The Challenges (and Benefits) of Anesthesia Data Capture
By Douglas Keene, MD
Douglas Keene, MD is chairman and founder of Recordation of Wayland, MA and an anesthesiologist and co-founder with Boston Pain Care Center.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, hospitals and clinics were required to demonstrate conversion to electronic medical records (EMRs) by the end of 2014. However, despite government incentive programs totaling in the billions, the program initially faced a myriad of hurdles and proved harder to implement than initially anticipated. Fast-forward to nearly a decade later and the initiative is back on track, with over 90 percent of healthcare facilities using EMRs as their universal standard.
With that said, one segment of the healthcare market has lagged in EMR adoption: anesthesia care providers and the adoption of anesthesia information management systems (AIMS). Despite the critically important role the operating room plays in a hospital’s ecosystem –typically the source of about 60 to 70 percent of a hospital’s revenue – the majority of healthcare facilities have been hesitant to make substantial monetary investments in AIMS.
To bring the EMR revolution out of the doctor’s office and into the OR setting, physicians must reflect on the factors that have led to slow AIMS adoption,and consider the key features and components needed in order for physicians and administrators to overcome these implementation hurdles.
Anesthesiology departments have grappled with many of the same challenges initially faced by healthcare facilities looking to adopt EMRs. These include reluctance to share information with competitors, software from different vendors that can’t interoperate or communicate, lengthy and complex implementation phases, and the overall high price tag of such systems.
In addition to these obstacles, AIMS adoption faces an even more challenging hurdle: adoption inertia by anesthesia providers. While all EMR software faced some initial skepticism by healthcare providers in general, this aversion has been far more vehement among anesthesia care teams for several important reasons, and stemming from the complexity of real-time anesthesia-related documentation.
Early AIMS were difficult to learn to use and implement. They relied upon larger, expensive computers with relatively lower processing power and faced challenges with interfacing reliably with anesthesia equipment and hospital information systems. Anesthesia workflow and efficiency often worsened with the introduction of early AIMS technology.
Advances in computer technology and interface design have improved some aspects of the overall user experience. However, the drawbacks from early AIMS still linger in the minds of many anesthesia providers.
While many academic and larger surgical facilities have adopted AIMS made by the vendors of the existing hospital information systems, there are numerous community hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers that have not yet transitioned to electronic anesthesia records, based upon their smaller sizes and budgetary constraints.
As a result, many of today’s anesthesiologists and CRNAs who underwent their initial training using AIMS in academic facilities ultimately enter practices that still rely on handwritten documentation.
As economic and regulatory forces increase pressure to consider the adoption of electronic anesthesia records, teams that include administrators, information management specialists, clinical managers, and anesthesia providers are sharing the decision-making process.
As a board-certified anesthesiologist, pain management, and clinical informatics specialist, I am certainly familiar with the complaints physicians have had with AIMS. In my opinion, with the modern technologies now available on the market – and many now available at more reasonable price-points – there is no good reason that surgical facilities and anesthesia departments should hesitate to consider the adoption of anesthesia information technology. The benefits of AIMS and the potential perils of not adopting such a system are far too great to ignore.
In choosing an AIMS, the type of facility in which it will be implemented should be considered and the characteristics of the facility should be embodied in the AIMS. As an example, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), while among the slowest to adopt AIMS, are beginning to realize that their survival will depend upon information management.
ASCs must provide patient care with a focus on safety, quality, and operational efficiency, but often have smaller budgets to implement information technology. Therefore, a sensible approach would be choosing a cost-effective AIMS solution designed to facilitate perioperative documentation in a fast-paced anesthesia workflow environment that is focused on providing easily available data for process analysis and improvement.
ASCs also need to streamline the sharing of information from and with numerous sources, including primary care providers, surgeons, patients, and hospitals, and therefore should choose an AIMS solution that focuses on interoperability and that is easy to implement. These factors will benefit all of the ASC’s stakeholders and will lead to better patient care and assure the long-term financial viability of the facility.
From the point of view of the AIMS end users, the anesthesia care team must view the AIMS solution as benefit rather than an obstacle. Instead of placing a barrier between physician and patient as some feared AIMS would do, early adopters have found that well-designed AIMS empower physicians and CRNAs to be more vigilant with respect to direct patient care during surgery.
Instead of using handwriting to create what is sometimes partially illegible documentation during a surgical procedure, many AIMS are able to capture vital signs such as pulse oximetry, end-tidal CO2, volatile agent concentrations, and other numerics automatically, enabling providers to spend more time monitoring the patient and focusing on quality of care. The result: better data, accurate documentation of measurements, and improved patient outcomes.
Other improvements to modern day AIMS includes intuitive user experiences and interfaces, the ability to easily customize workflows, as well as increased interoperability with existing EMR systems. For AIMS users, and especially for ASCs, ease of use and system integration is of utmost importance as the success of an ASC depends on the ability to seamlessly share information back to the host system of a hospital or provider during transfer of care.
In addition to interoperability, today’s AIMS solutions are designed to mimic traditional interfaces and workflows with which anesthesia providers are already familiar. In fact, adopters of well-designed AIMS can become comfortable with their use after just a few surgical procedures.
There will always be new documentation requirements, new monitoring data that must be recorded, and new information that will need to be shared with providers. Practices that adopt modern AIMS solutions will be able to weather these changes far more easily than those who continue to create handwritten anesthesia documentation, as well-designed clinical solutions respond to these changes and guidelines in anesthesia technology, monitoring, and standards of care.
In summary, a well-designed AIMS provides a cost-effective alternative to handwritten documentation in that anesthetic records can now be based upon high resolution electronic data capture, with computer-validated information that can be aggregated into databases that form the basis for continuing quality analysis and improvement studies.
In the end, with a relatively small investment in anesthesia information technology, even the smallest community hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers can implement technology that will empower the facilities to say with confidence, “We’re doing a great job and here’s the proof.”