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E-Patient Update: Before You Call Me A “Frequent Flier,” Check Your EMR

Posted on April 28, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

While there’s some debate about what constitutes an emergency, there’s no doubt I’ve had a bunch of ambiguous, potentially symptoms lately that needed to be addressed promptly. Unfortunately, that’s exposed me to providers brainwashed to believe that anyone who comes to the emergency department regularly is a problem.

Not only is that irritating, and sometimes intimidating, it’s easy to fix. If medical providers were to just dig a bit further into my existing records – or ideally, do a sophisticated analysis of my health history – they’d understand my behavior, and perhaps even provide more effective care.

If they looked at the context their big ‘ol EMR could provide, they wouldn’t waste time wondering whether I’m overreacting or wasting their time.

As I see it, slapping the “frequent flier” label on patients is particularly inappropriate when they have enough data on hand to know better. (Actually, the American College of Emergency Physicians notes that a very small number of frequent ED visitors are actually homeless, drug seekers or mentally ill, all of which is in play when you show up a bit often. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Taking no chances

The truth is, I’ve only been hitting the ED of late because I’ve been responding to issues that are truly concerning, or doing what my primary doctor or HMO nurse line suggests.

For example, my primary care doctor routed me straight to the local emergency department for a Doppler when my calves swelled abruptly, as I had a DVT episode and subsequent pulmonary embolism just six months ago.

More recently, when I had a sudden right-sided facial droop, I wasn’t going to wait around and see if it was caused by a stroke. It turns out that I probably had an atypical onset of Bell’s Palsy, but there was no way I was going to try and sort that out on my own.

And given that I have a very strong history of family members dropping dead of MI, I wasn’t going to fool around when I felt breathless, my heart was racing and I my chest ached. Panic attack, you’re thinking? No, as it turned out that like my mother, I had aFib. Once again, I don’t have a lab or imaging equipment in my apartment – and my PCP doesn’t either – so I think I did the right thing.

The truth is, in each case I’d probably have been OK, but I erred on the side of caution. You know what? I don’t want to die needlessly or sustain major injuries to prove I’m no wimp.

The whole picture

Nonetheless, having been to the ED pretty regularly of late, I still encounter clinicians that wonder if I’m a malingerer, an attention seeker or a hypochondriac. I pick up just a hint of condescension, a sense of being delicately patronized from both clinicians and staffer who think I’m nuts. It’s subtle, but I know it’s there.

Now, if these folks kept up with their industry, they might have read the following, from Health Affairs. The article in question notes that “the overwhelming majority of frequent [ED} users have only episodic periods of high ED use, instead of consistent use over multiple years.” Yup, that’s me.

If they weren’t so prone to judging me and my choices – OK, not everyone but certainly some – it might occur to them to leverage my data. Hey, if I’m being screened but in no deep distress, why not ask what my wearable or health app data has told me of late? More importantly, why haven’t the IT folks at this otherwise excellent hospital equipped providers with even basic filters the ED treatment team can use to spot larger patterns? (Yeah, bringing big data analytics into today’s mix might be a stretch, but still, where are they?)

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that it’s hard to break long-established patterns, change attitudes and integrate any form of analytics into the extremely complex ED workflow. But as I see it, there’s no excuse to just ignore these problems. Soon, the day will come when on-the-spot analytics is the minimum professional requirement for treating ED patients, so confront the problem now.

Oh, and by the way, treat me with more respect, OK?

Do Health IT Certificate Of Need Requirements Make Sense?

Posted on January 23, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The other day, I read an interesting piece about the University of Vermont Medical Center’s plans to create an integrated EMR connecting its four network hospitals. The article noted that unlike its peers in some other states, UVMC was required to file a Certificate of Need (CON) application with the state before it proceeds with the work.  And that struck me as deserving some analysis.

According to a story appearing in Healthcare Informatics,  UVMC plans to invest an initial $112.4 million in the project, which includes an upgrade to informatics, billing and scheduling systems used by UVMC and network facilities Central Vermont Medical Center, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital and Elizabethtown Community Hospital. The total costs of implementing and operating the integrated system should hit $151.6 million over the first six years. (For all of you vendor-watchers, UVMC is an Epic shop.)

In its CON application, UVMC noted that some of the systems maintained by network hospitals are 20 years old and in dire need of replacement. It also asserted that if the four hospitals made upgrades independently rather than in concert, it would cost $200 million and still leave the facilities without a connection to each other.

Given the broad outline provided in the article, these numbers seem reasonable, perhaps even modest given what execs are trying to accomplish. And that would be all most hospital executives would need to win the approval of their board and steam ahead with the project, particularly if they were gunning for value-based contracts.

But clearly, this doesn’t necessarily mean that such investments aren’t risky, or don’t stand a chance of triggering a financial meltdown. For example, there’s countless examples of health systems which have faced major financial problems (like this and this),  operational problems (particularly in this case) or have been forced to make difficult tradeoffs (such as this). And their health IT decisions can have a major impact on the rest of the marketplace, which sometimes bears the indirect costs of any mistakes they make.

Given these concerns, I think there’s an argument to be made for requiring hospitals to get CONs for major health IT investments. If there’s any case to be made for CON programs make any sense, I can’t see why it doesn’t apply here. After all, the idea behind them is to look at the big picture rather than incremental successes of one organization. If investment in, say, MRIs can increase costs needlessly, the big bucks dropped on health IT systems certainly could.

Part of the reason I sympathize with these requirements is I believe that healthcare IS fundamentally different than any other industry, and that as a public good, should face oversight that other industries do not. Simply put, healthcare costs are everybody’s costs, and that’s unique.

What’s more, I’m all too familiar with the bubble in which hospital execs and board members often live. Because they are compelled to generate the maximum profit (or excess) they can, there’s little room for analyzing how such investments impact their communities over the long term. Yes, the trend toward ACOs and population health may mitigate this effect to some degree, but probably not enough.

Of course, there’s lots of arguments against CONs, and ultimately against government intervention in the marketplace generally. If nothing else, it’s obvious that CON board members aren’t necessarily impartial arbiters of truth. (I once knew a consultant who pushed CONs through for a healthcare chain, who said that whichever competitor presented the last – not the best — statistics to the room almost always won.)

Regardless, I’d be interested in studying the results of health IT CON requirements in five or ten years and see if they had any measurable impact on healthcare competition and costs.  We’d learn a lot about health IT market dynamics, don’t you think?

Study: Hospital EMR Rollouts Didn’t Cause Patient Harm

Posted on September 14, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Rolling out a hospital EMR can be very disruptive. The predictable problems that can arise – from the need to cut back on ambulatory patient visits to the staff learning curve to unplanned outages – are bad enough. And of course, when the implementation hits a major snag, things can get much worse.

Just to pull one name out of a hat, consider the experience of the Vancouver Island Health Authority in British Columbia, Canada. One of the hospitals managed by the Authority, which is embroiled in a $174 million Cerner implementation, had to move physicians in its emergency department back to pen and paper in July. Physicians had complained that the system was changing medication orders and physician instructions.

But fortunately, this experience is definitely the exception rather than the rule, according to a study appearing in The BMJ. In fact, such rollouts typically don’t cause adverse events or needless deaths, nor do they seem to boost hospital readmissions, according to the journal.

The study, which was led by a research team from Harvard, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at the association between EHR implementation and short-term inpatient mortality, adverse safety events or readmissions among Medicare enrollees getting care at 17 U.S. hospitals. The hospitals selected for the study had rolled out or replaced their EHRs in a “big bang”-style, single-day go-live in 2011 and 2012.

To get a sense of how selected hospitals performed, the team studied patients admitted to the studied facilities 90 days before and 90 days after EHR implementation. The researchers also gathered similar data from a control group of all admissions during the same period by hospitals in the same referral region. For selected hospitals, they analyzed data on 28,235 patients admitted 90 days before the implementation, and 26,453 admitted 90 days after the EHR cutover. (The control size was 284,632 admissions before and 276,513 after.)

Apparently, researchers were expecting to see patient care problems arise. Their assumption was that in the wake of the go-live, the hospitals would see a short increase in mortality, readmissions and adverse safety events. One of the reasons they expected to see this bump in problems is that some negative problems related to time and season, such as the “weekend effect” and the “July effect,” are well documented in existing research. Surely the big changes engendered by an EHR cutover would have an impact as well, they reasoned.

But that’s not what they found. In fact, the researchers wrote, “there was no evidence of a significant or consistent negative association between EHR implementation and short-term mortality, readmissions, or adverse events.”

I was as surprised as the researchers to learn that EHR rollouts studied didn’t cause patient harm or health instability. Considering the immense impact an EHR can have on clinical workflow, it seems strange to read that no new problems arose. That being said, hospitals in this group may have been doing upgrades – which have to be less challenging than going digital for the first time – and were adopting at a time when some best practices had emerged.

Regardless, given the immense challenges posed by hospital EHR rollouts, it’s good to read about a few that went well.  We all need some good news!

Value Based Care Hurting Most Vulnerable Hospitals

Posted on March 25, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In an article by the Washington Examiner, they highlight an interesting impact of the shift to value based reimbursement on hospitals:

Safety-net hospitals are getting hit by Obamacare’s push to penalize poor quality, the latest evidence of problems with the law’s effort to improve quality of care.

A new study from Harvard Medical School found that safety-net hospitals that treat many low-income or uninsured individuals are being penalized more for hospital readmission rates than other hospitals.

If a hospital readmits too many patients 30 days after they are discharged after being treated for a certain condition, that hospital gets penalized. A hospital could receive up to a 3 percent reduction in its Medicare annual patient payments.

The policy, which started in 2011, a year after Obamacare was passed, is intended to address a quality issue at hospitals. It is part of a larger shift in Obamacare to transition Medicare payments away from traditional fees for service toward a new model that rewards quality care.

We saw something similar to this happen during meaningful use as well. The most vulnerable hospitals couldn’t get the EHR incentive money because the incentive money wasn’t enough to cover the entire costs of the EHR. So, they just went without. In fact, an argument could be made that a large portion of the meaningful use EHR incentive money was paid to hospitals that were already on the path to EHR, but that’s a topic for another day.

When it comes to value based reimbursement it takes the right investment in technology and processes to be successful. I know a lot of hospitals that are just trying to keep their doors open. Where does that leave them time to think about these new complex government regulations? No doubt this shift to value based reimbursement is going to cause a lot of them to close their doors or be merged into the larger hospital systems. In fact, the later has been happening for a while and will continue to accelerate.

The article above does suggest a possible solution:

One alternative would have a hospital be measured by how its readmission rate improves rather than whether it meets a national average.

“Hospitals could be rewarded based on improvements off what their prior performance has been,” Barnett said.

Another alternative is for a hospital to become an accountable care organization. The concept gives a hospital a spending growth target that it has to meet for its Medicare patients.

I like the idea of benchmarking, but that can get really messy really quickly. The more I learn about value based reimbursement the more I worry that we’re just making things more complex without actually solving healthcare’s core problems.

A Look at MEDITECH’s Place in the EHR Marketplace and Where They’re Headed

Posted on February 12, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Healthcare Scene was lucky to sit down with Helen Waters, VP at MEDITECH, to talk about the EHR market and MEDITECH’s place in that market. Plus, we dive into the culture and history of MEDITECH and how it’s changed. We also explore MEDITECH’s plans around innovation, integration, and value along with MEDITECH’s efforts to deploy cloud and mobile solutions. Finally, we had to talk about healthcare interoperability. We hope you’ll enjoy this wide ranging interview with Helen Waters:

After the formal interview we did above, we allow people watching live to be able to ask questions and even hop on camera to offer their insights or ask questions of Helen in what we call the “after party.” In this “after party” discussion we talk to Helen about her thoughts on the changing healthcare reimbursement landscape and what MEDITECH is doing to prepare for it. We also talk about integrating telemedicine into MEDITECH. I also ask Helen about MEDITECH’s views on EHR APIs. Check out the second half of our interview below:

We hope you’ll enjoy this look into EHR vendor, MEDITECH.

Rural Hospitals Catching Up In HIT Adoption

Posted on December 14, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Historically, rural hospitals have lagged when it comes to health IT adoption. But according to at least one yardstick, the HIMSS EMR Adoption Model (EMRAM), rural facilities seem to have closed much of the gap.

Just a few years ago, many rural hospitals were barely at stage one of the model, which ranks facilities from Stage 0 (All three ancillaries not installed) to Stage 7 (Complete EMR; CCD transactions to share data; Data warehousing; Data continuity with ED, ambulatory, OP). Only two years ago, research suggested that rural and critical access hospitals were lagging far behind in meeting Meaningful Use criteria, and risked incurring penalties this year.

By the end of 2014, however, rural hospitals averaged a Stage 4 rating (CPOE, Clinical Decision Support (clinical protocols). This compares favorably with the 4.7 rank achieved by urban hospitals, and though academic/teaching hospitals were well ahead at a 5.4 ranking, that’s a much smaller difference than you might have seen even five years ago. Meaningful Use incentives, plus overall industry pressure to automate, seem to have done their job.

I’m pondering this, in part, because the CPSI acquisition of Healthland piqued my interest. CPSI picked up Healthland, a provider of rural and critical access hospital software, for $250 million. Given rural hospitals’ history of slow HIT adoption, I wasn’t sure what CPSI saw in Healthland, though the deal does bring revenue cycle management and an EMR for post-acute care facilities to the table.

Now that I’ve learned what progress the rural health IT market has seen, I’m no longer so skeptical. In fact, when you consider that the Healthland acquisition brings 3,300 post-acute customers that it didn’t have before, it seems like CPSI got a pretty nice deal.

Given the growing strength of the rural HIT market, I don’t think the Healthland buyout will be the last domino to fall here. I can easily imagine the giants — Cerner in particular — seeing their way clear to acquiring the combined CPSI/Healthland entity. Why Cerner? Well, if for no other reasons than having a ton of cash — and a more flexible attitude than Epic — I can imagine Cerner getting excited about rural access.

But even putting aside M&A dynamics, the news from rural markets is still intriguing. While having sophisticated health IT infrastructure is a plus anywhere, my guess is that it will be particularly powerful for rural and critical access hospitals. I hope that the growth of HIT capabilities brings a breath of fresh air — and the benefits of cutting-edge care management — to facilities that have traditionally gotten the short end of the stick.

Thoughts On The Quality Systems Transaction – What Does It Mean for Ambulatory EMR?

Posted on November 9, 2015 I Written By

David Chou is the Vice President / Chief Information & Digital Officer for Children’s Mercy Kansas City. Children’s Mercy is the only free-standing children's hospital between St. Louis and Denver and provide comprehensive care for patients from birth to 21. They are consistently ranked among the leading children's hospitals in the nation and were the first hospital in Missouri or Kansas to earn the prestigious Magnet designation for excellence in patient care from the American Nurses Credentialing Center Prior to Children’s Mercy David held the CIO position at University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s only academic health science center. David also served as senior director of IT operations at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and CIO at AHMC Healthcare in California. His work has been recognized by several publications, and he has been interviewed by a number of media outlets. David is also one of the most mentioned CIOs on social media, and is an active member of both CHIME and HIMSS. Subscribe to David's latest CXO Scene posts here and follow me at Twitter Facebook.

The top news last week was from Quality Systems Inc., which owns physician software vendor NextGen Healthcare Information Systems. The news was that NextGen will acquire HealthFusion Holdings, another ambulatory vendor, for $165 million (NextGen also sold their hospital division to QuadraMed the week before). As healthcare systems are consolidating, we are also seeing the consolidation happen on the vendor side and the payer side. The shrinking healthcare profit margin has an effect on the entire industry.

What is next for the ambulatory space?

  1. Physician Groups Joining Health Systems

As we move towards creating a clinical integrated network, the number of physician groups and independent physicians will also decrease where the majority will join an ACO or become an employee for the health systems. The decrease in medical groups and the consolidation of the medical groups will have a huge impact on the ambulatory EMR space. The industry will see a shift in the ambulatory EMR systems transition to the same EMR system that is used by the health systems, so I see a big pickup for the Cerner and Epic in the ambulatory world.

  1. Enterprise EMR

The enterprise EMR will have bigger demands from their clients to focus on the ambulatory side. Health systems are utilizing their technology investments as part of the outreach and growth strategy so it is vital that the clinics and medical groups have a system that fits their workflow. Many industry leading healthcare organizations are becoming a software EMR vendor by providing their ambulatory system to smaller hospitals, rural clinics, and physician groups that cannot afford the technology investment of an enterprise system.

This will be a very interesting space to watch in the next year. We’ll see which players will survive and see what their strategies will be moving forward. I have been providing advisory services for many health systems in regards to their strategy for maximizing their technology investment and making it a revenue-generating tool. So I will be keeping a close eye on this space and sharing insights with you on CXO Scene going forward.

If you’d like to receive future health care C-Level executive posts by David in your inbox, you can subscribe to future Health Care CXO Scene posts here.

Hospitals Should Give Smartphones To Sick Patients

Posted on June 1, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As I see it, hospitals have developed a new and rapidly emerging problem when it comes to managing mobile health services. Not only do they face major obstacles in controlling staff use of tablets and smartphones, they’re right in the center of the growing use of these devices for health by consumer. It’s BYOD writ even larger.

Admittedly, most of the consumers who use mobile devices don’t rely that heavily on them to guard and guide their health. The healthiest of consumers may make a lot of use of wearable fitness bands, and a growing subset of consumers may occasionally leverage their phone’s video capabilities to do telemedicine consults, but few consumers base their medical lives around a mobile device.

The chronically-ill patients that do, however, are very important to the future of not only hospitals — which need to keep needless care and readmits to a minimum if they want to meet ACO goals — but also the insurance companies who finance the care.

After all, the more we dig into mHealth, the more it appears that mobile services and software can impact the cost of care for chronic conditions. Even experiments using text messages, the lightest-weight mobile technology available, have been successful at, for example, helping young women lose weight, change their diets, and slash their risk of cardiac problems. Just imagine the impact more-sophisticated technologies offering medication management, care coordination, blood glucose and pulse ox tracking could have on patients needing support.

But there’s a catch here. A long as mHealth services are delivered via the patient’s own device, the odds of successfully rolling out apps or connected health monitoring services are minimal. I’d argue that such mHealth services will only have a major impact on sick patients if the technology and apps are bolted to the hospital or clinic’s IT infrastructure.  And the operating system used by patients, be it Android or iOS, should be the same one the hospital supports among its employees, or maintaining apps, OS upgrades and patches and even firmware upgrades will be a nightmare to maintain.

Given the security and maintenance issues involved in fostering a connection between provider and patient, I’d argue that providers who are serious about advanced mHealth services absolutely must give targeted chronically-ill patients a locked-down, remote controlled smartphone or tablet (probably a smartphone for mobility) and lock out their networks from those trying to use connected apps on a rogue device.

Will this be expensive?  Sure, but it depends on how you look at costs.  For one thing, don’t you think the IT staff costs of managing access by various random devices on your network — or heaven forbid, addressing security holes they may open in your EMR — far exceed even the $700-odd retail price for such devices?

This might be a good time to get ahead of this issue. If you’re forced to play catch up later, it could cost a lot more.

Study: Scribes Have Positive Financial Impact

Posted on May 22, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Many hospitals, and some larger medical practices, have been using scribes to capture medical documentation within EMRs — leaving the provider free to make old-fashioned eye contact with patients.

Using the scribe might sound like a crude workaround to techies, but it’s been a hit with emergency department doctors, who prefer to focus on their brief, critical encounters with patients rather than the hospital’s expensive toy.

While it was clear from the outset that doctors loved having a scribe to support them, there’s been scant evidence that the scribe was anything other than an added cost.

A recent study, however, has concluded that at least from a Case Mix Index standpoint, scribes can have a meaningful impact on a hospital’s revenue.  The study, which evaluated the use of scribes between 2012 and 2014 across a group of hospitals, concluded that the scribes save money and boost patient-doctor communication.

The study, which was designed to capture the impact of medical scribes on a hospital’s CMI, linked Best Practices Inpatient Care Ltd. with Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Advocate Condell Medical Center and hospitalist-specific medical scribes from ScribeAmerica LLC.

Kicking things off to a good start, ScribeAmerica and Best Practices put scribes through a jointly-developed course that emphasized workflow, productivity and accurate inpatient documentation. The researchers then tallied the results of using trained scribes over a two-year period in the two hospitals.

From 2012 to 2014, researchers found that for both Advocate Condell Medical Center and Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, CMI values climbed after medical scribes came on board.  Advocate Good Shepherd’s CMI grew by .26 and Condell Medical’s CMI rose .28. These are pretty significant numbers given that a CMI growth of 0.1% typically translates to a gain of about $4,500 per patient. In this case, the hospitals gained roughly $12,000 per patient.

These findings make sense when you consider that using scribes seems to have served its purpose, which is to be extenders for providers who’d otherwise be hunched over an EMR screen.

Researchers found that inpatient physicians at the two hospitals studied were able to cut time spent on chart updates by about 10 minutes per patient on average. This profit-building effect is enhanced by the fact that scribes often get discharge summaries prepared immediately, rather than within 72 hours as is often the case in other hospitals.

That being said, it should be noted that the study we’ve summarized here was co-written by the CEO of Best Practices, which clearly invested a lot of time and effort training the scribes for the specific tasks important to the study.

Still, the study does suggest, at minimum, that scribes need not necessarily be written off as an expense, given their capacity for freeing providers for billable clinical activity. Ideally, IT vendors will develop an EMR that doctors actually want to use and don’t need an intermediary to work with effectively.  But until that happy day arrives, scribes seem like they can make a difference.

The Hospital With No EMR

Posted on May 20, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

This weekend, feeling a bit too ill to wait to see my PCP, I took myself to a community hospital in my neighborhood. For various reasons, I went to a hospital I don’t usually visit, one about 10 miles away from my home.

When I entered the emergency department lobby, nothing seemed amiss.

In fact, the light-filled, pleasantly-constructed waiting room was comfortable and modern, the staff seemed bright and knowledegeable, and the triage nurse saw me promptly.

But I got something of a surprise when I checked in with the triage nurse during my initial assessment. Noting that she had not taken my medication history, I told the nurse that I assumed someone would be entering it into their EMR later.

“We don’t have an EMR,” said the kind and sympathetic triage nurse apologetically. “Everything is still on paper. We might have an EMR in a year or so, but we’re not even sure about that.”

As it later turned out, she was mistaken. The hospital did indeed have an EMR in place, one by MEDITECH, but had put all new upgrades on hold, leaving the clinical staff to do almost all documentation on paper.  Regardless, the staff didn’t have access to the higher capabilities of an EMR, and that’s the message that the triage nurse had gotten. (And no one ever did take my list of medications.)

Now, it’s not necessarily the case that this hospital had no grasp of its data. In fact, to my surprise, the front desk was able to tell me that I had been seen there in 2002, something of which I had no memory.

But it’s hard to imagine that the very long wait I endured, which took place in the attractive lobby of a quiet, prosperous suburban hospital, was not due in part to the hospital’s lack of automation. It should be noted that within the next several months to a year, the chain to which the hospital belonged expects to bring the hospital I visited onto its Epic platform. But again, the staff was stumbling around in the dark, comparatively speaking, the day I visited the ED.

Now, hospitals survived on paper documentation for many years, and there’s no reason to think this one won’t survive for a year or so using paper charts. What’s more, it may very well be that the real problem this hospital faced had to do with patient mix and staffing concerns. I did note that many of the patients coming in seemed to be seeking weekend primary care, for which the hospital may not have been as prepared as it should have been.

That being said, an EMR is not just a clinical tool. Put coldly, it’s an instrument of industrial automation which can keep patients moving through the assessment and discharge process more quickly and effectively.

I’m not saying the facility needs to have a fully-launched marquee EMR just to impress patients like myself. In fact, postponing expanding the Epic EMR for a while may be a great financial decision, and from an IT standpoint, better to roll the Epic system out at a sustainable pace than throw it at an unprepared workforce.

But watching nurses and doctors record details on endless sheets of paper, and struggle to track down paper charts for acutely ill patients, was a harsh reminder of what the industry has left behind.