Friday, July 31, 2009

Risk Assessment in Healthcare

Bruce Schneier posted an article in his newsletter "Why People Don't Understand Risks" that referred to a piece in the Minneapolis Star on Infant Death and their front page headline "Co-sleeping kills about 20 infants each year" (btw this case is more complex than this headline suggests as there are drugs and alcohol involved - babies have slept with their parents and in their parents beds for hundreds of years and without drugs and alcohol represents the a normal safe way for those that like this idea). As he points out - the article is useless since it provides not context or additional information to draw any kind of
The only problem is that there's no additional information with which to make sense of the statistic.
As was made clear with this cartoon:

the science of extrapolation is not quite that simple

The context is of course the usual for the media - shock value and attention grabbing headlines - in this case the tragic case of an infant death from smothering in their sleep. But nowhere so we see details of
  • How many infants don't die each year?
  • How many infants die each year in separate beds?
  • Is the death rate for co-sleepers greater or less than the death rate for separate-bed sleepers?
And the media is only trotting after the marketing machines in some companies - the latest instance of marketing taking over was featured in this piece on USA Today on Tanning Facilities and needless to say disputed by the "The Sunbed Association" disputes this and says:
"there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer"
Well not according to the latest research published that sunbeds cause melanoma. Well proven links that the more sun or UV you expose your sun to the higher the risk of skin cancer.

And there lies the challenge in assessing risk. Filtering information requires some deep insight and sifting through the veritable tsunamis of available sources which represents a significant challenge for the every day user. The issue of Sudden Infant Death (SIDS) is very emotive and reminds me of the major change promoted some years back that had a big impact on incidence - place the baby on their back not on their front. "Back to Sleep" was the campaign back in 1994

So as you approach the headlines and marketing of technological advances take it with a pinch of salt, ask for all the data. Use the web and resources to research your decision in the same way you would do when you make a major purchase. As we discovered recently in our household - not all ear piercing is created equal.... the Ear Piercing Gun and the mall option at Clare's maybe no a good choice. Item no 3 in this search revealed the problems associated with the Ear Piercing Gun.

What are your experiences. How do you filter information - share your tips and tricks

Monday, July 20, 2009

Three Body Problem - Transcription Productivity and Speech Understanding

As an official Space Aficionado who "Applied to Ride" in an attempt to get a spot on a Russian rocket into space in the 80's and was beaten to that spot by the scientist from "Mars" - the confectionery maker I can't resist finding a link between current Apollo 11 memories and healthcare and clinical documentation........

The moon shot was a triumph in so many areas - the science alone was complex, challenging and with the level of computer sophistication at the time even more incredible for its success. Bear in mind that the Lunar Lander had a computer that had the same power as a wristwatch today (actually it was probably less). It is clear from this insightful Op-ed piece in the NY Times - "One Giant Leap to Nowhere" that much of the drive and success of the moon shot was less about the technology and more about the vision of one individual. Wernher von Braun was the philosopher who created the vision and orchestrated the various components into place to successfully place a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. The original drive was more military than scientific despite the fact that any possible attack from space remains challenging by virtue of the "three body problem".

Clinical documentation needs to solve an equally complex three body problem of Medical Editors, productivity and Speech Understanding. There are clear benefits to be had from implementing technology but these benefits accrue not just from the technology but from addressing all the elements. Imposing requirements on physicians on the way they dictate (pronunciation, terms, punctuation etc), on what they use to dictate (audio quality is a big contributor to ability of a speech understanding technology) and even simple workflow improvements that remove the necessity to dictate patient information or repeat information that is already captured and can included automatically are all key elements that can contribute to successfully using technology to improve efficiency. That said I would advocate some variations including less demand on changing physician behavior and having the technology adapt to the physician rather than the other way around - but not all technology is capable of this smarter approach.

In fact Jay Vance in his Blog The XY Files in an MT World talked about these points in a recent posting "Transitioning to Speech Recognition Editing". As he points out there is more than just technology at play. As he rightly points out:
This leaves the impression that 100% of the permanent physicians' dictations are being successfully recognized by the system....I've never seen this level of successful implementation, ever
And the point is well taken there is more at work here than just technology. The medical editor remains a key resource in this equation and part of the three body problem. But just applying technology won't make medical editors more efficient and more productive and importantly better compensated. Addressing the productivity gains and educating not just the clinicians but the editors and management is essential.

I'd add an additional element to this equation one I believe is essential to clinical documentation companies and specialists in this field.... this is not just documentation this is clinical knowledge and information. Generating "reports" or blobs of text be they in RTF, PDF, DOC, or TXT format is not solving the problem or addressing the needs of the sector. Clinical documentation specialists should be using their human intelligence and knowledge to generate "Meaningful Clinical Documents". We require vision and drive towards the creation of clinically actionable data from the documentation industry. We have the necessary infrastructure to help achieve that - I've talked extensively about Healthstory and the importance of preserving the narrative while making the information contained semantically interoperable or computer interpretable for consumption in our increasingly digitized world of medicine. The industry needs to rally around generating useful information not plain old text.

In many respects I think the industry needs the philosopher visionary who can, like Wernher von Braun, articulate the reason why transcription remains an essential component of healthcare delivery and not a dieing industry. His response to the frequently raised question of space exploration and why we Robots were not the solution to space exploration:
there is no computerized explorer in the world with more than a tiny fraction of the power of a chemical analog computer known as the human brain
Has much in common with healthcare, medicine and in particular the process of documenting and capturing clinical information where I would say:
There is no computerized system in the world with more than a tiny fraction of the power of a chemical analog computer known as the human brain, that can replace the knowledge workers in healthcare
Are you that resource and can you be part of that vision or even lead that vision. This is a rallying cry for Clinical Documentation to shoot for Mars and generate Meaningful Clinical Documents that contain the complete Healthstory.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Self Service Medicine

No doubt the title will raise a few eyebrows but there is a growing trend of self service in many other industries as detailed in this posting last month by Tim Egan at the NY Times - The Self Service City and also in this posting by David Strom - Surviving the Self Service Internet. In each of these pieces the authors describe the slow erosion of personal service in favor of automated systems and technologies. In almost all cases this is not for the benefit of the consumer but for the benefit of the service provider. In the case of cameras "it turned out to be a revenue-generator" and the local government "took to it with a vengeance":
Who needs a human being when you can write ten times as many tickets without overtime pay?
But in fact as Tim points out
Numerous studies have found that robo-cams make intersections less safe. People panic knowing the camera is on them, trying to beat the recording click of their license plate. In Alexandria, Va., one study found that accidents increased 43 percent at intersections where cameras were used to enforce red lights.
But you won't find easy links to those studies as the governments have found a new way to tax the citizens thinly disguised in the name of safety. In fact this is subject to a concerted effort in my home state to combat the rising tide of cameras (you can find out more here)

And the story has been repeated with frightening frequency from the original trail blazer of ATM cash machines to check in desks at air lines. How about the local little league baseball match, even professional games umpired by cameras. Perhaps that is good news for healthcare as the industry is certainly currently in the face-to-face contact world. But there are moves to change this - this the latest in self service healthcare in the PBS piece - Bill of Health: Self Service Medicine. The concept is still in its infancy and centered around capturing registration and basic details but we are seeing the idea moving into the healthcare realm. It is hard to assess this and there are of course concerns expressed over the safety of such an enterprise since no "professional" will have reviewed or checked the information and diagnostic process. Equally the application of a good data base could actually apply more information to a consultation given the limited capacity of the human mind to recall all relevant information. In fact in a recent posting on online symptom checkers that took a look at a few of the same tools being offered in a self service world. No question there are challenges but some of the tools I have seen show great promise and even the potential to bring more data analysis to each and every consultation. Today your success and treatment choices are very much driven by the first touch. This is well demonstrated in oncology where your the likelihood of your treatment being surgical is much higher if the first person you see is a surgical oncologists. Similarly for radiation (radiation oncologist) and chemotherapy (medical oncologist) - yet we know that there are some clear benefits to the correct sequencing of treatments for best possible outcomes with minimal side effects

So is self service medicine a good or bad thing......I'm going with good. But for it to be effective patients need to have complete detailed health records that they own and have full and ready access to. Part of that ownership includes the need to provide useful translation of complex terms into more readily understood information that can be read, understood and processed by automated clinical tools. In other words patients need the full healthstory that they can read and feed into these systems.

Imagine the circumstance where you have an incidental finding on a routine x-ray that is ignored because it does not fall in the typical patient profile for the clinicians specialty that you are visiting. But feeding that information into an online personal health record provides additional background and alerts that make you a better more informed patient that can discuss the findings and determine the best next steps in conjunction with a clinician.

There are challenges of privacy, insurance and even excess investigation but like your airline flight.... wouldn't you rather know why the aircraft is sitting on the ground or should the pilot just assume that he knows best and keeping you informed is unnecessary until such time as he is certain on the reason and the possible outcome. I know which one I prefer - full and complete disclosure. Unpleasant news is always hard to take but prevention is a key element to successful treatment and outcomes and without full disclosure getting to that early diagnosis is will be that much harder and take longer.

Do you have personal experiences good or bad. Do you agree - online checkers or self service medicine is good - or perhaps you disagree and you think this should be stopped at all costs. Let me know

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Meaningful Use and the Missing Ultrasound

Imagine you show up for a follow up appointment with your physician to review the Ultrasound you had done 10 days ago. An ultrasound that was performed in the same hospital system as the one you are visiting that you fully expect to be available for your physician to review with you - but when you arrive they have no information, report or even knowledge of the study every being performed.....well you don't have to imagine this at all as I would bet it is happening on a routine basis in many facilities.

So it was for a recent visit in our family. Fortunately I had insisted on a digital copy of the Ultrasound delivered on a CD in DICOM format. A quick visit to download a free DICOM Viewer - in this case OsiriX and a potentially wasted visit turned into productive experience. But were it not for the standard of DICOM making these images available easily, and my mission of collecting all medical records personally it would have been a very different story. In my mind the facility woud not have passed the first hurdle of meaningful use - no one involved in care was getting meaningful use of the imaging study or the information from that exam.

Which brings me to the the HITECH act and Meaningful Use standard. Health and Human Services convened hearings on Meaningful use in April this year and issued a set of recommendations that were open to public comment up to June 26, 2009. It is an important question because the incentive funds are linked to implementation that fulfills "Meaningful Use". Naturally everyone is scrambling to determine if their product/solution will meet the requirements and for those on the purchasing or user side wanting to know what Meaningful Use means to them. The Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS) submitted their combined response - the result of discussion that took place at the cleverly nabbed domain The AMDIS response can be found here (pdf). AMDIS promotes Meaningful use based on broad high level themes that include
  • Meaningful use should be from the patient’s eyes and in particular make the information available to them
  • Clarification of the requirements to receive funding - what must be met to receive payouts
  • Focus on data capture and sharing
  • Defer reporting requirements of quality measures on the basis that this will become a natural byproduct of implementing systems that capture this information appropriately
  • Defer requirements for CPOE implementation as this represents a huge technical and administrative challenge
  • Support the criteria with certification of systems that ensure they can talk to other systems - sharing of the data
Great additions to the debate and ones that include a common theme of the patient and importantly easy access to their own records and clinical information.

Not surprisingly the common theme of shareability of information is also evident in the Healthstory response which can be found here (Word Document). Healthstory focused on:

  • Incentives to make information sharing a core component of any system and process
  • Make the information shared available in "meaningful" form that includes structure and consistency
  • Include additional codification of the data that makes it useful to both humans and electronic healthcare systems
  • Create incentives for reporting of quality measures
The common thread is the ready sharing of information for the Personal Health Record. As presented in an organization chart that I remember from years back at ground breaking and innovative facility Health Care International Hospital (HCI) in Glasgow Scotland the patient is the king and appears at the top of the organization chart. So while the comment period has closed your ability to look for meaningful use and getting the full healthstory has not. Insist on receiving your information in usable form - it may save you and your physician a lot of time.

Have you had similar experiences - did you get your medical record in usable form or did you meet with full blown resistance. Let me know the good and the bad.