Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Debt is Bad for Healthcare

Props to HISTalk in his latest column featuring the review by Greg Halls blog note on Healthcare Profit and Debt and how this has essentially mortgaged off assets that were owned but that asset was sold off to show a profit.....

The concept is best summarized by comparing this to the fire service:
Examine the notion of ‘capacity utilization.’ Without debt, excess capacity is not viewed as a problem. Consider the local fire department. Paid staff resides at stations 100% of the time, regardless of emergency conditions. 100% state of readiness. Imagine if the fire station had to pay a mortgage: it would then be forced to convert its unused (excess) capacity to a cost, and in turn focus on raising revenues to support its excess capacity. This is exactly the case with hospitals (and many other large U.S. businesses).
So for the fire department they would need to service that debt and might be encouraged to start a few fires, find a side line business of fire extinguishers and perhaps even spin off various pieces to show profit - perhaps privatizing the ladder (front and back to different organizations that specialize in being the best at ladder work at the front). If we do that we could even turn our fire fighters into independent contractors paying those that have Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) training higher salaries.....who would then tend to group in higher density areas where they would have more work and higher pay as a result.....

You get the picture. So as Greg suggests any restructuring or stimulus package must attend to the debt load accrued as a result of the "pirated equity" squandered by a procession of "B-school grads, many of them who found their way into health care as their widget of choice". Wouldn't it be nice if we could try and reclaim some of that wealth that got paid out as big fat bonuses similar to the one paid to Peter Kraus of Merrill Lynch to buy his $37 Million dollar apartment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Americans Pay More for Healthcare - But Why?

The McKinsey report "Why Americans Pay more for health care" (free registration required for access to full report) provides useful insights into the spending patterns and some of the underlying reasons for the high cost of health care in the US

While the higher costs is expected in part due to the wealth of the country:
Across the world, richer countries generally spend a disproportionate share of their income on health care. In the language of economics, it is a “superior good.” Just as wealthier people might spend a larger proportion of their income to buy bigger homes or homes in better neighborhoods, wealthier countries tend to spend more on health care.
Despite taking account of this the US spends some $650 Billion more than might be inferred from its wealth. As for the where this spending goes
The research also pinpoints where that extra spending goes. Roughly two-thirds of it pays for outpatient care, including visits to physicians, same-day hospital treatment, and emergency-room care. The next-largest contributors to the extra spending are drugs and administration and insurance.
But do we receive value for money - not based on outcome measures as compared to other OECD countries where we lag in many areas (more here and here where the US ranked last in a group of 19 countries). The report looks at possible reasons for the additional costs including the possibility that a less healthy population would mean higher treatment costs........survey said no.

So where does this additional expenditure go? Two thirds of this goes to outpatient care and while the US is doing well by shifting care and cost from in patient treatment to outpatient (and the legacy of President Bush's community clinic outreach has been a positive component of that as detailed here) this has actually added to the cost of health care in the US because of much higher utilization. Unfortunately not only was the utilization up but so too was the cost visit in part due to increasing use of expensive diagnostic testing (CT and MRI's being major contributors). The system is structured in such a way as to incentivize this type of care with the delivery of more services offered that are more expensive.

After outpatient care the next highest contributor is pharmaceuticals and not because of increased usage of drugs but because the mix is of more expensive and and the higher cost of drugs in the US
the price of a statistically average pill is 118 percent higher than that of its OECD equivalents
Even taking account for the possible explanation that the US pays more for a "superior product" and the high prices that subsidize the R&D for the rest of the world this still does not explain the large differential
But none of these factors, by itself, can explain the gap between the price of drugs in the United States and the rest of the OECD. When we adjust for US wealth, we find that the country’s branded-drug prices should carry a premium of some 30 percent, not 77 percent for branded small-molecule drugs.
Finally administration and insurance costs are the third highest but although these costs are significantly higher than other countries, the good news it
.....we find that given the structure of the US system, its administrative costs are actually $19 billion less than expected, suggesting that payers have had some success in restraining costs
The possible solutions are wide and varied but must involve all the stakeholders. Despite the high spend the US continues to lag behind in the general health of the population and as such "reformers should therefore focus on the preventative efforts" which represent a potential big win. Community clinics as supported by President Bush's administration are one such effort. In addition the consumer must be more engaged and informed and this requires the sharing of health care information that is structured so as to provide real information and not just make the medical haystack bigger. Technology plays an important part in the sharing of data and the ability to structure and make it available quickly and in meaningful ways to allow decisions and choices to be made.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Speech Recognition no Panacea to Change Work Habit

Study published at RSNA 2008 and reported on in Auntminnie: SR Technology no panacea for reporting work habit change (registration required) reviewed the implementation of speech recognition technology at University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill. This was not a review of the effectiveness of Speech Recognition overall since:
It's a well-known fact that implementing speech recognition (SR) technology can revolutionize report turnaround time and dramatically enhance the workflow efficiency of radiology departments.
But the question for this study was "can it improve the work habits of individual radiologists?". Not surprisingly technology does not change work habits. Radiologists who were slow to report before the implementation of speech were slow to report after the implementation of speech. Installing technology that speeds up the overall process does not change reporting behavior. Rank order of turnaround times by radiologists did not change pre and post implementation

The learning point - using technology to change behavior tends not to be successful. Technology should adapt to individual behavior rather than trying to change the behavior. Providing tools and technology that does not require a change behavior is more likely to be successful. Often behavior has been refined over the course of time that is optimal for that individual and circumstance - change is not always better or more efficient.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why Doctors Don't Like EMR's

Mr HISTalk is on the money in his latest blog
Doctors, like 99% of people, want to be consumers of information, not creators of it
Doctors want to give great care - that's a universal maxim for the profession and anything that enables or facilitates this will be successful and will get used. But that's not what has been going on:

The model of forcing doctors to share their thoughts through manual electronic documentation is fatally flawed. There is no industry … none … where someone with the education and time value of a physician is expected to peck on a computer, especially in front of a client who’s only going to get seven minutes of time (I’ve never seen a CIO typing meeting minutes into a PC, yet they’re often the ones beefing about computer-avoiding doctors).
and my personal favorite part of this piece - philosophic johad:
....trying to force those small business owners to use computers based on some kind of naive philosophic jihad against the inefficiency of paper-based recordkeeping
He is right "speech recognition" (or better yet the newer and more relevant speech understanding) is ready for prime time.....

Gathering the data should not be the focus - it should be a natural by product of the interaction and speech can help in achieving this. The real value comes with driving clinical information to support to decision making allowing clinicians to focus on the healthcare process

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Diagnostic Imaging Report Added to the Healthstory

Interoperability is one step closer especially in radiology with the announcement of the approval of the implementation guide for Diagnostic Imaging that makes it possible to seamlessly share information between radiologists and other electronic health records. The story was reported in Health Imaging and IT Radiology reporting takes on a sharing approach:

The new implementation guide for diagnostic imaging reports will help
radiologists capture and share the whole report or patient story in an
industry-accepted, human- and machine-readable format that includes
both narrative and structured data, according to HL7. As a result,
high-quality diagnostic decision-making reports will be more easily
available to both referring clinicians and clinical systems.
This implementation guide along with the previous guides is available from The Health Story Project (formerly known as CDA4CDT).

This is great work and will of increasing significance as more guides are established and more participants join the project

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Automating the Pull of Information from EHR's

The Social Security Administration announced they wanted to set up a project to test the concept of pulling information automatically form EHR's to help them deal with the 2.5 million disability claims it receives each year

Currently the process cost ~ $500 million a year to retrieve paper copies of records and then process them. The initial request asked vendors, health providers and payers to suggest a process and referred to a trial currently in process using the Continuity of Care Record (CCR). The framing by SSA as:
a fully automated Personal Health Records prototype system
is a little misleading and submissions can come from all areas. If these records are produced by dictation and transcription (and given the high proportion of information that currently is it is a fair bet that most is) then the opportunity here is for the value to the information by creating these documents in CDA format to be made available to SSA for those records to allow them to process the information automatically.

Information on the request can be found here

This project could be a great demonstration vehicle to show the value of moving all documents into a CDA format making the information instantly more useful and available for processing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Magical Thinking in Implementing Healthcare IT

There was a great article published in the Health Affairs Journal by Carol Diamond from the Markle foundation - "Health Information technology: a few years of magical thinking" - abstract here the full text requires a subscription

The concept of magical thinking in this context was that implementers must resist the concept where this notion that
..isolated work on technology will transform our broken system...Another tempting and related notion suggests that a lack of technical standards is the main barrier to health IT adoption..
Given that as they state
...the literature on computerization, stretching back to the 1980s, is unambiguously clear on this point: computers are amplifiers. If you computerize an inefficient system, you will simply make it inefficient, faster. IT can contribute to improving care only when underlying system processes are transformed at the same time.
To be successful instead of joining the stampede of standard creations from the likes of Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) and the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) which are increasing awareness in the public and helathcare industry but have not according to recent testimony by Sam Karp of the California HealthCare Foundation stated
"Not a single data element has been exchanged in real world health care systems using standards this process has developed or deployed."
The point being that standards are adopted and the process of standardization is incremental. The internet being a great case in point that was developed over severalyears and floated to users unfinished and lacking consistency to allow usr interaction and use to help refine and develop a standard that we all use on a daily basis

So taking this concept to the next level and looking at the 60% of healthcare notes that are simply free-form notes - providing simple easy access to essential parts of this information would be invaluable. And there lies the beauty of the of the CDA4CDT system allowign for the capture and sharing of this infomation wihtout the impostion of structure, coding or limitations of choices. Sections can be easily identified and shared in a meaningful way. At a high level in the first instance but in more detail as people explore and adopt this standard and actually use it. THis is a standard to use without the imposed and artifical limitations that normally accompany the typical narrow "ideal" standard that does not meet the test for real use and genuinely useful interoperability

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

User Design - Basic Principles

The British National Health Service (NHS) has one one of the largest healthcare IT projects (National Programme for IT NPfIT) in the world rivaling size and complexity in almost any industry. It's no wonder given the size and complexity that there are problems but in some cases these are just plain simple mistakes and getting basic simple things wrongs does nothing to engender the support and confidence with the embattled clinical users

A Recent post from "Phil Hammond 'Medicine Balls' " Confusing for Health highlights the reasons why the NHS Care Record Service (CRS) implementation systems has been "indefinitely postponed". (I've copied the full post below in case this link fails or ceases to work) but it was item 9 that caught my attention.....
Users who select 'died in department' by mistake (which is default outcome if D is used to navigate drop down), do not receive a warning resulting in appropriate letters sent to the GP. For genuinely deceased patients, the code is mapped incorrectly and does not bring up fields to complete, to register patient dead on the spine.
(The spine in this context is the NHS network backbone)

In a cock-up worthy of the Colemenballs moniker the default value for patient outcome is "Died in Department"!! Someone, somewhere is not firing on all cylinders and there there is a chain of people who let this through into a live systems that are diagonally parked in a a parallel universe.

As Phil Hammond states can only succeed by starting as simply as possible and then getting those who have to use the new system to help build it into something fit for purpose
Sage advice!

>>>>> Confusing for Health >>>>>
Original posting should be available here
The NHS Care Records Service (CRS) is a secure service that links patient information from different parts of the NHS electronically, so that authorised NHS staff and patients have the information they need to make care decisions.' So says the Connecting for Health website, but there isn't much sign of it up and running in the West Country. A computer literate consultant tells me that CRS has been 'indefinitely postponed' where he works because 'it cannot migrate data across the system into the correct coding slots which means there is no way for a hospital to record what work it actually carries out and be paid appropriately.'

Our new market driven NHS depends for its survival on the right money following the right patients. And then there's the extra cost not just of installing the new system but paying extra staff to run it properly. A document sent to me for the Royal Free hospital in London shows not just how many bugs still need ironing out in the CRS, but how we all need to learn a whole new language to communicate with each other.

'1. There are problems associated with the use of smart cards to log on, which takes 7 key strokes, resulting in a very long log-in time, as much as 10% of each hour. This discourages use of the system, and encourages staff to leave the card in place, which then prevents the identification of the user when requesting X-rays, bloods etc.

2. The GP letter is very poor quality and requests to change this via the RFC (Referral Facilitation Centre?) have not been implemented. The treatments and investigations form does not support the user in choosing clinically important tests or support HRG 4. The Inbox not emptying automatically leads to significant delays in the system.

3. Clinics must have DNA patients dealt with as DNA, otherwise 18 weeks reporting is a problem. Reporting for the four-hour target is clunky and can only be done in Explorer because of the delay in updating IM200. This still takes up to 2 hours to validate the performance each day, causing 40-50 breaches a day for first few weeks.

4. Data can be entered but may not be visible to other users, and is difficult to find the forms and summaries. Multiple issues raised with LPfIT and BT/Cerner since going live have not been resolved

5. Free text fields on the discharge letter only allow 750 characters, resulting in limited summaries and poor communication with GPs.

6. Excessive time taken for scanning, registering, creating pending admission and GP letter printing. Five extra A & C (administration and coding?) staff have needed to be employed.

7. Discharge time of patient is displayed rather than check-out time (i.e. time patient left department). This makes reviewing 4 hour breaches impossible, since discharge time may be as much as 24 hours after checkout time

8. Manchester Triage does not populate white board. (I've no idea what this means either).

9. Users who select 'died in department' by mistake (which is default outcome if D is used to navigate drop down), do not receive a warning resulting in appropriate letters sent to the GP. For genuinely deceased patients, the code is mapped incorrectly and does not bring up fields to complete, to register patient dead on the spine.

10. The system crashes 2 or 3 times a week.'

I think I only understand number 10 with absolute certainty, but the message is clear enough. Implementing large scale IT projects is unbelievably complex. And you can only succeed by starting as simply as possible and then getting those who have to use the new system to help build it into something fit for purpose (preferably without inventing a whole new geeky language). I'm generally an optimist but I'm not sure about this. How long before we have more coders than doctors? Or are we there already?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Healthcare CIO's Grappling with EMR Adoption

SearchCIO online magazine ran an article on EMR adoption that made for interesting reading:
When patients, physicians and payers embrace the electronic health record (EHR), life will be different in pretty amazing ways.....For the first time, patients will be treated by a personal team of clinicians. When a new drug for hypertension comes on the market, all patients (not just Nobel laureates like James Watson) will be able to map their genotypes and phenotypes to that medication to determine if it's right for them. Hospitals will be held to the "perfect care" standard -- the elimination of all medical errors in instances of preventable harm.
Wow! But the problem is we are nowhere near the level of adoption necessary to achieve these kinds of advances and the barriers to adoption remain frustratingly present and challenging. Privacy, interoperability, liability issues and physician reimbursement are all main stays of resistance to the move towards wide scale adoption of the EMR. As expected there are some frightening stories to hammer home the point from an emergency room physician who estimated he treated 80,000 patients "with my own hands
...the thing that stuck out as he looked back on his career was how many times he was put in a position of "guessing over and over," "flying solo," in an information vacuum. In situations where people "die right in front of you," he said he often felt he was "one data element away" from stopping a patient from dying.
Needless to say there continues to be the naysayers who are convinced that physicians " know what they are doing; why do you want to tell them what to do" but in all this seem oblivious to the tsunami of knowledge rushing down the luge of clinical practice that is impossible to keep up with.

I agree with John Halamka
that the lives of primary care physicians -- snowed under by paperwork that does not require an M.D. but is required nonetheless, frustrated by prescribing a medication only to find out it's denied by the insurance company and terrified of making a mistake -- is sheer misery. He predicted they will welcome the help, and patients will be better off for it. As the system stands now, "all the medical students are becoming dermatologists," he said.
And it's easy to see why with the information overload with "medical literature published every month that is is more than a doctor could read in a year". Not to mention declining reimbursements and shattered dreams that litter the halls of our hallowed medical facilities. We need EMR's and EMRs need data to provide the decision support that an automated and optimized medical technology infrastructure can provide physicians in their daily practices. But all of this should not turn clinicians into data entry or data capture clerks - they are not good at this task and technology is available to facilitate this issue and provide clinicians with the tools to ease the burden and provide them with the necessary clinical decision support they want and need.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Healthcare Myths

Great post from Arthur Garson at titled "Setting the Health Care Record Straight" - where he addresses some of the prevalent myths associated with the problems in the US healthcare industry

The myths as detailed:
1) There's no money - there is it's just wasted (by everyone)

2) New Plan = Government Run Healthcare - no they are not but they are trying to provide more universal coverage.

On the issue of "free" healthcare this is not a simple problem/solution - see the experience in Hawaii whose experiment in offering "free" healthcare to low income families has been suspended as it ran out of money after 7 months.

3) You can't Change it (third rail in politics) - as another poster pointed out there is now sufficient interest/incentive to fix the problems not least of all driven by the economic problems.... American has been and will continue to be an innovator. As a good friend of mine Dr Bruce Merrifield shared with me recently in a paper on global warming and Integrated Patterns of Civilization "about 90% of all recorded scientific knowledge has been generated over just the most recent 30 years, a knowledge base that will likely double again in the next ten years".

I am an optimist like Dr Merrifield and take the view "The current explosion of learning and experimentation now extends to all fields of knowledge with consequences for the future that may be incalculable and certainly under appreciated"

I have no doubt we will find solutions to these issues and many others - our rate of innovation and knowledge sharing is increasing daily and the world is full of latent genius. We just need the incentive and I think recent difficulties and the level of focus are helping provide a spotlight to focus our minds and innovations on solving these issues.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NQF Issue Brief on Measuring Elements of Care

The recently released issue brief from the National Quality Forum titled "Performance Measurement and Reporting at the Clinician Level" can be found here (pdf file) makes the case for clinicians reporting which like it or not is coming. While many resist and there are difficulties in comparing results in healthcare because of the many contributing variables to outcome it seems impossible for me to imagine the future without comparisons of quality by patients.

For heavens sake - I can compare the quality of a dishwasher, the performance of a store and customer service of a technology provider why should I not want or be able to compare the results of my hospital and clinical service provider.

It is important to remember a point I made before:

Millions of times each day, patients interact with the U.S. healthcare system. During these interactions, most patients receive the benefit of solid clinical judgment and technical expertise from their care providers and witness basic and state-of-the-art technology appropriately applied

And rightly they point out that

Current incentives encourage more care rather than the right amount of care

So the effort underway is to refine these measures to make them better and more helpful and specifically to address the charge of Apples to Oranges that we hear repeatedly when data is published showing poor quality in one institution over another. The current work seeks to address this:

Clinician-level measurement is undergoing refinement. The shortcomings of current measurements are driving concurrent efforts to more broadly define relevant, important, and measurable elements of condition-specific episodes of care and related accountability.

In the Charter they focus on the criteria and attributes that are desirable for measuring clinicians from a patient perspective:

  1. Measures should be meaningful to consumers and reflect a diverse array of physician clinical activities.
  2. Those being measured should be actively involved.
  3. Measures and methodology should be transparent and valid.
  4. Measures should be based on national standards to the greatest extent possible.

But to achieve this as they identify in their discussion paper (Rattray MC, Clinician Level Measurement and Improvement – Improving Reliability, Actionability, and Engagement, Washington, DC: National Quality Forum; 2008) and follow up discussions needs to:

Enrich clinical data. Accelerate efforts to capture relevant clinical data to augment administrative claims data.

To satisfy this need without weighing down the already over burdened clinician requires that this data is enriched as part of the clinical process and not by imposing new and difficult processes onto their current clinical activity. A recent example cited by one of my clinical colleagues had me truly surprised. In this implementation the new clinical system required the clinicians users to be shadowed 1 on 1 for 30 days to help them learn and use the system. If this is what is required there has to be something wrong with the approach and/or the system. Educators are told that if everyone fails their test on material they have delivered to their students then the chances are that there is a problem with the education method, format or delivery and not with 100% of the students. What is surprising to me is that a healthcare facility would consider the necessity to shadow clinicians for 30 days an acceptable aspect of any system..... and rest assured that the cost of this training must be an additional administrative burden on an already stretched healthcare system.

Enriching the clinical data is essential to our move to quality and getting maximum value from our stretched clinical dollars but we cannot capture and impose complex systems and requirements on clinicians to achieve this aim. Use existing processes, tools and resources that are already efficient and use technology to facilitate the enhancement and capture of this information. I am all in favor of new ways and technologies to be applied to healthcare and our lives in general but let's use what is in place and help improve efficiency without burdening the scarcest clinical resource we have - the clinical staff.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Maternity Care Makes up 25% of Admissions in the US

Obstetric care makes up ~ 1 in 4 discharges from hospital. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that admission for childbirth outnumber admissions for pneumonia, cancer and heart failure. Unfortunately for many their view of childbirth is summarized by this quote:
"A lot of people think pregnant women are an accident waiting to happen"
Yikes! Mothers have been having babies for many years - this kind of attitude is reminiscent of the "State of Fear" that is detailed in Michael Crichton's book of the same name. There are some trying to combat this and Rita Rubin's article in USA Today this week: Maternity-care failings can be remedied with cost-saving fixes features some good examples including Valerie King of the Oregon Health & Sciences University who makes an excellent point
"Fortunately, maternity care is a place where good care and good economics come together."
And given the numbers this is a great place to focus. The latest numbers show a big increase in costs with a jump from $79 Billion in 2005 to a $86 Billion in 2006. Of this, estimates are that $2.5 Billion of that cost is associated with unnecessary care (mostly intervention with Cesarean Sections). The latest report published by the Childbirth connection on Evidence-Based Maternity Care focuses on the unnecessary care being delivered and the over use of intervention which is best demonstrated by the Cesarean Section rate in the US which stands at 30% (in the UK the rate is 24% which is also higher that expected)

Key to dealing with this is clinical data so there is no need to repeat unnecessary tests and investigations and making this information readily available will help the clinical staff and making the capture of this information as facile as possible.

You can read more about this at my "Navigating Healthcare Blog" - here which talks about the UK experience and covers some personal guidelines for mothers and parents to consider as they look at care in this area.

Monday, October 6, 2008

EMR Adoption and PHRs

Chilmark Research published a "PHR Market Report, Analysis and Trends" - the Executive Summary is available for free (with sharing of your details). In their blog commentary they make an relevant point
PHRs simply won’t go anywhere without data and arguably the best source of data is a physician EMR system. Unfortunately, the adoption of EMR is abysmal across the care continuum of providers sitting at somewhere around 15-20% depending on how you count it/who you believe.
And even if you believe the 15-20% penetration of this, the vast majority of the information in these systems comes from dictation and transcription and is stored as blobs of text. There is certainly some potential for the personal health records/systems to help drive the capture of more shareable data. There are problems of security and confidentiality but as they suggest I think the benefits will outweigh the risks in the near future, especially given the entry of Microsoft, Google, Intuit and Dossia (there is a piece of my British Heritage that feels this is not the best name choice - see here).

For both PHR's and EHR's to succeed the data has to be shareable.....easily. It has to be as easy as clicking on a link or plugging in a USB stick and selecting import. To see what this needs to look like you need look no further than Facebook which has rapid user adoption. Facebook has exploded onto the social networking scene by offering simple ways for sharing applications, data and tools between all the users.

The HL7 approved CDA format represents the way forward and the potential to bridge the divide between structured and unstructured content. CDA4CDT commenced the process in 2007 and has defined the formats for 4 document types so far and there are more to come. There are several presentations available here. With shareable formats data can be made available from PHRs to EHRs and vice versa. This will drive adoption in both systems.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Crisis on the Front Line of Health

The NY Times article today "Crisis of Care on the Front Line of Health" makes for interesting reading and also passes commentary on the often touted and argued issue of the uninsured. But the focus on primary care and specifically the comments
Finding doctors who know their patients well and who deliver informed
medical care with efficiency and empathy has become quite a challenge
in America
Feels harsh - I think what they mean is finding a physician who is still able to offer this level of service and survive mentally and financially is a challenge. The worrying trend is the declining number of medical students electing a career in internal medicine - given their debt load as they finally emerge from medical school it is inevitable that many will follow the money and choose specialties that are well compensated. Internal medicine specialists are:
the doctors who ask pertinent questions, about health and also
about life circumstances, and who listen carefully to how patients
But this process takes physician time and to maintain income means fitting more patients into the available clinic time. With the current anticipated average based on managed care reimbursement levels
" have only six to eight minutes per patient"
Which Dr. Byron M. Thomashow states "’re forced to concentrate on the acute problem and ignore all the
rest [of the conditions],”

So the idea that we can load up physicians with additional administrative burdens documenting in forms and finding items in lists seems counterintuitive. Whatever solution must take account of current workflow and existing efficient methods of data capture and incorporate those into the clinical process. Dictation is one of several methods in use today - as it stands it currently accounts for at least 60% of the input to the medical record. Capitalizing on this existing method and working this into the systems will add no additional time burden. By enabling the addition of meaningful clinical data with the free form narrative and storing this in one complete document in CDA format we satisfy the need for computer accessible information without burdening overstretched clinicians with additional processes

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Transcription the WD-40 of Healthcare

WD-40 is renown as a solution for all sorts of problems (the list of 2000+ uses - pdf) - in a recent e-mail I received it was cited as follows:
You only need two tools in life WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and should use WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does use the Duct Tape
We have been hearing that transcription is the being replaced and will eventually disappear being replaced by direct data entry into Electronic Medical Records. But to borrow from a famous saying "the reports of the death of transcription have been greatly exaggerated". A fact hammered home in a recent presentation by L Gordon Moore, MD at the 2008 Scientific Assembly of American Academy of Family Physicians and reported in an article by Healthcare IT News "Beware of the EMR 'Ponzi' Scheme". Dr Moore did not mince his words:
When you put an EMR into a primary care practice, your life is hell for the next year
EMR's are essential to delivering high quality care. We need the support of technology to help deliver the highest possible quality of care. But the penetration of these solutions in the marketplace are a good indication that there are difficulties with these systems and implementations. On a a recent visit to an office with a newly installed EMR system I compared the experience to prior visits. The process of interacting with the screen (be it a tablet or desktop PC or some other mobile device) was very intrusive and difficult to manage while trying to interact with the patient. It is next to impossible to enter data on a screen while looking at the patient. So what I think Dr Moore is referring to is the difficulty of entering in clinical data to these systems - I bet he loves the ready access to all the patients clinical information but hates entering anything.

There are no easy answers and certainly not one answer to suit all situations but there is a reason that dictation by physicians and the transcription of this material has been an expanding industry that has insufficient resources to meet demand. The process works and has been the WD-40 for healthcare documentation for many years. The process has improved in efficiency moving from wax recording drums to digital recording systems and portable recording devices that include digital recording pens. We have added technology to speed up the transcription process counteracting the original design intention of the typewriter and the QWERTY Keyboard which was laid out in this format to separate out the most commonly used keys to slow typists down! Macros, auto correct, word expanders, speech recognition and most recently speech understanding. But through all these efficiencies the medical transcription or Clinical Documentation Specialist Knowledge Based worker remains a key contributor and an essential part of the process. They continue to be the WD-40 in the process of producing meaningful clinical documents to transmit clinical information to the ever growing participants of the healthcare team charged with taking care of patients. Clinicians will dictate their notes - its fast, efficient and cost effective when you consider the cost of the clinician. As Dr Leonard McCoy put it in Star Trek:

To grease the wheels of clinical communication, medical transcription and clinical documentation continues to evolve allowing for the free form narrative dictation but extracting the clinical data that the EMRs are hungry for. Fulfilling both needs requires the next generation of clinical documents using the HL7 CDA standard for Common Document Types (CDA4CDT). These documents support the flow of data from dictated clinical information to narrative documents and into structured, computer accessible records that EMRs can accept directly to support patient care with discreet clinical data.

However one word of caution on efficiencies that is best summarized by Dilbert - "...I have infinite capacity to do more work as long as you don't mind my quality approaches zero":

Friday, September 19, 2008

Medical Transcription the EMR and Speech Understanding

The Medical Records institute e-Newsletter from September contained an article by Claudia Tessier from the Medical records institute titled: "Medical Transcription and EMRs: Opportunity Lost?" that discussed the relationship between medical transcription and the electronic medical record (EMR). As the Claudia says:
...medical transcription offers a bridge to EMR adoption
But the idea that
the EMR offers the best opportunity yet to get rid of transcription and its concomitant headaches
Misses the opportunity for medical transcription and valuable data that is lost with the push towards the structured form based hunt and click style documentation. In a recent discussion with a clinician he lamented the loss of "the beauty and descriptive nature of medical language that has been used to describe medical conditions and image findings". Instead as he put it "we have turned detail rich clinical information into dumbed down fill in the blank cookie cutter reports" which do not reflect the richness of the information he wants to provide to his colleagues.

To date medical transcription is estimated to constitute 60% of the input into current EMR systems but that input is in the form of text blobs and not clinical data. The article goes on to suggest that:
...EMR vendors should ramp up their cooperation to create uniform integration. Let every one of the 300+ EMR systems allow dictation and let the market determine whether the related turnaround time, quality, costs, etc. (see below) are acceptable. Let users dictate on cell phones and dictation devices, or through laptops and tablets—whatever their preference.
Is spot on - the systems work and with better integration and more choices for input we open the doors to capturing input from our clinicians caring for patients and struggling to document for the benefit of communication with others members of the team as well as capturing sufficient information to be paid for the services they are delivering to their patients.

But this input is still not resolving the necessity to feed EMR's with clinical data which is essential for computer based systems to understand the information and be able to act on it. There are existing standards to hold and transmit this information including the Continuity of Care Record (CCR) which is "....working in collaboration with HL7 on the expression of ASTM's Continuity of Care Record content within HL7's CDA XML syntax and the seamless transformation of clinical and administrative data between the two standards.” - Rick Peters, MD

Transcription companies are already offering xml-based solutions that support structured output and the significant value this brings to EMR's is that this structured data has been checked and reviewed by medical transcriptionist/editor with expertise and knowledge to validate that content relative to the original dictation input of the clinician. More value from the validated data output from Medical transcription will make the transcription industry more of a partner and even more important in their contribution and ongoing role in the delivery of high quality healthcare.

So where does Speech Understanding come into all of this - unlike the traditional speech recognition technology which Hollywood conditioned us to expect far more comprehension on the part of the engine as captured in this classic clip from Star Trek IV - the voyage home where Montgomery Scott (Scotty) of the original series of Star Trek fame is trying to interact with a computer circa 1980.....

But his experience is typical of traditional speech recognition systems and a typical response either visually or verbally would be "Directions unclear - please repeat request"

Speech Understanding is the next generation of the technology, crossing the chasm between the need and desire of physician to dictate using all the richness and expressivity of language but that is recognized and understood and not only creates an accurate representation of the free form text but also produces a structured and encoded document. Structure is captured and stored in native CDA format and encoding is achieved using clinically relevant encoding systems such as RadLex for radiology, RxNorm for drugs, Universal Medical Language Systems (UMLS) and SnoMed for clinical terminology etc

You can have the best of both worlds and Medical Transcription will be around for years to come - albeit in a updated MTv2.0 form where the transcriptionist is a knowledge based worker proofing, editing and validating clinical in the words of Spock: "Live Long and Prosper"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Facebook Medical Record

What are we trying achieve with medical records....? Asides from the obligatory proof that the care was delivered (billing) and determining how much should be paid for the delivery of that care medical records are about sharing information between care givers. It has always been that way. Years back the number of care givers was lower and specialization less so the number of people needing accessing to the this information was lower. Now with the tsunami of medical information it is impossible for single care givers to deliver all the possible ranges of care and it takes a village team to deliver care.

And the latest explosion on online activity - one who's traffic can exceed that of Google and you tube is Facebook, which according to their own description a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.
Now take this concept and adjust the wording.....
FaceBookHealthRecord is a social utility that connects patients with their care givers and others who provide diagnostic services, imaging, laboratory tests, results and pay for that care. Patients and clinical care givers use FaceBookHealthRecord to keep up with the status of their healthcare, their wellness and long term disease outlook as well as communicate quickly and effectively with specialists. All images, diagnostic study videos and diagnostic testing information can be uploaded and shared withe the clinical team allowing everyone to learn more about he care of that patient.
The interaction concept has been tested and reported on - Bob Wachter wrote an article just recently on this very concept "Creating a Facebook-like medical record" where he slams home the point on interoperability
In fact, today’s medical record virtually guarantees the silo-ization of care. Few physicians ever read nurses’ notes, even though all of us depend on the nurses to be our eyes and ears. And the situation iteratively worsens every day. Why would a nurse, realizing that no doctor ever reads her notes, even try to write them to be useful to physicians? And visa versa, obviously. Over the years, this divergence has been codified into ritual, calcified by templates, and hard wired through regulations whose original rationale no one can remember
Interestingly he points out that the spooks have gotten in on the concept with FaceBook-007 aka A-Space (I am guessing short for Analytical Space...?). Launch is set for Sep 22, 2008. UCSF back in 2003 launched a concept very much in line with the sharing of information amongst all the related parties (notably not the patient in this case) called Synopsis

As with all folklore associated with good concepts it was an rapid victim of its own success receiving requests for access, being copied and installed at other locations by users and even covered on a Web based M&M rounding on the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) site

There is work on these concepts underway and even some launches - if you live in New York you can sign up with HelloHealth from MyCA Health group who liked the approach taken by Jay Parkinson (the Hipster-MD from New York- pdf) who launched his own home made system with a similar ideal of sharing information digitally and providing easy, affordable access to patients some months ago. The NHS in the UK is getting in on the act with the "Individual Health Record" and covered in a recent article "Personal Healthcare Management" (subscription required) in my regular column in the British Journal of Healthcare Management.

There is even a Facebook application - MedCommons available today for a subscription plus monthly storage charges. Unfortunately much of what will be transferred in is likely to be scanned images and print outs. The introductory video even shows your physician office receiving access to your medical data and printing it out.....sigh! This will change but for now we are stuck with the legacy information

No doubt there will be detractors and there are bound to be issues and problems but overall you have to like the idea of sharing data on the quickly and effectively with the full clinical team. And there lies a key point.... the information must be be clinical data and should be tagged to a controlled medical vocabulary to make this information valuable for automatic machine processing. But lets not burden the clinicians with entering data in online forms but provide tools that capitalize on clinical documentation and the natural expressivity of language while still creating the structured data that can be used by these connected applications.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Doctors in the Typing Pool

An interesting blog from Westby Fisher on the failures of EMR systems that what it has turned our clinical staff into:
"...the world's most expensive typing pool has been born"
As he notes
Each morning, without fail, there's one or two individuals circling the computer terminals waiting for access to these electronic monetary portals, like children waiting to grab the last chair when the music stops.
That's true but I think the missing comparison here is how it used to be before the advent of the EMR's.....I can remember the same scene on the wards I worked on but instead of waiting for a seat in front of a computer it was waiting to get access to the "notes trolley" and the wait and frustration was no different and in many respects worse since there was only one record and therefore only one person could access it and enter data into the record. Much of this could be fixed with more accessibility, more computers or even better mobile access to the clinical data (here's one example combining the latest user friendly gadget with EMR access - you can see a video of this in action here:

But the issue of canned content being generated in large quantities with shortcut codes and pulling information from other sources to create a document is a problem. To create my note I can type
.id .pmh .psh .cmed .all .soc ....... you get the picture. These commands pulling data from other sources that add little to the actual clincal value of the document:
....demographics from the Central Registration.....four pages of Past Medical History...the original work was completed by the patient's poor primary care physician, neatly organized, but never to be updated again and a half of the current medications, their dose, prescribing physician, half of which come from self-generated 'CYA' hypoglycemia orders are also self-generated in the interest of 'safety'.....

......."Mother died of CA" automatically spits out previously entered by the hospitalist - bless their soul - so that billing to Medicare can go from Level 4 to Level 5 for the rest of the health care team
When clinical documentation really was clinical documentation and not just an automatic regurgitation of previous clinical notes captured by other people, the process of documenting was part of the clinicians analytical process. Entering the details was important as it afforded an opportunity to think about the patient, their history, symptoms, and signs and provided real input to the diagnostic process to arrive at a differential diagnosis and plan for the next steps. Clinicians are still trying to do this but all the while working to satisfy the documentation requirements so they can bill for their services
The rest is for Medicare and has been added repetitively and
identically by countless other individuals, all whom enter the same
content to assure achieving the maximum amount billed by law for their
services. Not that any of it is read, mind you, but it'd better be
there, lest the Medicare auditors descend on your facility.
Technology has helped kill the richness and detail of clinical documents and turned detail rich
reports into dumbed down "fill in the blank" cookie cutter reports that do not
reflect the richness of the information that physicians wants to provide to the colleagues.

In a recent discussion with a busy radiologists he remarked that what the referring physician needs from him is "more detail". He wants to provide the referring physician
the clinical information they need to treat the patient giving them the confidence in the information they receive with a rich detailed report that speaks their language.

So as not to reach the destination for the future of medicine painted by Westby Fisher:
Will they (future doctors) actually process what is entered, or merely become
highly-efficient typists and plagiarists in the never-ending quest to
become more "efficient" health care providers?
we must provide the tools that allow for clinicians to document clinical information efficiently with the richness of medical language while still providing the computers and clinical systems with their bits and bytes of data that allows these tools to function and help support the clinicians in the delivery of clinical cared

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wired - Why Things Suck

Wired's magazine article earlier this year titled: The 33 Things that Make us Crazy
featured a section on Medical records

The review was spot on:
Most medical records are about as orderly as an ER on Saturday night. Because they're mainly confined to paper, they can't be easily transferred from one physician or hospital to another. And because they're not subject to any standards (or even legibility requirements), they're nearly impossible to compare and combine.
Harsh but true.....and the ongoing problem of getting everyone to cooperate and share information which is int he best interest of the patient but not necessarily in the best interest og the hospital, healthcare provider or even insurance company:

..because the software vendors selling electronic record-keeping systems are competing, their systems are proprietary and incompatible. Oddly, that's OK with many physicians. Another name for an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-compatible electronic system is database, and physicians don't want people mining theirs — not because of patient-privacy concerns, but because the info could be used for doctor-on-doctor performance stats. Plus, docs already hate filling out charts; you think they want to learn data entry?
The potential cure cited is the arrival of Microsoft and Google as knight's in shining armour - not sure I buy this but I do believe that the entry of large organizations intent on shaking things up is going to have a positive impact. But the key point of advice:
Pressure your docs into accepting a more transparent system.
Agreed - interoperability and the sharing of data is essential. We have been sharing information since the beginning of time. Before the advent of writing, stories were shared, drawings made on walls and information was shared round a camp fire. When new more reliable media arrived (the pen and paper) information sharing moved to this media. Now we have digital media and bits and bytes and we need to wean the industry off its dependence on paper which is no longer effective and start sharing information using standardized compatible formats that everyone can use.

Friday, September 5, 2008

EHRs and Data Collection

The latest issue of the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association features a case report titled:

Opportunities for Electronic Health Record Data to Support Business Functions in the Pharmaceutical Industry—A Case Study from Pfizer, Inc. - you can view an abstract here (you need a subscription to see the full article).

I am all in favor of data collection and firmly believe that we must move to a data rich model in healthcare to allow the use of technology to support all the complex interactions and activities associated with the delivery of care. But the capture and collection of data has to be linked to a value for the beleaguered physician who is more often than not the one tasked with the collection.

What I found interesting about this paper was the focus on pharmacy data – not surprising given the authors affiliation but this particular quote stuck out
“Drug Safety & Surveillance,” “Clinical Trial Recruitment,” and “Support Regulatory Approval” were the most oft-mentioned scenarios during the interviews (Table 2), in which the senior executives believed that EHR data would prove valuable.
Drug Safety and Surveillance is a genuine crowd pleaser but Clinical trial recruitment and Support Regulatory approval is not likely to feature in many clinicians minds who are facing a waiting room chocked full of patients. Then in the summary
While EHRs can clearly provide some support to the pharmaceutical industry for data re-use, an ongoing dialogue must continue among EHR companies, research based organizations, and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that the data being captured, aggregated, and analyzed can produce the value necessary for all stakeholders.
The problem is while the Pharmaceutical industry can see great value in the data from the EHR's they do not (or cannot) provide resources to help capture it. Everyone is tuned to the same radio station – WIFM (What’s in it for me) and in the case of the beleaguered physician there is little if anything in capturing data to suit the Pharma companies that offers the physician anything in return….. so why should they focus or pay any attention to this need of Pharma companies.

Better to focus on the opportunities related to:
  1. Improve quality of care
  2. Provide support to the delivery of that care, and
  3. Save the physician time
All this needs to occur while helping clinicians capture more complete information at the point of care. Doing so will support the above elements but from the business perspective will show capture the information to prove the physician is performing all the relevant tasks to allow them to bill effectively. To that point in For the Record Magazine: Getting in Tune — New Survey Spotlights the MT’s Role in Healthcare. The article reviews the results of the "2007 Survey of Medical Transcriptionists". The lead author Gary David, PhD, an associate professor of sociology at Bentley College reviews some of the studies findings

One of the quotes sums up the current state of affairs
“Doctors do not generate revenue; documents do"
Or put another way "If it's not Documented then it didn't happen" (one of many references to this)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Privacy of Information

There's a fun video posted to the ACLU web site - it is worth watching as it raises some legitimate issues on the privacy of information and the consequences of the sharing and linking of that information. You can watch the video here

What is interesting about this video is how close we are already to this reality. Many private companies can already link existing public sources of data to create an extensive and fairly detailed profile of individuals, their buying habits, preferences etc. You only have to visit your local Jiffy Lube to see how quickly they can pull up all the details on your car and based on this offer the best "treatments" for the "health" of your car! In this case best is probably as much about your car as it is for selling you additional services. In the case of you supermarket shopping card this tracks your purchases in excruciating detail and there have been many instances of this data being used against the individual. In this particular instance it turns out the data used while correct proved to be a red herring and in the words of Bruce Schneier:
The moral of this story is that even the most innocent database can be used against a person in a criminal investigation turning their lives completely upside down.
Clearly today we already see data usage beyond what might be expected, and many would say beyond reasonable limits. But at the same time I think most patients would agree that any visit to a medical office is an extremely frustrating experience. Such visits require patient's to hand write all their data onto a paper form. Data that already exists in many other systems and often in the very system that it is destined to be entered into.

So where is the balance - I believe unfortunately that as Lord Acton said:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men
I also firmly believe that the sharing of information is essential to the delivery of high quality care. So while it is clear to me that ready access to the complete medical record is the most helpful to clinicians there has to be some limitations to accessibility.

So how do we balance the need to share relevant medical information with the concern that the sharing of that information could be used against you. The answer is unclear and the issue complex but several groups are working towards this goal, trying to balance the need for information with the need to protect everyone from the inevitable abuse that comes with total access and power.

Some of the EMR companies have a "Break the Glass" approach to urgent access - providing emergency access to anyone with a corresponding oversight in all cases where they felt the need to break the glass and access all the patient's data. The Voluntary Universal Healthcare Identifier (VUHID) group has taken a slightly different approach by creating a voluntary identifier which allows the individual to control and manage access to their clinical information on an ongoing basis: enable error-free linkage of clinical information,
enhance the privacy of patient information, improve the quality of
medical care, reduce the rate of medical errors, decrease the incidence of healthcare-related identity theft, and help control healthcare costs.
There are others solutions and ideas and no doubt there will be more added as the systems and ideas develop - whatever we end up with it is clear this is complex area and will require continued debate, careful consideration and ongoing participation by all parties from the vendor community, through government all the way to the individual to ensure we come out with a solution that everyone can live with

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

EMR Adoption in Small Practices

Why all the resistance and difficulty in getting EMR's adopted and in use across the board. Why is there not a queue along the street as there was for the Apple iPhone v1 and v2?

Is it the usability, the coolness, price point, ROI, design and features, overall complexity or just basic lack of time that prevents the adoption and take up of this technology.

In a recent posting on Mr HISTalk Jonathan Bush started a discussion on why getting small groups to use EMR's. The spirited discussion highlights some interestiung points including one of the reasons not to need an electronic medical record - in the words of one physician:
All I have to do is ask and someone will get me the information
It is hard to imagine a more frustrating experience for a patient let alone a doctor being asked the same question over and over again. Not to mention the implication that the physician has the time, full recall and insight into the patient's condition and possible risk factors to ask all the relevant and necessary questions to reach an accurate diagnosis. With the explosion of clinical data this seems an increasingly unlikely proposition. Far better to have the technology help guide that process, capture and store that information so that it can be reviewed quickly prior to and during the patient interaction. I am reasonably confident that I can review a chart (digital or otherwise) and garner more relevant clinical information in a shorter period of time than going through a question and answer session with a patient. I can pretty much guarantee that this is true if the information is presented in a consistent, structured format.

Cost pressures and the cost of implementing tied to the suitability seems more likey to create a barrier to suucessful adotpion. An attitude of:
We’ll take care of the aggravating stuff
Is more likely to engender success. Perhaps not lines down the street but certainly decrease resistance and increase the desire to use technology to help. There's a reason why we have appliances dotted around our house - most are there to make our lives easier. Some are those poor choice impulse buys that remain on the shelf but all the others do make life easier.

There is another big driver looming - the desire of individuals to have access to all their personal health records:

Consumers want access to their info online, hence PHR
There are those who consider this unimportant and even undesirable and there remains resistance to this concept of personalized
healthcare with
concerns ranging from confidentiality of information to patient’s inability to
understand complex medical diseases and the fear that a patient’s record may
become contaminated by inaccurate medical information if we allow patients to
enter and interact with their own medical record.

I fall clearly on the side of patient empowerment and providing more information and like many other areas I believe consumers want more access and more information. As Regina E. Herzlinger, the author of “Who Killed
Healthcare?” stated in a recent presentation that consumer driven healthcare with improved
access to information will follow the same course as we have seen with cars and
personal computer (PC). Consumers don’t need or even want to know all the
workings of a car or PC but ready access to performance, quality comparisons
and details on cars and PC's allows for intelligent choices and overall improvement of quality
and decrease in price by market pressures brought to bear by the informed
consumer. Healthcare needs to follow the same course and it is the consumer
that will be a key driver of this march towards electronic medical records, easier access and sharing of information and the resulting higher quality care

Friday, August 15, 2008

Getting Technology that Actually Works in Healthcare

There is a article in the fox news site titled: Let's See Gadgets That Actually Work which talks about the frustrations of twenty years of dealing with technology and the fact we are still "fussing" with it.

My own experiences are best represented by one of my favorite people who remains firmly in the camp of "technology needs to be simple to use and does what I need it to do"...
A lot of this has to do with the simple fact that I don't enjoy playing
with machines. I just want them to do what I need them to do with
minimum fuss.

Much of this has to do with a disconnect between designers and users....Motorola had a break out product when they made these two groups the same in designing the original Razr. They gave their engineers carte blanch to build a phone to specifications they would want as users; the result was the Razr which was a smash hit and redefined mobile phones for many.

In a recent thread discussion on the AMDIS listserv one of the participants asked for help in preparing a presentation: "Can IT actually improve medicine without killing the physicians". One of the insightful responses made this exact point:
IT folks tend to work physically isolated from clinicians, but physically proximate to one another, where they reinforce each others' views (and misconceptions).
Exactly! The author suggested that one of the ways to combat this is bring IT folks into your practice, force them to be there during busy working periods and to experience everything you experience from the failures and successes of the technology you deal with. I couldn't agree more...and have made this very point in every company I have ever worked in. Engineers, designers, coders, product managers, and others needs to immerse themselves in the working clinical environment..... maybe instead of bring a child to work day we should have bring an engineer to work day!

At the end of the day - to use Jonathan Weber's words
I just want tools that work. And in that, I don't think I'm alone
I think he's right and this is true in healthcare with some variations in tolerance for the failure and difficulties in using the technology represented by the typical adoption curve

For technology to be successful and rapidly adopted we have to appeal to the larger cohort of users in the tail of the chart. That's the "early and late majority" and that boils down to ease of use and the functionality the tools offer. If the tool makes a clinicians life easier, speeds up a process or reduces the time to carry out a process or procedure then adoption will be faster....

So how about it..... bring an engineer or programmer to work with you next week. However just for the record I disagree with
Jonathan on the iPhone. It is cool, it is useful and it is functional but as always YMMV

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What to Believe in Todays Information Tsunami

It is a confusing world we live in and making choices is becoming increasingly difficult
Today is a great example of the conflicting nature of information available for our own personal healthcare

Half of overweight adults may be heart-healthy, which includes statements such as
The first national estimate of its kind bolsters the argument that you can be hefty but still healthy, or at least healthier than has been believed.
and Obese people not always unhealthy
... 1/4 of people who were a healthy weight actually had health problems such as high blood pressure, low levels of good cholesterol and high levels of bad fats in the blood.

....over half of overweight adults and almost a third of obese adults did not have these problems.
Versus the long standing advice you can see here, and here, and here
and published articles such as this one published yesterday: Measures of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Among Men and Women from the American College of Cardiology that concludes:
This study adds to extensive prior findings, which associate adiposity, in particular abdominal adiposity, with increased risk for CVD
On the same day as news feeds such as CBS and the Times included Why elderly joggers just keep on running.The conclusions included:
California Couch potatoes might not like to hear it, but running regularly has long-term health benefits that last well into old age, according to a study.

Elderly joggers remained fit and active for longer than non-runners and were half as likely to die early, scientists at the University of California at Stanford found. They were also less likely to succumb to age-related illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders.
It's a complex world and making sense of all of this "information" is a significant challenge for everyone, users, patients and professionals alike. The key to helping sort through this data is providing ready access to latest validated research and pushing this data into the consciousness of the users and clinical professionals. Pushing means we need to comprehend the clinical findings, signs, symptoms and tie them back to our clinical databases. This will link the knowledge and information in these clinical databases and push out supporting information to the decision makers which includes the clinical professionals as well as patients themselves. Capturing clinical information as data is one of the first steps in this process - entering it as items on digital forms is one way but that process can be laborious and time consuming so providing alternatives that match current processes is helpful. Dictation of clinical documentation is a prime example that needs to update the way it captures this data and how we achieve this should reflect this growing need for data not text.

As we think about the future of documentation, the data content locked in our traditional documents must be set free to help our healthcare providers and patients start to make sense of the conflicting information feeding in to our clinical decision making

Oh..... and for what it's worth; exercise good and obesity bad.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Medical Transcriptionist - Knowledge Based Workers Setting Clinical Data Free

Sitting in the Medical Transcription Industry Association Board meeting recently the group spent some time discussing the future of the industry and the changes we need to demonstrate the key value that our members and their organizations bring to the healthcare setting.

The Medical Transcription Industry is transforming and will become increasingly important to the successful implementation of electronic medical records to meet the burgeoning need for better more cost effective healthcare.

Clinical information is critical to the systems that are necessary to support our increasingly complex healthcare delivery. Clinical information comes from the patient via the clinician, the vast majority of whom are dictating that information for a medical transcriptionist to transcribe. Years ago this was done with tapes or even wax drums and type writers..... we have moved on from this paper based communication to digital information and sharing of data like every other part of society as detailed in a report The Digital Workplace and the Information Worker:
...the nurse who enters patients' vital signs into a patient-tracking system on a wireless PDA
...the pilot who uses a laptop to download flight manuals and who calculates flight plans based on weight and balance inputs
and in our personal lives as well.... I am sure many can relate to my experiences with my own 81 year old mother who is digitally connected despite distance and time to me and my family. I am grateful to receive regular e-mails and text messages and we both know what is going on in each others lives and schedule. This connection has morphed from traditional (snail) mail and letters, through telephone calls, faxes into full digital connectivity and near instantaneous updates.

Medical Transcription and the medical transcriptionist have moved on too and the transcriptionist, like everyone else, has become a knowledge based worker and increasingly applies technology to assist in producing accurate, timely clinical documents. And it is this production of documents that remains a barrier to the growth. 60% of the current inputs to the EMR are clinical documents that have been dictated and transcribed. It is hard given the length of time we have depended on documents and in particular paper to leave that paradigm behind but to grow into the value added profession that clinical documentation specialists/medical editor/medical transcriptionist needs to become, it is imperative to move away from two dimensional documents and start to think about clinical data that has been locked away in these documents and needs to be set free.

Those in the profession already know the extensive clinical knowledge stored by those in the industry. This was brought home to me some years ago when I discovered that a favorite past time amongst transcriptionist's was to guess the final diagnosis for the patient as they transcribed a dictation - before reaching that point in the dictation. That's a tremendous amount of clinical knowledge available to be applied and will make this transition to knowledge based worker a breeze!

And the technology is heading that way too - documents are so version 1.0. Structured encoded clinical data in semantically interoperable form is available today in the HL7 Clinical Document Architecture and the CDA4CDT format is available and implementable and brings the value of structured clinical data moving away from v1.0 documents to v2.0 clinical data container (I don't like this term either but I'd be interested in suggestions for another term that doesn't use "document" and captures the idea of data and knowledge)

We are all knowledge based workers. Knowledge and in particular clinical data is one of the key ingredients necessary to help automate clinical care and provide safer more cost effective care. Dictated documents contain clinical data and knowledge that is locked in a proprietary format that is human readable but not machine readable.
Clinical documentation specialists/medical editor/medical transcriptionist provide the key to unlocking this data and placing that data into a CDA computer readable format.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Medical Transcription Knowledge Based Workers - Increasing Demand

A working from Home blog "Undress4Success - Work From Home" posted an interesting article on the Medical Transcription industry and the increased demand for Medical Transcriptionists
.... (Overseas) rates are going up too, particularly in India, because they’ve realized that they can demand higher prices thanks to growing need and scarce availability of experienced MTs
The author is right on target - Medical Editors are going to be in high demand. They are and will become key knowledge workers in healthcare. As Tom Harnish says in the blog
...qualified medical transcriptionists (MTs) are in short supply
Good news for those who fear the flatening of the world and the application of technology. Speech recogntion will improve the productivity by automating the rote task of converting the spoken word into text:

The (speech recognition) technology may increase costs by 15% to 20%, but it can increase output 100% to 200% according to one MTSO owner
But to add even more value to this process knowledge based workers will need to do more than just listen to the audio and convert this into text (either by pure typing or editing/proofing a draft output from a speech recognition engine). Adding clinical data that is machine readable and semantically interoperable between all the clinical systems being implemented in our healthcare system will become a must. That process is mostly manual and much information is lost in the avalanche of text based documents that contain the information but only in human readable form. Knowledge based workers will need to provide data elements and structure to these documents turning them into data that can be fed into clinical systems.

CDA4CDT provides an ideal common environment that is designed to flexibly cope with the varied levels of data encoding but still provide the healthcare system with the text based document that can be printed and used as it is currently. But the additional information incorporated into this file allows for semantic interoperability and data exchange at a level that EMRs want and need turning the huge volume of clinical text documents into clinical data inputs to the medical record that can be shared and exchanged between systems

Medical Editors can provide this manually by tagging documents and encoding using the CDA4CDT standard or by using speech understanding technology. Speech understadning outputs a document that is tagged and structured with clinical data. This merges the role of medical editor with a true knoweldge based fuctnion of reviewing and correcting clincal data embedded in the file and clinical document.

Medical Editors are knowledge based workers and are in short supply......

Friday, August 1, 2008

Only 14% of Doctors Using an EMR

The July 2008 For the Record newsletter contained an interesting article that reaffirms the lack of penetration of EMRs in healthcare today
Electronic health records seem so intuitive. Most of us assume our medical records are digitized to save time and help doctors track patients’ medical history. Americans would probably be surprised that a mere 14% of doctors in the United States use electronic medical records (EMRs)
In this particular instance the point is brought home in relation to the daughter of the Queens who was diagnosed with a rare condition DiGeorge syndrome that requires multiple visits and complex treatments. It is true that this example is at the higher end of complexity and requires many more medical interactions and participation but we will all experience some level of medical interaction that will certainly not be getting simpler or less detailed. Medicine continues to innovate at an ever increasing pace and customized drugs therapy and treatments and personalized medicine is within sight. So the problems this family faced which included
....when a procedure was delayed for more than fours hours, while doctors and nurses waited for Courtney’s lengthy file to arrive from another hospital floor. Finally, the records arrived when an aide brought the soaring stack of papers and manila folders on a wheelchair
Will be our problems now and in the future as well. We can look to other countries for their experiences and perhaps even be a little envious as the article cites:
  • 90% of doctors in Sweden
  • 60% in the United Kingdom
Although the United Kingdom's experiences is not without its own set of challenges and problems and there are those in the US that would question the value derived from such implementations, in general, clinicians and the health care community is agreed - we need to implement electronic medical records for everyone and allow this information to be shared. There is and will continue to be discussion and disagreement on what should be shared, who can see the information and even how it is shared but sharing medical knowledge effectively and efficiently is highly desirable.

Even the technology press is getting in on the commentary with an article from ComputerWorld that makes the point that much of the lack of success in rolling out these systems boils down to the old adage

"Follow the Money"
But the biggest obstacle may be a payment model that offers little financial incentive for most health care providers to invest in using electronic records internally, let alone share them with other providers.
And John Halmka, the CIO for Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is quoted as saying
"The provider bears the cost, but most of the benefits accrue to other parties," mainly "payers" -- insurance companies -- and patients who reap the benefits of higher-quality care
So while we wait for the government agencies to fix the incentive problem we need to show value in the implementation and improve the working environment for our clinicians. Taking a leaf out of Apple's play book might help given the impressive (recent stock slides aside) of Apple in the Music Player business (one they were not even in until 2001) and the more recent iPhone. They do come with faults, contrary to the pleadings of your average teenager everyone does not need an iPhone and lining up for hours or even days to get the latest model is not typical behavior. But with their attention to detail and focus on ease of use and intuitiveness I have to believe that with that same level of attention to detail and actually designing a solution that physicians want to use we could accelerate adoption. I'd bet that an EMR designed to be accessed using an iPhone would be a lot more attractive and receive wider uptake and participation by clinicians than one designed using older technology.

And the market is large:
....there are 921,904 physicians, 723,118 practices and 5,756 hospitals in the U.S., according to the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association.
But more importantly based on the US Census population clock there are around 304 Million customers and the numbers perhaps the key driver as Grannis suggests will be Personal Health Records
....efforts by Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and others to build personal health record repositories...... will put pressure on the industry to embrace EMRs
I know Courtney Queen and her parents are grateful for some level of EMR's in the "Vandy Zone" but I am willing to bet that everyone would benefit. 304 million people asking for electronic records and real sharing of their medical information rather than endlessly filling in the same information on paper forms has to carry some weight....