Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Can't See My Patients Because I'm At A Screen Entering Data

As with so many services the world is getting flatter (per Thomas Friedman: The World is Flat - A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century) and medical services and in particular medical care is no exception. Everyone must run faster just to stay in place even the health care profession. We are seeing increasing interest and uptake of "Medical Tourism" (this term seems wrong to me - it reminds me of "Friendly Fire") and a recent posting on the Wharton Site on Health Economics: Bangkok's Bumrungrad Hospital: Expanding the Footprint of Offshore Health Care (Props to HISTalk). As with many of the offshore medical facility there are questions regarding safety and oversight (see this web site regarding Jim Goldberg's 23 year old son who died there and he is convinced there is a cover up and conspiracy).

That aside the interview with Mack Banner CEO of Bumrungrad makes for interesting reading especially when it comes to the implementation of their Electronic Medical Record system (in this case Microsoft's Amalga) and their move towards a totally digital hospital. This is interesting not least of all because Microsoft is exploring this vertical in another country and developing a solution that we will likely see being rolled out in this country once they have worked out all the issues and filled in feature/functionality gaps. But from a documentation standpoint as Kenneth Mays (the Hospital's Director of Marketing) points out:
We talk to our colleagues in the States and they're all facing the same challenge of getting doctors to enter things into computers. It's wonderful in theory. It makes your system more efficient. It makes it faster. It takes out a big source of errors. But it requires doctors to type in these things and it's not easy to get doctors to do that. It could also take something away from the doctor-patient interaction if the doctor has his head buried in a computer rather than looking at the patient and having a dialogue with the patient.... Hospitals, not just our hospital but I think hospitals everywhere, are facing this challenge.
This challenge is significant and one that remains unanswered in the limited roll out of EMR's. In fact a recent Washington Post article: "Electronic medical Records not seen as a cure-all" Alexi Msotrous makes the point that while everyone appears to agree that American Medicine needs to go digital (it is probably broader than that and I would suggest worldwide medicine needs to go Digital) the results are less than stellar and in some cases
suggest that computer systems can increase errors, add hours to doctors' workloads and compromise patient care
Yikes! The Senate Finance Committee has sent a letter to 10 major vendors demanding to know what steps have been taken to safe guard patient data - I expect the responses will be made public which should make for interesting reading. Meanwhile David Bluementhal rightly points out that
the critical question is whether, on balance, care is better than before and he (David Blumenthal) said. "I think the answer is yes"
I agree - we cannot continue the paper based record and we need data to feed these systems to make them useful. But to get this data in creates a data entry challenge that one physician said
I can't see my patients because I'm at a screen entering data
his department found that physicians spent nearly five of every 10 hours on a computer, he said. "I sit down and log on to a computer 60 times every shift. Physician productivity and satisfaction have fallen off a cliff"
And my own daughter (as a patient) from her experience interacting with a physician office said "I wish the doctor would look at me as much as she looked at her computer" (See Doctor Please Look at Me not Your EMR).

The answer lies in using the current methodologies for capturing information - dictation, forms, and other tools that are blended to provide the easiest and most facile way to capture the data for clinicians. Making the data capture part of the clinical interaction without taking it over is essential. Clinicians talk faster than they can type - capturing that information and making this narrative tagged with semantically interoperable data that is usable by the EMR is possible today. Technology, standards and resources exist that allow for this today.

What would you rather be doing - typing at a screen or talking to your patients?


Chalaps said...

Thats really a great blog. You have emphasized the right thing at the right time (when President Obama is in full gear towards implementing EMR ...

Jane said...

Exactly, if you are on screen, then only you can do is just listen the symptoms and what the patient actually says and what he demands, but the real diagnosis is done only at that time when the patient is in front and then the checking is done..

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