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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/20/16

October 20, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments


It’s been a busy week as people begin to digest the contents of the MACRA Final Rule. Most of the physicians I’ve spoken with are worried specifically about what they need to do in order to meet requirements for 2017. It would be a mistake, however, to not spend some time planning for 2018 and beyond. CMS will increase the number of outcome metrics as time passes, while also increasing the weighting applied cost measures. CMS is also making changes in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Although 2017 may seem to be a low-risk year where providers can take it easy, in reality 2017 should be a year where providers work to maximize their performance in preparation for future years.

Providers are going to be increasingly graded on performance and if they’re not honing their skills they’re going to be behind. Our favorite Geek Doctor, John Halamka, weighed in on the Final Rule as well:

Think of MIPS not as four separate categories (quality measurement, cost control, practice improvement, and wise use of IT) but as a single program focused on rewarding clinicians for improving quality and penalizing clinicians for non-participation. There are only a few ways to change clinician behavior – pay them more, improve their satisfaction and help them avoid public humiliation (like poor quality scores posted on a public website). MIPS pays them more, consolidates multiple other government programs, and provides flexibility to give clinicians every opportunity to make their quality scores look good.

As much as everyone has been waiting for the Final Rule, it’s not entirely final. It was released as a final rule with comment, which means that we have 60 days to continue to weigh in. There’s still the opportunity for our feedback to be heard by those who will make subsequent rules and those who will tweak this Rule as it is applied. We’ve seen from previous iterations with Meaningful Use and other federal programs that the only constant is change.


I had the privilege this week of lunching with some former co-workers. We all worked together on a large health system’s EHR implementation project starting more than a decade ago. Although we try to get together quarterly, it gets more and more difficult unless we plan it months in advance. We’re all still in healthcare, although we’ve branched out into consulting, quality improvement, program management, and interoperability roles. Two of the group have come full circle and are again helping the large health system with an EHR implementation as they perform a massive rip-and-replace of all clinical and financial systems.

It was gratifying to learn that although much time has passed and it’s a different system, many of the processes we created are being dusted off and used to help the practices navigate the transition. Regardless of the type and scope of the project, the change leadership and governance pieces are essential and fairly timeless. It sounds like it’s been a bit frustrating for my colleagues who are on the ground, as the organization has lost some of its institutional memory. The current project is being handled as an IT project that has a couple of clinical advisors, rather than as a clinical / operational project with IT support as we had done in the past. They’ve already experienced massive scope creep, delays, and cost overruns.

There are also issues with IT leadership not understanding the needs of a large provider organization. They actually tried to tell the provider group that they “won’t be allowed to onboard any new physicians or practices during the transition period,” which is over 18 months long. That statement alone shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what is going on in healthcare today, as providers are being consolidated into larger organizations either willingly or in response to fear. I can’t imagine telling a CEO he can’t onboard new physicians, but apparently it happened. I’m betting the follow up phone call to the CIO was interesting, to say the least. When you’re spending upwards of a third of a billion dollars on a project, impeding strategic growth probably isn’t the best idea.

Back when we were doing our original implementation, we needed a full-time person to go around and do some periodic retraining for providers. We had the opportunity to hire a retired IT staffer who had been a physician liaison and was dearly loved. The powers that be told us we couldn’t justify a full-time position, so we brought her on as a contractor. I laughed out loud when I heard today that she is still there, eight years later. Maybe that position would have been justified after all.

The health system is wrangling with the same issues that we fought with the original EHR, including how to handle private/community physicians that want to be on the platform but don’t want to pay for it, as well as how to support the infrastructure. Where we were worried about making sure everyone had adequate bandwidth via DSL or T1, now they’re working to upgrade everyone to fiber. They’re still dealing with patient consent around interoperability as well as difficulties with patient matching and provider attribution. Although they’ve made some headway on those issues, the core problems still remain tricky.

Another theme with the group was trying to maintain some kind of work-life balance given the continuing chaos that healthcare reform and ensuing technology requirements has created regardless of role. I remember when we started, the understanding was that we’d do this rollout for 18 months and then go back to our original jobs. The organization quickly realized that it was unlikely for that scenario to play out. A decade later we’re not only still at it, but most of us are leading teams of people dedicated to the ongoing support of healthcare IT and clinical transformation. Some of us are still burning the candle at both ends, which although sustainable for a few years, starts to wear on you when you’ve been doing it nonstop.

By the time we get together again, it will be 2017 with all the MIPS and APM-related excitement that brings. It will be a new year for penalties and incentives, with new clinical quality measures, new carrots, and new sticks. It’s been great to have a core group of friends who can support each other as we go through this, venting about our respective situations and the challenges we face. Looking at what’s coming down the road, we’re going to need each other to stay sane.

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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/17/16

October 17, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments


Everyone in informatics circles has been buzzing about the release of the MACRA Final Rule. As is typical for CMS, it came out on a Friday afternoon. I know a lot of people were hunkered down reading it, me included. I did what I could with it Friday, but on Saturday I had a previous commitment to teach some team-building sessions as part of a local outdoor classroom program.

The type of change that MACRA is trying to drive and the stresses it is going to place on healthcare delivery organizations will require that organizations have high-functioning teams. They’re also going to require intense project management and active management of resources and outcomes. Although many organizations have already figured this out and have robust programs in place (or have hired consultants to do the dirty work), there are numerous organizations that are just trying to figure out what their first steps should be.

When you place stress on teams like these MACRA-related projects are certain to do, teams will either rise to the occasion or they will fall apart. Although some people throw their hands up and just watch things devolve, there are active ways to manage team dynamics and to get your people in the right place so they’re well prepared to take on new challenges.

The program I staffed this weekend brought out many of the types of issues that organizations need to be thinking about as they evaluate how they will handle MACRA-related tasks and who will be responsible for executing them.

Our program brings together people from different backgrounds and throws them into a situation that is unfamiliar for most of them. This year’s group had about 50 participants from all different disciplines – healthcare, manufacturing, communications, technology, and a couple of college students. Even if we have participants coming from the same organization, we mix them up so they’re not working together.

They’re placed in group of five to eight with people they’ve never met and they have to handle a variety of objectives. It’s outdoor classroom with camping and survival skills. Some of the participants may not have done so much as roasting a s’more, so we provide several coaches for each group to help them through the process.

The course starts with an indoor session with a few outdoor elements where they practice basic team skills, and then we follow up with the actual outdoor weekend portion. Their first task was to come up with a team name and motto. We use a variety of exercises to work them through the stages of team development – forming, storming, norming, and performing.

My team definitely had some forming issues because only two of them had arrived by the time the session started. The ability to get to meetings on time continues to be a major issue for a lot of people, which makes it challenging to be a high-performing team. Once the rest arrived, we had some rehashing and revising of the team name, but the team was able to eventually move forward once the late arrivals understood that they couldn’t complain about decisions that were made when they failed to perform.

The teams learned some basics of outdoor cooking and assigned members to roles, identifying leaders and supporting members. When you’re headed out into the woods for a weekend, it’s key to know who is responsible for what. Just like complying with federal regulations, if someone drops the ball, everyone suffers, and having clear chain of command and documented responsibilities makes things easier. The teams are provided with a series of tasks that they have to complete prior to the outdoor portion, and I thought I lucked out when I had someone who immediately volunteered to set up conference calls and meetings to get everything taken care of in the interim.

They met once by phone and once in person during the two-week gap, learning some important lessons on logistics when only half the group showed up in person. The other half was at another meeting place, because leadership failed to recognize that “meet at the XX restaurant by the mall” wasn’t specific enough since there were four different locations of the chain in close proximity, including one actually in the mall. How many times do we have situations like this in healthcare IT? The team thinks they have a clear plan and everyone voices understanding, but it turns out there were multiple ideas about how things were actually going to happen. Although it wasn’t that big of a deal when you’re just dealing with a voluntary team-building program, it’s a huge deal when you have miscommunications around federal requirements and regulations.

There was some last-minute planning, but it appeared they had everything figured out prior to their arrival for the weekend. Unfortunately, one-third of their team was late, leading to delayed setup since people were bringing different pieces of equipment. Across the meadow, the other team I was cross-coaching had arrived and began to set up in a disciplined fashion. Their only glitch was not having their team tee shirts done on time, which they remediated with some ad-hoc spray painting. I was doubtful when they pulled out the cans as to how well it would work, but when they pulled out a drop cloth, rubber gloves, and pre-cut stencils, my doubts were laid to rest. It may have been last-minute, but it was well planned and well executed.

In working with both teams, it was clear that one was more successful. In trying to dissect the reasons behind that success, the major factor was that they put the good of the team beyond their individual needs. They were up early each morning to take care of team tasks, where my team had issues getting out of their tents. I definitely earned my coaching stripes this time around since I had to roust grown adults out of their tents two mornings in a row. I also had to pull out some camping magic when my team failed to follow some of the cooking instructions and their dinner was in jeopardy. Luckily my other team had prepared extra charcoal and had extra supplies, which I was able to borrow to bail my team out. Again, in most of our organizations, we’re running so lean we can’t count on a bail-out. We have to be organized and in command of the situation.

I was hoping that my primary team would see what was going on with the other team and rise to the occasion. Although some team members started to get the message and get with the program, others either didn’t see the possibilities in front of them or maybe just didn’t care. Sometimes we see that, when organizations have enrolled wary participants. Hopefully those that didn’t fully embrace the program learned something along the way and can find elements of the program to take back to their home organizations. I know I learn something every time I put on this program and there are always different challenges to be overcome and different personalities to work with. I come back to my work energized with new tricks and techniques to try to motive my teams.

We’re definitely going to need energy and motivation to make it through MACRA-related reforms and all the sub-projects that will entail. Although I was tired from a couple of nights of sleeping on the ground and herding cats, I’m ready to tackle the rest of the Final Rule.

What kinds of strategies do you use for team-building? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/13/16

October 13, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Several of my clients applied for the CMS Comprehensive Primary Care Plus initiative. One reached out to me after receiving a letter from CMS that required a response in an extremely short time frame. It sounds like practices that offer services other than just straight primary care may have been flagged in the application process to provide additional information. CMS was concerned about whether they could isolate their primary care providers and data if they were selected to participate in the program.

I understand the need to make sure applicants can meet the requirements, but the short turnaround time and unexpectedness of the letter created a lot of stress for my client. We were able to gather the required information for the response, but it was a good example to remind them that if they’re selected, they will be even more at the beck and call of CMS.

Speaking of CMS, a friend of mine who works for a vendor mentioned her concerns about the Social Security Number Removal Initiative. This is a big deal for people who are worried about identity theft since Medicare patients have long been identified with their Social Security Numbers. During 2019, Medicare will issue new identification cards to all beneficiaries. This also means that vendors have to adjust their systems to accommodate the new numbers while preserving the old numbers for historical purposes, rebilling, etc. Depending on the timeframe for mailing the new cards and what portion of a practice’s payer mix is made of Medicare patients, we could see some serious check-in delays and billing issues. I’m not sure if contractors have been selected to deliver the cards, but I hope it goes better than Healthcare.gov did.

Pet peeve of the week: I had mentioned previously that people who try to share Web addresses verbally (unless they’re really short, like “Amazon.com” or “CMS.gov”) drive me crazy. I was on a conference call this week where the panelist not only read enormous Web addresses aloud, but also didn’t know the difference between slash and backslash. I hope the people who were on audio-only connections wait for the slide deck to be distributed before they try to reach any of those sites.

The Wall Street Journal a piece this week about physicians “deprescribing” when patients are taking too many medications or risky combinations. For all the pressures on physicians and other healthcare providers to cut costs, this is an often overlooked solution.

There are many cultural factors at play with individuals preferring to take a pill to making the effort to change their habits and lifestyle. Patients don’t want to believe that they have a virus that will take 10 to 14 days to run its course — they want it cured now. Some of our love of pharmaceuticals is also generational, with older patients who came of age with the advent of penicillin and other lifesaving medications believing that pharmaceutical advances are heaven sent.

Unfortunately, there are too many people who are overmedicated. My grandparents, who are almost 90 years old, are on multiple medications for diabetes prescribed by a physician who advocates tight blood sugar control even in their age group and even with newer literature saying this might not be a good idea. It doesn’t make sense medically and they could certainly benefit from a reduced prescription bill each month, but they don’t believe in questioning their doctor.

Speaking of technology advances, there have been tremendous strides in caring for premature infants over the last several decades. A friend of mine who works for Proctor & Gamble clued me in to the recent release of a new diaper for micro-preemies who often weigh in close to 500g. That’s roughly one pound. Years ago I laughed when my friend, who is a mechanical engineer, took his job at P&G right out of school and told me enthusiastically, “You would never believe what goes into a diaper.” Having changed quite a few, I thought that was funny at the time.

It’s definitely true of the new release. The P-3 diaper is three sizes smaller than the regular newborn size and was created after three years and 10,000 hours of research, including input from over 100 neonatal intensive care unit nurses. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that often technology and innovation brings us new problems that we never even thought of and that require solutions that are outside of our expertise.

Pet peeve, part 2: I was on a call this week waiting for key attendees to arrive. One participant announced that another would be “at least 30, maybe 40” minutes late for the meeting, which was only scheduled for an hour. I appreciate that the delayed participant called someone to say she was going to be late, but since she was the CIO and this was an executive briefing, it would have been helpful for her to indicate whether she wanted us to go ahead without her, wait for her, or reschedule. Instead, we were left guessing and trying to reach her by phone, which went straight to voice mail.

From Nurse Engineer: “Thanks for the heads up on the Healthcare Data Analytics course (Free!!) through OHSU. I am through four modules and thoroughly enjoying the class. I went into informatics way before it was chic – so far it has been a good review with very timeline information. I hope to complete the course next week before work travel interferes.” I appreciate the way they have it formatted. You can either watch the videos or read from a transcript, which allows people who learn in different ways to leverage the content in the way that most meets their needs. It also lets students make progress while traveling on flights with abysmal Wi-Fi.

One of the joys of being a consultant is experiencing life in different parts of the country. Sometimes that involves trying new foods (cheese curds anyone? Nashville hot chicken?) and sometimes it involves trying to translate the local vernacular. My Texas client shocked me this week by mentioning that in their city, “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a barbecue place.” I must have had a horrified expression on my face because they asked me if I was OK while I sat there trying to figure out if I really just heard what I thought I heard or whether I was on Candid Camera or being set up by PETA or something like that. I’ve traveled a lot but somehow missed that phrase before now. There are various theories on its origin and my client spent the next ten minutes schooling me on other colorful expressions they felt I needed to know. My thoughts go out to any cats, real or imaginary, who might have been swung.

What’s your favorite local or regional expression? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/10/16

October 10, 2016 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments


I picked up an additional clinical shift this weekend to help out one of my partners whose travel was interrupted by Hurricane Matthew. Weekends in the urgent care world are always busy, especially on Sundays when people who have put off care earlier in the week decide they can’t wait until Monday to try to get an appointment with their regular physician. Others don’t have a regular physician and just see us when they’re sick. Another subgroup of patients tries to use us as their primary care home even though we’re really not equipped to do so.

When you’ve seen 40 patients in the first six hours of a shift, that’s a bad sign. Even with a scribe I couldn’t keep up, so we had to send up the bat signal and try to get more reinforcements. Flu season is moving into high gear, overlapping with a bad run of hand/foot/mouth disease for kids in our area. Most of our patients were acutely ill and we always try to move patients into exam rooms rapidly so that they’re not cross-contaminating each other in the waiting room.

For a while, things were backed up, though. Looking at the roster of patients in the waiting room, I couldn’t help but think that telemedicine would have been a good option for quite a few of them.

There are many conditions we treat regularly that can be diagnosed with accuracy based on the patient’s history and some targeted questions. Important data points are the duration of the illness, the specific symptoms, anything that has made it better or worse, and the patient’s health status and other existing conditions. Although the physical exam can confirm a working diagnosis, it usually doesn’t make a difference in the treatment plan for these patients.

Offering telemedicine services would have keep these patients at home where they could be recovering rather than potentially exposing them to other communicable diseases. In my area, however, insurance doesn’t cover telemedicine services, so they’re not being offered.

Assuming insurance would cover the services, our EHR isn’t equipped to handle telemedicine. It’s not just this system, though. The last three platforms I have used for patient care wouldn’t have supported it very well, either. The closest workflow they could offer was to couple the documentation pathway for a telephone call with some of the elements of a standard office visit. It certainly wasn’t a streamlined workflow and there wasn’t a good way to include video links or patient-provided pictures of rashes or other findings.

Although the new federal programs seem to encourage these types of alternative visits, it seems to me that many EHR vendors are just trying to keep up with all the reporting requirements and specifications of the new certification scheme and don’t have many development resources to shift into these kinds of nice-to-have workflows.

Some of the cases I saw today really made me think about how our country is addressing (or not addressing) healthcare delivery. We’re so focused on cost reform that we’re missing other significant factors that influence care-seeking behavior.

Many of our patients come to the urgent care due to access issues – they can’t get a timely appointment with their primary care physician or they can’t leave work during the hours the office is open. Although many employees have sick time benefits from their employers, the reality for many of the patients we see (as well as many of my friends and colleagues) is that it’s often difficult to use that sick time.

Employers put a variety of strategies in place to keep people from abusing the benefit, but those strategies can also function as a barrier to care. The rise of high-deductible health plans is also a barrier to care, and we sometimes see people with serious illnesses who have deferred coming to care because they can’t afford the deductible. It’s not an overall cost savings if the patient has to have an amputation because they didn’t have a $90 visit that could have mitigated the condition weeks ago.

We try to engage our patients and encourage them to follow up with a continuity physician, providing them View/Download/Transmit access to their note as soon as the physician completes it. We also have nearly-real-time surveys of patient satisfaction, which can be a bit unnerving when you receive an email with your rating before the patient is even out of the parking lot. It’s definitely a different world than what I thought I was getting into when I went into medicine.

I’m not sure how many patients actually engage via a records download, though. Although we can accept and consume inbound records, I’ve not seen any in the two years I’ve been working with this organization. I have had a couple of patients who have personal health records that they access on their phones during the visit and many who have accessed their pharmacy records to tell me about previous treatments if I can’t download them via our EHR’s pharmacy management link. But I’ve never seen a C-CDA and I’m betting that my staff would be confused if one turned up.

Our organization is growing steadily. We’ve doubled in size in the last two years. Although it’s great from a business perspective, when you really think about it, it’s terrible from a patient care strategy standpoint. Although patients come to us because it’s convenient and we’re fast and economical, we’re not a primary care office and we don’t handle preventive screenings or other universally recommended services.

I firmly believe that patients do best when they’re cared for by a physician and/or care team that knows them well and can manage their issues over time, looking for trends or linked events. This is what old-school family physicians used to do, before insurance companies pushed patients into networks based on costs and contracts. When I was in solo practice, I had patients who were forced to change primary physicians every year or two because their employer would change insurance plans or the insurance plan would change their roster of contracted physicians.

With the rise of the medical home movement in the last decade, you’d think this trend would be somewhat reversed, but we’re not seeing as much change as we need to solve the healthcare delivery problem. Physicians are stressed and don’t want to provide after-hours services without additional compensation and patients don’t want to pay for it.

We’ve thrown billions of dollars of technology at it, but it doesn’t feel like we’re much better off than we were before. Physician practices have been disrupted. Once they settle in, there is a tremendous opportunity to harness the technology, but now we’re seeing a second wave of disruption as providers and organizations change EHR vendors, often sending provider workflows back into chaos.

Programs such as the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative and its successor CPC+ are trying to shift care delivery to the medical home model through additional payments and support, but it’s still tremendously difficult for organizations to make these changes, especially since they’re already coping with additional federal and payer regulations.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but it feels like we’re reaching the breaking point. Is anyone building the killer app that will help providers and care delivery organizations truly transform how we care for patients in the 21st century? Or will the regulators just keep tightening the screws? As we sit here on the edge of our chairs waiting for the next Final Rule, it feels more like the latter.

What do you think is the answer to truly reforming healthcare delivery? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 10/6/16

October 6, 2016 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment


At my clinical practice, we frequently use scribes to document in the EHR while we focus on patients. While most of our scribes are cross-trained emergency medical technicians or medical assistants, some are college or graduate students who are looking for experience in the field while they apply to medical school.

My favorite scribe was recently admitted to medical school. Since he doesn’t have any family in town, he invited me to sit in for his family at his school’s white coat ceremony. We didn’t have that ceremony when I went to medical school, but quite a few schools have them now. Often in their first year of training, students are presented with the traditional white coat and may take an oath.

Schools have gotten away from the traditional Hippocratic Oath (mine used the Declaration of Geneva), but his school encourages each class to write their own oath. It was quite moving to see the students promise to keep the patient at the center of care and to deliver care equitably regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I didn’t hear anything about sacrificing patient care time to address burdensome regulations and reporting requirements, but they’ll be learning about those aspects of medicine soon enough.

October is Health Literacy Month, aimed at helping promote the importance of understandable health information. Greater health literacy can lead to improved health status and may be more of a contributor than other factors such as race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Although many EHR vendors try to increase health literacy by making sure their patient education materials are at an accessible reading level, there are other factors at play. The National Patient Safety Foundation is promoting its “Ask Me 3” program that encourages patients to ask three questions to better understand their health: 1) What is my main problem?; 2) What do I need to do?; and 3) Why is it important for me to do this? I’d love to see more EHR-generated patient plan documents that address these questions in a readable format rather than just spitting out codes and canned phrases that may not make sense for patients.

The rising cost of health care and subsequent attempts at reform are impacting care delivery across the country. My local school board just voted to investigate the possibility of onsite health clinics for employees and their families. They’re not ready to address health clinics for students, but the employee clinics are seen as a possible way to not only get employees back to work more quickly, but to control costs. We perform similar corporate health services at my clinical practice and can generally get patients treated and back to work with their medications in under 45 minutes. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out and whether the promise of efficiency and cost-control outweighs any privacy concerns.


Nearly 180 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to CMS claiming that recent payment reforms announced by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) exceed the authority of CMS and are therefore illegal. The legislators contend that voluntary programs are acceptable, but mandatory participation in programs such as bundled payment programs can “commandeer clinical decision making and dramatically alter the delivery of care.” They go on to “insist CMMI stop experimenting with Americans’ health.” I’ve spoken with many of my peers who feel that MU and other programs are out of control experiments with no requirement for institutional review board approval. It remains to be seen if using financial incentives against providers will really drive the needle on patient outcomes.

I wrote earlier this week about some downtime/disaster recovery adventures I had with one of my clients. A reader commented on my mention that “since crossing to the IT dark side, I’ve had more late night phone calls for database disasters than I’ve had for patient care issues, but the steps are surprisingly similar,” wanting to know more.

  • Getting to the root cause of an information technology misadventure can be a lot like trying to diagnose a patient who presents with vague symptoms or a complex condition.
  • Like a person with a stroke, it’s important to know when was the last time that the system was normal, what the presenting symptoms were, and how quickly it progressed.
  • Similar to a person having a heart attack, you have to act quickly within a limited time frame so that more extensive damage doesn’t happen.
  • You have to assimilate data from a variety of sources and try to put it all together in the hopes of figuring out what happened, what is currently going on, and how you can identify the best intervention.
  • Sometimes you try maneuvers that are both diagnostic and therapeutic. They may or may not work depending on the status of the patient/system.
  • It’s important to have a skilled team that can work well together and has common goals.
  • When we teach CPR and advanced cardiac life support, we talk about closed-loop communication and following algorithms for prescribed interventions. Both of those apply to downtime and disaster recovery situations.
  • Not unlike medicine, sometimes you lose a patient. But when you make a save, it’s extremely gratifying.


Mr. H recently polled the reader base on desirable qualities for sales team members. He mentioned that military service ranks #1 on his list. I work with numerous veterans and have to say they’re high on my list of desirable employees and co-workers as well. I recently finished reading a book called CONUS Battle Drills by Louis J. Fernandez. Subtitled “A guide for combat veterans to corporate life, parenthood, and caging the beast inside” it also offers good perspective for those of us who hire or work with people who have been through situations we can barely imagine. I’m grateful for all the men and women who have served and who have continued to serve and look forward to having them on my team.


I’m going to put my physician hat on for a minute and remind everyone to get a flu vaccine. There was some buzz earlier this year about whether receiving the vaccine too early can reduce its effectiveness, which may have led some people to wait. Although some think the flu is no big deal, it kills nearly 24,000 people in the US every year, including 100 children. It can also cause life-threatening complications. The vaccine used to be recommended only for high risk patients, but now vaccination is universally recommended for everyone over six months of age. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get the herd immunity going.

Does your employer mandate flu vaccinations? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/4/16

October 4, 2016 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

The last 43 hours has been some of the most agonizing time I’ve spent in the IT trenches in recent memory. I’ve been working with a client on a small CMIO augmentation project, mostly helping them get organized from a governance and change control standpoint. It’s a mid-sized medical group, roughly 80 physicians, but none of them want to take time away from patient care to handle the clinical informatics duties. I suspect that this is because they’re mostly subspecialists and there’s no way the group would be willing to compensate them for the time they would miss from their procedural pursuits.

Until I arrived on the scene, the IT resources would just build whatever the physicians wanted, regardless of whether it made sense for everyone. This in turn led to a whole host of issues that is impacting their ability to take the upgrades they need to continue participating in various federal and payer programs.

I’ve been spending eight hours a week or so with them, mostly on conference calls as they work through a change control process. Much of my work has been in soothing various ruffled feathers and in trying to achieve consensus on issues that have to happen regardless, but I hope to get them in a good place where they can be well positioned for the challenges of shifting to value-based care. Nothing at their site has been on fire from an operational standpoint, and other than telling the IT team to stop building whatever people ask for, I haven’t had much interaction with them.

I stayed up late Saturday night working on a craft project (curse you, Pinterest), so I was awake when they called me in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It was the IT director. I could immediately tell he was in a panic. It took several minutes to calm him down. I was able to figure out that something had gone very, very wrong with their ICD code update.

Hospitals and providers have to update their codes every October 1 to make sure they have valid codes that can actually be sent out to billers. Most cloud-based vendors do the updates themselves and push it out to their clients, while non-cloud vendors that I have worked with provide a utility that allows the client to update their systems. Usually it’s no big deal, except for the vendors who are habitually late sending out their update packages and whose clients are cringing on September 30.

This particular client is on a non-cloud format and had planned to run the utility on their own. Although they had a solid plan with a lead resource and a backup resource, they never really anticipated having to use the backup resource. On the evening of the 30th, the lead resource became seriously ill and wasn’t able to do his duties. They decided to wait it out a day since they weren’t open on the weekend and see if he could handle it later in the weekend. When he was admitted to the hospital with appendicitis, it was clear that they would have to engage Plan B.

Although the backup resource had gone through the documentation, he had never run the utility or even seen it run. Apparently there was some confusion with a downtime playbook. Users were supposed to be dropped from the system before the backup cycle started and then were to be allowed back on the system after the code update was complete.

Somehow the users weren’t forced to exit and ended up being on the system while the backups started. Once the analyst realized users were still on the system, he attempted to halt the backups, but instead, the ICD update was started. I’m not sure what happened next, but the bottom line is that the database became unresponsive and no one was sure what was going on. To make matters worse, the fail-over process failed and they couldn’t connect to secondary/backup database either.

A couple of analysts had tried to work on it for a while and couldn’t get things moving, so they tried to reach the IT director, who didn’t answer. I can’t blame him since it was now somewhere near 1:00 a.m. After working their way through the department phone list, somehow I got the call. I’m not a DBA or an infrastructure expert, but I’ve been through enough disaster recovery situations to know how to keep a cool head and to work through the steps to figure out what happened. Since crossing to the IT dark side, I’ve had more late night phone calls for database disasters than I’ve had for patient care issues, but the steps are surprisingly similar.

Things were a bit worse than I expected since they couldn’t tell if the transaction logs had been going to the secondary database since we couldn’t connect to it. Even worse, I looked at the log of users who were on the system when it crashed and the senior medical director had been in, potentially documenting patient visits for the day. It took me at least 20 minutes to talk people down and get them calm before we could make a plan. The next several hours were spent working through various steps trying to get access to the secondary database to preserve patient safety. It was starting to look like a network switch might also have given up the ghost.

What surprised me the most was that they really didn’t have a disaster recovery plan. There were bits and pieces that had clearly been thought through, but other parts of the process were a blank canvas. Although there are plenty of clinical informatics professionals who are highly technical, it’s never a good sign when the physician consultant is calling the shots on your disaster recovery.

We engaged multiple vendors throughout the early morning as we continued troubleshooting issues. The IT director finally responded to our messages around 8:00 a.m. I realize it was Sunday morning, but he was supposed to be on call for issues due to the ICD code update and he frankly didn’t respond.

By 4:00 p.m. things were under control, with both the primary and recovery systems up and appearing healthy. My client created a fresh backup and decided to go ahead with the ICD code update. We weren’t sure how much of it had actually run given the aborted process from the night before. It appeared to be running OK initially, but after a while, it appeared that the process was hung. By this point, the team was stressed out and at the end of their proverbial ropes and there wasn’t any additional bench to draw from.

I finally persuaded them to contact the EHR vendor, thinking they would have had resources available since this was the prime weekend for ICD code updates even though my client was now more than a day late. It took several hours to get a resource to contact us back and then we had to work through the various tiers of support. Eventually midnight rolled around again and things still weren’t ready, increasing the anxiety as the team knew they’d have billing office users trying to access the system starting at 5:00 a.m.

Once we arrived at the correct vendor support tier (aka, someone who knew something), the team was run through checklist after checklist trying to figure out what was going on and whether we should continue to let it run or whether we should try to stop it.

The IT director finally made the decision at 6:00 a.m. that the practices should start the day on downtime procedures, and thank goodness they had a solid plan for that part of the disaster recovery game. The practices were given access to the secondary database in a read-only capacity for patient safety purposes and each site was said to have a “lockbox” with downtime forms. The group subscribes to a downtime solution that creates patient schedules, so they were quickly printed in the patient care locations along with key data for the patients who were already on the books for the day. Anyone who presented as a walk-in could be accessed through the secondary database.

At least on downtime procedures, users weren’t assigning any ICD codes to the patient charts since the utility hadn’t completed yet. It was restarted a couple of times and finally got its act together, completing around 4:00 p.m. Monday. After an hour or so of testing, we were able to let users back in the primary system to start catching up on critical data entry and billing.

Most of the day, though, was extremely stressful, not only for the IT team, but for everyone in the patient care trenches. It was also stressful for the patients since the group has a high level of patient portal adoption and there is no backup patient portal. Anyone who sent messages or refill requests or tried to pay their bills today was simply out of luck.

When an event like this hits your organization, all you want to do is just get through it. That’s not the hard part, though – the challenge is just beginning with the post-event review and attempts to determine the root cause of various breakdowns. It usually takes at least a couple of days to untangle everything and the work is not yet over. I’m happy to report that the analyst with the appendicitis did well in surgery and was discharged home before the EHR system was back online. I’m not sure having the primary analyst would have made a difference in this situation. I hope he continues to make a speedy recovery.

You never know when something like this is going to happen in your organization, and if you haven’t prepared for it or practiced you plan, you need to do so soon if not today. Similar to the practice of medicine, sometimes the most routine events can have significant complications.

Are you ready for a downtime? Is your disaster recovery plan solid? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/22/16

September 22, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments


The Epic UGM was held this week and I was pleased to receive an invitation to LogicStream Health’s “Taste & Toast” event. Hosted at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace and lead by a certified sommelier, it sounded like a great event. I wasn’t able to make it to UGM this year due to conflicting priorities, but wanted to give them a particular mention for offering free Uber services upon request. The risk of driving under the influence is definitely reduced when you don’t drive yourself.

A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine looks at whether hospital employment of physicians improves the quality of hospital care. The study looked at readmission rates, mortality, length of stay, and patient satisfaction at hospitals between 2003 and 2012. There were 800 hospitals that had moved to a more employed physician model vs. 2,000 that had not. The authors noted no association between the presence of employed physicians and most of the scores, although there was a slight change in pneumonia readmissions. The study looked only at Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older, so it’s not clear how the data would apply to other populations. It also didn’t look at government-run facilities.

Another study that caught my eye this week looked at “The Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss.” The authors compared a “technology-enhanced weight loss intervention” to standard behavioral modification techniques, looking at nearly 500 participants between 2010 and 2012. Everyone was treated with initial diet and counseling. At the six-month point, participants were split into a group who self-monitored and a group that used a wearable device. Weight was tracked every six months for a total of two years. Researchers also looked at fitness, physical activity, dietary intake, and body composition.

Nearly 75 percent of participants completed the study. Although both groups improved in fitness, activity, diet, and body composition, young adults with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 40 lost less weight if they were in the wearable group. Based on technology-related fitness behaviors I observe in the workplace, there’s a chance participants focused more on the technology than on their actions or personal responsibility. There’s also the chance that as they saw the activities racking up, they felt it was OK to eat a bit more since they were being active. The bottom line is that we still have a lot to learn about the effectiveness of technology interventions in solving complex health problems such as obesity.

If anyone questions the challenges facing healthcare, they only have to look as far as the recent FDA decision approving the drug eteplirsen. The FDA’s own advisory panel voted against recommending approval for the drug, based on a clinical trial that only involved 12 patients and didn’t have adequate placebo control. Critics accuse the FDA of setting a dangerous precedent for approving drugs based on patient and pharmaceutical company lobbying rather than on science. The FDA will require the manufacturer to conduct trials to confirm the clinical benefit, and depending on the outcomes may opt to withdraw approval of the drug.


In preparation for the October 1 update for ICD-10 codes, CMS is alerting providers to resources such as the 2017 ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS code sets. I know a lot of providers that fail to understand that these need to be updated each year or are content to let their office staff or EHR vendor figure it out. Not having the correct codes installed after the cutoff can result in denied claims and a ton of extra work, so it’s worth a minute to make sure your practice has a plan.


AMIA is seeking submissions for the iHealth 2017 meeting. The event is focused a bit more towards the application of clinical informatics as opposed to research, and participants are encouraged to submit programs, pilots, and innovations in health informatics. Submissions are open through October 18 and this year’s conference topics are grouped under:

  • Analytics and the Learning Health System
  • Clinical Informatics
  • Interoperability and Informatics Infrastructure
  • Health Policy and Payment Reform

AMIA also announced that they’ll be offering licensed childcare during the AMIA 2016 Annual Symposium to be held November 12-16 in Chicago. The Women in AMIA task force led the efforts to make this a reality. Cerner and Epic were listed as sponsors on the email announcement.

I see several physicians at the local academic medical center. All of them are of the “once a year” variety, so I don’t expect a lot of communication from them. I had no recent appointments and nothing scheduled, so I was surprised to start receiving communications about my upcoming surgical appointment along with patient questionnaires and more. I called the help desk to figure out what was going on and they said they could see no appointments for me in the system, yet the messages kept on coming. Apparently I’m having a consultation for spinal surgery for my ongoing pain management problems, or at least that’s what the system thinks is going on.

I fully understand glitchy computer systems that do seemingly unexplainable things, but I’ve run into some attitude from help desk staffers that act like they don’t believe I’m actually seeing what I’m seeing. I’ve offered to forward the emails back to them along with screenshots of the portal, but they don’t seem keen on using that to troubleshoot. In this era of medical identify theft and big data, patients have the absolute right to have their documentation be correct and telling them to “just ignore the information if it doesn’t apply” is not the right answer.

Have you had success in correcting erroneous online records? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 9/19/16

September 19, 2016 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

A reader clued me in to this great piece in Forbes that discusses the 15-minute office visit. It ties the origin to Medicare’s RVU (relative value unit) formula and its attempts to standardize the calculation of physician fees. The RVU formula factors in geography, practice expenses, liability insurance, and a Medicare “conversion factor” in an attempt to level the playing field for physicians. Translating the average visit’s RVUs using the American Medical Association’s then-current coding guidelines resulted in an average 15-minute office visit.

The RVU formula came into being in 1992. We’ve been through some cyclic changes in healthcare with the rise of managed care, a frenzy of hospitals purchasing practices, the subsequent divestiture of the practices, then back to integrated delivery systems and hospital ownership of physician practices. The change has recently been fueled by the rise of Accountable Care Organizations and other risk-sharing programs as well as the regulatory pressures stemming from HITECH and resulting incentive (now penalty) programs.

Medicine has changed considerably in the last 24 years. Decision-making has gotten more complex. Many patients are more empowered and take an active role in their healthcare. These visits often require more time due to detailed discussions of the pros and cons of various treatment options or diagnostic maneuvers. Unless physicians are coding based on the face-to-face time spent in counseling or coordination of care, it’s hard to get insurance payers to adequately pay for the time spent on those visits. Payers often ask for loads of documentation to justify the visit code, which results in additional work and expense to the practice.

Payers have created lists of codes they won’t pay, regardless of the medical realities. Case in point: I recently diagnosed a patient with a skin infection, most likely from time spent in a hot tub with inadequate cleaning procedures. The patient required antibiotics and I had to take a detailed history to make sure I was selecting the correct drug based on the likely infectious agents. It probably lasted less than 15 minutes, but I was rewarded a week later with a denial because the insurance company refuses to pay for a diagnosis of folliculitis. My staff had to handle the request, then send it to me for potential re-coding, and then we had to submit the claim again. Knowing how much time had already been wasted, I slapped a couple of potential diagnoses on the chart in the hopes that I’d hit the jackpot with one of them and would actually be paid.

Why is that OK? The patient had an actual problem, it required thought to diagnose, antibiotics were needed, and the visit was legitimate. Counseling on hot tub hygiene was given. The problem wasn’t self-limited and was unlikely to resolve without medical attention. I see dozens of people who come in with issues that could be easily handled by a well-trained Scout with a first aid kit and I get paid for those, but this time the insurance decided they just weren’t going to pay for that particular diagnosis.

Whenever physicians complain about everything they’re trying to cram into the 15-minute office visit, the first answer is that maybe we don’t need physicians to provide the care. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants should be used as well as various care team members with a range of clinical training experiences. Regardless of who is delivering a given level of care, it still takes time to deliver it, document it, and make sure the patient understands the steps they need to take prior to the next episode of care.

In many states, nurse practitioners and physician assistants practice independently. We just had a mini-revolt in our practice when we tried to credential our physician assistants to work without a supervising physician. The maneuver was intended to lower the cost of care, but several PAs refused to take part, reminding our leadership that their title was “physician assistant” rather than physician and that they went into the field to assist physicians rather than to try to be interchangeable with them.

I often practice alone, without a second clinician to jump in if the office gets busy. Those 15-minute visits become shorter and shorter when we have six or more patients streaming into the waiting room every hour. Most come because either they can’t get after-hours care from their primary physician or because they don’t have a primary physician. Our mission is to address their issues as completely and compassionately as possible, and knowing that payers can just decide not to pay for our services really puts a shadow over the whole concept of what we’re trying to do.

The editorial mentions that of the typical 15-minute office visit, physicians may spend 37 percent of the time doing paperwork. I’m fortunate to work for an organization that values physician time and staffs the practice with scribes during peak periods so that physicians and our independently-practicing PAs can focus on patients and not paperwork. Most of the time my notes and orders are complete before I walk out of the exam room, which is truly a beautiful thing. Patients appreciate our focus, but having a qualified scribe doesn’t come cheap. A good number of our scribes are students and recent graduates who are applying to medical school and who are looking for experience. It continues to amaze me that people would still consider a career in medicine after what they see in the trenches.

Using a figure of 37 percent leaves eight minutes for the actual office visit. The piece breaks down the patient activities that must fit into that time slot: social constructs like saying hello, disrobing if you didn’t change already, explaining why you’re seeking medical attention, being examined, etc. It suggests that patients shouldn’t take more than two minutes to tell their story, likening the time slot to that of a commercial break during broadcast television. “If four companies can get you to buy things in two minutes, surely you can tell your whole story.” That works if patients have focused or prepared, which is a rarity. Usually when I ask how long something has been going on, patients have to work through a series of cues to figure out the timeline. “Well, it started when I went to Michigan for Dean’s wedding, that was in the spring, no maybe it was early summer…” and there you have it.

I don’t blame patients who haven’t prepared – they should expect more than assembly line care with physicians running on the hamster wheel. They’re seeking care, not auditioning for a play or interviewing for a job. However, as long as insurance companies (including government payers like Medicare and Medicaid) are intermediaries and patients aren’t able to understand the full cost of care, things aren’t going to change. Patients who are actually paying for the physician’s time are going to demand his or her full attention, not an overly-truncated excuse of an office visit.

Building a patient-physician relationship takes time and medicine isn’t something that’s practiced by following a cookbook approach. Technology can help,but it’s not the be-all, end-all solution for healthcare’s problems. However, it seems to get most of our focus. Patient-empowerment movements have helped raise awareness of the need for greater partnership and shared decision-making in healthcare, but no one wants to pay for it. Cost control will continue to be a downward pressure with clinical and emotional consequences for both patients and caregivers. Eventually something has to give.

When will we reach the boiling point? Have ideas on how to fix things? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/15/16

September 15, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I was reminded today that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, affectionately known as HIPAA (or HIPPA, as the case often is). As much as we lamented its beginning, most of us had no idea how much more regulation we would see in the healthcare space during the subsequent decades. Physicians and other healthcare providers are now more regulated than they have ever been, which has contributed significantly to physician burnout and early retirement in many communities.

Regulations are often nested within other policy and regulatory documents. A recent example of this is a requirement in the proposed 2017 Medicare fee schedule that would require surgeons and other procedural physicians to report a series of G codes during the postoperative period. The codes vary based on place of service, patient complexity, and time. They don’t match cleanly with existing bundled services. The fee schedule also proposes changes to the quality measures used for Accountable Care Organizations, which also met with resistance.

Sometimes CMS announces plans which benefit physicians, which feels like a rarity. The recent announcement of a “pick your pace” approach to MACRA implementation was welcomed due to the apparent flexibility of the approach. There are a few options for MIPS reporting in 2017:

  • Providers can simply test their ability to report data, doing so at least once at some point during the year. Completion of testing allows providers to avoid penalties and ensures that systems are functioning prior to greater participation in subsequent years.
  • Providers can also consider reporting for part of the calendar year. However, they must report performance in all three Composite Performance Score (CPS) categories. This approach could result in a small bonus in 2019.
  • Providers can report the full calendar year (again in all three categories) to achieve what CMS describes as a “modest” bonus in 2019.
  • Providers participating in certain Advanced Alternative Payment Models can qualify for a five percent bonus.

Selecting the third option will depend on the ability of vendors to quickly become compliant with the requirements of the final rule, which is expected to be released by early November. This means that they have very little time to achieve software readiness and upgrade thousands of providers. Depending on vendor resources and how much prep work has been done in anticipation of the release of the final rule, full-year reporting may be little more than a pipe dream.

For those of us who live and breathe this on a daily basis, having some flexibility in reporting seems refreshing. But for the large numbers of physicians and practices who have no idea what MACRA even is, let alone that these regulations are coming, the flexibility won’t be very comforting.

I recently received a blast letter from the Drug Enforcement Administration letting me know I would have to upgrade my browser in order to access DEA resources and renew my registration. That’s insignificant to many physicians, yet the DEA felt it was important enough to mail paper correspondence to every registered physician across the country. MACRA and the associated penalties and incentives are a big deal. Where is the letter to all Medicare providers? CMS is expecting physicians to follow blogs and tweets and webcasts that many physicians don’t even know exist.

I’m not absolving physicians from being responsible for what is going on in the world around them, but merely commenting on the reality of many physicians out there, which has also been reflected in various surveys and articles. Ultimately if a physician is going to contract with a payer, he or she is responsible for knowing the rules, but it certainly could be easier.

What’s also not easy is figuring out how to actually achieve savings under Alternative Payment Models. Recently CMS released performance data for 2015. The numbers show that of 404 Medicare ACOs, only 125 of them qualified for shared savings. Of the 392 Shared Savings Program ACOs, only 119 qualified for shared savings. Participation in Pioneer ACOs continues to shrink, with only 12 remaining.

I don’t think those statistics make Alternative Payment Models look appealing to the average physician. Of course the “appeal” is different for providers employed by hospitals and large health systems who are simply forced to participate. Those that weren’t successful based on the metrics are still doing the extra work required of ACO members but just not getting the shared savings payments at the end.

I do feel that CMS is listening and trying to respond. Recently they changed the rules for the Medicare Chronic Care Management services code to remove a requirement that providers have 24/7 access to patient records. The code allows providers to bill for coordination of care for patients who have chronic conditions. However, I’m not sure what kind of burden the 24/7 rule really was.

The bigger barrier in my experience is the fact that patients have to pay a portion of the charge, and many don’t see the benefit because the services performed on their behalf are often done behind the scenes – phone calls to consultants, review of personal health log data, etc. There’s also a process required to obtain patient consent for participation which adds to challenges in adopting the service. I find it funny that people who will pay for a maintenance/protection program for their phone will balk at paying for something similar to help safeguard their health.

I’m mentoring some medical students and several are out on ambulatory clinical clerkships, working with practicing community physicians. They always have questions about how regulations are going to impact them in practice. Sometimes I have answers and sometimes there are no good answers. What they see, however, is definitely driving them away from primary care, where it seems that providers feel a greater burden. We’re getting thousands of new Medicare beneficiaries each day, so the need for processes and policies is real in order to successfully manage the demands. I think many of us wish that there was just a better way.

What are you doing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of HIPAA? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 9/12/16

September 12, 2016 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


I wade through scores of emails each day, looking for items of interest for my columns. One recent email mentioned a new piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled, “The Ethics of Behavioral Health Information Technology: Frequent Flyer Icons and Implicit Bias.”

It caught my eye in particular because I’ve seen some pretty wacky icons in the dozen or so EHRs I’ve used during my career. One system’s demographic screen identified smokers with a little pack of cigarettes by their name, but this went away with the advent of Meaningful Use when smoking had to be further quantified based on the volume of cigarettes smoked and the number of days per week on which smoking occurred. It also had an American flag icon for veterans, which although I’m sure seemed like a good idea to some requirements writer or developer at the time, was problematic because the US isn’t the only country with a military, nor are American citizens the only individuals who serve in ours.

An EHR system I dearly loved (but which was unfortunately tied to a dysfunctional vendor, leading to de-installation) had an iconized chest x-ray that appeared when radiology results were available, and a smiling germ icon when a patient required isolation or contact precautions. There were many other icons that were not only intuitive, but served as shortcuts for the clinician, but I remember those two the best.

One icon that generated a lot of buzz at my health system when a new EHR was being installed was the one associated with expired patients. When that indicator was check-marked, a stylized angel icon complete with wings and halo appeared on the patient’s chart. Again, I’m sure someone thought it was a cute idea, but it was likely offensive to people from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions.

The JAMA article specifically addresses an EHR with an airplane icon that is used to identify “frequent flyer” patients. Unlike an airline frequent flyer whose high utilization is respected and encouraged, in healthcare jargon it tends to represent someone who seeks care frequently, and often for inappropriate reasons given the setting. Sometimes the term is associated with patients who are non-compliant, drug-seeking, or otherwise require additional clinician thought and creativity during the treatment process.

Although the article mentions that some emergency departments use lists or other methods to identify these patients, they take particular issue with the airplane icon, since “administrators may elect to configure so that clinicians can identify a patient as a high utilizer.” It goes on to explain that the plane may actually be color coded to identify the level of utilization.

Although I agree with the assertion that the icon “reinforces and encourages the use of disrespectful and stigmatizing terminology,” I have mixed feelings about their other reason for asserting that identifying high utilizers is “ethically and clinically inappropriate.” They claim that the icon “may frame the initial clinical interaction in a way that inhibits good diagnostic judgment” and may lead to poor patient outcomes. One of the key forces driving change in healthcare today is the idea that we need to identify and stratify patients who are the highest utilizers of health care and who are responsible for the largest portions of healthcare expenditures. We need to find those people who need extra resources to and supports to help keep them out of expensive care venues, such as the emergency department and the hospital.

Although the article specifically addresses psychiatric patients, physicians in all disciplines are being asked to identify these patients and care for them differently than everyone else. Health systems are investing large amounts of money in systems designed to do just this. Although the airplane icon is tacky, its function is no different than the red/yellow/green scoring that one of my current EHRs does when looking at patient risk for high utilization of services.

I do agree that flagging patients in this fashion creates potential risk for patients to be treated negatively. Although we’d all like to think that clinicians are going to be altruistic and make sure that they pull in a multidisciplinary team of social workers, therapists, behavioral health specialists, transportation services, etc. to handle these patients, the reality is that this population can be extremely difficult to treat and the supports needed are often scarce to non-existent. Especially in a risk-based reimbursement system, it’s often tempting for physicians to avoid these patients, leading to cherry-picking of the most healthy and compliant patients. The fact that they’re marked by an airplane rather than some other kind of icon doesn’t change the fact that these patients often receive different treatment than low utilizers. Sometimes the care may be negative, but identifying those at most risk can be beneficial for population management strategies.

The authors go on to mention the phenomenon of “diagnostic overshadowing,” where patients with mental health issues may be undertreated for medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, etc. There is more focus on the psychiatric illness, which may lead to overall poor outcomes and low quality care. This is a real phenomenon, often made worse by lack of resources. I worked at one emergency department where psychiatric patients in crisis were held over in the ED because the local psychiatric facility didn’t have physicians working on weekends so patients couldn’t be admitted. This creates an emotional (and sometimes physical) toll for those caring for these patients, which in itself leads to negative feelings about caring for similar patients in the future.

The authors make a brief foray into discussing social media platforms and patient engagement tools, calling out the need to include thoughtful development strategies that minimize problems like the airplane icon. They go on to state that, “Electronic medical record systems and behavioral health care applications should be built and tested in collaboration with patients, consumers, clinicians, social scientists, and ethicists who are sensitive to the broader ramifications of iconography and language.”

I’d like to point out that their continued use of the term “electronic medical record” throughout the piece may represent bias. It’s been a long time since we started calling them “health records” with a nod to the greater focus on health, wellness, and prevention and not just treating medical illnesses.

Regardless, I am skeptical that any of the current major vendors have social scientists and ethicists on staff, let alone iconographers. If they do leverage these folks, I’d be highly interested to hear about their work.

How does your system identify high utilizers of healthcare? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/8/16

September 8, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments


I recently received two pieces of paper correspondence from the Drug Enforcement Administration. In following up on them, I was surprised to find that the DEA had become a bit more tech savvy than some of the other federal agencies I interact with.

The first piece of mail addressed a then-upcoming change to its websites, requiring browsers to support a particular level of Transport Layer Security starting August 31. The letter also contained a helpful link to test your browser to see if it was compliant. I was most impressed that the DEA sent the letter more than four months prior to the requirement, which is refreshing considering the number of federal agencies that either don’t give adequate notice or continue changing the requirements down to the wire or after the bell. (MU or MACRA anyone?)

The second piece of correspondence was the renewal notice for my DEA registration, which is required to prescribe controlled substances. The letter stated that most people renewing online are able to complete the renewal within six minutes and print their new certificate immediately. I decided to time myself and am happy to report that as long as you have the required paperwork ready (including state license data and state controlled substance data) that you can definitely do it within six minutes. The only issue was that the receipt didn’t clearly show that I paid my $731, which I’ll need for tax purposes. I’m not about to try to hunt it down with them, so I’ll likely just attach my credit card bill to the sketchy receipt, earning me an eye-roll from my accountant but saving untold time.


Oregon Health & Science University has received a grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to offer a free course for informatics clinicians and professionals. Update in Health Information Technology: Healthcare Data Analytics will be offered in two-month blocks from October 2016 through May 2017. The course includes 14 modules that will take approximately 18 hours to complete and is offered online. Registration is open and took about a minute to complete. Topics include extracting and working with healthcare data, population health, identifying risk and segmenting populations, big data, interoperability, privacy/security, and natural language processing. It also provides the Maintenance of Certification credits that many of us need to keep our Clinical Informatics certifications.


My virtual inbox contained an update from CMS on their State Innovation Model (SIM). The goal of the SIM initiative, which started in 2013, was to support states in being “catalysts for healthcare transformation and the value of CMS’ collaboration with states.” The strategy is to change healthcare “to have a preponderance of payments to providers from all payers in the state be in value-based purchasing and/or alternative payment models.” States are encouraged to “use their policy and regulatory levers to accelerate” the change from volume to value. It went on to discuss the usual transformation strategies, such as moving primary care practices towards patient-centered models, integrating primary care with behavioral and social programs, community-based population health, and of course “payment reforms.”

I’ve been following many of these projects for years. They all use some combination of bonuses or penalties or regulations to try to drive behavior. They all seem to rely on the practice to figure out how to deliver, despite physicians not traditionally being trained in how to do these things or in how to really run a business. Many are based on payments related to a per-member, per-month calculation that changes as patients enter and leave the practice, which makes it difficult to adjust staffing. This in turn drives physicians to look at third-party firms who provide the services based on a PMPM calculation. Although this shields the physician from risk, it introduces outsiders into patient care, which may not be well-received by patients.

I had my own private practice for several years and wish CMS and other well-meaning organizations would talk more to actual in-the-trenches providers and less to academics and large institutions. Know what would have increased my propensity to perform care coordination? A grant to cover the salary of a care coordinator, not some shifting PMPM payment amount that came long after the fact. Not busy enough to justify a care coordinator for your solo practice? Set up practice-share arrangements between groups to cover the split FTEs. How about a public health nurse that can be embedded in community practices to address the complex psychosocial needs that many physicians don’t have time to address in a six-minute visit?

There has to be an answer other than, a) providers selling out to large medical groups or to hospital systems; b) providers retiring or leaving to do non-patient-facing work; or c) providers opting out of Medicare prior to the biggest boom in its utilization.

The SIM models look at “engaging and supporting providers that have not typically been connected to health IT” through required system implementation/data reporting, interoperability, and analytics. In Round 1 of the program, six states participated – Arkansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, and Vermont. Findings from Year 2 of the program include:

  • Increase in Medicaid primary care provider participation in patient-centered home models (Arkansas)
  • Alternative Payment Model participation approaching 50 percent of the state’s total population in Minnesota and Vermont
  • Alternative Payment Model participation approaching 80 percent of Medicaid population in Oregon and Vermont

Multi-payer efforts have been used to address payment and delivery system reforms, but I wonder how much of the provider participation has been because providers actually want to participate and feel it’s in the best interests of the patients, or because of de facto coercion by payers and regulators? What do the actual quality numbers show? Is this truly improving care or just changing the cost of care? Do patients have greater access to providers who are adequately addressing their needs or just shuffling them through in order to meet the numbers?

The CMS blog cheerleads its way into saying it is “too early to attribute specific quantitative results directly to the SIM Initiative,” although overall states are reducing emergency department visits and inpatient readmissions through other models that pre-date SIM.

In the reality in which I practice, I still can’t see basic health information for patients who turn up at my urgent care except for pharmacy fill history, which we receive from a pharmacy benefit manager. This of course doesn’t help patients who pay cash for their medications or who are surviving on samples from their doctors’ offices. I practice in a major metropolitan area, for which there is no functional health information exchange and in which several major health system players compete to keep patients in network and have no incentive to share data. None of them are willing to partner with my practice (the largest urgent care provider around by volume) to share data or reduce costs.

Of the last 100 patients I saw, the vast majority of them had concerns that would have been best addressed by a primary care physician. Many patients didn’t have a PCP, and those who do reported access issues. We constantly trim our PCP referral list because physicians are closed to new patients. It drives me crazy that I’m personally contributing to the healthcare mess in my clinical practice while I work to clean it up in my informatics practice.

For the clinical informaticists out there, do you see the same kind of fractured healthcare continuum? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 9/1/16

September 1, 2016 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


I completed my HIMSS registration this week. This year’s registration has a space for attendees to list their Twitter handles so that they appear on registration badges. I don’t remember seeing that last year. I was sorely tempted to appropriate someone else’s handle just to see if anyone noticed, or to see if hilarity ensued. But alas, I went the conservative route and just signed up as myself.

HIMSS isn’t cheap for “regular” attendees. Even the early bird rate is $785, not to mention the mandatory $199 renewal of your HIMSS membership. I can’t complain too much, though, since it’s one of a handful of places that those of us that are board certified in clinical informatics can get our required continuing education credits.


As I went through the registration process, a couple of things struck me. The first was the addition of the “HIMSS Star Service” option for $149. It’s basically a concierge service offering assistance with booking at the hotels (on a space-available basis, so good luck with that) as well as coat check at the convention center and restaurant reservations. It also offers “help to design your tailored conference agenda, including social events and exhibitor appointments” and “exclusive tours on the exhibit floor based on interest.”

The show floor is already crowded enough with people standing in the aisles oblivious to those around them. I envision a Disney-style guide with a pennant leading a tour group around the hall. Maybe I should put out my shingle and offer “Dr. Jayne’s Tour of Cool Booths.” I already give party planning tips for social events, so it might be a natural next step.

Speaking of party planning, I recently had a negative email from a vendor rep who took issue with the fact that I didn’t mention their company’s upcoming user meeting when I mentioned the events of multiple other vendors. I write for HIStalk on top of my day job of running my own consulting business and my night job of seeing patients. Although I’m pretty good at keeping up with the industry, I don’t keep track of every possible vendor event. The best way to make sure that I know about your event is to tell me – and not with a mass email, but something personalized that shares interesting tidbits about it or helps me understand why it’s noteworthy. For HIMSS, actually inviting me to events exponentially increases the chances that I’ll swing by to visit.

The list of HIMSS events also includes multiple woman-focused events. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Although women are under-represented in many science, technology, engineering, and math fields, organizing events strictly around status as a man or woman seems problematic. Rather than seeing the Women in Health IT Networking Reception, I’d rather see other professional minorities addressed, such as an Ambulatory Informatics Networking Reception or Independent Physician Practice Networking Reception events. The latter is definitely a minority, for sure. There’s also the Most Influential Woman in Health IT Awards Dinner as well as the Disruptive Women Luncheon.

I’m not a fan of the naming of the Disruptive Women Luncheon and would think that its sponsor (a public affairs company that specializes in “creative communication”) could have come up with something better. Disruptive how? In the innovation context? In the grandstanding Jonathan Bush context? In the snapping-your-gum teenage context? In the context I saw this morning, where a disruptive man held an entire meeting hostage and prevented the rest of us from getting through the agenda? “Disruption” is an overused buzzword that needs to go and the whole idea of special women’s events needs to be rethought.

I’ve often joked about putting together a “Textbook of Organizational Pathology” with case studies based on my work life. I’m sure I have enough stories from my time at Big Hospital System to fill at least a dozen chapters, and then there’s the physicians and hospitals I’ve worked with since I started consulting. If I ever write it, there will definitely be a chapter on “The Art of Work Shirking.”

I had a prime example this week when working with a practice support representative at a large health system. The practice support team is charged with fielding questions about EHR use and associated technology that originate from the practices that the health system has gobbled up over the last decade. I’m supposed to be backstopping the department, identifying areas for additional education and assisting in putting together a training program for the new hires.

Due to the group’s growth, some of them are very green, but others are just lazy. I had just done a presentation on HIPAA and the need for appropriate use of secure messaging vs. text vs. email vs. voice mail for the team when I received an email from one of the support reps. She went overboard with praise about my recent talk and then dropped this gem: “I think I’m clear on how to answer the client question below, but wanted to know if you had any additional feedback.”

To be able to provide any “additional” feedback, I might need to know what she planned on advising. However, I suspected her of hoping that I’d just answer the question my own and save her the trouble of formulating a response, so I asked her what her advice was going to be. She responded immediately saying, “I don’t want to bias you with my response, I was just curious what you would advise.” Looking logically at this, I just taught the class on this, which her employers hired me to teach because of my expertise. Yet she thinks my response to a question might be biased by her ideas? It doesn’t even make sense.

I’m happy to help people who genuinely don’t know the answer to a question, who want me to critique their potential response, or who just need help. But then let’s call it what it is, and not try to be coy, using flattery and evasion to cover the fact that either you don’t know the material that was just covered in a class, that you spaced out during said class, or that you’re just lazy. I suspect she was also naïve enough to think I wouldn’t forward the exchange to her supervisor, who was appropriately irritated by her staffer’s actions. I’m continually amazed by the antics people try to pull using email, that I doubt they would try in a face-to-face conversation. They also forget that email is forever and easily forwarded.

What’s the worst example of work shirking you’ve seen lately? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/29/16

August 29, 2016 Dr. Jayne 1 Comment

Many of us who work in the informatics space full time are attached to academic medical centers, large hospitals, large physician groups, or vendors. We’ve been working with electronic health records, billing systems, and interfaces a long time.

In my case, I was fortunate to work with a large health system that saw the value of electronic health records and data exchange long before Meaningful Use or any kind of payer incentive programs. We decided to move forward with technology because it was the right thing for us, allowing better data capture and the ability to track towards better outcomes.

Although I worked for a large health system, many of our employed physicians ran offices that looked a lot more like private practices than anything else. When I went into consulting, that was naturally one of my sweet spots, working with small to mid-sized practices that might not know much about informatics or the forces changing healthcare.

I still do work for large health systems as well, but my partner and I are fielding more requests from independent practices than we can handle. Quite a few of the requests involve things that most of us take for granted, such as lab interfaces. My most recent client has three physicians and six support staff. They outsource their billing functions and revenue cycle and use a major vendor’s EHR and practice management software on a hosted platform. Their installation is pretty vanilla, with very few customizations. They haven’t participated in the Meaningful Use program in the past, but with the increasing penalties for failure to do so, they have decided to start increasing their use of the system. They’re still not sold on MU, but want to be closer to ready in case they decide to take the plunge.

I’m not sure why they didn’t implement a lab interface when they went live. They are an internal medicine group and order a large volume of labs. I’m guessing that at the time they installed their system, they had been managing well with their paper orders workflow and basically just automated it. They do order their labs in the EHR, but print a paper requisition and either send it with the patient to the lab, or send it in the pouch with blood drawn in the office. The laboratory vendor delivers results through a Web portal, which they had been using pre-EHR and were comfortable with it. They print the labs, scan them into the EHR, and then the physicians manage them either through a telephone messaging template or by sending a letter to the patient.

It’s fairly efficient, although you can’t graph or track or trend the results. You also can’t mine them for outreach purposes, which is the key driver of their interest in having a lab interface.

Working with someone who knows why they want a particular feature and what they hope to achieve by implementing it is always a pleasure. There are plenty of groups who embark upon technology projects due to penalties or fear of penalties, and that makes it more difficult because the team may not have a sense of buy-in or understand why the extra work needed is valuable or important. This group wants to be able to easily identify patients whose lab values show that the patients need extra attention or need to be brought back into care. Most of us take this functionality for granted, so it’s been refreshing to work with someone who is seeing it through new eyes.

Although at times there has been a sense of wonder, there has also been significant frustration. The EHR vendor hasn’t been terribly helpful. The EHR vendor supports multiple lab vendors, but didn’t make it clear that some of the lab vendors have multiple business units with different lab compendia, so my client downloaded the wrong one. The client doesn’t have any dedicated IT resources and the vendor didn’t require the client to attend any training prior to attempting to install a lab interface, so they immediately wound up off track.

They hadn’t talked to their lab vendor about installing an interface prior to starting work with the EHR vendor, either. They got in touch with their lab account rep to figure out which business unit they were using, and the lab sent the required test plan as they normally would during an interface project. When the practice saw it, the project ground to a screeching halt because they didn’t feel they had the resources to take on a testing effort while doing their regular work.

The project stalled for several months until one of the partners decided to push it again, and obtained some referrals for consultants. There are at least a dozen consulting companies that work closely with the EHR vendor, so I’m surprised that no one on the vendor side had suggested that the practice go that route to get the project moving. They ended up contacting me because I was local, which ended up not really mattering since I’m not doing anything for them in person. All they really needed was someone to run interference with the vendors and help execute the test plan. Since they were already ordering and managing tests in the EHR, there was maybe 30 minutes of training to do for the staff.

I put together a bid and they were surprised at how small the effort really was. I quoted them 15 hours to complete the project from their side and it ended up only taking 12 hours over less than two weeks to get them live. However, when you don’t know what you’re getting into or how to accomplish what needs to be done, that 12 hours is a mountain. It stood in their way for months because they didn’t know how to get over it. Guides were available, but they didn’t know how to find them and their vendors didn’t suggest ways to get help.

I’m glad I was able to help them, but it’s sad that it took so long to get a simple interface live. There are hundreds of practices facing similar issues every day, and unfortunately they’re choosing to sell out to big hospitals or health systems because they don’t know where else to turn and are weary of trying to figure it out.

It’s like the Benjamin Franklin quote about the kingdom being lost for want of a nail. Having come from private practice roots, I don’t like to see physicians give up and sell because they feel there isn’t another option. They are struggling with things that many of us find routine, and that’s sad since the knowledge is out there it’s just not in the right place at the right time. Some feel it’s better that we move into larger organizations and the Accountable Care movement certainly supports that. But we’re losing a little bit of our identity as physicians along the way.

What do you think is the answer for small practices to keep up with technology? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 8/25/16

August 25, 2016 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments


I missed the opportunity to write up the Greenway Health User Group Conference, held earlier this month in Atlanta. I was looking to find information on it when I stumbled upon the 2017 website, which is already live. In case you’re wondering, you have 377 days left to register.


Optum Health held their user group this week, featuring keynote speaker Michael J. Fox. I’m always interested to see what kind of client events are cooked up at these events. Wednesday’s client block party was set to feature a band called Hairball performing “the greatest hits from the most popular hair bands of 80s rock.” If you have pictures, send them along and I’ll share. Some year I’d like to take the fall off and attend all the user groups that I’ve heard about for years but never made it to. Most of us only make it to a couple of vendors’ meetings in the course of a career, so it would be interesting to do the comparison. Kind of like baseball fans that spend the summer on pilgrimage to ballparks across the country, I could be a user group vagabond.


Like millions of other people, I carry an EpiPen. I have a food allergy and thank goodness I’m an adult and can avoid eating things that might be suspect. It’s tougher on children with severe allergic reactions. I had heard a couple of months ago about dramatic price increases, but today my inbox exploded with client questions about the situation. Now that Congress is involved and calling for an investigation, the price hikes are mainstream news. My clients were mostly asking for assistance with reports to identify how many patients have been prescribed EpiPens so that they can reach out proactively to discuss the situation and make sure patients who need them are getting them. Another client asked if I could help them automate a process to generate prescription orders to substitute a similar product on affected patients. Even though the manufacturer is seemingly responding to a free market economy, it feels sleazy. I’m glad I was able to help my clients out from an IT perspective, but the situation is just sad.


CMS posted vendor global support letters for the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus initiative. I found the formatting of the letters odd, with all vendors strung together into a single PDF. Although they are in alphabetical order, the best way to find a particular vendor is to use your browser to search. There are a couple major vendors missing – hopefully their letters are just delayed.


It’s no secret that I’m skeptical about precision medicine and its ability to make a difference for large populations. I was pleased to see this JAMA editorial that tackles the issue. It calls out a number of important points: the presence (or absence) of disease is driven by not as much by genetics as by behavioral and social factors; the difficulty in identifying disease predictors for complex conditions; and the assumption that large groups of patients will change their behavior to modify their risk profile, when faced with the information.

We have clear and direct evidence on how to prevent many diseases and injuries (stop smoking, eat less, move more, wear your seat belt) yet it’s still difficult to move that needle. Our societal reliance on technology makes it easy to want to take a pill or use a laser or have robotic surgery, but not to do the basic preventive maintenance that the human body requires (sleep, exercise, healthy foods, etc.) The piece also mentions that the United States is lagging behind other nations in life expectancy and infant mortality, which are best addressed by broad-based rather than individual efforts. The funding of precision medicine initiatives corresponds with a decline in funding for public health efforts.

The authors go on to mention reasons why precision medicine might just be the answer: helping target resources to those who are most at risk; the economic and societal benefits of previous precision medicine initiatives (such as newborn screening for metabolic diseases); and the ability to use genomics to target infectious diseases, which have long been a part of public health efforts. The editorial concludes that although there are “clear tensions at the intersection of precision medicine and public health” there are ways to move forward. However, we might still find that old-school interventions on nutrition, poverty, healthcare access, and education may have more benefit than personalized medicine.

Although I’ve been generally skeptical, I’ve recently found myself in a place where personalized medicine may be relevant to my individual health. Although I’m waiting for results of genetic testing of affected family members, I’ve been combing through the literature trying to figure out what my options are depending on whether testing is positive or negative. Even as an educated, science-literate person, the evidence isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be and the process is frustrating. Depending on the results, I’ll likely have a consultation with someone other than the Internet, but for now that’s my approach. We’re also waiting on some copies of pathology reports from more than 20 years ago. It will be interesting if they actually show up in a timely fashion. The hospital doesn’t have anything in their electronic data repository before 1998, but hopefully we can track it down since it might make a difference.

What do you think of personalized medicine? Has it impacted your family? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/22/16

August 22, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I wrote last week about preparations for a go-live I’m supporting. My client is a hospital that has had a stalled implementation of their inpatient EHR and decided to address it by completely re-implementing the systems rather than trying to tackle adoption system by system or provider by provider. Our official go-live started at midnight, although one could argue that we’ve had a soft live that’s been going on for several years.

Monday morning can be very busy at hospitals for a variety of reasons. Often major surgeries are scheduled on Mondays so that patients can recuperate and be discharged either to home or to another facility before the end of the traditional work week. There are many more providers on the floors than the weekends, as physicians resume covering patients that may have been covered by an on-call partner over the weekend. Additionally, patients may be coming in for tests that might not be performed on the weekends or were postponed because they weren’t urgent.

Many of the hospital’s component systems were already in full use prior to this project and that definitely helped things run smoothly. Knowing that your laboratory, radiology, communications, scheduling, bed management, pharmacy, and other systems would be under control definitely reduced the stress level for providers.

In walking through the nursing stations during peak rounding hours, the most stressed group of individuals were the unit secretaries and unit clerks. Many were concerned that providers would be hostile to them as they tried to redirect the providers to enter their orders using the CPOE module rather than accepting paper orders for transcription as they had in the past. Although we had a few providers who “forgot” that it was go-live day (not sure how they could have forgotten it given the hordes of support staff in bright green shirts everywhere one looked), those few were easily redirected to the computer for 1:1 assistance. Having enough hardware available for everyone to do their work was a critical piece of our strategy, and in looking at this morning’s statistics, we only had a couple of situations where people were waiting for a computer.

Speaking of statistics, we’re aggressively monitoring the provider roster and tracking who has logged in and what they’re doing on the system. We already have a list of physicians who were strong users prior to the reimplementation and I’m not very worried about them. However, as we see new physicians access the system, round on a number of patients, and use the various modules, we move them to a “live” tracking category.

As we prepared for this, we investigated the processes that the larger medical groups use to round on their patients – whether each partner sees his or her own patients or whether they rotate by day, week, etc. We know what those schedules look like and have a hit list of providers that we will need to be targeting over the next several weeks. With that kind of data, we can adjust schedules accordingly, reaching out to providers before their next rotation on the floors to make sure we have support staff ready to meet them as they start their days. Although conventional go-live wisdom assumes that the need for support will taper over time, their first day may be several weeks out and they will still need significant support.

In addition to dedicated support team members (a mix of IT staff, clinical super users working dedicated support shifts, and contractors) we’ve also identified clinical super users who are working their normal shifts and are prepared to field questions and assist providers. I often get questions on the best way to recruit and retain super users. This hospital took my advice that they should select nurses who have been proficient users for a long time and give them extra training on the physician workflow and how to best train and support physicians. The paid training sessions that they attended counted towards their average weekly schedule requirements, so they weren’t being asked to attend training on top of their already heavy shift schedules.

Additionally, they had to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency before they received the official title. I did lobby for additional hourly payments or cash bonuses for nurses working in the super user capacity during their normal shifts at go-live, but this didn’t happen due to contractual and tax issues. Instead, we’re doing our best to reward them with gift cards and other bonuses to make sure they know we appreciate their work.

The administration also took my advice to have leadership actively participating on the floors, even if they couldn’t field questions themselves. The CMO, VP of nursing, and CIO are spending a good chunk of time this week being out with the users and assisting in whatever way they can, even if it’s just dialing the desktop support team to ask for password resets.

Speaking of password resets, we did take the hard line of resetting the password of everyone who didn’t attend training. We did this immediately prior to our midnight go-live so that if they did try to use the system, they’d have to call in first and we’d be able to dispatch a support person to their location. We can also dispatch an administrator to them, ready to help manage any unpleasantness or reluctance to accept support. We knew we only had a handful of people in this situation, but they’ve been difficult in the past so we wanted to be prepared. So far, three of them have logged in and received on-the-job training without incident.

The physician super users we had previously identified were also out with their peers, delivering pre-scheduled 1:1 support for those physicians who were most concerned about the go-live. As expected, we saw that once those physicians were able to complete documentation on several patients in a safe and supported environment, their concerns were markedly reduced. Just talking to a few of the physicians involved, it seems that simply knowing that we have physician super users that are part of the informatics team and will be looking out for physician interests going forward has been a powerful factor in bringing reluctant physicians on board.

As I suspected, even though the system has been live for a while, having a greater number of users engaged has identified some defects and some concerns with some of the order sets. Physicians who hadn’t previously participated in the creation of the defaults are now concerned with their content, so we’re documenting those concerns and will invite those physicians to participate on the committees that approve content. What we’re not going to do though is create individual order sets for the physicians who are complaining. If there is a clear and compelling reason to add a particular order, it can be added to an existing set as optional. Leadership is on board with this and having solid decision making and change control will serve them best in the long run.

As far as the defects, we’re classifying them as technical, operational/workflow, or application and are involving the appropriate groups for expedited resolution. We did engage our vendor to have a couple of application specialists available (two on site and two remote) should we need them.

One of the other things we’re doing today is starting our post-mortem review of the go-live and our entire process. Even in the excitement and activity of a go-live, it’s important to start gathering that information and determining what worked and what didn’t work so that you have a jump start on the next project. One of the things that worked well here was including the business case for many features as we trained them. For example, requiring a diagnosis on every medication, not just an indication on PRN medications. Although this should be fairly straightforward, we explained exactly what the hospital was doing with that data – formulary management, pricing negotiation, patient risk stratification, and more.

We also did a lot of education around the use of discrete data and its impact on monitoring clinical quality and potentially on research projects. The majority of physicians had no idea how the data was being used beyond “because you have to” and that helped transform what might have been perceived as extra clicks into something of value. We also opened the door for physicians to receive more data about their patients and the work they were doing, including access to ad-hoc reporting on patients they are seeing in the hospital. Due to some previous physician engagement surveys conducted by the hospital, we suspected this would be a good approach.

We also did some specific pre-work to look at how providers wanted to be trained and where they wanted to be trained. We did perform some 1:1 offsite training for providers and I think that was a good way to achieve buy-in and participation. Although we weren’t resourced to do this for every provider, we did do it for those that specifically asked. During the design phase of the rollout, we also held listening sessions with providers who were concerned about the process. Many of them were under the assumption that this would create more work for them. We were able to present the actual workflows at those sessions, demonstrating that although the work would be different, it wouldn’t necessarily be more. They were able to see in person what we were planning and we believe this reduced resistance.

Although today has gone smoothly, we know this is a process and the needs will continue for the next several weeks until all of the active physician staff members have been to the hospital at least a couple of times. I anticipate some blips but think our preparations have been solid and we’ll be able to get through them.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 8/18/16

August 18, 2016 Dr. Jayne No Comments

As a consulting CMIO, I often get asked to help organizations develop or refine their provider adoption strategies. Convincing people to do things that they don’t want to do can be tricky, especially if they’re not being incented to do so.

Creating incentives for employed physicians is fairly easy. Usually they are under contract and expectations regarding EHR use can be added to that framework. Creating incentives for independent members of the hospital medical staff can be challenging. Often we’re asking them to use new process that may add to efficiency for the hospital, but will lower their personal efficiency.

I’m working with a hospital that thought they could drive physician adoption strictly by saying use of the EHR was required. They had implemented various pieces of an EHR over the last decade, but use has always been optional. Physicians were allowed to continue writing paper notes that were scanned and they were allowed to continue writing paper orders that were entered by nursing staff or unit secretaries.

Because use of the systems (plural) was optional, the hospital never put the time and effort into ensuring that physicians had the training and support they needed to be successful. It was a vicious cycle of non-use costing them tens of thousands of dollars each year, so hospital administration simply decided that using it would be required.

You can imagine the revolt that immediately occurred with the medical staff. Physicians threatened to take their elective procedure business elsewhere, and did. High-dollar specialists left in droves. Now the hospital is trying to woo them back, having let some members of the administrative team go following the aftermath of their poor decisions.

I know the CMO from medical school, so he invited me in to work with them on a strategy to get things back on the rails. It was no surprise that simply “requiring” use of the systems drove providers away. Physicians weren’t presented with a compelling reason for the requirement; nor was it clear whether they were going to be retrained, supported, or left on their own to figure out how to document in the systems. Having been on the receiving end of bad policy decisions previously, they assumed the latter.

One of the first things I recommended was that we analyze their medical staff makeup, identifying what percentage of the physicians are using the systems as desired, and of non-users, how many were actually on staff when the various systems were originally deployed. Institutional memories can sometimes be short, and people were surprised to learn that the vast majority of medical staff members had joined long after implementation and training of the key systems was complete.

With that data, we were able to persuade the administration that we needed to essentially re-implement the systems. Rather than trying to target individual physicians, we’d do it over and do it right.

The VP of nursing was immediately on board since her staff had grown increasingly frustrated by having to support multiple workflows and data sources depending on the behavior of admitting physicians. The CIO was also on board, having had a sneaking suspicion that if physician adoption wasn’t achieved, leadership might decide that his systems were at fault and demand a replacement initiative. Another interesting result of the data analysis was that there was a small group of proficient users who could be leveraged to help move provider adoption in the right direction.

The CMO and I have been working together to use those power users as physician champions, helping their peers understand that fully using the electronic systems can actually make their rounding more efficient and reduce phone calls and interruptions for them. The excitement around re-implementing the system has allowed him to build a small clinical informatics team, so that the hospital has knowledgeable and trusted resources to not only help the physicians through the transition, but to carry them forward through all the changes that healthcare reform will surely throw in their direction.

Of those power users, we identified one with formal informatics training, who happened to be a community-based admitting physician. He had done a fellowship thinking he was going to go into academics, but personal circumstances put him in a small city where he didn’t think he’d get to use his expertise. He has been fun to work with, since he really gets it as far as what we’re trying to do and what else the hospital will need to accomplish over the next several years. He’s been a great help with the change management piece as we convince the physicians that this is the right thing to do for a variety of reasons, none of them being because someone said it was required. He’ll make an excellent CMIO if he’s ever willing to reduce his clinical commitments.

Rather than implementing the systems separately as has been done in the past, they’re treating it like a big-bang go-live, which I think is wise. That brings a lot more visibility to the project and allows us to have a greater number of support resources available for the providers – saturating them for the first few weeks rather than having fewer support liaisons for each of multiple system go-lives. The advantage for adoption this time around also includes the fact that the nursing staff has been live on the system for years, so they’ll be able to assist with some of the workflows that are common between nurses and providers.

Instead of only offering classroom training, we offered multiple methodologies including Web-based didactic, Web-based interactive, scenario-based training, classroom, and one-on-one. Over the last 10 years I’ve seen much more recognition of the different ways that people learn, and for those that have difficulty absorbing information, we scheduled the offerings so that providers could take advantage of multiple types of training if they found that what they selected didn’t work for them. Using this type of approach isn’t cheap, but when you look at how much they had been spending to run a fragmented, double-entry approach, it will pay for itself in short order.

I’m on site with them for the next few days, getting the command center ready for Monday and tidying up loose ends with provider preferences and favorites in the production system. We’re actually going live at midnight for in-house physicians and will be in full swing when the community physicians arrive for morning rounds. It’s been a while since I staffed a go-live like this and I had forgotten how exciting they can be. They can also be exhausting, and I’m sure by the end of next week I’ll be more than ready to head home.

Although it’s not a traditional go-live given the time the software has been in place, I’m sure having greater numbers of users doing many different workflows will still yield a number of bugs and issues that we’ll have to track down. Seeing this organization grow over the last several months gives me hope that they’ve arrived at a place where their technology and transformation efforts will be sustainable. It’s been a good recharge for me as well, since this type of work is where I got started. I’ll be on site next week and will let you know how it goes.

Email Dr. Jayne.

Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 8/15/16

August 15, 2016 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments


There are a lot of people in the clinical informatics field who have participated in vendor focus groups and other information-gathering activities. Those can be a lot of fun as well as a great way to meet other physicians in the field. They can also be a great opportunity to see the “next big thing” as it evolves and makes its way to market.

I’ve made some good friends in the marketing space. They’ve introduced me to other organizations that might be looking for some physician input on their product campaigns. Over the last year or two, I’ve had the opportunity to work in depth with a couple of organizations.

The first engaged me to assist with questions around their functionality. Although they had a strong development team, their clinical input was limited to a handful of informatics physicians and end users of their current product. This is fairly common with startups, who might not have the to put a physician on the payroll. Sometimes they do have the funding, but are spending it in areas other than clinical expertise, and it becomes my challenge to help them see the value that regular physician input might bring to their products and their development process. It’s much easier to have someone who can vet your designs immediately rather than having them get close to release and be shot down by a focus group because you missed the mark.

In addition to working with them on product development, they also engaged me to assist in marketing efforts and in ensuring that the script for their product demonstrations was both medically accurate and clinically relevant. I can’t understate the value of having solid clinical input in this area. There is nothing that causes a physician’s brain to shut off like being presented with a clinical scenario that makes no sense or is insultingly dumbed down. It’s one thing to use a straightforward scenario, like a visit for an acute illness, so that you can highlight the product’s abilities and not distract the user’s attention. But it’s another thing entirely to work through a scenario choosing nonsense data, explaining it away “because it doesn’t matter.” Especially where features such as clinical decision support are involved, the information needs to make sense for it to be believable.

They were also one of the more fun groups I worked with. They brought me back to do some product naming work, and although none of the names we came up with in our working session were ultimately chosen, it was exciting to be part of that process and to use the creative side of my brain. I was so proud when their product launched and every time I see it in the wild, it’s fun to know I had a hand in it.

My next adventure was with a startup EHR company. One of the founding partners fully realized that they needed physician input to ensure they were spending their clinical development resources wisely. Unfortunately, the other founding partner was not completely with the program. They were more interested in bells, whistles, and flash than they were in creating a product that could meet the needs for complex documentation, and what they ultimately produced could be described as Franken-EHR. Parts of it were beautiful and glossy, but lacked the clinical functionality that physicians want these days, such as the ability to link scanned images to open orders. Other parts of it were intended to allow robust documentation with plenty of discrete data, but ended up being a complete and total click-fest. Yet another piece of it looked as if it had been clearly lifted from another vendor where a third founder had once worked. I realized a bit later that it had – when I went to remove some of their code from my laptop, I found that one of the embedded components had a license linked to another vendor. Oops!

Another group engaged me to help recruit clinical participants for a focus group. I’m also working with them to gather materials to use when the group meets. The project is primarily around selecting images for a redesigned website and some marketing slicks. I’ve been visiting quite a few competitor websites to identify potential points that might resonate with physicians so that we can present them to the group. In the course of that project, I’ve stumbled on some great marketing efforts and also on some that are truly awful. One made me question whether the vendor (who happens to be large and very successful) even had marketing professionals involved in the creation of their materials, or whether they just threw some stuff together.

In putting together stats about the clinical representations – whether they showed the physician practicing, with a patient actor, or in home/leisure pursuits – I was struck by how much stereotyping I saw in some of the ads. The majority of the physicians represented were white males, with leisure pursuits of golf and skiing represented. One did have a physician testimonial showing him having more time for his grandchildren, which was a nice change. In the majority of campaigns I’ve viewed, women are largely featured in supporting roles as are non-white males. That certainly doesn’t look like the medical world I practice in. I was surprised at how often I saw those patterns.

My absolute favorite marketing piece (in the humor category) was all around being able to see your schedule from anywhere. This was primarily funny because pretty much every single product these days has that feature, so it’s hardly a market differentiator, yet the company had latched onto that idea and featured it prominently on their home page. It was even more funny because they included an embedded animation with a clinician at the gym, lifting weights. He stops in the middle of a set, grabs his phone, makes a couple of taps, then does some kind of smile/chuckle thing.

I don’t know about the rest of the clinicians out there, but it’s rare that I look at my patient care schedule and chuckle. It looked more like he was seeing an inbound text or a witty Facebook post, and the whole “multitasking at the gym” thing just felt a bit off-putting. We’ll see what the focus group says, because we’re going to include similar content to see what the participants think. If they’re anything like the physicians I talk to regularly, they’re more likely to be checking their schedule while they’re in the carpool line trying to drop off their kids at school, or while trying to hustle to the hospital to round on patients over lunch. Either way, once a feature becomes commonplace, I’m not sure why you’d market around it, but at least we’re going to find out if we do want to market a time-saving feature, what the best scenarios might be.

With the consolidation in the EHR market and the boom in add-on solutions, there is plenty of marketing out there. I’d be interested to hear from readers what kind of marketing they feel hits the mark, and what should be sent to the hall of shame.

Got marketing stories? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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