Monday, June 29, 2009

How Doctors feel about EMR vendors too much of the time...

I tried to post a specific Dilbert comic from last week, but the app seems to automatically move to the current cartoon. Fortunately, I think the text is all one needs...
Pointy-haired Boss: We can only afford to fix the high priority bugs
Dilbert: If we don’t fix 100% of the bugs, the software will be 100% useless
Dilbert: So our plan is to fail?
Pointy-haired Boss: More slowly.

Yep - I can't imagine any other executive in any other business putting up with the software physicians are expected to use: clunky, non-intuitive design backed by slow and error-prone technology. Would a bank VP be satisfied with software that required them to use 25 clicks and scrolls to find and document a single transaction? Would an air traffic controller settle for a system that only allowed them to view 1 airplane at a time and which "blew up" 3 times a day?

So why are we having such problems? Likely a combination of:
1. Not getting input from "true" users (do we think the people who created air traffic control software just designed it in-house and then sold it "as is"?).
2. A poorly aligned reimbursement system which provides minimal reason for doctors to use these systems. The potential meaningful use bonus, we be a start - but we still need a more comprehensive reimbursement adjustment to reward efficiency and quality.
3. Lack of standards: I hate to say it, but we are part of our own problem - every time we allow multiple EMR vendors on the same campus or over-customize the software we buy, we make it harder for there to be consistency over time. I think we really need to look at models where there is some consistent framework across the nation, and then there is the ability to add on feature/apps as an option- the "iPhone" model. Examples might include ATM machines, law databases, and again- the air traffic control software (but I'm not sure- feel free to enlighten me).

Finally, there was a recent article which suggested the real problem with EMR adoption is that medical providers are worried that EMRs will "reveal" too many financial secrets- wow, that guy was out of touch. Most docs would love a good system - but it has to be really helfpul to their daily lives. How would that writer like it if his Word processing software required him to click on 5 things to get a capital letter, and 6 to start a new paragraph? And what if he could get paid more for handwriting his columns because it was faster for him?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meaningful Use - The Start

The initial suggestions for Meaningful Use (MU) definitions have begun. This Matrix reviews the different categories and the Goals, Objectives and Measures in each one.

My initial thoughts were that the objectives were much too specific - they were defining the "means", not the "ends". However, with input from others, I then understood the gold is in the column titled "measures" - that is actually what will be defining whether someone gets their incentive bonus. At a high, strategic level- those seem closer to "ends" rather than "means" - which is satisfying since it allows for much more creativity and innovation in getting to those means.

On the other hand, I am not saying that they can all be done without many of the objectives- but hey, that is part of the cool thing about innovation – we don’t know yet what new ideas and technologies might pop up to better solve these problems. For example, instead of a doctor maintaining a med list at the point of care, perhaps a Data Warehouse collects all the billing codes, lab results, and meds from the pharmacies – and then uses some artificial intelligence to auto-create a problem list which can be used to create registries. In fact, that might be more accurate than relying on physician entered problem lists that are often pretty poor. In other words, there has to be some access somewhere to electronic data to make this work, but it does not all have to be physician entered into a single EMR…

So now we can dig into the details and ask some obvious questions:
- Are these the best measures, some are easily defined (eg % diabetics with HbA1C), but others do not have metrics captured in such an objective fashion (eg % smokers offered smoking cessation).
- We need more details about the format of these reports, and how we report them
- Will the government require all of them, or just a limited amount of the reports listed (similar to PQRS in which we only have to report 3 from a larger list).

I'll also make one suggestion - to include the concept of physician to physician messaging, both within an EMR, and across EMRs. I think that may be as or more important than sharing things like medication lists! But I did not see anything in any column in any year that talked about this really important functionality… they talked about access to shared data, but not about ability to send messages to doctors within your direct organization, or within your greater organization. I realize this may be looked at as more of a functionality, and thus contradicts my aversion to focusing on the “means” – but I hope somehow this is included.

Finally, the CCHIT folks have stated they will expand their defintions of certified EHR technologies- which is a good thing (assuming they set the standard to be used by HITECH). The result is that a variety of innovative approaches can then be taken to achieve meaningful use: Some docs will use a full functioning unified EMR, others might use a home grown system that patches together multiple components, and still others might just use HIT on the backend to reach the majority of the metrics required. In other words, it will be interesting to see how many of the measures could be achieved without requiring a physician to touch a keyboard at all (eg no data input). If we can accomplish that - then we may get both significant and meaninful use!

The HIT Policy Committee will accept public comment through June 26 on the just-released draft description of "meaningful use" of electronic health records. Comments should not exceed 2,000 words in length. Electronic comments are preferred and should be addressed to, with the subject line "Meaningful Use."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thoughts on the President’s AMA Speech

President Obama spoke this week in front of the AMA, and gave a great speech about how we need to really improve how we deliver healthcare. He noted that we won't get there by simply implementing electronic medical records or enouraging preventive care. He understands and said clearly that we need to improve our payment system so that it encourages quality and efficiency, thus resulting in lower costs and happier patients.

My full article was posted at the HISTalk site:

My ending comments were as follows:
I agree with President Obama - we can do better. It is quite clear that our current system is simply not sustainable long term, nor is it a “fair” system due to its inability to provide access to all Americans. So I hope we will be able to tell our children in ten years that we were part of the movement which allowed us to become a nation where we can provide the best healthcare to all Americans in the most convenient and cost-effective way possible. It is right financially, it is right morally, and it is right clinically. Now Mr. President, just make sure those words move into action.

I also responded to a comment about the concern around non-compliant patients:
My best comment is that there is no single answer, but if we create the RIGHT INCENTIVES - then let the market and providers be creative and innovative in figuring out how to deal most efficiently with both the doctors/patients who want to work together, as well as those who don’t. America has always been built on that concept - and it can be a double edged sword since the reimbursement system has to be well balanced for quality and cost, but I think we are much closer in a setting where we get “care coordination” PMPM fees vs. simple FFS fees.

...with the right incentives in place - it will be very interesting to see what people come up with - I still remember hearing about the pre-natal clinic which gave away lottery tickets to get all the economically disadvantaged mothers to come into the clinic - it worked well and created an enormous ROI by decreasing pre-term births. Hmmm… maybe that is the answer for the rest of America - see your doctor, be compliant, and get a national lottery ticket!