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Why Can’t Release of Records Be Automated Through A Patient Portal?

Posted on March 31, 2015 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.

I was in a recent discussion with one of the leading providers of release of information services, HealthPort about EHR’s impact on the release of health records. In our discussion, I asked why the release of health records can’t be completely automated through a patient portal. In my mind, meaningful use is requiring that healthcare organizations put a patient’s record up on a patient portal, so shouldn’t that mean that the release and disclosure of patient records would become obsolete?

Of course, I was applying a limited view to what’s required when a disclosure happens and who is making the records request. In most cases, it’s not the patient requesting the record and these third parties don’t have access to the patient’s portal. Plus, the release and disclosure of patient records often requires accessing multiple systems along with assessing which information is appropriately included in the disclosure. The former is a challenge that can be solved, but the later is a complex beast that’s full of nuance.

In order to clarify some of these challenges and explain why a patient portal won’t replace all records requests, here’s a short interview with Jan McDavid, Esq., General Counsel at HealthPort.

Q: What are HIPAA requirements around “charging” for copies of records, and what are considered “reasonable” costs?

A: HIPAA is very clear that its pricing applies only to copies provided to “individuals,, which HIPAA defines as the person who receives treatment—the patient. HIPAA guidance pertains only to patient requests for medical records, approximately seven percent of all requests received by healthcare providers.

The majority of records are requested by physicians for continuing care, governments for entitlement benefits, insurers, and inquiries from attorneys, according to internal data from HealthPort’s 2014 record release activity nationwide.

Within the realm of patient requests, providers can charge patients no more than their labor costs to produce the record, plus supplies and shipping. No upfront fee to search or retrieve records may be charged to patients.

Q: Why shouldn’t records just be free now that they are electronic?

While many believe the cost to produce records should be negated once information is digital, there are misperceptions and logistics that must be understood. The process of disclosure management (release of information) involves many steps that still require human intelligence and intervention—especially on the front end of the process (receiving, validating and approving the request). Here are three examples:

  • The authorization must be adhered to strictly, which often requires contacting the requester and explaining that some of the records they requested may not be available, or may require very specific patient authorization.
  • Information is commonly pulled together from multiple sources and systems (paper and electronic) to fulfill a request. While providers are working toward completely electronic environments, almost all still have a combination of paper and electronic. Depending on who makes the request, every single page of a record may require review.
  • Staff releasing records must be trained on HIPAA, HITECH, the Omnibus Rule, state and federal subpoena requirements, and specific state and federal laws for drug, alcohol, HIV/AIDS, mental health, cancer, genetics, minors, pregnancy, etc.

Q: If the EHR is in the portal, what other records aren’t in the EHR that HIM staff has been aggregating in a records request?

A: Not all patient information is automatically included within the patient portal view, nor should it be. Each provider organization determines what EHR information is posted to the portal and what patients can do within the portal (e.g. requesting refills, scheduling appointments, viewing lab results, etc.). HIM experts are key in these decisions.

The Overdose – When EHRs Go Wrong

Posted on March 30, 2015 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.

We’re getting more and more stories coming out about the impact for bad that an EHR can have in medicine. Most of them have been anecdotal stories like The Old Man and the Doctor Fable and Please Choose One. However, today I came across one that talked about an overdose due to an error in the use of EHR. Here’s a summary of the discovery:

Levitt’s supervising nurse was stumped, too, so they summoned the chief resident in pediatrics, who was on call that night. When the physician arrived in the room, he spoke to and examined the patient, who was anxious, mildly confused, and still complaining of being “numb all over.”

At first, he was perplexed. But then he noticed something that stopped him cold. Six hours earlier, Levitt had given the patient not one Septra pill—a tried-and-true antibiotic used principally for urinary and skin infections — but 38½ of them.

Levitt recalls that moment as the worst of her life. “Wait, look at this Septra dose,” the resident said to her. “This is a huge dose. Oh my God, did you give this dose?”

“Oh my God,” she said. “I did.”

If you read the whole article linked above, you’ll discover that the issue happened when entering the dosage for a drug into the Epic EHR system at UCSF. I’m not here to point fingers since every case is unique and you could argue forever about whether it’s the software’s responsibility to do something or whether the person using the software is responsible for understanding how the software works. I think that’s a discussion that goes nowhere since the right answer is that both can do better.

These types of stories are heartbreaking. They even cause some to question whether we should be going electronic at all. I’m reminded of a time I was considering working at a company that did expert witness testimony for cars. One of their hypothesis was that the computers that are now found in cars will usually save people’s lives. However, in a few cases they’re going to do something wrong and someone is going to lose their life. I think that’s where we’re at with EHR software. It’s not perfect and maybe never will be, but does it save more lives than it kills?

That’s a tough question that some people don’t want to face, but we’re going to face it whether we acknowledge the question or not. Personally, I think the answer to that question is that we do save more lives with an EHR than we damage. In the case above, there were still a lot of humans involved that could have verified and corrected the mistake with the EHR. They didn’t, but they could have done so and likely do with hundreds of other mistakes that occur every day. This human touch is a great counterbalance to the world of technology.

If we expanded the discussion beyond lost lives, it would be a much more challenging and complex discussion to know if EHR makes an organization more or less productive. I believe in the short term, that discussion is up for debate. However, in the long term I’m long on the benefits of EHR when it comes to productivity.

None of this should excuse us from the opportunity to learn important lessons from the story above. We need to be careful about over reliance on data in the EHR (similar to over reliance on a paper chart). We need to make our EHR smarter so that they can warn us of potential problems like the ones above. We need EHR vendors to not let known EHR problems remain unfixed. We need a solid testing plan to avoid as many of these situations as possible from ever happening in the first place.

There’s a lot of work to do still to improve EHR. This story is a tragic one which should remind us all of the important work we’re doing and why we need to work really hard to improve it now.

Meaningful Use Stage 3 Apathy

Posted on March 27, 2015 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.

I’ll admit that I was out of town when the meaningful use stage 3 rule was released. (Side Note: Why do they always release the rule on a Friday right before the weekend?) So, unlike many people I wasn’t deep in the regulatory details of meaningful use stage 3.

Since I missed the initial release of MU stage 3, I like to read the commentary coming from other people to sort of triangulate some of the most common issues and challenges people have with the new rule. However, what’s been fascinating for me in almost all of these writeups is that people are tired of meaningful use.

Over and over I’ve read of people who haven’t read the rules, people who are putting off reading the rules, and people who’ve shunned meaningful use all together. In fact, I’ve been shocked by the number of people who are just “over” meaningful use. They’re ready to move on from it and move on to something new.

Many people might misinterpret this apathy with meaningful use as a dislike for technology in general. In most of the cases I’ve mentioned that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the people who are tired with meaningful use are all about implementing technology in healthcare. They’re just tired of the government regulating that they do it.

What’s not clear to me is whether this apathy is deep enough that hospitals will not actually go after the meaningful use dollars or not. The EHR incentive money is very real for many hospitals and the penalties are a big deal as well. A decision to not do meaningful use is a really big one and the financial incentives and penalties might still win out. However, you can be sure that whoever’s working on the MU stage 3 project won’t do it with as much gusto as they did MU stage 1.

By Tradition, or By Design?

Posted on March 11, 2015 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.

A few of my healthcare social media family are my friends on Facebook and so a get a smattering of work on my Facebook account. Today when I was browsing through my Facebook feed (likely avoiding some other work) I found this great question from Dirk Stanley, MD, MPH (@dirkstanley), and CMIO at Cooley Dickinson Hospital:

By Tradition, or By Design?

4 words that caused me to stop my day and think. Hopefully it does the same for you.

Dirk is a great guy if you don’t know him. I love running into him at HIMSS since he always seems to be hanging around a bunch of other CMIOs who are overwhelmed by the craziness of HIMSS. It then leads to great conversations since he’ll pose questions like the one above.

There are so many ways we could talk about the question of tradition and design in healthcare. I think we could all come up with examples where tradition was an amazing thing for healthcare and where tradition has been detrimental. The same could be said for design. Like in most things in life, it depends.

With that as framework, I’m more interested in talking about how often we’re stuck designing around traditions. When the tradition is a good thing, that can lead to excellent results. When the tradition is a bad thing, it can lead to awful results. Once our traditions are incorporated into design, it’s REALLY hard to change those traditions.

Our billing system is a great example of this challenge. EHR systems were built around the traditions we’ve created in our billing system. For doctors wanting to be reimbursed for their work, it’s been a good thing. They need to get paid and early iterations of EHR were often able to get doctors paid at a higher level just based on their ability to create more complete documentation. The tradition of creating fluffy documentation that would get paid at a higher level has now been designed into most EHR systems. Every doctors knows the impact of this and it’s not a very pretty result. Plus, now it’s EXTREMELY hard to change.

The good news is that the only way to solve this problem is to design new traditions that avoid these challenges. That’s what they’re trying to achieve with ACOs. Although, the above example should be a warning to those designing these new reimbursement models. If you design them well so they become a tradition that’s integrated into our systems, all will be well. However, the opposite is also true.

By Tradition, or By Design? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Health System Investment in Single EHR Platform

Posted on March 6, 2015 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.

I heard about this investment at an ACO conferences in Las Vegas. It had been a while since I’d written about the hospital subsidizing the cost of an EHR for their affiliate providers. We all know they’ve been implementing an EHR with their owned practices. However, in a lot of areas the hospital is also spending a bunch of money subsidizing the cost of EHR for their affiliated providers as well.

The above comment is even more interesting in the context of an ACO. Basically, this health system’s progress towards an ACO gave them a really great reason why they should spend money on an EHR for even their affiliate providers. They obviously saw a lot of value in having all the providers and hospitals on a single EHR. Otherwise they wouldn’t have made an investment like this.

This also seems to highlight their bleak outlook on healthcare interoperability. If interoperability was a reality, would they really care that much about having everyone on a single EHR platform?

What is absolutely clear to me is that an ACO needs technology to connect all of the entities in the organization. The single EHR approach is one way. However, there’s a really strong argument to be made that most ACOs are going to be a heterogeneous environment. Where does that leave the ACO?

When Your EHR Goes Down…And It Will

Posted on March 5, 2015 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.

Erin McCann at Healthcare IT News wrote a recent report on a McKesson EHR outage at Rideout Health after an HVAC unit burned out. In the article she also talks about the $1 billion (I love that she added the price tag) Epic EHR outage that occurred in August 2013 at Sutter Health and lasted an entire day. Plus, she mentions the IT network failure at Martin Health System in January 2014 and had their Epic EHR down for 2 days. I’m sure there are many more that were shorter or just weren’t reported by news outlets.

When I think about EHR downtime I’m reminded of the Titanic. You can invest all you want in the “unsinkable” EHR implementation and unexpected downtime will still occur. Yes, much like the Titanic that everyone thought was totally unsinkable, it now lies at the bottom of the ocean as a testament to nature’s ability to sink anything. That includes causing your EHR to go down.

Let’s say your EHR is able to have 99.9% uptime. That would feel pretty good wouldn’t it. Well, that turns out to be 8 hours 45 minutes and 57 seconds over the year. That’s still a full working day of downtime. If you expand to 99.99% downtime, that’s still 52.56 minutes of downtime. At 99.999 (Five Nines as they say in the industry) of downtime is 5.39 minutes of downtime.

The challenge is that with every 9 you add to your reliability and uptime requirements the costs increase exponentially. They don’t increase linearly, but exponentially. Try getting that exponential cost curve approved by your hospital. It’s not going to happen.

Another way to look at this is to consider tech powerhouses like Google. They have some of the highest quality engineers in the world and pay them a lot more than you’re paying your hospital tech staff. Even with all of that investment and expertise, they still go down. So, why would we think that our hospital EHR could do better than Google?

One way many organizations try to get a Google like uptime in their organizations is to use an outside data center. Many of these data centers are able to implement and invest in a lot of areas a hospital could never afford to invest in. Of course, these data centers only provide a few layers of the technology stack. So, they can minimize downtime for some things, but not all.

The real solution is to make sure your organization has a plan for when downtime occurs. Yes, this basically means you assume that your EHR will go down and what will you do? This was my first hand experience. At one point the EHR that I implemented went down. The initial reaction was fear and shock as people asked the question, “What do we do?” However, thanks to a strong leader, she pulled out our previously created plan for when the EHR went down. Having that plan and a strong leader who reminded people of the plan calmed everyone down completely. It still wasn’t fun to have the EMR down, but it was definitely manageable.

What have you done to prepare for EHR downtime? Do you have a plan in place? Have you had the experience of having your EHR down? What was it like? Are you afraid of what will happen in your hospital when your EHR goes down?

Hospitals Publishing Algorithms and Improving Adherence

Posted on March 2, 2015 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.

Today I wanted to pair two seemingly unrelated tweets to talk about the shift that’s happening in healthcare and also what I hope is happening. Let’s start off with the big announcement that Mayo Clinic is starting to share it’s algorithms that improve patient outcomes on the Apervita platform.

I’ve long wanted some way for algorithms that are discovered to be easily shared. I’ll admit that I haven’t dug into the Apervita platform yet, but I’m interested in seeing how they’re trying to solve the problem of algorithm sharing. I’ll be looking to see what their business model is and if it makes sense from everyone’s perspective. It’s a challenging problem that I’d love for people to solve since it will make our healthcare system better.

This next tweet dives into the question of data versus the actual result of improving health:

I agree with Dr. Morrow that we have a lot of data and we haven’t done much to get all the value we could out of that data. Plus, even if you have great data, there’s a gap between understanding the data and getting the patient or doctor to do something about that data.

I love these two topics paired together, because I think the first step to converting data to adherence is to find the right algorithms that analyze the data. The right algorithms can indicate who to engage with to improve adherence. In many ways, getting people to improve adherence won’t be a tech solution at all. Instead it will be a human interaction that was prompted by great algorithms that poured over all the data we do have. That’s a powerful concept and one that needs to be shared.

RNs are Choosing Where to Work Based on Hospital EHR

Posted on February 27, 2015 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.

I came across this tweet and it made me stop and realize how important the selection and more important the implementation of your EHR will be for your organization. In many areas there’s already a nurse shortage, so it would become even more of an issue if your hospital comes to be known as the hospital with the cumbersome EHR.

Here’s some insight into the survey results from the article linked above:

79% of job seeking registered nurses reported that the reputation of the hospital’s EHR system is a top three consideration in their choice of where they will work. Nurses in the 22 largest metropolitan statistical areas are most satisfied with the usability of Cerner, McKesson, NextGen and Epic Systems. Those EHRs receiving the lowest satisfaction scores by nurses include Meditech, Allscripts, eClinicalWorks and HCare.

The article did also quote someone as saying that a well done EHR implementation can be a recruiting benefit. So, like most things it’s a double edge sword. A great EHR can be a benefit to you when recruiting nurses to your organization, but a poorly done, complex EHR could drive nurses away.

I’m pretty sure this side affect wasn’t discussed when evaluating how to implement the EHR and what kind of resources to commit to ensuring a successful and well done EHR implementation. They’re paying the price now.

Department of Defense (DOD) and Open Source EHR

Posted on February 25, 2015 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.

I was intrigued by a report by the Center for New American Security that was covered in this article on HealthcareDive. In the report, they make a good case for why the Department of Defense (DOD) should select an open source EHR solution as opposed to a commercial solution. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“I think the commercial systems are very good at what they do,” Ondra said. However, “they are not ideally designed for efficiency and enhancement of care delivery, and I think the DOD can do better with an open source system both in the near-term, and more importantly in the long-term, because of the type of innovation and creativity that can more quickly come into these systems.”

Reports like this make a pretty good case for open source. Plus, I love that it also pointed out that commercial EHR vendors were built on the back of the fee for service model which doesn’t matter to the DOD. It was also interesting to think about the DOD’s selection of an open source EHR system as an investment in other hospitals since the money they spend on an open source EHR could help to catalyze the ongoing development of a free open source EHR solution.

While these arguments make a lot of sense, it seems that the DOD has decided not to go with an open source EHR solution and instead is opting for a commercial alternative. In this article (Thanks Paul) the DOD has narrowed the list of contenders for the $11 Billion DOD EHR contract (DHMSM) to just: CSC/HP/Allscripts, Leidos/Accenture/Cerner, and IBM/Epic who “fall within the competitive range.” They reported that PwC/Google/GDIT/DSS/Medsphere and Intersystems did not fall within the competitive range.

I’ll be interested to hear Medsphere’s take on this since every report I’ve ever read has Medsphere and their open source Vista solution as much less expensive than the commercial alternatives (Epic, Cerner, Eclipsys). So, I can’t imagine that the Medsphere bid was so much more than the others. Unless the consultants are charging through the nose for it. Or maybe the open source Vista option wasn’t “in the competitive range” because it was too cheap. Wouldn’t that be hilarious to consider. Hopefully the government isn’t that stupid, but…

I don’t claim to have any clue on how these $11 billion government contract bids work. I’m just a casual observer from the sideline. It seems like 3 companies remain in the ring. I guess the Google juice wasn’t enough for the PwC/Medsphere bid.

Cerner Offers Voluntary Separation Packages

Posted on February 24, 2015 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.

The Kansas City Star is reporting that Cerner is offering employers whose combination of years of service and age total 65 have been offered voluntary separation packages. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Cerner spokesman Dan Smith said the one-time offer reflects the “deep bench of complementary talent” because of the Siemens acquisition and doesn’t affect Cerner’s continued hiring or its future growth plans.

“This is a truly voluntary program for all of our U.S. associates,” Smith said. “There is no pre-determined outcome and no number to hit. It provides eligible associates who might be ready to make a change the chance to decide to stay or pursue a different option and get benefits not normally associated with voluntary departures.”

With any large acquisition like the one Cerner did of Siemens, there has to be a lot of duplicate functions and they have to look at how to trim back the number of employees. So, this shouldn’t come as any surprise. In fact, I think the fact that they’re currently doing a voluntary separation package might mean that they aren’t looking to slim down the company as much as you’d think. Some investors might think that’s a bad plan since every company the size or Cerner or Siemens (let alone the combined company) could likely fire 10% of the workforce and improve their company’s profitability. Although, it could also be a sign of how much growth Cerner is experiencing.

Personally, I’ll be watching to see if they announce some other layoffs. It will be a surprise to me if they don’t announce some involuntary layoffs. Either way, this is a normal part of an acquisition like this.

It does make me wonder how many of these older professionals that accept the voluntary separation packages will end up at the wide variety of EHR consulting companies out there. You have to think that would be a pretty sweet deal for them.