.

I treat panic attacks and anxiety all the time, but there’s a special kind of anxiety that shifts to the clinician when you’re trying to help a patient cope with the fact that she has to have an outpatient hysterectomy because the hospital has put a freeze on “elective” cases that require an overnight stay. We certainly didn’t train for a world where any of what we’ve been experiencing over the last few months would be OK.

Third parties are feeding off the desperation of providers to do something other than practice medicine face to face. I was approached by a telehealth company that wanted to offer me $10 per visit and touted the ability of their platform to let me see 10-12 patients an hour. That, dear readers, is absurd. And the frightening thing is the number of physicians they’ve already signed up. I’m sure the patients don’t know that physicians are going to try to run on those volumes, or that they’re not going to get the level of care they deserve since they’re paying many multiples of that amount for the service. One colleague was offered $10 an hour to supervise a nurse practitioner. Certainly our licenses are worth more than that, but the employer thought it was more than fair. My colleague took a page from Nancy Reagan and just said no.

Then there’s the elephant in the room, which is, what will happen after Tuesday? Patients are girding for everything from “life as usual, since COVID will be gone” to full-scale civil unrest. I saw a patient last week who had been having chest heaviness that got worse as the day progressed but was better first thing in the morning. The culprit – he was wearing body armor around the house, “preparing.” You should have seen the look on my scribe’s face when I pulled that little detail out of the patient. Toilet tissue is once again flying off the shelves, although I was excited to finally score some bleach at the grocery store.

Whatever happens as a result of the elections in the US on Tuesday, my fondest hope is that people will remain calm, work through their emotions, and not lose their cool. I hope we rise to the occasion, regardless of the outcomes and the personalities involved. We all need a break.

How is your organization preparing for election day chaos? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/29/20

October 29, 2020 Dr. Jayne 5 Comments

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Hospitals and health systems are going on the offensive against COVID. One example is this two-page ad in the Tulsa World that illustrates hospitalizations within Saint Francis Health System.

Hospitals in my metropolitan area are approaching maximum capacity, having taken numerous transfers from rural hospitals that quickly became overwhelmed as cases surged. Our flagship tertiary care hospital has put limits on elective operative cases, not only to preserve bed capacity, but also to try to mitigate the load on care delivery staff who are anticipating a rocky winter.

One of my ICU nurse colleagues has been working with COVID patients since the beginning, spending several months in a vacant college dorm to reduce the risk that she would take the virus home to her high-risk household. In the ultimate show of compassion, another nurse from a “regular” unit offered to trade places for a few weeks so that my friend could have a break. It’s people like these that drew many of us to healthcare, those who truly set the example of service. But it’s a sad commentary on where we are right now and the concerns around what is to come. We had two more resignations at my practice this week and I fear more are to come.

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ONC released a data brief this week looking at the state of interoperability among major US cities. The report looked at variation in interoperability within 15 cities, which are represented by combined statistical areas. They looked specifically at four key areas of interoperability – to find, send, receive, and integrate electronic health information with sources outside their health system. Data on HIE participation was also included.

Not surprisingly, small / independent hospitals performed the worst, with system-owned hospitals reporting higher rates of engagement across all domains. I practice in one of the areas that was surveyed and can attest to our paltry performance. The hospitals refuse to share information with independent facilities, and most of the time, my best source of information at the point of care involves the patient handing their phone to me so I can flip through their MyChart account.

The state HIE isn’t much help either since they won’t let individual physicians participate. Physicians only get access if they’re part of an organization that is sharing data. There are plenty of us that are independent, locum tenens, or contract physicians who care for patients outside the walls of a hospital or across multiple rural facilities, and it would be useful to have access to the data when those patients cross our threshold. That’s how the state’s prescription drug monitoring program works – it’s funded by tax dollars and each provider has their own login. Not sure why the HIE needs to be different.

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My office recently suffered the devastating loss of a staff member, who passed away at the practice during the work day. It’s been an incredibly difficult time for everyone. The office has been closed and we just re-opened Wednesday. Based on the experience, I have a new item to add to our contingency plans for such a situation. If you have shared PC workstations, I highly recommend having someone log in to the PC that was last in use by the staffer in question and make sure that their login screen isn’t going to pop up for the next person to see. It never occurred to me that it might be an issue until I walked past a staff member who was staring catatonically at a login screen with her departed co-worker’s name, waiting for her password. The whole situation has been traumatic. This was another hurt that the team didn’t need on our first day without her.

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Especially in a pandemic, there’s a lot of focus on the clinical workers at hospitals, along with those who perform essential functions such as food service, housekeeping, and facilities engineering. You don’t hear much about the unsung IT heroes, although they’re just as critical where taking care of patients is concerned.

One of my physician friends reached out to me recently about what she perceived as an IT disaster and I had to agree with her assessment. The hospital has had some significant delays in the return of pathology results over the last few months, due to layoffs and backlogged specimens. She’s been waiting for several sets of patient results to return and checking the system daily because she knows it’s a big deal for her patients. The lab director had told her to be patient, but I understand her reluctance to do so when she was waiting for information that could change her patients’ lives.

Late Sunday evening, she received a large volume of pathology results to review, some of which had been finalized and released by the lab more than five days previously. Apparently one of the interfaces had gone down and the results had been available but just sat there queueing until someone finally noticed an issue and pushed them through after restarting the interface. Her hospital recently outsourced quite a few of its IT functions and she couldn’t help but wonder if the changeover had anything to do with the failure, so called for my thoughts. My impression is that of a multi-level failure, first with the interface itself, then with the monitoring systems, then with a lack of notification to the responsible providers explaining the situation.

She had several dozen sets of results to address, but in a system her size, there may have been hundreds if not thousands of patients who were impacted. I know she felt terrible about the delays and was trying to figure out how to find time in a busy Monday office schedule to call notify all the patients. The reality is that on the other side of each one of those pathology results sits a woman who has likely been worrying about the outcome of her biopsy and that failure of the system added additional burden that she probably didn’t need right now.

It’s important for those of us in the healthcare informatics world to realize how critical our work truly is, and for the leadership that manages our departments to make sure we have the resources to do the work properly. My heart goes out to all the patients who had their results delayed and especially to those who received news that likely changed their lives.

Has your hospital cut resources for infrastructure reporting and monitoring? How does it notify patients and clinicians of similar situations? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/26/20

October 26, 2020 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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Mr. H posted a poll yesterday looking to better understand when patients / readers have most recently encountered a scribe and in what context. Having spent the better part of more than a decade working with scribes in various different capacities, I thought I would chime in with my experiences.

I had my first encounter with the idea of scribes in 2006 when I was working on my first large-scale EHR go-live. We had a couple of physicians in our medical group who were not technology savvy by any stretch of the imagination. One of them had never used a home computer, even for email, Internet surfing, or the occasional game of solitaire. We began her implementation with some basic computer usage, working on tasks such as turning on a laptop and getting the hang of using a mouse by playing solitaire. Over the course of multiple weekly visits, we tried to work with her on being able to do basic EHR tasks, such as prescribing medications and reviewing patient history elements.

Even though she was willing to try, given the volumes in her clinic and the complexity of her patients, it became clear that she wasn’t going to be able to continue to practice the way she wanted to while trying to use the EHR. We were able to convince our administration to consider allowing us to train one of her medical assistants as a scribe.

The next step was to try to find a scribe training curriculum. I found one online that had been created by a medical student and included plenty of content on medical terminology and how to act in the exam room. Since this was a seasoned medical assistant, she already knew the latter, but she wasn’t that keen on sitting through a bunch of PowerPoint slides about terminology.

We ended up doing some modified on-the-job training, where we pulled several dozen notes from the physician’s files and used them to role-play mock encounters, with one trainee acting as the patient and the other supporting the medical assistant as the scribe. We also had to do simulated patient care scenarios with the physician to teach her how to communicate with the scribe, such as how to describe her examination findings and how to ask the scribe to find EHR information and show her any lab results that she could act on during the visit.

Even though we thought it would be a short-term arrangement since the physician’s retirement was always a topic of conversation, it continued for nearly a decade. Patients were happy since they already knew her long-time medical assistant, although we had to make sure that we backfilled her role as a medical assistant so she wasn’t trying to do two jobs at the same time. It’s clear that having a scribe extended the physician’s ability to stay in practice while still meeting all of the medical group’s benchmarks.

Fast-forward to today, where I’m in an organization with its own in-house scribe training program that is extremely rigorous. Our scribes are first hired as medical techs, where they are put through an extensive classroom program followed by a rigid schedule of on-the-job training where they are required to demonstrate mastery of a subset of procedures and skills before moving to the next level. After more than a dozen supervised 12-hour shifts, they are required to work independently for six months before they can apply to be scribes.

Once they make the cut, it’s back to the classroom for more medical terminology training and additional work with the EHR, followed by a written test. If they pass, they begin to practice in-person scribing, followed by several shifts with the company’s founder and other senior physicians. Some don’t make it through, but those who do know that they are gaining invaluable experience since nearly all of them are pre-med students. The company makes them commit to at least a year of work before they’re hired, which most of them are happy to do as they use the time to work on med school applications and attend interviews.

I love having a scribe and it’s rough when I work a shift without one. You get so used to having everything you say automatically added to the orders or the note that sometimes when you are flying solo, you forget to order things. It takes time for the brain to adapt back to doing things yourself. Fortunately my staff is patient as they ask me whether I was planning to include discharge instructions for a patient or ask whether I’ve reviewed labs that have been added to one patient’s chart while I was seeing another.

Quite a few of our scribes began medical school this fall, so we are knee-deep in training the next class. Given the volumes we’re seeing with our recent COVID surge, they’re certainly getting an education.

I’m not sure what I think about virtual scribes, even though the idea is clearly a hot topic. I definitely think that patients need to be informed of the presence of a virtual scribe and to be given the chance to opt out, much as they might when a human scribe is present in person. In reality, I’ve only had a couple of patients opt out of having someone else in the room. Most of the time they are thrilled that I can focus on them rather than the EHR, and the encounters go much quicker because the documentation is done in real time. However, the virtual model has limitations in being unable to truly interact with the scribe or to use the scribe’s laptop in real time to show patients their lab trends or copies of their imaging studies.

I would be  interested to hear from anyone who is using a virtual scribe model. In what clinical situation have you implemented virtual scribes? How accepting have your patients been? What are the challenges? Any unexpected successes? If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently?

Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/22/20

October 22, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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Continuing its ongoing slide towards irrelevance, HIMSS issues its call for proposals for the 2021 conference, which is slated to take place in Las Vegas in August.

There are quite a few places I’d rather be during the summer than there, so I’m rethinking my plan to attend. Part of me wants to see what the stripped-down version of HIMSS looks like, but I’d rather save my desert trips for the winter months. For those of you interested in presenting, proposals are due by November 2, meaning the material will be nine months old by the time you take the podium. Speakers receive complimentary registration, but then again, most of the rest of us are also receiving “free” registration since they refused to refund our fees for the canceled 2020 conference.

The Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association publishes a review on “Physicians’ electronic inbox work patterns and factors associated with high inbox work duration.” Looking at primary care physicians, they quantified the time spent on inbox management while looking at use patterns to identify which types of messages took the most clinician time. They found that PCPs spent an average of 52 minutes managing the inbox on workdays, with 19 of those minutes occurring outside work hours. Most time was spent on patient-initiated messages and results management. The authors conclude that interventions targeting these two areas would help reduce inbox workload.

I’ve long been a promoter of having support staff assist physicians in managing the inbox, but there continue to be barriers in this regard. Some organizations think there is too much medico-legal risk to have staff screen or triage messages, but others are supportive of the approach. Most employed physicians I’ve worked with seem reluctant to push back, since their employers don’t want to spend money on qualified support staff and they feel like it’s a losing battle. Many physicians feel like they’re in captive employment situations, and you can bet employers take advantage of this, knowing they’re not likely to vote with their feet.

Despite promises of coverage for the expenses of COVID patients, patients are starting to see surprise medical bills arrive in their mailboxes. Patients who don’t have a documented positive test due to testing shortages or those who end up seeking care out of their insurance network seem to be the most at risk. These examples further demonstrate the brokenness of our US healthcare system, where people routinely delay in seeking care because they’re worried that they won’t be able to pay for it.

I treated an elderly patient recently who needed a cardiac workup to confirm whether her symptoms were being caused by a heart attack. There’s not a lot we can do in the urgent care to definitively make the call. Because her home country has a nationalized health service, she was resisting a transfer to the hospital because she had heard of the exorbitant cost of hospital visits in the US. Ultimately she agreed to go, but declined an ambulance transfer. Since our local hospitals routinely block independent physicians from receiving follow-up information, I’ll never know if she made it there or not or what her outcome was.

The ongoing pandemic is a huge stressor to patients and healthcare workers alike. Some companies are offering virtual therapy and meditation apps to try to help their workers cope. Kaiser Permanente is offering the Calm meditation app to millions of its members, and other payers have been bolstering their mental health service offerings as well. My primary clinical practice recently suffered a devastating loss as a staffer died at the site. Given the age distribution of our employees and their engagement with technology, I suspect they’d be more apt to engage mental health services through an app rather than having to pick up a phone and call the employee assistance program.

The Joint Commission issues a “Quick Safety” bulletin covering “the optimal use of telehealth to deliver safe patient care.” They seem a little late to the dance since it’s October and most organizations have been using telehealth services since the spring, often with great success. They include some good pieces of advice, including the need to develop protocols for virtual care to reduce variation between providers. They also note that staff roles and responsibilities need to be defined.

The latter is something I still see organizations struggle with, as they make the assumption that virtual visits need to be 100% the responsibility of the provider. The most efficient telehealth platforms allow for a similar flow to the in-person visit, with staff performing pre-visit and post-visit tasks so that the physician can focus on the parts of the visit that require their specific attention.

The American Medical Association, which controls the CPT codes used in medical billing, has released two new codes for COVID testing this week. Both of them address use of combination tests that look for Influenza A and B along with COVID-19.

Academic medical centers and other large institutions have been developing their own tests for this, but what we really need is mass quantities of a rapid test that covers these pathogens and can be administered and resulted at the point of care. My state continues to be in a surge, and it’s become painfully obvious that the only thing that is going to keep some people home is having an actual positive test result. Many are clear about their intentions to continue “living their lives” in the absence of a positive result, regardless of their symptoms or exposures.

It’s certainly a disheartening time to be a physician. My community just lost another physician to suicide this week. We’re also seeing COVID take a toll on our providers who have other health issues but who have been trying to “power through” due to the extreme need in the community. Two of my colleagues are on bedrest for pre-term labor and two more have taken unspecified medical leaves.

There’s also an emotional toll. We are expected to just keep going regardless of what we’re seeing around us. While hospitals typically have post-event shakedowns after tragic Code Blue or major trauma events, there’s not a parallel for most of us in the ambulatory realm other than just trying to look after one another. No one’s clapping and cheering for the healthcare providers any more, but some of us are working harder than we have since the initial spring peaks. I’m definitely seeing some unhealthy coping behaviors, so keep an eye on your friends and family if they’re in the clinical trenches.

What is your organization trying to do to bolster morale ahead of flu season? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/19/20

October 19, 2020 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

There has been a tremendous amount of anxiety in the virtual physician lounge this week. One of the local hospital systems announced that they are going to start releasing all physician notes to patients via their MyChart implementation. Apparently, there was very little information provided about how confidential information will be addressed, particularly among teenagers, and physicians are concerned about the repercussions.

I’ve been watching the conversations, trying to get a feel for how the situation looks to physicians who aren’t informaticists and don’t have a full understanding of why this is happening. Some of the comments underscore the need for education and highlight the opportunity that hospitals have to make sure their medical staff members are all on the same page and understand the background:

  • Why are all the hospitals jumping on this bandwagon? Seems like just another patient engagement trend.
  • It’s an absolute mandate from CMS.
  • It’s a Medicare thing. I’m just going to do my Medicare patient notes on paper and scan them in.
  • I’m going to make a smart phrase now to explain that I’m no longer using MyChart.
  • Patient notes are for me and my colleagues, not for the patient.
  • This contradicts state law, I’m not doing it.
  • I’m just going to make my notes very sterile, generic, and useless in order to avoid patients freaking out about things they don’t have the training to understand.
  • There’s a $1 million fine if you don’t do it.
  • X health system has an option to “not share the note.” I assume this is going away.
  • Y health system just implemented an option to “not share,” I guess this is due to the new requirement.
  • No patient ever needs to see the back and forth messages between my staff and me, whether it’s in their chart or not.
  • I’m just going to make shadow charts on all my patients.
  • I hope they take this into account with the patient satisfaction surveys. Patients are going to hate seeing the real truth about themselves.

To be honest, I was surprised by how bitter and angry some of the comments were. It made me a bit embarrassed to be part of the physician community in my area.

At least there were a couple of physicians who chimed in who had previous experience with OpenNotes, trying to reassure people that it won’t be as bad as they are anticipating. Another pointed out a positive experience with patients who claim they were never advised of various parts of the treatment plan, but it was clearly documented in the notes they received after the visit, which led to some good discussions with patients who could benefit from taking charge of their health.

It was a very different conversation than the one going on among my clinical informaticist peers, who have been detailing their plans in various informatics forums. It sounds like there is a strong consensus on only releasing ambulatory notes and test results after they have been signed by the responsible physician, and only releasing inpatient documents after discharge, but that’s where the consensus ends. However, there has been some good discussion around the fact that the regulations are somewhat vague and it’s not clear whether “progress notes” includes all progress notes (such as nursing, physical / occupational / speech therapy, social work, etc.) or just physician notes.

Some health systems are running full speed ahead for a November 1 go live, but others seem to be biding their time hoping that there will be a delay in enforcement. Although I see the value of patients having access to their notes, most health organizations are pretty strapped right now, what with the pandemic and all. Many of my independent physician friends are barely keeping their heads above water, with another one deciding to retire at the end of the calendar year. I think there are quite a few of them who wish that a health system would acquire them, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of available cash for practice purchases these days.

How is your organization preparing for the upcoming mandate? Do you think your physicians understand what it’s all about? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/15/20

October 15, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

CMS has announced amended repayment terms for providers who received Medicare loans due to COVID-19. Repayment will begin one year from the issuance date of each provider’s (or supplier’s) advance payment. There is $106 billion in outstanding payments, which were intended to help bolster healthcare providers who had cash flow issues during the early stages of the pandemic. This is a positive development since they were originally scheduled to begin payback in August. Speaking with my friends who are independent physicians, they’re still struggling to get back to regular volumes and are worried about what things will be like once flu season hits.

Physicians across the country are still faced with shortages of personal protective equipment and aren’t equipped to manage COVID-positive patients in the office, so they often send them to the emergency department or local urgent care providers. If infections start to pick up, they’re going to be in the same place as they were last spring, if not worse. Providers who are still experiencing hardships can request an Extended Repayment Schedule that allows repayment over a three- to five-year period. In an interesting twist, CMS is also allowing recipients of the $175 billion in Provider Relief Funds to use those monies towards repaying the Medicare loans

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St. Louis-based health system Ascension announced Monday that its 1,200 local employees will be able to work remotely permanently. The organization will be reviewing its local office footprint while supporting employees who have told leadership that they’re happy working remotely. Other local health systems are likely operating by the same playbook. Friends at BJC Healthcare mentioned that many remote IT and process improvement employees aren’t expected back in the office until June 2021. That gives the system plenty of time to evaluate their lease commitments and figure out where and how to shuffle the employees that eventually return in person.

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From Non-Essential Travel: “Re: travel. Given the story of being in close confines with someone who flouted the rules, I’m curious whether you would recommend non-essential air travel to others at this time? Also curious whether your role, which brings you into more frequent contact with people who are COVID-19 positive, influences your decisions (i.e. you’re around it all day and have become accustomed to some level of risk). I know you discussed using air travel for important business reasons previously, but with so much conflicting information on what’s safe and what’s not, curious your take on the merits and risks of non-essential air travel at this time.” Good questions. I think that like everything else to do with this pandemic, the issue is one of weighing the pros and cons and finding the right comfort level with the decision. To be honest, for me this trip had significant elements related to mental health beyond just getting away.

I’ve been in a situation for six months now where I’ve been seeing twice (or sometimes more than twice) my usual patient volume within a 12-hour shift, which sometimes stretches to 13 or 14 hours to make sure all the patients are accommodated. My employer is extremely customer-focused, which creates a grueling environment for the staff. We don’t turn anyone away and we see all levels of acuity (at least until we can stabilize the patient while we call 911 and wait the heart-stopping 4 to 7 minutes for the fancy truck with the flashing lights to arrive). I’ve seen wounds and injuries that I haven’t seen since I worked in the big-city emergency department and have been expected to manage them until backup arrives. It’s gotten to the point where I know the ambulance-based paramedics by name.

When I finally make it home, I head straight to the shower, throw my work clothes in the washer, and then finally find dinner at 9:30 or 10 at night. The level of stress is pretty crazy, and some of us are left with few people with whom to commiserate. Non-medical friends and family members just cannot fathom what it’s like, although I’m not even in the worst of it by any stretch of the imagination.

Add that to the fact that we’re staring down the barrel of rising COVID numbers in my area, an extreme level of pushback against any kind of public health measures, and an impending flu season (which has already started for us) and I felt like if I didn’t get out of Dodge now I wouldn’t be able to do it for at least six or seven months.

The physician I met up with is much in the same position as I am. The reality of our dark thoughts led us to at least contemplate the fact that this is such a craptacular year that one never knows when one’s number might be up. I think a lot of people have forgotten (or didn’t realize) that back in March and April, physicians were updating their wills. That fear is still in the back of our heads, especially because we’re still seeing people who are deadly sick even though many in the US have returned to their normally scheduled programming, including leisure travel.

Bottom line: if not for this trip being an antidote to those dark thoughts, I would not have gone.

As someone who routinely encounters in the vicinity of 20 COVID-positive patients a day plus the other 40 to 60 who ultimately test negative, it’s nothing to throw on an N95 mask and some eyewear and hop on a plane with open middle seats (although I admit I fluid-restricted myself so I would have zero chance of needing to use the airplane lavatory, and did not eat or drink on the plane). Would I take my kids to Disney World just for fun? No way. Would I support someone making a trip to see a relative who might not be with them for much longer? Yes, with the right precautions.

I know the travel industry is hurting, along with many other sectors of the economy, but for the average person, I don’t know that the risk/benefit equation works out in favor of non-essential air travel. I’ve been wanting to make a non-essential trip to Boston to test-drive a custom musical instrument for nearly 10 months, and even though I could swab myself to meet the Massachusetts protocol and hop on a plane tomorrow (heaven knows I have enough unused airline tickets), I still haven’t done it.

The issue of the safety of air travel is certainly top of mind for many, and a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the topic. The comments on the article are interesting, and point out some level of conflict of interest among the authors that creates a shadow on their conclusion that the risk of contracting COVID during air travel is lower than that of being in an office, classroom, grocery story, or on a commuter train.

What do the rest of the road warriors out there think about air travel at this time? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/12/30

October 12, 2020 Dr. Jayne 5 Comments

I’ve returned from my brief sojourn in the desert. Unfortunately, on my outbound flight, I had my first exposure to a passenger behaving badly.

The last couple of times I’ve been on a plane have been smooth, but this one was marred by a man who wouldn’t keep his mask on his nose. It wasn’t a case of the mask not fitting right with resulting slip. He would wait until the flight attendant walked by, then intentionally lower his mask. He had already been a problem at boarding, when he planted himself in the exit row and took his mask off entirely, claiming he was “hot,” but put it back on when confronted.

After being counseled by multiple flight attendants, he finally complied when they told him he’d have to give up his exit row seat and move to the front of the plane with them. If you’re hale and hearty enough to fly coast to coast, you should be able to wear a mask.

It was fantastic to be in a part of the country where they’re taking COVID seriously. Nearly everywhere we went, people were universally masked and businesses were deadly serious about customers keeping their masks covering their noses and mouths. My community at home is doing unfortunate things, such as having unsanctioned homecoming dances with numbers of attendees that not only exceed county guidelines, but are entirely unmasked. I wish the parents organizing these events could come spend a day in our clinic and see how many families we deal with whose lives are disrupted after the fact by these events, and see how hard the staff works trying to deal with it all. As a physician dealing with COVID all day, it’s grating to see people who don’t understand personal responsibility and how their actions can impact the lives of others.

The small town I was visiting has reimagined their downtown area to promote outdoor dining and distanced socializing, blocking off streets and expanding the footprint for restaurants to serve in-person customers. Given our relatively self-isolating outdoor activities, most of our meals were of the “pull it out of your backpack” variety, but it was nice to get out and do some people-watching on the day we ventured into town.

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If you’re going to blow your day’s calories on a single item, I highly recommend a shake that comes accessorized with not only whipped cream, but a donut. I saw some sassy boots while window shopping, but refrained from looking further until I have somewhere interesting to wear them. Of course, I could always stroll around my house in them, but it’s just not the same.

My wingwoman on this trip is a surgeon, and given the types of cases she usually does, she hasn’t been doing much telehealth work. She works for a large integrated delivery network where after-hours care is handled by triage nurses, so she was fascinated by the fact that I could log onto my favorite telehealth vendor’s site and have a waiting room full of patients who wanted to speak with a random physician at all hours of the night. I only saw a handful of virtual patients, and only when I received escalation text messages that the patients had been waiting a long time due to a shortage of available providers licensed in one of my states. She comes from a totally different world where the patient population is somewhat captive, so she found the potential fragmentation in care a little unnerving.

There’s still a lot lacking as far as interoperability between telehealth vendors and the rest of the teams that care for the patients they serve. At best, the patient’s local physicians receive a PDF document or a copy of the patient’s care plan. At worst, they receive nothing. In order for third-party telehealth platforms to be a robust part of patients’ ongoing care, they’re going to have to reach a level of interoperability that’s on par with the capabilities of certified EHR systems used by those other providers. They’re also going to have to execute on those capabilities. I know those vendors (and their shareholders and investors) don’t want to hear about the amount of money it’s going to take for that to happen, but it’s the right thing to do for the patient.

For me to be an effective telehealth urgent care physician, I need an current copy of the patient’s medication list and problem list, not just what they recall or what they might have picked from the top of a dynamic picklist because they were in a hurry. I need to have a better picture of whether a patient is compliant or not, and what their local care team has been doing or what they might have already been thinking regarding next steps for a given condition that might impact my short-term care plan. Whether I get that data from a provider’s EHR or some kind of API integration direction with the patient doesn’t make that much of a difference to me, as long as the data is there and comes through in a usable form. For the platforms I practice on, I’m betting it will be months to years before we reach those capabilities unless something changes drastically in the interim.

It will probably be a while before I practice any telehealth since I have quite a few in-person clinical shifts coming up to make up for my time away. I’m pleased to say that my flight home was uneventful, with most passengers sleeping. I think my exit row companion and I were the only ones with our lights on, and he appeared to be working most of the flight just like I was. Seeing a fellow road warrior type back in his natural habitat made me smile.

I’m cautiously optimistic that we can continue to put systems in place that allow people to travel or otherwise move about more freely than they have been, assuming they (or their companies) can afford to do so. However, flu season is just over the horizon, so it will be interesting to see if things stabilize or if we have more challenging days ahead of us.

What’s your over/under prediction for the upcoming US flu season? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/8/20

October 8, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I’ve helped numerous organizations with EHR system selection over the years, so I’m always skeptical when vendors or others report outcomes that can only be described as too good to be true. I always feel vindicated when I get to the bottom or an article and find some tidbit that I might have otherwise missed if I skimmed.

Such was the case with a recent write-up about FastMed Urgent Care implementing Epic. Although FastMed may technically be the first independent urgent care operator to take Epic live, they partnered with HonorHealth in Arizona. It’s unclear what level of partnership is present – is it a joint venture, a resource sharing agreement, or some kind of licensing deal?

The write-up morphs from a report about FastMed into a write-up about a July KLAS report where vendors were rated on their COVID responses. It goes on to quote an anonymous Epic client who says that the efficiency gained using Epic has allowed them to go from seeing 300-400 patients daily to about 1,000. If you weren’t reading carefully, you might think this was about FastMed.

It caught my eye because for an urgent care to make that dramatic leap in volumes, it would require changes in many more systems beyond the EHR, such as staffing, facilities, supply chain, and more. When actually considering information like that, it’s also important to understand the timeframe for that kind of ramp up. It’s unclear why they even included the KLAS report in the piece, but just another example of the sloppy writing that’s out there and why prospects and customers need to remain vigilant.

From Dancing Queen: “Re: resigned employees. I sat on a 1:1 call earlier this week, waiting for someone who ultimately no-showed. There was no response to outreach on Slack or email, and no out-of-office message. Turns out he gave notice around Labor Day and his last day was almost a week ago. This was a C-suite person with an administrative assistant. Why would anyone think it’s OK to leave meetings on the calendar and not notify anyone of his departure?” Unfortunately, not caring about the time of other people seems to be the new normal. I personally experience no-shows all the time, as well as people who arrive late with no notification and no apology. One company I work with has a serious issue with people just ignoring emails. Especially in the world of virtual officing, people need to revisit the ideas of common courtesy and respectful behaviors. I understand companies not doing blast notifications when people leave, but there’s no excuse for not putting on an out-of-office message that directs people to someone who is assuming responsibility for that person’s work. In one past life, we would see a little “x” in the Outlook directory in front of people who had left, but that doesn’t help if you’re an external stakeholder, vendor, or consultant.

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Telehealth has become a key part of the care team for many patients and providers, but organizations are still struggling with patient acceptance and technology glitches. Some patients seem to be more receptive than others, for example, those who had difficulty traveling to see a distant specialist or those who have difficulty taking time away from work for appointments. Others may not have the technology needed to do a visit well or may be uncomfortable discussing certain issues at home versus in the privacy of the physician’s exam room.

Now that the initial pandemic-driven pressures for telehealth services have slowed, organizations are starting to rethink their strategies. Maybe they have outgrown the quick and dirty solutions they initially deployed, or maybe they’ve realized that the vendor they chose didn’t offer all the features they need to be successful.

Organizations that are trying to move beyond the urgent care and immediate care constructs are looking for more robust technology that includes elements like remote monitoring or enhanced triage abilities that help streamline the physician portion of the visit. One consistent request I’ve heard in talking with CMIO friends is the ability to have multi-party conversations, such as with the patient and children or caregivers who may be remote not only due to distance, but due to potential quarantine or isolation. Having everyone virtually on the same page can cut down on the post-visit interactions that providers sometimes have to conduct to make sure everyone has the same information.

Others are looking for solutions that will allow multiple providers, such as a multidisciplinary care team, to see the patient at once. These integrated teams are often used for pediatric patients with complex medical problems that require follow up from a variety of subspecialists, to avoid having families travel multiple times to tertiary care centers. This is also important for patients who need translation and interpretation services.

EHR integration is also an ask, especially for those that implemented lightweight, standalone systems. Providers don’t like having to use multiple systems and screens to access data and document while they’re seeing the patient. It will be interesting to see what the provider-based telehealth market does over the next year, as well as how things turn out for direct-to-consumer applications.

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Since no one hangs out in the actual physician lounge anymore (thanks, COVID), we’ve moved to virtual forums to try to stay connected. I’m part of multiple physician and provider groups that are trying to keep each other updated on not only COVID-related happenings, but other healthcare issues, while trying to bolster our communal morale. One of the hottest topics recently has been the future availability of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus and speculation on how complicated the process will be for its distribution. We’ve been collectively pleased that vaccine manufacturers seem to be holding the line against political pressures for a premature release and that CEOs have frankly contradicted the White House’s claim that manufacturers were pushing back against FDA guidelines.

Manufacturers have plenty of skin in the game and can’t afford to rush a vaccine to market only to have it go wrong in the field. We’ve all seen those examples of drugs released without adequate testing (Vioxx, anyone?) that have come back to haunt patients, providers, and manufacturers alike. As a front-line provider, the decision to take an available vaccine is not insignificant. FiveThirtyEight put together some thoughts from vaccine professionals on how we might know when a vaccine can be trusted. Here are the best nuggets:

  • Don’t get your vaccine advice from politicians or pharmaceutical companies.
  • Trust independent scientists and medical professionals.
  • Look at information from FDA reviews.
  • Be skeptical of anything released before year-end.
  • Trust experts who are straightforward about the limitations of potential vaccines.

No one wants to get back to normal more than the healthcare providers who are in the trenches dealing with COVID and its fallout. Everyone is tired in a thousand different ways. Our hope is that people will learn to wear masks properly and consistently, that people will be vaccinated when a safe and effective one is approved and available, and that everyone will show patience and grace while all this is going on.

What’s the best example of grace under pressure you’ve seen during the pandemic? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/5/20

October 5, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Google is doing some interesting things with COVID data overlays for Google Maps. The company states that it introduced the COVID layer in Maps “so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do.” The overlay shows the seven-day average of new COVID cases per 100,000 people, with labels that show whether cases are trending up or down.

The data was accurate for my area, which is a hotbed of COVID transmission. Based on the activity of people in general, I doubt many people are consulting Google Maps to decide where they should be going since local traffic patterns indicate that everyone is everywhere.

Part of the issue stems from our lack of a statewide policy, leaving it up to individual counties to decide whether they will have restrictions or not. I live in a more restrictive county and people are flocking to the neighboring jurisdictions for dining and social activities despite the fact that numbers are going up in those areas. We hear all about the fun they’ve been having at wineries, pumpkin patches, and haunted houses when they present to the urgent care for COVID testing.

Since we have six providers out with COVID, we’re not very amused. Even though I’m not in the office for a while, I still get the text messages begging for additional provider coverage. We’re already seeing patients who are positive for both influenza A and influenza B, and vaccination season has barely started. It’s going to be a long winter, I’m guessing.

Our practice’s leadership has been quiet at providing details on how many employees have been infected with COVID and whether the exposures have been work related. I see some fairly cavalier processes with masking at times and occasionally people are gathering in break rooms despite recommendations to the contrary. I’m trying not to judge – they might be part of our population that already has had COVID and maybe they’re sharing war stories over a sandwich, but it’s still eerie when you walk up on people unmasked and closer together than the recommended six feet.

As a former administrative type, I appreciate the organization’s reasoning for being mum, but as a patient care organization, I think it’s important to address the infection control issue head-on especially since we’re still having “extended use” of our N95 masks that borders on the absurd. Fortunately, I have some angels out there who have been sourcing masks for me, so between those and the work-issued ones, I am able to swap them out frequently. I still find it hard to believe that we’re in this position at this point in the evolution of the pandemic.

Further on the topic of “things that are surprising, but not really,” I continue to see a significant number of individuals out there in the working world who don’t seem to understand the concept of “the internet is forever and it’s certainly not private.” Employers, potential employers, customers, and prospects may be looking at our activity on social media. Personal accounts can be subject to scrutiny as well as professional ones, which is why it seems surprising when people post things that raise an eyebrow or even cause a full-scale cringe.

A friend was looking at the LinkedIn profile of someone who is actively seeking a new job and found a post that didn’t exactly scream “please hire me, I’m a serious professional.” I’m not even going to quote it because I can hear my dear sweet grandmother in my head saying, “Jayney-girl, that’s vulgar.”

It got me thinking about posts that I’ve seen lately on social media that have been more than a little out of line, considering that their authors are the leaders of companies or other public-facing figures. Granted, those of us that live in the US are in the middle of what might be the most polarized presidential election in modern history, but it seems that a good chunk of the population has completely lost its sense of decorum. Whether one agrees with the idea of a social media post or not, an inflammatory tone doesn’t reflect well on one’s company or one’s leadership ability.

It has gone beyond what we used to think as “questionable” posts involving scantily-clad selfies, strip clubs, large quantities of alcohol, or venturing into tasteless subject matter. I saw one executive who re-posted political material that openly mocked the LQBTQ+ community. I’m sure their community health center and reproductive health practice clients aren’t going to be amused by it. Part of me wanted to reach out and ask if he really did post it or if he had been hacked, but seeing some of the posts that followed provided an unfortunate answer to my question.

I’ve seen what I would consider to be bad behavior much more often from my friends at startups, which may not have the same corporate social media policies as established or publicly traded companies. I’ve seen some posts that are completely absent of common human decency , but if they don’t even meet that level, they’re definitely not going to meet standards of being respectful. I  was following a company to write a piece on a company, but but have canned it because I cannot in good conscience provide visibility for an organization whose leadership is openly hateful.

In the final days that we have leading up to our presidential election, I am encouraging people to remember how we used to interact with each other, with reasoned, thoughtful conversation rather than forwarded clips and disrespectful hashtags. Once upon a time we knew how to work together towards common goals rather than bashing each other. We still have tremendous problems to solve, particularly in the healthcare arena where all of us play a role. Chronic diseases haven’t gone away, nor have preventable harms in healthcare facilities. Maternal / infant mortality in the US is still shameful, and we’re nowhere near funding public health in the way we need to fund it even after COVID exposed our shortcomings. We’re still wasting healthcare dollars because of siloed data and lack of interoperability.

We still have a rough month ahead of us, but let’s all consider taking a vow of civility. Let’s think before we speak or write and read things twice before clicking “send” or “post.” I think we’ll all be the better for it.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/1/20

October 1, 2020 Dr. Jayne No Comments

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For those of you still playing along with the Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program, October 3 is the last day to begin the required 90-day EHR reporting period. This applies to eligible hospitals who want to try to avoid getting a negative payment adjustment (aka penalty) down the road.

It’s hard for some organizations to even care about the CMS programs any more. They are trying to keep their doors open on a month-to-month basis, and the idea of future penalties isn’t on the radar when they’re juggling staffing issues and figuring out how to protect their employees.

Another deadline approaching is that for submitting comments on the 2021 Proposed Rule for the Quality Payment Program. That comment period closes October 5 at 5 p.m. ET and comments may be submitted through regulations.gov.

COVID and the related lockdowns, shutdowns, and limitations to healthcare delivery are having negative impacts on patients in other ways. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from September 11 presents the results of a survey done in June looking at patients whose routine care was delayed. The survey estimates that 41% of US adults have delayed or avoided care, including 12% who reported having avoided urgent care.

A close friend of mine is going through some stress following a delay of care. When she was finally able to get in for her annual GYN exam, there were some abnormal findings, and now she’s beating herself up about whether they would have been found earlier had she gone in April as originally scheduled. I reminded her that in her age group she’s not even recommended to have an annual pap test, which means that her physician performed it “early” per the guidelines rather than “late” due to COVID. It’s hard for most laypeople to wrap their minds around how guidelines are constructed, especially when they’re worried whether they have cancer. At least her care team is running full tilt now, so hopefully she’ll have the answers she needs very soon.

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ONC announces the awardees for the STAR HIE (Strengthening Technical Advancement and Readiness of Public Health Agencies via Health Information Exchange) program. The goal was to support state and local public health agencies, as they use health information exchange services to respond to public health emergencies such as natural disasters and pandemics. Five HIEs were each awarded two-year cooperative agreements: Georgia Health Information Network, Health Current (AZ), HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Kansas Health Information Network, and Texas Health Services Authority.

I enjoyed this article in Nature looking at how researchers are using virtual assistants to diagnose coronavirus infections along with dementia, depression, and more. Vocalis Health, a start-up with offices in Israel and the US, modified an app that was being used to detect worsening chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in an effort to detect COVID-19. They asked patients who had tested positive to use a research app to record their voices, with the recordings processed through machine learning to try to identify a COVID voiceprint. The article goes on to cover the history of voice analysis with neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease as well as how it can be used for behavioral health conditions like mania, where voice features can be telling. I ran the article past my favorite voice expert who thought it was “very fascinating,” although I’m personally curious about how it handles patients speaking different languages with different dialects and regional accents.

Greenway Health is getting into the telehealth game with a solution slated to be available in October. It claims to “deliver quality care from remote locations without interrupting established workflows” and they’ve got a video on the website from their chief product and technology officer, but I’d find it a lot more credible if they had a physician announcing it. The rest of the information requires you to provide your information, so I took a pass.

My state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians reached out to me on behalf of the state department of health as they try to plan for administration of a COVID-19 vaccine. The documentation is extensive, including a participation agreement and a multi-page provider profile that requires details down to the brand, model, and type of storage unit that will be used for housing COVID-19 vaccine prior to administration. Based on our already unstaffable volumes, I can’t see my practice agreeing to be an administration site, but you never know.

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I registered for the all-virtual Lenovo TechWorld conference today, to be held at the end of October. Based on my interests, it suggested a couple of sessions for me. I’m not sure where the “liquid cooling innovation” one might have come from, but it does sound pretty cool (pun intended). Unlike an in-person conference, it’s easy for the day-to-day to get in the way of virtual conferences, so we’ll see if I make it to any of the sessions.

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I’m mostly interested in seeing how the virtual conferences run and what platforms they use, as well as how they engage (or don’t engage) attendees. The Optum Forum had some glitches this morning, with participants having to log out and back in as well as reload their browsers to continue. Sessions that may have been missed are posted for on demand viewing through October 30, however.

I’ve been dealing with some non-work issues lately, so I’ve been much more likely to answer phone calls from unknown numbers. I had the ultimate bad cold call the other day. I answered the phone as I always do, “Hi, it’s Dr. HIStalk” and the caller says, “Jayne, this is Dave.” “Sorry, Dave who?” “You know, Dave, from XX company. We met at the YY conference a couple of months ago (insert name of conference that I most certainly didn’t attend, because you know, COVID) and you said to call you in a couple of months.”

“I’m sorry, what is this about?” “I wanted to follow up on your cybersecurity needs.” When I began to explain that I don’t have any cybersecurity needs, he literally hung up on me. Definitely not a best practice for the sales playbook, and needless to say, his number is now blocked. I’ll also be making sure that all my hospital and healthcare friends who might actually have pressing cybersecurity needs know what bozos the company has hired so that they’re not inclined to give them their business.

What’s the worst cold call you’ve received? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Reader Comments

  • AnInteropGuy: I would hope that we have better medicine and science than we did 67 years ago. Our understanding of virus mechanisms ar...
  • Angela C. Witt: Most of the suggestions you have to improve order management in the EHR are features available in current vendor product...
  • masterblaster: I was intrigued by your statement of "Because they so tightly control access to the vendor’s documentation, I have no ...
  • IANAL: In spite of AMA lobbying, regulatory changes in the early 2000s allowed pharmacists to give flu shots. Costs fell, acces...
  • Brian Too: My theory is that telehealth is a bigger benefit for the patient than it is for the clinician (though there are clinical...

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