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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/20/22

October 20, 2022 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

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I went to look at the pricing and deadlines for the HIMSS23 conference earlier this week and it looks like they’re doing a little bit of a cash grab in switching up their pricing. It used to be that the basic conference pass, at the lowest price point, included access to the session records. Now you’ll have to pay an upcharge of nearly $300 for that privilege.

In addition to the recordings, the middle price point also includes access to the pre-conference forum as well as admission to the Thursday night special event. The highest price point adds on attendance at the CXO experience and the Executive Summit / Reception. I haven’t done my registration yet, so I can’t see whether there are a la carte offerings for the different items as well, but hopefully I’ll get around to that soon.

Within the last couple of years, I worked for a couple of telehealth companies. Over the weekend, one of them began texting me about surges in patient volume, despite the fact that I haven’t worked for them in months. For a while I was wondering what kind of activity happened on their system that my phone number has come back from the dead, and then it occurred to me that maybe they’ve just had a slow summer and they’re starting to see an uptick in patient requests due to the increase in cases of influenza and other viral illnesses. Regardless of the reason, texting STOP made them requests go away, which dramatically increased my provider satisfaction.

Speaking of satisfaction measures, I recently received a survey from a vendor who knows I’m extremely dissatisfied with their service. I tried to dodge it by ignoring it, but I kept being peppered by requests that appeared to be from the individual service rep, who is well aware of my dissatisfaction. I know about statistical sampling and the need to have an adequate number of responses, but it boggles my mind that they would continue to beat down the door of a disgruntled customer to the point where I felt like providing an even more negative response than I had intended to deliver. I slept on it for a couple of days then finally sent it over, trying to be as fair as possible. I hope I’m tagged in their customer relationship management as being in remediation, and that based on my very pointed feedback, that they reconsider how they’re sampling customers for routine surveys.

One of my friends reached out to ask my opinion on a medical billing situation. Apparently his insurance only covers vaccines when they’re administered in a physician’s office as opposed to covering them when they’re given at a retail clinic. At least in my community, pricing at Walgreens, Target, and CVS are all cheaper than a vaccine at a physician office and are often more convenient for the patient. I tried calling for a flu vaccine for a family member at their own primary care provider’s office, and after several weeks of trying to get through and continuing to be placed in voice mail purgatory, I gave up and took him to Costco for a quick and convenient vaccine. Fortunately it was covered by his insurance, but it just goes to show how off-kilter our current healthcare delivery system is.

Quote of the week: I loved this quote on the recent Monday Morning Update: “It’s a good lesson for vendors who think AI/ML is the universal hammer for all healthcare nails – Epic has 40-plus years of experience working with the best health systems in the country, so if it can mess up a clinical algorithm, imagine the clinical damage your cool startup and its team of former beer-ponging Facebook engineers could do.” I’ve worked on several AI and ML projects in a variety of settings, including academics, startups, and with startups that were spun off from academic medical centers. I’ve found that doing AI/ML the right way is almost universally harder than people think it is, especially if you want to ensure that you’re training your models in a way that avoids bias and works for diverse populations. If you’re like some of my former colleagues who jumped from retail IT to the clinical space and thought they knew it all, I hope you’re employing experienced clinical informaticists to save you from yourself.

This week included some adventures in healthcare, with weirdness on both the clinical and revenue cycle fronts. I had an annual visit with one of my subspecialists, who uses a scribe. Usually I find that it makes the visit more efficient, and this visit was no exception. Since we’re in the era of unbridled data sharing, I couldn’t wait to see what my visit note looked like. At this clinical office, they never take my co-pay and I always wind up receiving a bill, so I tried to pay the co-pay at checkout. They told me I didn’t have one, and I insisted that I did and offered to show them my card that said so. The clerk said she would check in the system and figure it out, then came back with a “definitely no co-pay” verdict. I asked her to check the practice management system, where she’d clearly see my annual visits and the subsequent copay being billed and my payments, but she refused. This is the only office I’ve been to that refuses cash at the time of service, so I’m not sure what era their billing team is living in.

The weirdness continued when I returned home and looked at my visit note, which was already available. Imagine my surprise when I saw the documentation that the patient had completed a questionnaire, including a comprehensive review of systems, and that I had discussed it with the physician, since neither of those events occurred. The templated documentation also noted that the document was scanned, which is interesting because I’ve never completed anything like that at this office. This is the second time this year I’ve been confronted with erroneous visit notes and I’m still wondering what the best way is to handle them. In this case, it doesn’t impact the outcome of the visit or my future care, so I’m not that excited about bringing it up. In the other case, there were material errors in the chart, but I still don’t know the best way to deal with them. I’ve decided to leave that provider’s care anyway, and the errors aren’t anything that are going to impact future care or payments or anything else, but they’re just annoying.

Have you had errors in your visit documentation after seeing a healthcare provider? How did you handle the situation? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/17/22

October 17, 2022 Dr. Jayne Comments Off on Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/17/22

When I speak with physicians who don’t have a lot of experience with using telehealth for urgent care patients, they’re always concerned about quality. Many of them aren’t aware of some of the different techniques you can use to assess patients, or the ways you can instruct a patient to perform different maneuvers to help in that assessment.

It seems kind of funny at times, because in medical school we were always encouraged to remember that the patient’s story often provides the majority of information needed to narrow the options for diagnosis. Despite what we might think in a world of high-tech diagnostics, it’s not always about doing a lot of tests or even about performing hands-on examination techniques.

In my time as a “fast track” physician in a high-volume emergency department, I’ve seen a lot of patients who did not truly need emergency services. As telehealth expanded during the COVID pandemic, hospitals were looking at different ways to manage increasing emergency volumes and figuring out different ways to care for patients who didn’t need high acuity care. Some organizations turned to telehealth, adding phone booth-style cubicles where patients who met certain triage criteria could consult with a physician. Others moved to a “physician in triage” model to help expedite care, although that occasionally backfired when patients left after being triaged but were still stuck with a bill since they were seen by a physician.

With that in mind, I was excited to see an article last week in NEJM Catalyst that examined this phenomenon. Titled, “Converting an ED Fast Track to an ED Virtual Visit Track,” the case study looks at the Stanford Health Care experience as it substituted remote consultations for in-person visits in the emergency department. The effort started in December 2020, as the organization accelerated an already-approved plan to add virtual visits into the ED’s offerings. As we’ve seen with a number of technology initiatives across the US, the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic led to many different advances in care delivery capacity.

Historically, the goal of a fast-track area within an emergency department is to be able to treat low-acuity patients faster, since higher-need patients will always be prioritized. Typically, the fast-track area has dedicated physicians and nursing staff who can quickly evaluate and manage a variety of non-emergent problems, such as cough/cold, sore throat, ear pain, rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low-grade burns, minor lacerations, sprains, lower-acuity fractures, and the like. On any given shift in the fast track, I’d see kids who were sent home from school too late to get an appointment with their primary care physician, people who were injured at work, and those who might not have a primary physician or other access to healthcare but who had run out of prescription medications or had other care needs.

At my hospital, the fast track was staffed by family physicians since the majority of patient complaints were the kinds of things we see in our offices day-in and day-out. That freed the board-certified Emergency Medicine physicians to manage more complex cases, including strokes, heart attacks, major traumas, gunshot wounds, serious burns, etc. It sounds like Stanford’s fast track unit was a lot like mine, with its own physicians, nurses, and ED technicians. However, due to COVID surges, Stanford implemented a Virtual Visit Track in place of its fast track, adding the offering to both adult and pediatric emergency departments. In that program, a physician is seeing low-acuity patients from a remote location, while dedicated support staff in the emergency department provide services that must be done in person.

In the Stanford program’s first year, 2,000 patients received virtual care through the offering. The volume of patients has been sustained, with around 1.5 patients per hour being diverted into the virtual visit track during an eight-hour shift. This metric was tracked closely since 12 patients per shift was the break-even point for the resource investment. The wait time for patients in the virtual track was around 1.9 hours compared to 4.2 hours for patients seen in-person for the same level of care.

Additionally, researchers looked at the quality of care being delivered, comparing virtual care to the standard in-person care normally available. The virtual care was found to be non-inferior. Research also showed that virtual patients had a lower median return visit rate than in-person patients, although the numbers were not statistically significant.

It’s great that this type of research is being performed so that we know whether the interventions we’re applying to the healthcare system are actually effective or if they’re just another shiny object that we thought would make a difference but didn’t. We’ve all seen plenty of the latter over the years, as hospital administrators brought back ideas from conferences and did a lot of “transformation” work without knowing for sure it would work.

I remember when my hospital jumped on the Disney Institute bandwagon back in the mid-2000s. A lot of money was spent on educational in-services, culture promotion, institution of dress codes, and uniformity across patient care units. I’m not sure any of it did much to drive patient outcomes or to retain staff. Frankly, as far as the latter, I think re-engineering the hospital cafeteria’s late-night offerings did a lot more to boost morale than the Disney principles ever did.

I was involved in a “virtual first” offering with one of my clients a couple of years ago, and it was an interesting experience. I know how my visits went, but when we looked at the work of all the clinicians on the panel, there was a lot of variety. Unfortunately, the program was slow to grow, and during my time there, we never had enough visit volume to get to the point where any research would have been statistically significant. Seeing this article makes me want to reach out to my successor and find out what their volumes have been since I left and if they’ve been doing any quality work. It would be gratifying to know that something I helped get off the ground was making a difference.

Has your organization done any work looking at the quality of virtual offerings compared to standard care? Is it a case of the newer offering being merely “non inferior” or does it really shine? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/13/22

October 13, 2022 Dr. Jayne Comments Off on EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/13/22

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The HLTH conference team has announced the headliner for its Industry Night celebration. Let’s just say nothing celebrates digital health and transformation quite like Ludracis.

The American Telemedicine Association shifts the dates of its ATA2023 Annual Conference & Expo. The conference moves from a mid-week placement to begin on Saturday, March 4 and will run through Monday, March 6. The organization notes this is to accommodate busy schedules and to ensure that “even more frontline providers and virtual care practitioners” can attend in person. The meeting remains in San Antonio and two of the evening events have “Celebrity Mixologist” in the title, so it looks like it will be entertaining as well as educational.

The National Center for Health Statistics releases provisional life expectancy estimates for 2021. It shows that from 2019 to 2021, US life expectancy dropped by 3 years for men and 2.3 years for women. The new values – 73 years for men and 79 for women – are the lowest since 1996. Approximately 75% of the drop was attributed to COVID-19 deaths, with the remainder including overdose deaths, suicide, chronic liver disease, and homicide for men. Women lost years due to COVID-19 as well as heart disease, stroke, and chronic liver disease. Losses were not as high as they could have been, however, since they were somewhat mitigated by reductions in deaths due to influenza, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases.

Mr. H recently posted a poll to assess “Which of the following items did you earn after age 35 that has been most valuable in your career.” Although there were some good choices, including master’s degrees, doctorates, professional degrees, and more, the list didn’t include my personal pick: my Clinical Informatics board certification. As a relatively home-grown clinical informaticist, most of my training was of the on-the-job variety and a good chunk of the learnings were through the school of hard knocks. I didn’t have the opportunity to do a fellowship in the discipline, but worked my way through the major texts of the specialty through grim determination and the Interlibrary Loan system.

In second place, I’d put vendor-specific certifications. I don’t know how much they’ve really helped me with my career, but they’ve definitely helped me do the day-to-day aspects of my job better. Even though I’m in a leadership role, having the certifications allows me to speak the same language as my analysts and better understand the different features and functionalities that we’re implementing. It’s also entertaining when people discover that although you’re a physician, you have certifications in the practice management and billing portions of the application. Not to mention that I’m always happy to talk about EDI and Coordination of Benefits over a cocktail or two.

The Medical Group Management Association, in conjunction with Jackson Physician Search, releases a report on physician turnover in the US. The sample size was small at 326 physicians, but the data is recent since it was obtained in August 2022. Among the most interesting findings: 51% of physicians have considered leaving their healthcare employer in the last year, with 41% considering leaving medical practice and 36% contemplating early retirement. I wonder what percentage of those who are considering leaving medicine could be mitigated if care delivery organizations were willing to create more novel practice arrangements.

For example, I have several friends who have left medicine in the last couple of years because they didn’t want to work full time as primary care physicians. There’s a perception that having part time physicians is difficult or creates scheduling or administrative headaches, so they would rather let people leave. My former medical group was unsupportive of job-share arrangements. Although there was one highly successful physician pair who was tolerated due to their seniority, no additional arrangements were allowed. Assuming the right contractual language and appropriately paired physicians, there’s no inherent reason why a physician job-share wouldn’t be successful.

In the last two decades, I’ve been let go by two emergency department staffing groups because they made the determination that they didn’t want to contract part-time physicians. They can’t use administrative burdens as an excuse since both of them allowed part-time nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are actually harder to schedule than physicians due to supervisory requirements in my state. Those of us who were let go each time concluded that the motivation was largely financial, although staffing groups would never admit to it.

Several of us started doing our own variations of an in-town locum tenens gig, where we provided supplemental coverage for acute ambulatory visits at peak times such as Mondays or Friday afternoons. We would also cover vacations, maternity leaves, and time off due to FMLA. There was good uptake on our services by individual physicians, but we could never quite get the big health systems in town (or their affiliated medical groups) to consider making us part of their teams. I guess they would rather see physicians scramble for coverage on their own, or worse for morale, just not take time off.

I’d love to get back to seeing patients in person and would be happy to work evenings and weekends if someone were looking for a part-time doc. Unfortunately, the only place willing to hire someone for fewer than 12 shifts per month is my former urgent care, which I wouldn’t touch with the proverbial 10-foot pole.

The MGMA report has a whole section on burnout and summarizes the results of a May 2021 look at burnout. At that time, 86% of healthcare leaders said they didn’t have a formal plan or strategy to reduce physician burnout. By August 2022, the number of leaders who admitted not having a plan had dropped to 66%. Although it’s a move in the right direction, every organization should have a plan in place to address burnout not only of physicians, but of all members of the clinical care team.

We’re living in unprecedented times and everyone is stretched to the limit. Case in point: the charge nurse in the emergency department at St. Michael Medical Center in Washington called 911 because the department’s five nurses were overwhelmed with 45 patients in the waiting room. She requested that firefighters come assist and they did, taking vital signs and helping turn over rooms between patients.

What is your organization doing to help with burnout? Or are they just keeping their collective heads in the sand? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/10/22

October 10, 2022 Dr. Jayne Comments Off on Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/10/22

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I spent the majority of this weekend on staff at my favorite outdoor classroom program, which focuses on teaching a variety of outdoor skills to adults. Fall has definitely arrived, with frost on the tents the first night and ice the second night. Even though I’ve been doing this a long time and have a good routine to make the experience as comfortable as possible, my body seems to be greeting those early mornings with an increasing number of creaks and groans as I depart my nice cozy sleeping bag. It’s worth it, however, to see people learn new skills and become comfortable with spending time in the great outdoors.

This time around, I was also the designated health officer and was extremely glad that the weekend had zero incidents requiring my professional skills. The only casualty was a box oven that caught fire in a fairly spectacular fashion but was quickly extinguished.

People are always curious when they find out I’m a telehealth physician and wonder how much we can really do without laying hands on a patient. One attendee was shocked that we’re “allowed” to diagnose anything when we’re not seeing someone in person. I explained that a diagnostic process involves a good amount of history-taking and listening, and once you frame it in that fashion, people start to remember that their own physician might not do much more of an examination than listening to their heart and lungs at an office visit. I also was able to explain some of the technologies that are available to assist physicians and patients. People tend to forget that home blood pressure cuffs and scales can provide data for diagnosis and management as well.

Of course, people also tend to ask for medical advice. This weekend’s hot topics included what I think of the new COVID booster along with what I think is the optimal timing of the flu vaccine.

Generally, I tell people that I’ve already had the new COVID vaccine and have no concerns about giving it to loved ones, and there’s not much more discussion. On the flu vaccine, however, it seems like everyone thinks there is some kind of secret to the best timing. Historically, influenza tended to peak somewhere between January and April, so getting a vaccine in early fall was ideal. There have been a lot of changes to the patterns of various viral infections since the COVID pandemic and there’s a chance our predictions for this year’s flu season might not be as accurate as they’ve been in the past, so my strategy is to recommend people get it as soon they are able, particularly if they are high risk, and to take common sense precautions to avoid infection – like washing their hands and staying away from sick people.

We had some staff members who were unable to participate this weekend due to COVID infections, so I am doubling down on the recommendation that if someone has an important event they’d like to attend, it’s a good idea to up their masking and distancing game if they want to improve their odds of making it happen. Many of the members of our instructor team are IT professionals and are now working from home permanently, so there were a couple of good conversations around the new normal of working when you’re sick along with strategies for juggling work commitments when you might have a sick child at home. People reported a wide range of ways they handle this depending on workplace culture. It seems like more organizations are expecting people to work while sick because they’re remote, even if they have designated sick time.

This conversation led into a follow up discussion of “the perils of unlimited PTO,” which seems to be increasing in popularity among tech companies for a variety of reasons. Workplaces definitely vary in how they’ve implemented it. Some still track time off but it’s unlimited, which doesn’t help much with managing administrative overhead. Others leave it up to supervisors to track their teams’ time off and intervene if there are issues. Another strategy is to not track time off at all. The people in the discussion felt that not having any tracking at all made them more likely to not take an appropriate amount of time off, because they didn’t have any kind of visual indicator of what they had taken or any way to judge where they are in comparison to their peers.

I’ve worked in a couple of unlimited PTO organizations. They have also had extremely flexible work hours, which when combined can be a recipe for working way more hours than one might normally do in a traditional time management structure. My advice for those moving into this model for the first time is to track your hours and your work pattern for a period of time and find out how many hours you’re really working and whether you’re doing more than you think. Having been a consultant and needing to quantify my time in various increments – some as small as six minutes – I know with good accuracy how long many tasks take. People who are working flexible hours and tend to answer emails “here and there” after hours often underestimate how long those take and those minutes add up. I recommended a time tracking exercise for one of my mentees recently and he found that his new position with unlimited PTO and a flexible remote schedule actually had him working 25% more hours than he previously worked.

This drifted into a conversation about so-called “quiet quitting.” It was interesting to hear that those in non-healthcare tech positions were seeing similar manifestations of the phenomenon as those of us who are in healthcare IT. I think at times we think that there’s something particularly challenging about being in healthcare or having been impacted by the pandemic, that we think we’re worse off than everyone else. However, it seems that everyone is similarly burned out and looking for solutions to live a more balanced life. I hope that spending a couple of days in the woods provided some food for thought about the need for balance as well as some strategies for getting more enjoyment in the outdoors. If nothing else, the participants should have gone home with a sense of accomplishment after spending the night in a tent in freezing weather.

Does your organization have unlimited PTO? Do you feel like workers take enough time off to recharge? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/6/22

October 6, 2022 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

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CMS has released a Request for Information on the idea of a national directory of health care providers and services. The announcement notes that such a compilation might “help facilitate care coordination, health information exchange, and data reporting efforts.” They note, “We envision that an NDH [National Directory of Healthcare Providers and Services] could serve as a centralized data hub for providers’ directory and digital contact information, which would contain accurate, up-to-date, and validated data in a publicly accessible index.” On the surface, this seems like a good idea, until one realizes that there have already been efforts to attempt to create a master database.

My current CMS provider records contain a practice address where I haven’t worked since 2011 despite multiple attempts to update it, so I’m not optimistic about efforts to maintain yet another database. It would also be difficult to account for the information for physicians and other providers who work part time at different institutions, which can be common for certain specialties or classifications of physicians. For example, faculty physicians at my academic medical center might have separate practices (complete with separate billing and communications information) at the faculty practice, the residency practice, the hospital service, and the local Veteran’s Affairs clinic. Similarly, many physicians “moonlight” or pick up extra shifts via urgent care or telehealth companies, so that will add to the confusion. The public comment period ends on December 6, so be sure to submit your thoughts.

The concept of patients calling physicians by their first names is always a hot topic in the virtual physician lounge so I was glad to see this research letter published this week in JAMA Network Open. In the introduction, the authors note the sentiments shared by many physicians, that using the title “doctor” helps in “acknowledging the physician-patient relationship, signifying respect for physicians, and following established social norms.” They mention the results of two previous related studies – one that found that almost three out of four physicians were called by their first name, with 61% finding it annoying, and another that found that having “DOCTOR” boldly indicated on ID badges was associated with fewer episodes of misidentification among female physicians and physicians in underrepresented groups. With that background, the authors set about determining the factors associated with use of the physician’s first name in patient portal messages.

The authors performed a retrospective review of patient messages in the Mayo Clinic EHR from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2021. Natural language processing was used to identify the greeting and/or closing salutation and those phrases were classified according to formality. Patient demographics (age, gender) as well as physician demographics (age, gender, degree, training level, and specialty) were all identified. The authors found that female physicians were twice as likely to be called by their first names after controlling for other factors. Physicians with a DO degree were also more likely to be called by their first name, as were primary care physicians. Interestingly, female patients were less likely to use their physician’s first name. There was no difference based on patient or physician age or physician training level.

The study has a few limitations noted by the authors, including inability to control for physicians who may prefer to be addressed by their first names or for cultural/racial/ethnic nuances in greetings. The dataset was also from a single health system, so might not be applicable to other organizations. It would be interesting to see how these factors play out in different regions across the United States, since there are definitely nuances in how people are addressed regardless of whether they’re physicians or not. I’ve been called everything from “ma’am” to “y’all” to “sweetie” to “hey yo” to things that are not fit to print while practicing my physician trade, so I’m guessing there might be variation on professional titles as well. I’m currently following a thread in a CMIO group about patient portal messages and which state might best exemplify “upper Midwest nice,” so there’s definitely a physician perception of regional variability.

The authors note that “whether being informally addressed by other medical professionals or patients, untitling (not using a person’s proper title) may have a negative impact on physicians, demonstrate lack of respect, and can lead to reduction in formality of the physician-patient relationship or workplace.” They go on to state that organizations need to focus on a supportive culture and that guidelines, practice changes, or patient education may be needed. The idea of lack of respect is a common sentiment around the virtual water cooler, but times are changing and, at least in the US, social norms feel far more casual than they did a decade ago. I’ll be interested to see what kinds of comments might be added to the article since it’s so new. Responses have been mixed on several platforms that have posted articles referencing the study.

Regardless of title, role, or status, it’s always a good idea to ask people what they prefer to be called, and to discuss if you feel the need to call someone something different than what they request. I’ve worked with seasoned nurses who actively struggle with the idea of calling physicians by their first names even when asked to do so, and in those cases I’m not about to force the issue. Similarly, I wouldn’t dream of calling an adult patient by their first name without their permission, and am happy to note individual preferences on the patient chart. Half the time I refer to pediatric patients by formal titles just to make them laugh since they’ve likely never been called “young Master Johnson” or “my dear Miss Jones,” and it’s fun to watch their faces. I rotated in the UK many years ago and did enjoy the certain level of formality at my practice site where everyone referred to each other as “Nurse Thompson” and “Dr. Jones” and “Trainee Jayne,” but I don’t know if that style has remained.

Does your organization have a policy on title use, or is it anything goes? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/3/22

October 3, 2022 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

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For those organizations participating in the Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program, Monday, October 3 marks the last day to begin your 90-day reporting period. Eligible hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals that don’t successfully attest will be hit with a “downward Medicare payment adjustment,” also known as a penalty. Participants must also use Certified EHR Technology, report on the safe use of opioid medications, complete a Security Risk Analysis, and document a self-assessment using the SAFER Guides. Hospitals spend a tremendous amount of resources trying to make sure they hit all the requirements, so for those of you immersed in this work – may the odds be ever in your favor.

A friend of mine sent over this job posting from Amazon. They asked my opinion about the posting itself and if I could read between the lines to figure out what the job is really about. It reads to me more like a business development or sales role, specifically targeting telehealth, imaging, and analytics. In the job posting, Amazon has an entire paragraph about its inclusive culture and specific focus on race, ethnicity, and gender diversity. However, they missed the mark on actual physician inclusivity, since the preferred qualification is MD – I suppose DO and internationally-trained physicians need not apply.

News of the Weird: We see writeups of healthcare fraud all the time, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen one that is tied to a sex worker scheme. The Department of Justice announced that nine defendants in California have been hit with criminal charges related to sex services that were billed to their labor union’s health insurance plan. There are more than $2.1 million in claims at stake. Seven of the defendants are dockworkers at the Port of Long Beach.

The 46-year-old ringleader was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and aggravated identity theft. She owned three clinics that provided chiropractic treatments, acupuncture, and sexual services. Taking advantage of insurance plan policies that allowed chiropractic services without a deductible or out-of-pocket payments from patients, she hired women, including those from strip clubs, to perform sexual services. Claims were filed for chiropractic and physical therapy sessions that never occurred. Some claims were filed under the names of spouses and children, with kickbacks being paid to plan members in exchange for the false claims.

It’s not just COVID that has the attention of physicians: Norovirus causes a wicked gastroenteritis, and is feared by schools, day care providers, and cruise lines alike. Although cases declined in April 2020 due to changes in behavior due to the COVID pandemic, cases started increasing rapidly in January 2022. The number of outbreaks in the 2021-2022 surveillance year was triple the previous year. It’s simple advice – wash those hands, folks, and stay home if you have diarrhea.

I’ve written before about my sometimes love-hate relationship with wearables. Although I like my Garmin wristwatch (which also does passive activity tracking such as steps or sleep alongside active GPS activity-logging), it’s been temperamental of late. Sometimes I’ll attempt to synchronize it with my PC, and it randomly fails to import several days of step or sleep data, where other times it functions just fine. I did a lot of troubleshooting with Garmin this week and didn’t reach a satisfactory outcome, although they did offer a 20% discount on a new watch in the same line since my model is no longer made. Unfortunately, the units in the same line have more bells and whistles than I need, where other lines that are a better fit are excluded from the discount.

The experience has me looking for alternatives from other vendors, but I’m not sold on anything just yet. I was interested to see this opinion piece this week though, which talks about the potential liability issues for “prediagnostic” wearables including some smart watches. It notes that many of these technologies are not regulated as medical devices and that although patients may use them to assess their health, there are legal gray areas where liability is concerned. From the physician standpoint, it’s unclear what happens when particular product is recommended, and it turns out not to be accurate. The article goes into gory detail about the various types of liability and differing jurisdictions for claims, if readers are interested. One proposed solution would be for states to pass laws that specify that physicians receiving this “prediagnostic” data should manage it like any other patient self-reported information. This will definitely be an interesting area to watch in the coming years.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve all encountered changes to the ways we’re used to working. For me, going from having quite a bit of travel to having none at all was a major transition. I’m definitely back to traveling and have experienced two vendor conferences, a couple of company meetings, and some personal travel in the last six months. Other than HIMSS in the spring, I haven’t attended any general industry conferences, but that’s about to change since CHIME and HLTH are both on my docket for the coming months. I haven’t been to either of them previously so am looking for advice or recommendations on how to best navigate them. It looks like CHIME has added a clinical informatics pre-session, so I’ll have to figure out if I can squeeze that onto my dance card.

I didn’t make it to my specialty organization’s annual meeting due to conflicts, but several friends attended. One of them mentioned the keynote by author Malcolm Gladwell, who said of family physicians, “If there’s a problem with (trust in) healthcare, there’s no solution without you.” He went on to say, “You can’t solve it with better technology. You can’t solve it with better drugs. You can’t solve it with a fancy EMR. We solve it with communication, listening, and empathy.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily align with what many patients want, which is cheap, transactional service-oriented encounters. It will be interesting to see how the family medicine community responds to the challenge and whether people flock to the specialty or continue to retire early. Either way, I’ve got my calendar marked for next year’s conference in Chicago so I can see where things are trending.

What are your conference plans for the coming months? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/29/22

September 29, 2022 Dr. Jayne Comments Off on EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/29/22

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I spent some time in the wilderness this week, in an attempt to catch up on some sorely needed rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, changing time zones wasn’t terribly helpful on the rest piece, but there was definitely some relaxation and a lot of silliness as a group of adults tried to assemble a complicated Lego set while under the influence of cocktails. I had identified goals for this journey including completion of two specific hikes that I wasn’t able to manage on a previous trip. Although the first one was a success and helped me adjust to the altitude, the main event was a bust. I’m surprisingly OK with it and suppose I’ve reached the point in my life where the journey is equally as important as the destination, if not more. After my recent exposure to a patient injured while traveling, I’m also beyond grateful that the only problem I experienced was a close encounter between my favorite hiking pants and some tenacious tree sap.

It feels like everyone I know in the healthcare IT world is talking about the planned October 6 deadline for organizations to comply with the HHS information-sharing rule. Many care delivery organizations are relying on their EHR vendors to ensure compliance, which, depending on the vendor, has led to a flurry of last-minute upgrades. From what I hear around the virtual water cooler, vendor readiness has ranged from “competent” to “clueless,” with many vendors missing deadlines and others who are not communicating their status. This week, a group of high-profile stakeholders (including CHIME, the American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Hospital Association, and others) sent a plea to the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services in an attempt to postpone the deadline. The letter asks for a one-year extension in addition to using warning communications before entities are subject to formal investigations or fines.

Reasons for a delay include: inability to support access to and exchange of electronic health information (EHI); lack of definition around EHI and confusion around the Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC) EHI infographic; confusion on how exceptions can be applied when information cannot our should not be exchanged; concern around the protection of sensitive information such as drug use, mental health, and reproductive information; and lack of responsiveness to questions submitted to ONC. Specifically, from the patient perspective, the letter cites “the harm occurring when laboratory results and reports are released in instances of life threatening or life limiting diagnoses.” As someone who has been in that situation – which is hard to cope with even when you’re a practicing physician with medical knowledge and not just the average patient – I can support that concern completely. There will be harm, but it’s going to be impossible to quantify. If this effort were a research project, I can’t imagine the Institutional Review Board that would approve it.

Less exciting but also coming in October: it’s time for the annual updates to the ICD-10 database, effective October 1. Codes can be added, deleted, or revised. Incorrect coding can lead to payment delays or denials, so I hope everyone’s vendors and technology teams have this adequately covered. Some of the changes are certainly reflective of the times we’re living in, including: expansion of codes for various substance use disorders, indicating that the disorders are in remission; additional codes for reactions to severe stress; addition of codes for accidents related to electric bicycles; and three new codes for problems related to housing and economic circumstances. Other codes that caught my attention include six new codes for fractures related to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and two additions for patient noncompliance with medical advice.

I was excited to see data released by Blue Cross NC addressing the increase in use of telehealth services. The company recently completed a two-year review of telehealth claims data. Based on recent trends, those covered by its policies will have access to 77 additional telehealth services effective January 1, 2023. Interesting data points: in 2020, the plan saw a 7,500% increase in telehealth claims; telehealth accounted for 47% of behavioral health visits and 10% of family medicine visits, but only 2% of specialist visits. The data is a little murky, though, because family medicine and pediatrics are listed separately from “primary care,” so I’m not sure what’s going on there, since both specialties are clearly considered primary care. I was amused by the fact that although the company’s spokesperson said the changes are “so members can access easy, affordable care no matter where they live,” the new policy specifically excludes members receiving care from out-of-state providers. Looks like vacationers might be incentivized to be less than truthful about their physical location in the name of better coverage.

Those who know that telehealth services won’t be covered by insurance might want to make sure they’re accessing care from a trusted site. One of my colleagues recently had a direct-to-consumer telehealth experience when they were trying to get relief from a rash that might have been related to insect bites but was instead told that they had been infected by flesh-eating bacteria. Although they requested a refund on the visit it was less than timely, and I’m pretty sure they’ll never use that vendor again.

Recently, I’ve been inundated with LinkedIn requests. Although some of them have been legitimate and likely triggered by networking at the recent Epic User Group meeting, others are entirely spammy. Word to the wise: I’m not going to accept your connection request if your profile doesn’t have a picture, only includes your first name, or if you’re asking me to buy something. Another pet peeve: those who prefix their names with “Dr.” without any credentials on their profile. I received a request today from someone I’ll anonymize as “Dr. Harley” and neither his first name nor his last name included “Harley.” Unless you’re a top-notch motorcycle mechanic, I’m not sure what you’re gaining by styling yourself this way.

Have you seen a burst of LinkedIn requests? Do you find them useful at all or just annoying? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 9/26/22

September 26, 2022 Dr. Jayne 5 Comments

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It seems like lately I have been seeing more of the patient side of healthcare than I care to. That trend continued this week as I was again pulled into the caregiver role. A close friend experienced an accident while far from home, leading to injuries that prevented them from traveling under their original arrangements. Initially, I was engaged to help arrange travel that would get them home quickly, while also accommodating medical needs. That was an adventure in itself, involving lots of phone calls, some hypothesizing about the patient’s condition, a remote airport, dense fog, and a circling plane that ultimately had to be diverted before making another attempt the next day. That kind of experience is certainly nerve-wracking for those trying to coordinate things from afar and even worse for the patient.

Because I wasn’t able to speak with the medical team at the hospital where they were treated, I was hoping to get a greater understanding of the clinical picture by reviewing the notes available in the hospital’s patient portal once the patient made it back home. Initially, I just had the information from the discharge packet, which was lacking some important elements, namely three of the four diagnoses that I expected to see based on the patient’s description of the situation and the other data on the discharge summary. However, there was an access code for the patient portal, so I was eager for the patient to login and take a look.

Unfortunately, there was a problem with accessing the portal, because despite keying in the access code and the patient’s demographic information, it wouldn’t allow us to proceed. We tried to make an account from scratch without the access code, and that didn’t work either. For some reason the system wasn’t able to validate the patient’s information. Of course, the patient knew their own demographics, and the date of birth and name were featured correctly on the discharge paperwork, so we could only hypothesize that the Social Security Number was wrong. Upon making it home, the patient called the portal assistance number on the discharge paperwork only to be told that no one could assist because it was a weekend. I joked that I hoped there weren’t any typos in the insurance information that was entered, because dealing with a denied claim can be a months-long challenge.

On Monday, the patient called the number given with the failed portal login message, and was immediately transferred not to a patient assistance line but to the hospital’s internal IT department, who couldn’t assist. After three more transfers and 40 minutes of being on hold, they finally hung up and called the Emergency Department directly. It turns out that there wasn’t a typo in the Social Security Number, but rather that it hadn’t been entered at all when the patient was registered by the Emergency Department. The receptionist was able to add it to the account, allowing the patient to finally access their information five days after the visit. We were able to see the patient’s Emergency Department progress note as well as the Radiology reports, but unfortunately there was no access to the images that would certainly be of interest to any physician with whom they’d follow up, given the nature of the injuries. There was no information on how to get the images, so we assumed there would have to be another phone call to the hospital.

On one hand, I wished the patient had known to request copies of the images while they were still at the hospital – but most patients don’t think of that, and a patient with a head injury who was having memory issues at the time definitely shouldn’t be expected to be responsible for that. The care team knew the patient was from out of state – in the facilities where I’ve worked in recent years, we’ve always been able to create a CD with images in that type of situation. It doesn’t sound like anyone offered that as an option, at least as far as the patient can remember. On the other hand, the patient doesn’t necessarily remember giving anyone a photo ID, which would be surprising in a hospital that’s part of a large integrated delivery network. At least they remember giving someone an insurance card, but all bets are off as to how the financial part of this experience will play out.

In looking at the Emergency Department note, its contents confirmed my suspicions about missing diagnoses. The physician mentioned several different findings that should have triggered additional diagnoses for the visit, but apparently didn’t. He also failed to mention the patient’s significantly elevated blood pressure and didn’t enter any comments for the patient as far as when they should follow up with someone, and what kind of physician would be advised. As a physician who has spent the last 15 years practicing in emergency care facilities, it was appalling. In every facility where I’ve worked, we’ve been encouraged to put all pertinent diagnoses on the chart and to ensure that there is a follow-up instruction noted for each and every one.

We can talk about patient engagement, quality transparency, and cost comparisons all we like, but in reality, all of that goes out the window when you require emergency care. This patient didn’t have the opportunity to shop around, to vet the qualifications of those that might be treating them or see what the cost might be for what is clearly going to be an out-of-network visit. They were prudently taken to the nearest emergency facility, which is the right thing to do when you’ve experienced head trauma, loss of consciousness, and blunt chest trauma. Unfortunately, what we call our healthcare system let them down, and without advice from their friend who happens to be a physician, they (like many patients) might be unsure of what should be done next.

The lack of follow-up is particularly concerning, especially since the patient was far from home, had fractures requiring follow-up, and the emergency physician provided less than two days’ worth of prescription pain medication. This kind of thing often leads to patients taking massive quantities of over-the-counter medications as a result and isn’t ideal in a patient with elevated blood pressures. Even if the Emergency Department had a policy to only give a set quantity of pain medications, there was no option given for local follow-up either. The patient is lucky they didn’t have complications, but their pain was poorly managed and I can’t imagine traveling in that state.

I’ve thought a lot about this situation the last few days, and particularly about the health system involved. Although the hospital was somewhat remote, the health system isn’t, and frankly I expect a little better from an organization whose core values include compassion and accountability, and whose website talks about advocating for each patient it serves. I’m glad I can help the patient navigate this situation, but the need to embrace a BYOD strategy (Bring Your Own Doctor rather than Device in this case) is a sad commentary on how patients experience healthcare more often than we think. I hope some hospital administrator reads this and questions whether this might have gone on in their organization, because based on my experience as a consultant, this situation is far from unique.

What has been your worst experience as a patient? How did you manage it? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/22/22

September 22, 2022 Dr. Jayne Comments Off on EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/22/22

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Plenty of people have returned to a level of comfort with business travel and it seems like they’re flocking to conferences. Redox is promoting their Connect Customer Conference to be held in Philadelphia on October 18. The one-day conference is priced at $99, although current customers can get a discount code through their account manager. The fee includes breakfast, lunch, snacks, and admission to a reception at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The conference itself will be held at the Philadelphia Masonic Temple, so props to Redox for scheduling what might be the most architecturally interesting conference of the year.

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I had to renew my Drug Enforcement Administration registration this week, and the $888 fee always hurts. Most mainstream telehealth-only physicians aren’t allowed to prescribe controlled substances, but we’re required to maintain a DEA registration to serve as a proxy for proof that we haven’t done anything shady. The DEA, similar to multiple state-level controlled substance agencies, has yet to come to terms with the reality of telehealth. They still want you to list a physical address at which patient care occurs, which some of us don’t have. I hate having to use my home address, but it’s the only way to register. Let’s hope that agencies will evolve to recognize that some of us may never see patients in person again.

I appreciated the “Renewal Application Quality Assurance Survey” that appeared after finishing my registration. The questions included some commentary that falls into the “things we wish we could say” category. For example, the first question asked for feedback on the overall experience, noting “Please be aware that some common complaints describe aspects of the application that are operating as intended” including the fact that failed logins don’t explain why (so fraudsters can’t exploit that data point) and that the burden of information needed for login is intentional. In addition to rating the login experience, users are asked to rate the usefulness of help/error messages and overall application ease of use.

My readers know that I’m a sucker for a compelling headline, and the hint of research that would explain “Why Hard Thinking Makes You Tired” certainly grabbed me. The theory is that intense mental activity causes a buildup of substances in the brain. Specifically, the chemical glutamate builds up in the brain’s decision center, leading to alterations with thought processes and the progression of mental fatigue. The authors used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to evaluate changes in the brain during the workday. Glutamate is processed during sleep, so the bottom line is that it’s probably a good idea to avoid critical decisions while tired.

I’m a big fan of patient portals and giving patients the ability to schedule their own appointments, testing, and diagnostics if it’s something they want to do. Of course, not every patient is going to be able to do that, or wants to do that, but for those that do, it can take the load off of office staff and call centers. A recent article looked at whether self-scheduling of diagnostic imaging studies had an impact on health disparities. The authors looked at outcomes of a process using the patient portal at the University of California San Francisco and a subset of diagnostic imaging studies that were flagged as eligible for self-scheduling. The portal-based scheduling process was only available in English and allowed for scheduling of a subset of MRI and ultrasound tests as well as CTs, bone density scans, and mammograms as long as a provider had placed an order accompanied by a “ticket” that would help the patient schedule the correct test type, location, and date. The time period analyzed was January 1 to September 1, 2021.

The authors found that subsets of active patient portal users were less likely to take advantage of self-scheduling, including Latinx, black / African American, and non-English speaking patients. Additionally, those with Medicaid or Medicare coverage were less likely to schedule online versus those with commercial insurance coverage. There’s always a chance that patients won’t self-schedule, and backup processes need to be in place to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. Still, more than 18,000 tests were self-scheduled during an eight-month time period, which is nothing to sneeze at. The authors did note a couple of study limitations, including inability to determine whether the patient actually scheduled the test on their own or whether they had assistance from a family member or caregiver.

Looking at the design of this study, the patient stratification piece was likely fairly straightforward because organizations have been required to collect this specific demographic data for quite a while. As researchers look to further understand patient behavior, it will be more important to understand other data covering social determinants of health. Another article that came out this week looked specifically at clinician awareness of their EHR’s ability to capture that kind of information. The authors looked at data from the National Electronic Health Records Survey and analyzed it based on physician, practice, and EHR characteristics. They found that physicians who practice in community health centers were more likely to document these factors than those practicing in other locations. Similarly, physicians involved in payment models that included social care initiatives were more likely to document. Regardless of practice site, physicians who were more aware of advanced EHR capabilities, such as patient engagement or population management features, were more likely to document social factors.

The authors recommend that organizations develop strategies to increase provider awareness of documentation capabilities, especially in practice settings where they are less likely to be aware. I was surprised that payer-owned clinics were found to have lower awareness of documentation capabilities for social determinants, so there’s certainly room for improvement in that environment. The authors also call for policy efforts to expand the use of clinical quality measure that look at social risk screening.

I agree that promoting lesser-used features of the EHR should be part of ongoing optimization efforts, whether they are related to social determinants, provider efficiency, or something else. Unfortunately, many organizations have cut budgets for optimization efforts and ongoing EHR training.

What is your organization doing to improve documentation standards and to get the most return on its EHR investment? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 9/19/22

September 19, 2022 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

One of the more thought-provoking articles I’ve read this week was in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Of course, the title caught my eye: “Do electronic health record systems ‘dumb down’ clinicians?” The abstract was compelling as well, although I was able to read it only after entirely too many clicks were needed despite my AMIA membership.

The abstract discusses a panel that was held at the 2021 AMIA Symposium and sponsored by the American College of Medical Informatics. The panel sought to answer the title question, looking at how the incorporation of EHRs might be negatively impacting care delivery. Discussions centered on how less-than-optimal EHR workflows might impact clinician efficiency, thought processes, and knowledge both during system use and during the longer term.

In broader coverage of the topic, the journal goes beyond the panel discussion, starting with the evolution of EHRs including both homegrown and commercially developed products. It notes that although early EHRs improved safety and efficiency compared to paper-based systems, “several critical perspectives were lost.”

The authors note that data showing impacts on patient outcomes were lacking and that most studies have focused on the processes involved in delivering care. Since early systems were concentrated among a small number of academic medical centers, there wasn’t much portability across institutions. They go on to explain how the Meaningful Use program and the HITECH Act of 2009 incentivized provider organizations to not only expand EHR use in the marketplace. but also to focus on a core set of functions that would lay the groundwork for broader improvements in care.

Having been part of an organization that was already knee-deep in EHR implementation and adoption before Meaningful Use came along, I can attest that it actually slowed us down, because we had to focus on ensuring that prescribed workflows were followed versus being able to customize or configure workflows that worked best for our clinicians. It’s validating that the article notes some of the same negatives that were created in the name of progress.

A series of great quotes are included in the piece. They’re attributed to a New England Journal of Medicine article that was penned by John Halamka and Micky Tripathi in 2017. They are quoted as saying that the HITECH Act had some less-than-ideal consequences. “We lost the hearts and minds of clinicians … We tried to drive cultural change with legislation. In a sense, we gave clinicians suboptimal cars, didn’t build roads, and then blamed them for not driving.” One of my favorite family physicians and clinical informaticists, Jan Lee MD, used to refer to this as “paving the cow paths” when physicians actually needed high-speed roads with no obstacles.

The article goes on to discuss in detail how EHRs might impair clinicians in the short term. Although there are many beneficial features in modern systems, including allergy checking, order sets, and often a treasure trove of patient information, there are also interruptive alerts and distractions. Sometimes users are unwilling to question information supplied by the EHR, and alert fatigue can cause users to ignore warnings and alerts that might in fact be useful. The article gave specific examples, ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of interruptive alerts where only a fraction (2-4%) were accepted. The way that EHR notes are organized can obscure the details of a patient’s situation. The use of copy-and-paste functionality in progress notes was specifically called out as potentially misleading and dangerous.

As far as long-term impacts of EHR use, the authors noted that standardization of EHR documentation has led to less-granular terms being used during the creation of History and Physical documents. At one institution, EHR templates reduced the possible descriptors from 1,800 to 360, meaning that some clinician documentation might be hidden from view by other clinicians. An unintended consequence of this might be the shrinking of clinical vocabularies used by medical trainees. As those trainees become faculty, and older faculty members retire, the broader vocabularies are ultimately lost, and notes become less optimal. Additionally, after using templates to order certain treatments, such as total parenteral nutrition, clinicians lost the ability to order these treatments manually. The authors note that this can be dangerous during system outages or when clinicians move to a less-automated environment.

The panel also discussed solutions, which fell into four general categories: institutional and end-user readiness and competency; EHR design and capabilities; regulatory policies and healthcare system-vendor partnerships; and decoupling clinical documentation from billing and regulatory requirements so that clinical notes contain only that information necessary to care for the patient.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a clinician in the US that wasn’t in support of the latter suggestion. Technology could be a great booster of the latter as well. I’d much rather have a photo of a rash in a chart than a rambling description of someone’s idea of a “lace-like reticular rash with mild to moderate erythema and occasional popular features.” Unfortunately, in many situations, the words will get you paid, but a photo will not.

As far as the other categories, the panel called for improved EHR training, expanded downtime simulations, and greater incorporation of learning about EHRs during undergraduate and post-graduate medical education. Medical students and residents need to understand the “why” behind various parts of the EHR as much as they understand the data that they’re keying in. They call for greater clinician involvement in the design and validation of EHR systems and improvements to alert messages to ensure that such interruptions are clinically important and obtain enough clinically relevant information for clinicians to take action.

It will be interesting to see how EHRs evolve over the next five to seven years. More interesting will be assessing the approaches taken by health systems in how they implement and optimize EHRs. I still see far too many organizations that think that installing an EHR is some kind of “set it and forget it” process.

Physicians constantly complain about the impact of EHR upgrades, but in the last conversation I was in about that topic, not a single physician admitted to having seen any kind of upgrade documentation or educational materials that told them what to expect or what benefits might arise. It feels like those kinds of communications might be casualties of the rampant understaffing I see in many organizations. Gone are the days when we used to send a member of the EHR implementation to every office to make sure clinicians knew what to expect and that their questions were answered. I’m sure the materials are probably out there on some intranet site that physicians have long forgotten how to access.

On the whole, I don’t agree with the premise that EHRs have made us dumber, but I do think they have impacted our workflows tremendously, and not always for the better. There certainly is room for improvement and evolution of technology, but everything comes at a cost. When hospitals are trying to figure out how to keep beds staffed, they are less concerned about things like EHR adoption or end-user satisfaction.

Do you think EHRs have dumbed-down clinical practice? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/15/22

September 15, 2022 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

A colleague recently asked me what I thought about “quiet quitting” and the attention that the concept has been getting recently in the mainstream media. There has been quite a bit of discussion around it in physician-specific social media groups, alongside discussion of burnout and the role of self-care in a post-COVID workplace.

Many workers in healthcare are still being asked to come in to work when they are sick, despite the fact that they have designated sick days allocated for such a thing. They are pressured that if they call off sick, they’ll be burdening their teammates. Others are told that they can only call off if they find a replacement, which really shouldn’t be the employee’s job.

By most definitions, quiet quitting is the idea that a worker only does what is required of them based on their job description. This means no extra work, no volunteering for additional projects, and in the case of many clinical workers, no picking up of extra shifts. Hospitals have been short staffed for years and the COVID pandemic only exacerbated a problem that was already there. During the first year, everyone was motivated by a sense of needing to pull together, to help humankind, and to be there for their co-workers, but after two and a half years in the grind with ever decreasing support and appreciation, people are simply done with it.

Hospitals (and medical practices, and other clinical organizations) have always had the ability to create safety nets for their workers. It’s easy to come up with excuses not to. I remember trying to implement a “float pool” for our medical group’s ambulatory practices more than a decade ago, similar to what hospitals had in place at the time. Staff could volunteer to be part of the pool on their days off and they would be paid a small amount to remain on call in the event they were needed to cover a shift. If they worked, they would receive their usual rate of pay. Instead, the group’s leadership balked at paying people “for doing nothing.” They failed to understand that it wasn’t about what the float pool member was doing, it was about what they were not doing on their day off in exchange for being on call.

The administrators decided instead to ask for people to volunteer to pick up extra shifts if there were shortages, and then if they had no takers, they offered various hourly incentives. Guess what? Staff learned not to pick up extra shifts until the incentives reached a certain level, which ultimately cost more than what someone would have been paid to be on call. Once a clinical staffing pool reaches a certain size, it’s a virtual guarantee that someone will be out sick on any given day, so the economics would have favored the float pool approach. Additionally, creating a float pool would have ensured people were ready to work on a given day rather than offices having to hope and pray that someone would volunteer, and then to cope with the scrambling that inevitably ensued when someone rolled in an hour or more after the practice opened.

These types of bad decisions have only been magnified in the last two years. Just look at travel nursing during COVID surges. A major driver behind that was the unwillingness of hospitals to appropriately compensate existing staff nurses. I had friends who quit their medical / surgical nursing jobs and then worked as “travel nurses” in a hospital less than five miles away for a significant salary bump. Hospitals went way over budget paying traveling and locum staff, when they could have avoided having those nurses quit if they addressed underlying drivers of low employee satisfaction. Those nurses who stayed put are now increasingly burned out and quiet quitting is the order of the day.

The other reality in our post-COVID world is that people’s priorities simply have changed. If they’re struggling with childcare, they’re not going to volunteer to work extra hours. Families with two wage earners where one has a significantly higher earning potential have redone the math and determined that it doesn’t make sense for both partners to work when there are children requiring care. People seem to be retaining some of the hobbies that they cultivated during the early days of the pandemic and want to ensure they’re spending time on activities that make them feel good and in which they find value.

It will be interesting to see how organizations respond to the shifts in productivity that will result from quiet quitting. Some high-profile companies have already signaled that they’ll just fire people, which doesn’t seem like the way to become employer of choice.

I had some travel this week, which always makes for good people watching. For the first time since spring of 2020, I actually had difficulty getting a space at my favorite airport parking garage. The airport was hopping, although many of the stores remain closed during peak times. I’ve learned to pack a lunch if I have any hopes of eating something that is healthy and convenient. I would estimate that 80% of the people waiting in the gate areas are on either laptops or phones, so I wonder what they would think about this study that looks at the relationship between chronic blue light exposure and accelerated aging.

Researchers at Oregon State University looked at the impact of such exposure on fruit flies. Where previous studies had looked at the consequences of light-related stress on retinal cells, newer studies have examined whether exposure to blue light caused reduced lifespan and degeneration of organs such as the brain. The authors looked at flies that were genetically altered to not have eyes, in an effort to study metabolism and cellular pathways. Some flies were kept in constant darkness and others in constant blue light, for varying durations. The authors noted that those kept in blue light for longer durations had changes in metabolism including impairments in cellular energy production. There was also neurodegeneration in the blue light group, with decreased levels of certain chemical transmitters in the brain.

The study found that if the impacted flies were placed in darkness, their lifespan could be brought back to normal. Reading the paper sent me straight back to my freshman year in college, where the fruit fly lab convinced me that I no longer wanted to be a biology major even though that was what pre-meds were expected to do. Even though I never want to see another diagram of a metabolic pathway, it was interesting to see how much research has evolved over the intervening years. The next step in research of this type would be to look at the impact of blue light on cultured human cells, which have similar metabolites.

Only time will tell the fullness of consequences that we’ll experience from prolonged screen time. I’m perfectly happy to spend my free minutes in the outdoors, reading an actual paper book, or doing some retro hobbies. I’m taking a stained-glass class next weekend, so we’ll have to see how that goes.

Do you have a pandemic hobby that you’ve kept? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 9/12/22

September 12, 2022 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

I was glad that Mr. H mentioned Friday’s opinion piece by former VA Secretary David Shulkin MD. With a title like “State lines should no longer be barriers to health care,” I was hooked.

Going through medical school, I had a passing exposure to the idea that one would need a state-specific license when they went into practice. Mostly this exposure came by watching the anguish that your supervising residents went through as they tried to obtain licenses so that they could earn extra money by moonlighting at rural emergency departments or by covering nights or weekends on the medical center’s newly created hospitalist service. The medical center had a variety of services to support the application process, including access to fingerprinting courtesy of campus police and notary services from the medical school office of student affairs.

Once out in practice, that process becomes more difficult. Especially in a post-COVID world, the process may require making various appointments in person and during normal business hours, which isn’t terribly helpful if you’re a busy physician. Although some states are members of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact which can expedite this process, a significant number of states have yet to opt in. This can mean going through the licensure process from scratch – providing various transcripts, reports of test scores, copies of certificates, and more.

One state where I applied demanded a copy of my high school transcript, which didn’t seem terribly relevant for someone with a medical degree and a couple of decades experience under her belt. I had a very interesting conversation with the registrar at my high school who eventually found it on microfilm. It looked like something that couldn’t possibly be a legitimate document, with each semester’s results being contained on an address label-like sticker that was applied to a single sheet of copier paper that had my name handwritten on the top. But it had the all-important embossed school seal, so I guess that made it official.

Still, and especially since this was a state that bordered my own, I thought it should be easier since the same standards of care that apply on one side of the line apply to the other. They are called “community standards of care,” not “state-specific standards of care.”

I had been practicing telehealth part time when COVID hit, and the relaxation in licensure requirements boosted my volumes. Almost overnight, I could see patients from 17 states, and as more states relaxed their rules, our wait times for on-demand telehealth visits decreased dramatically. As the pandemic eased, however, many states ended these programs, thereby limiting their residents to a smaller pool of clinicians.

One of the reasons that was cited by multiple states was the concern that easier access to telehealth would result in higher healthcare expenditures and the states didn’t want to be on the hook for that. States were also lobbied by their own state medical boards, in the context of the boards wanting to be able to ensure quality care and discipline physicians. Those boards also receive licensing fees from the physicians who want to practice in a given state, so I’m sure that was a factor.

We knew it would take time to see whether patients would return to in-person care or if they’d continue flocking to telehealth visits. Although many of us have witnessed changes in our volumes, the evidence was largely anecdotal. This week also brought us some research, as the journal NPJ Digital Medicine published a study looking at “The impact of expanded telehealth availability on primary care utilization.” The authors looked at 4 million primary care encounters from 939,000 unique patients from three health systems during the period between 2019 and 2021. They found little change in overall primary care utilization as telehealth services became more broadly used. They noted that “our results suggest the availability of telehealth is not resulting in additional primary care visits, rather, telehealth is serving as a substitute for certain in-person encounters resulting in no overall increase in primary care utilization. Further, it seems telehealth was mostly utilized for patients whose medical needs required multiple primary care visits during each year, suggesting that these telehealth encounters enabled follow-up for patients with chronic illness.”

They noted that additional studies are needed to determine the impact of expanded primary care access on other types of visits, such as urgent care or emergency visits. The authors also noted some limitations to the study, including the inability to determine if patients received additional primary care services from other facilities outside the study dataset. They also could not assess the quality of telehealth encounters compared to in-person visits.

I would also note that although the study looks at visit volume, it doesn’t take into account the differences in the costs of different types of visits. I’ve seen lots of institutional data that shows that telehealth urgent care visits are extremely cost effective, with one organization reporting a savings of nearly $150 for each patient encounter that was handled virtually versus at one of their brick-and-mortar urgent care clinics.

Now that states are cracking down on licensure, it makes it difficult for organizations to maintain the flexibility they need to care for patients. I can barely practice telehealth urgent care now because I’m not licensed in enough states. As an independent contractor, I’m not about to shell about big bucks, and a bigger amount of my time, to obtain additional licenses, so I’m effectively a wasted resource in the primary care / urgent care space.

David Shulkin calls for the states to adopt a model that stretches the boundaries of care, much like the Veterans Administration has done. Many organizations continue to lobby state legislatures to allow continued licensure flexibility, and some states have created lower-cost, telehealth-specific licenses that allow continued practice with more acceptable overhead. Shulkin uses motor vehicle driver licensure as an example, with operators being obligated to follow the laws of the state they’re in regardless of where their license was issued. In that kind of model, physicians would agree to abide by the laws of the patient’s state.

Such flexibility would not only help telehealth programs, but would also help in-person care. Organizations that require support from locum tenens physicians would have access to larger pools of physician candidates and would experience fewer delays in a physician arriving onsite. Ultimately patients would win, which should be the goal of 99% of what we do in healthcare. This would be administrative simplification at its finest.

Unfortunately, I know how state medical boards think, and I don’t see them running to jump on this particular bandwagon. Still, a girl can hope. Maybe some day I’ll be able to see more than two patients a day again.

What do you think about cross-state licensure? Will we see improvement in this decade? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/8/22

September 8, 2022 Dr. Jayne Comments Off on EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/8/22

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I’m one of the few people in my social and work circles who has yet to have COVID, so I was eager to get one of the new bivalent vaccine boosters. There’s already a lot of misinformation going around with this booster and I feel more credible as a physician being able to genuinely say that I trust it enough to get my own dose on the leading edge of the rollout. I also have quite a bit of work travel coming up and am looking forward to the extra protection.

I initially scheduled a booster through my hospital’s patient portal, only to receive a phone call that they aren’t yet offering the bivalent version and aren’t sure when they’ll get it. However, I was able to find a convenient 8 p.m. slot at my local CVS HealthHub, so I decided to check it out.

Online scheduling and registration processes were quick and easy, and I immediately received a confirmation via email and text. About an hour before the appointment, I received a text with a link to check-in when I arrived, although the check-in button was locked out until 15 minutes before the appointment.

I quickly found the vaccination area in the store, although the signage for where patients should check in for vaccines was difficult to see given all the Halloween candy displays that were stealing my attention. Since I had registered online, the check-in process only involved verifying my name and date of birth. The pharmacist mentioned that they had been giving vaccines all day, which was good to hear.

The vaccination cubicle wasn’t soundproof, but it was clean and well organized. Barcode scanning was used to capture information from the vaccine vial prior to administration. I needed a new vaccine card since mine was full and the pharmacist had to hand-write, it which I’m sure becomes tiresome during the day. They may not be at a volume of administration where it makes sense to print labels as some of the high-volume hospital vaccine clinics do. I was in and out before my actual appointment time, making it back through the gauntlet of Halloween candy without a purchase.

I felt fine the rest of the evening, doing a little work and binge-watching the first part of the new season of “Call the Midwife.” I received a patient satisfaction survey from CVS, which I completed. Upon reading the questions, I realized that they didn’t offer me a Vaccine Information Statement like they should have. An interesting part of the questionnaire is where the patient can record a video snippet instead of a typed review. Any submission becomes the property of CVS and they can use it for marketing, so I wondered how many people actually do that. I took a pass on that one.

I slept well, but woke up terribly achy and felt like the joints in my fingers didn’t want to work at all, which is rough for someone who types all day. I also had significant pain in my underarm, which made me remember the issue I had in 2021 where my COVID vaccines caused an abnormal mammogram, sending me down a diagnostic rabbit hole with ultrasounds, extra mammogram views, and more. I was so excited to get the vaccine that I completely forgot about the follow up at the high-risk breast cancer clinic that I had scheduled for later in the month, and immediately cursed my enthusiasm. I mean, how do you forget something like that?

I’d like to chalk it up to the fact that I think I’ve blocked most of 2020 and 2021 from my mind as a coping mechanism for what I experienced on the front lines. Current recommendations call for waiting several weeks after a COVID vaccine before having a mammogram, so I hit the patient portal and messaged my surgeon to find out what she recommended. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply within the hour giving me a specific recommended time frame, so I called the office to start the rescheduling dance.

Any time you try to reschedule an appointment with a busy surgeon, especially if it has to be linked in time with a diagnostic study, it’s stressful. The staff did their best to find me a slot within a month of my “clearance” date, so I was happy with that. While I was on hold so they could dig through the schedules and try to make something work, it got me thinking – if I’m a professional who should know better, especially from my own previous experiences, and I couldn’t remember how this works, what are the odds that the average patient isn’t going to do the same thing?

It would be useful if the breast center could send a reminder to patients educating them on the need to space their vaccines and their mammograms so that others don’t wind up in the same predicament. Especially for a high-risk individual, that reminder would be most appreciated, and it should be pretty easy to send out a message through the patient portal. Any time spent crafting and managing that outreach would more than recouped by not having to deal with numerous patients calling to reschedule.

A couple of hours later, about 14 hours after the vaccine, my immune system was apparently doing a really good job of reacting to the vaccine because I started feeling terrible. Headache, crushing fatigue, nausea, and shaking chills came first, then hot flashes, followed by dizziness. I literally had to lie down between conference calls. Then came the drenching sweats. I’m sure the people on my afternoon calls got a kick out of my wardrobe changes.

Then, as quickly as the symptoms started, they were gone – no more headache, significantly reduced achiness, and with nausea giving way to feeling hungry. It was like a switch had been flipped. I had some dinner, did a quick Zoom with one of the organizations where I volunteer, and felt back to normal enough that I went out and walked a couple of miles.

All in all, this was similar to the experience I had with the second dose of the original COVID vaccine, with symptoms right at the 12-hour mark that totally resolved within 24 hours of the vaccine. I didn’t have anything like this with the first or third doses, however.

Although I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, I’d rather have it than some of the debilitating cases of COVID I’ve seen in the last few months. It’s certainly preferable to the ultimate “bad outcome” that is dying, and which we still see (most recently in my world in a 42-year-old, which was truly tragic). The long COVID clinic at our local children’s hospital has a one-year waiting list, so hopefully vaccines will be helpful in preventing the need for those services. Everyone’s mileage varies as far as how they experience this vaccine. I don’t share this to frighten anyone, but as a longstanding early adopter of many technologies, including this one, knowing what to expect or what might happen might allow someone to plan ahead.

Have you received the new bivalent vaccine, and what was your experience? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/1/22

September 1, 2022 Dr. Jayne 6 Comments

There’s an often-cited study in the primary care literature that looks at the number of hours a physician would need to spend each day to perform the recommended care for a standard panel of patients. The problem was that it hadn’t been updated in years. Earlier this month, a study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that updates the info and confirms that the situation hasn’t gotten any better.

Researchers from the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and Imperial College London found that primary care physicians would need to spend nearly 27 hours each day in order to provide all the guideline-based care needed for a hypothetical panel of 2,500 patients. The breakdown includes 14.1 hours for prevention, 7.2 hours for chronic diseases, 2.2 hours for acute care, and 3.2 hours for documentation and wrangling the inbox.

The authors used data from the 2017-18 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the 2020 care recommendations to develop the projections. The statistics seem grim, so what’s the answer? Most agree that team-based care needs to be the norm and not the exception. The authors took the same requirements to see how they could be delivered by a team. That approach would reduce the physician component to 9.3 hours per day, with most of the savings occurring in the areas of preventive care and chronic disease care.

In this model, counseling might be delivered by a dietician, nurse, or other member of the support staff. The authors noted, however, that many practices are already using teams to deliver a variety of pre-visit screenings and counseling, so the ability to improve this might be variable. They went further to conclude that even with team-based care, the requirements would be “excessive.”

Another potential solution would be for physicians to have fewer patients on their panels, although this wouldn’t do much to ease the primary care shortage. Overall, fewer patients generate fewer appointment requests and fewer phone calls. The reality is that many of the organizations that employ physicians won’t let them close their panels to new patients without a lot of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I once did a consulting engagement with a group that forced physicians to take new patients until their panels were so large that they couldn’t provide any same-day care and the wait for routine care was several weeks. When physicians work like this, they feel like they’re on a perpetual hamster wheel and that they can never catch up.

Yet another solution would be to shift some of the work to the patients themselves  through self-service programs or outreach. It’s fairly easy for organizations that have implemented certified EHRs to generate lists of patients who need a particular service and queue them up for outreach. Even if you can pick off a certain percentage of the patients by delivering asynchronous education through a patient portal, you’re still helping the practice with workflow. Throw some patient self-scheduling on top of it and that’s a winner.

I’m still baffled by the number of practices that won’t allow patients to self-schedule for routine visits. When I press the issue, they’ll argue with me that self-scheduling doesn’t help the provider. I counter that it can when the FTE employee positions that used to schedule are instead redeployed as more clinically relevant roles such as health coaches, care navigators, etc.

Automation can be a big piece of the solution as well. I’ve seen some very cool functionality recently that allows automated rerouting of patient messages based on their content, so that the most appropriate staff member can manage them as opposed to everything having to come through the physician first. It can also be used to send pre-visit questionnaires to patients to help identify whether they’re doing well with their chronic conditions or whether they’re having issues that might merit another team member helping with the visit, such as a pharmacist, social worker, or health coach. Questionnaires can return data that can auto-populate the visit note, reducing documentation time.

Not all patients will be amenable to reading patient education materials via a patient portal, or to interacting with a chatbot or other virtual assistant, but at this point offices are so congested that any number of patients you can divert from the “same old, same old” workflow is a bonus. There’s often an argument that older patients aren’t candidates for digital engagement, but I call baloney on that. Thinking of the retirees with whom I interact the most, they might have some small struggles with technology, but overall they find their time to be valuable and are willing to try solutions that might allow them to spend more time with their grandchildren versus hanging on the phone with a medical office.

Most of the primary care colleagues I reached out to about this updated research said they feel the drain of all that work directly and on a daily basis. One recently decided to give up primary care because she didn’t feel she could deliver the kind of care she wanted to do, or was trained to do, with the constraints her employer had placed on her. She isn’t able to hire additional team members and is expected to run a full family medicine panel with only one medical assistant helping her, which is ludicrous. Several have closed their panels to new patients, and others are limiting office hours. The only ones that sounded even remotely hopeful for the future were the ones who had transitioned to Direct Primary Care models, where they’re only caring for 200-400 patients at a time versus the thousands that physicians are conventionally expected to manage.

One colleague I spoke with said that society needs to double down on public health education everywhere, not just in the physician office. Patients need to make healthier choices and need to be hearing about prevention regularly, not just during an annual visit. Healthier patients make for much quicker and easier office visits than those featuring patients with multiple chronic conditions. However, requirements for health education have been cut in many schools and we’re certainly not flooding the airwaves with evidence-based health education. I’ll keep doing my part with healthcare IT, advocating for patient engagement, outreach, automation, and increased self-service options. I’ll lobby my representatives to support public health efforts.

What do you think is the answer to the ever-expanding burden placed on primary care delivery organizations? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/29/22

August 29, 2022 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

I spent most of last week at the Epic Users Group Meeting and I’m finally recovering. Although I’ve been to the Epic campus on other occasions, this was my first UGM. It was an outstanding experience.

This year’s theme was “Midnight at the Museum.” I can only imagine the amount of work that went into putting it on. Although most vendor user group meetings that I’ve attended have a theme, this was over the top, with many of the Epic staff dressed as characters from paintings, movies, museum exhibits, or as historical figures. Although many paid tribute to a movie of a similar theme — such as cave people, a centurion, and security guards — my favorites were those from paintings such as “American Gothic” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

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The theme was even used in unexpected ways, including as an explanation for a last-minute substitution of the conference bags they had planned to give out. It’s important to have a sense of humor when the best-laid plans fail to happen, and I give them full credit for running with it.

After checking in and picking up my badge and the substituted tote bag, my colleague and I headed to the traditional Campfire event, which is also a “Taste of Epic” and a chance for the legendary Epic culinary team to shine. The menu included pulled pork sliders, two kinds of stuffed grape leaves, shrimp with tortilla chips, and fried lotus root. I had never tried the latter and was pleasantly surprised. The campfires are real and there were s’mores stations, but I opted to go for the “deconstructed s’more” approach to avoid getting next to the heat since it was already unseasonably warm. The banana pudding did not disappoint. There were plenty of Epic executives out chatting with attendees.

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Monday morning I was up bright and early for the trek to campus because I wasn’t sure what traffic would be like. Although they run buses from most of the conference-related hotels, I decided to drive myself due to some post-conference commitments. It was an easy commute. After breakfast, we dove straight in for educational sessions.

I like the Epic format better than other conferences I’ve attended. The majority of the sessions are 40 minutes in length to allow for a 30-minute presentation, 10-minute Q&A, and then a 20-minute passing period. That’s a good length that forces presenters to be concise and focused and allows for attending more presentations versus being in longer ones. Some of the Epic-presented sessions are longer because they are going more in depth with functionality, but they still felt well paced. Audiovisual setups in the presentation rooms were solid, with most rooms having dual projection of the presenters’ slides.

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Lunch was my first trip to “the Tent,” which can only be described as ginormous. There was outdoor seating via picnic tables and high-top tables along with lawn games. Inside was a tremendous amount of seating along with various museum-themed exhibits, photo opportunities, costumed staff, and ample buffet lines to keep thousands of attendees moving. I appreciated the nod to sustainability with refillable water bottles and easily accessible filling stations along with recycling bins everywhere that trash bins were located. The short walk from the classrooms to the tent was a nice excuse to get out and enjoy a little fresh air and the beautiful blue skies.

After lunch, I spent a few minutes perusing some local vendors that were set up in one of the common areas. Vendors were sampling cheese, chocolate, and of course mustard since the National Mustard Museum is located just a short hop from campus.

In the afternoon, I stopped by the exhibit hall, which I really enjoyed. Half the space was full of Epic’s “Meet the Experts” booths, where attendees could connect with developers and other key staff for each of the products. I’ve been to other user meetings where development and product teams all but hid from the attendees. It was great to see so many good conversations and plenty of ideas being exchanged. I look forward to seeing some of the ideas I heard discussed make their way into the software.

The other thing that’s different about the exhibit hall is the vendor space. Each vendor has the same size booth and they are relatively uniform. It’s more about substance than glitz, and the smaller format was conducive to conversations. I had a good conversation with IMO (Intelligent Medical Objects) and enjoyed their customized M&M giveaway as an afternoon pick-me-up. As always, the team from Healthwise was friendly and engaging and I enjoyed learning about the volunteer service that one of their reps does in their free time.

Tuesday morning contained the executive address, which was definitely something to behold. Thousands of clients pack the Deep Space auditorium, and many organizations bring decorated umbrellas, balloons, and signs to allow co-workers to find each other to sit together. All of the presenters were costumed in a way that tied to their presentations, with several teams re-creating famous paintings. Part of the presentation involves introductions of all the new clients, and Epic selects a song for each that ties to their name or location.

I wasn’t surprised to see some of my former consulting clients joining the Epic community and I’m certainly looking forward to collaborating with them on a new adventure. No matter where I’ve worked, the informatics community has been full of people who are willing to share best practices and work together to improve care for our patients and communities.

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Dr. Jayne’s “Best in Show” vendor award goes to Nemours KidsHealth, which always has cute giveaways. This year they had mummy-shaped chocolates to match the museum theme. I mentioned their HIMSS giveaway of insulated grocery totes and their rep offered to send one to my teammate, which was sweet. The rep was hilarious and definitely held our attention. The Nemours booth was next to Iron Bridge, whose reps were also engaging and funny. The two of them were doing a little riffing off of each other along with the Nemours rep, which was fun to watch. I’ve staffed the booth at conferences in a past life and it can be exhausting, so kudos to these three for keeping it fun. They were still at the same energy level later in the week, which was impressive.

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Kudos also to the Epic customer service desk, which happily produced an ice pack for my co-worker’s aching foot. She had injured it prior to the event and soldiered through the week, although she did take advantage of a cow-print golf cart to get to her car at the end of a particularly long day. I know I walked more than 19 miles and talked with what seemed like a thousand different clinical informatics professionals while learning dozens of things I want to take home and implement. I have numerous presentations to review since there were often multiple interesting sessions running at the same time. Our team did its best to divide and conquer, so we still have to put our notes together and share all the thoughts and ideas.

When I’ve written about visiting Epic in the past, readers comment about the cost of the campus. However, in talking with a couple of friends who work in the marketing and trade show space, being able to host your major events on your own property is a smart play. They’re not paying exorbitant convention center fees year after year, but rather are able to invest those expenditures in their own infrastructure. They’re not flying staff across the country, and their in-house culinary team delivered the best conference food I’ve ever encountered, probably at a fraction of the cost that vendors pay for hotel and convention catering. They’re not paying for big-name entertainment or keynote speakers-for-hire. Everything about the event just screams “good clean fun, and you’ll learn something, too.”

What’s the best or worst vendor conference you’ve attended, and why? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 8/25/22

August 25, 2022 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

This week has been a bit disjointed due to travel. I’m starting to wonder how I survived being a road warrior for so long earlier in my career. I traveled at least twice a month for a number of years and there was a predictable routine to it, unlike today. In the current state, it seems like delays and difficulties have become the norm and a smooth trip is a rarity. Whether it’s due to labor shortages, supply chain issues, or other factors, I’ve grown used to airports where restaurants are closed, amenities are limited, and rental cars are less than plentiful.

I’m working on a project right now to increase accessibility to behavioral therapy services, particularly for patients who are dealing with anxiety, depression, and overall stress. The need for these services far outstrips the supply in some areas, and patients are looking for solutions that they can access during non-traditional hours as they try to juggle responsibilities at work and home. There is a particular need for services targeted towards adolescents, who are experiencing mental health diagnoses in ever-growing numbers.

As I was looking for statistics, I came across this opinion piece from the spring that suggested “It May Be Time to Ban Kids From Social Media.” I certainly know plenty of adults that struggle with social media. Family physicians and pediatricians have been speaking for years about the amplifying effect it can have on already existing social issues in pre-teens and teens.

The author cites a study that was published in Nature Communications that looks at which specific time windows of development have the most sensitivity to social media’s influence. The study, which looked at data from the UK, found that there were distinct impact windows for both males (14-16 years old) and females (11-13 years old), where higher estimated social media user predicts a decrease in life satisfaction ratings one year later. Both sexes also experienced a dip at age 19. He notes that it’s difficult to study these phenomena because of challenges identifying correlation versus causality and that using the one-year lag is helpful in trying to “tease out causality.” The authors of the study noted a feedback loop where increased social media use led to decreased life satisfaction, which led to increased social media use, and so on. The study was unable to separate the different types of social media use or platforms used, which is also a limiting factor.

Mental health issues in adolescents have been on the rise long before the COVID pandemic, and social media seems to be a significant contributing factor for many of the youth I encounter regularly. Gossip that used to spread within a given class grade level over several days at school can now spread to the entire school in seconds. Legislation to prevent children under 13 from having social media accounts has been in place for more than two decades, but I’m constantly encountering parents (including physicians) who help their children subvert these protections due to perceived fear of missing out or frankly giving into peer pressure. It’s interesting and often appalling to listen to the explanations given for parents who know they’re doing something that could harm their children but who don’t feel empowered to say no. Only time will tell how much of a public health threat social media really is, but it seems like we’re already past the point where the genie could be put back in the bottle.

Speaking of the teenage years, I started my medical career in earnest as a Candy Striper in a local hospital. That designation is likely long gone, replaced by “teen volunteer” in the early 1990s in most hospitals where I’ve worked. In a post-HIPAA era, I’m sure there were privacy concerns with regard to underage volunteers, and in many institutions, volunteer roles were significantly impacted by the pandemic. I volunteered with my best friend who wanted to be a nurse and it was a great experience.

Especially if they are considering healthcare, it’s important for young people to take a closer look at the careers they are considering. Our local school district has a health careers program as part of its vocational education offerings, where students can learn formally and build experience while completing their normal high school course work. I enjoyed reading a recent article about what hospitals should consider when hiring teens. One of the executives noted the emotional toll of his own daughter’s employment in the hospital’s food and nutrition area, especially when working with sick patients.

The article notes that Ohio’s Mount Carmel Health System lowered its hiring age from 18 to 16 in September 2021. Initial teen hires are working in environmental services, nutrition services, and patient transportation roles. Earlier this year, the organization created a patient-facing student support associate position and is working to onboard those who are enrolled in nursing or pre-nursing programs. The associates assist with tasks that are normally assigned to patient care technicians, such as taking vital signs, assisting with bathing patients, and helping manage equipment and supplies.

It’s a smart move, especially given the nationwide nursing shortage, since young people who have a positive experience with a given hospital might be more likely to consider a long-term role there once they have completed their training. It’s challenging, however, due to the limited hours that students can work.

It’s nice to see students be paid for the work that we did for free as Candy Stripers. We did a lot of running between our assigned floors and the central supply department, refilled ice and water pitchers, prepared ice packs on the postpartum unit, ensured that linen carts were filled, and sometimes even delivered medications from the pharmacy to nursing units. One of my favorite jobs was working in the hospital gift shop, which was a nice break from using the addressograph machine to apply unique demographics to paper chart pages. Keeping the shelves stocked appealed to my sense of order and helping the adult volunteer who was intimidated by the brand-new electronic cash register might have been the beginning of my career in technology and end-user coaching as well.

Here’s to all of us in healthcare who started as Candy Stripers. If you have a favorite story to share, leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/22/22

August 22, 2022 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

In many ways, I’m still recovering from the years I spent as an in-person urgent care physician, especially during the COVID pandemic. The organization where I spent a good chunk of my career was a well-run practice when I joined, but a series of events led to an ongoing downward spiral that resulted in tremendous staff turnover and contributed at least in part to loss of more than one life.

An event that finally convinced me to leave was the acquisition of the organization by a private equity firm and the subsequent chaos that change introduced. My former partners and the PE firm are still suing each other years later and the practice is in shambles. Staff members who were relocated to other states to grow the business by developing new locations were stranded when those sites were put on pause.

I was gratified to learn that there is an organization that keeps an eye on these things. The Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) released a recent report that looks at the impacts of PE firms acquiring urgent care facilities. To be honest, private equity is everywhere in frontline healthcare delivery these days. Ambulatory surgery centers, dermatology practices, OB/GYN practices, and ophthalmology practices are big targets due to their revenue streams.

The PESP issue brief notes how urgent care centers benefit from a lax regulatory environment that allows them to escape the level of scrutiny that is paid to hospitals and other healthcare providers. Only 10 states require facility licenses for urgent care clinics, while in the rest, they operate under an individual physician’s license or a hospital’s license. Not surprisingly, private equity was involved in approximately 50% of all urgent care transactions from 2012 to 2020.

Additionally, the report notes that recent surprise medical billing regulations may provide loopholes for urgent care centers that will negatively impact patients. It’s no surprise that patients are drawn to urgent care centers, which can treat a variety of non-life-threatening conditions more quickly and economically than the emergency department. The brief notes that as of 2019, it was estimated by the Urgent Care Association that urgent care visits counted for 23% of primary care visits and 12% of all ambulatory physician visits. That’s a significant amount of primary care that is potentially being delivered in environments that don’t have the same supports in place as a traditional primary care practice, or by those who are not actually trained in delivery of high-quality primary care. I’ve used several EHRs that are specifically marketed to urgent care practices and those systems lack the content that is needed to manage chronic conditions or to ensure that preventive care is being delivered.

It goes on to note the tactics used by PE firms to improve cash flow, including adding service lines, reduced staffing, expanding the use of unlicensed staff, and pushing unnecessary high-dollar procedures. I’ve had a front-row seat to all of these, and unfortunately, it’s often reinforced by patient perceptions of technology and its role in good care. For example, patients often place more value in a CT scan than they do in a physician’s clinical skill. They specifically ask for laboratory testing and x-rays when they’re not clinically indicated, and physicians who don’t order the studies anyway are often penalized with poor reviews. Technology has become a proxy for experience and skill. That approach not only raises costs, but can lead to worse outcomes when there are slightly abnormal incidental findings on the tests that weren’t needed in the first place, which in turn leads to more testing, patient anxiety, and costs.

Prescription medications and polypharmacy are also part of the equation, especially when clinics are running their own pharmacies and dispensing medications on a cash basis. One urgent care I consulted for actually maintained a metric on their providers, scoring them on how many prescriptions they issued per visit. Leadership dinged them if they sent scripts to an outside pharmacy where patients could use their insurance. This was all supported through elaborate “talk tracks” that the staff was forced to memorize and use.

The process went like this. First, all prescriptions were filled in-house without asking the patient their preference. When the clinical associate went into the room to discharge the patient, they carried the medications with them and walked the patient to the checkout counter with no mention of the fact that the prescriptions had been filled on a cash-pay basis. When the patient arrived at the checkout counter, they were asked to “please sign here to indicate you received your medications” without explanation that the sheet was approval to charge for the medications.

If the patient complained, the checkout team had a speech about “filling the medications here as a convenience” without mentioning that some of the commonly used generics were more than four times more expensive than pharmacies charge cash-paying patients. When you have providers giving four or five questionably-indicated medications per urgent care visit, that really adds up.

If patients still balked, there was a speech about how important it was for patients to be compliant with all the provider’s treatment recommendations, and that failing to do so could place their health at risk. While that’s  generally a true statement, using it to coerce patients into purchasing prescription versions of medications they can buy over the counter or might already have at home is quite a stretch. There were a couple of additional talk tracks that staff could use at that point. 

If the patient still refused, the staff would take the medications and the billing sheet and walk them back to the clinical area to try to find a provider who could send the prescriptions to the pharmacy. The practice refused to install the capabilities needed to legally prescribe controlled substances electronically, so  those had to be manually printed and signed. Patients who had been to the practice before and knew the game and knew their insurance coverage or how to get the cheapest medications in town were savvy enough to tell the provider to preemptively send the prescriptions to the pharmacy versus going through the whole in-house pharmacy charade.

There are times where having a prescription filled in-house is worth an upcharge for convenience. A couple of those situations might include treatment of an infection requiring antibiotics that is diagnosed at 7 p.m. when many pharmacies are closed, or filling a prescription for a harried parent with four children in tow who doesn’t want to deal with lines or delays at a short-staffed pharmacy. Still, it should be the patient’s choice, and for many of us, ethics dictates that they should understand their options before choosing. That takes more of someone’s time at the bedside, whether it’s a licensed individual or a clinical associate, and practices simply aren’t willing to expend those resources.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but the continued growth of for-profit care delivery organizations is only going to fuel more sticky situations. Patients will continue to be left holding the bag, and clinical care will continue to be diminished in the name of profits.

I’m interested in what readers think about this situation. As a patient, how do you feel about being treated by for-profit entities? Are there any advantages? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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