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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!

Hospitals Can Learn From Low Outpatient EHR Turnover Rates

Posted on September 2, 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.

According to new data from HIMSS, almost 80% of freestanding outpatient facilities have an EHR in place, a figure which has shot up 30% over the past five years. This is no big surprise, given that the growth tracks neatly with the Meaningful Use program run. What seems to take HIMSS analysts aback, on the other hand, is that only a scant 15% of outpatient facilities surveyed seem ready to replace or purchase an EHR,

Why are learned minds at HIMSS taken aback by this data? Well, for one thing, hospitals have set their expectations. And over the last couple of years, hospitals have been dumping their existing EHRs at a rapid pace, with many large hospitals switching to newer systems with population health capabilities.

A recent Black Book study suggests that many hospitals weren’t thrilled with the results of even their lastest EHR investment, with some even considering yet another switch. In other words, 2,300 hospital executives and IT staff interviewed weren’t seeing much benefit from their ongoing, massive investment of time and money.

What’s more, HIMSS analysts don’t seem to have taken a close look at how EHR purchasing patterns vary between the inpatient and outpatient setting. And that’s worth doing. After all, if outpatient buyers and inpatient buyers are making strikingly different decisions about how to spend on IT, the reasons for this disparity probably matter.

Important lessons

I don’t have any statistical data to back this up, but I do have a fairly straightforward theory on why hospitals seemingly do worse at investing in EHRs than outpatient facilities. I believe that EHRs are collapsing under the weight of trying to manage entire enterprises.

My sense is that outpatient EHR buyers aren’t just clinging to their existing systems due to inertia or lack of capital (though these factors doubtless come into play). Rather, they’re in a better position to take advantage of the systems they acquire than hospital IT departments.

For most medical groups, their mission is more straightforward and their management structure flatter than that of hospitals, which are having to be all things to all people of late. And this allows them to leverage an EHR more effectively.

To me, this suggests the following takeaways:

  • Hospitals might benefit from an EHR that’s focused more on supporting individual departments/service lines (including outpatient services) than a master enterprise system
  • If EHRs supported individual departments in a modular fashion, and the modules could be switched out between vendors, hospitals could update only the modules they needed to update
  • Hospitals could learn something from how their independent practice partners choose and integrate EHRs

Industry activity clearly suggests that CIOs back a more modular approach to solving clinical problems, and this could help them build a more flexible infrastructure that doesn’t get outmoded as quickly. And if outpatient buying patterns offer additional insights into decentralizing EHRs, it’d be smart to leverage them.

Thoughts On Hospital Telecommunications Infrastructure

Posted on August 31, 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.

Given the prevalence of broadband telecom networks in place today, hospital IT leaders may feel secure – that their networks can handle whatever demands are thrown at them. But given the progress of new health IT initiatives and data use, they still might face bandwidth problems. And as healthcare technical architect Lanny Hart notes in a piece for SearchHealthIT, the networks need to accommodate new security demands as well.

These days, he notes healthcare networks must carry not only more-established data and voice data, but also growing volumes of EMR traffic. Not only that, hospital IT execs need to plan for connected device traffic and patient/visitor access to Wi-Fi, along with protecting the network from increasingly sophisticated data thieves hungry for health data.

So what’s a healthcare CIO to do when thinking about building out hospital telecommunications infrastructure?  Here’s some of Hart’s suggestions:

  • When building your network, keep cybersecurity at the top of your priorities, whether you handle it at the network layer or on applications layered over the network.
  • Use an efficient network topology. At most, create a hub-and-spoke design rather than a daisy chain of linked sub-networks and switches.
  • Avoid establishing a single point of failure for networks. Use two separate runs of fiber or cable from the network’s edge switches to ensure redundancy and increase uptime.
  • Use virtual local area networks for PACS and for separate hospital departments.
  • Segment access to your virtual networks – including your guest Wi-Fi service – allowing only authorized users to access individual networks.
  • Build as much wireless network connectivity into new hospital construction, and blend wireless and wired networks when you upgrade networks in older buildings.
  • When planning network infrastructure, bear in mind that hospital networks can’t be completely wireless yet, because big hardware devices like CT scans and MRIs can’t run off of wireless connections.
  • Bigger hospitals that use real-time location services should factor that traffic in when planning network capacity.

In addition to all of these considerations, I’d argue that hospital network planners need to keep a close eye on changes in network usage that affect where demand is going. For example, consider the ongoing shift from desktop computers to mobile devices use of cellular networks have on network bandwidth requirements.

If physicians and other clinical staffers are using cell connections to roam, they’re probably transferring large files and perhaps using video as well. (Of course, their video use is likely to increase as telemedicine rollouts move ahead.)

If you’re paying for those connections, why not evaluate whether there’s ways you could save by extending Internet connectivity? After all, closing gaps in your wireless network could both improve your clinicians’ mobile experience and help you understand how they work. It never hurts to know where the data is headed!

More Ideas On Tightening Hospital IT Security

Posted on August 29, 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.

Security deserves all of the attention you can spare, and it never hurts to revisit the fundamentals, in part because the cost of lagging security measures is so high. After all, it’s more than likely that your organization will face a breach, as almost 90% of healthcare organizations experienced at least one breach within the past two years, according to a Poneman Institute study done earlier this year.

Here’s some options to consider when tightening up your security operations, courtesy of Healthcare IT Leaders, whose suggestions include the following:

Hire white hat hackers: Mayo Clinic reportedly tried this a few years ago, and learned a great deal. While its security measures seem to have gotten something of a beatdown, the Clinic also found a bunch of security holes and got recommendations on how to close those holes.

Lock down employee mobile devices: As mobile technology increasingly becomes a key part of your infrastructure, it’s important to keep it secured – but that can be tough when employees own the phone. One question to ask is whether your IT could lock or wipe data from employee phones and tablets if need be. What are your legal options for securing critical data on employee-owned devices?

Review medical device security:  Networked medical devices – from respirators and infusion pumps to MRI scanners – increasingly pose security threats, as any device that receives and transmits data can be a target for attackers.  It’s critical to audit these devices, while setting careful security standards for device makers.

Train staff on security issues:  Often, breaches are due to human error, so it’s critical to educate non-IT employees on the basics of security hygiene. Offering basic security training should cover not only cover ways to avoid security breakdowns – such as avoiding generic or default passwords and phishing e-mails — but also explanations of how such breaches affect patients.

Encourage risk reporting:  According to Poneman, almost half of healthcare organizations discovered a breach through an employee within the past two years. What’s more, nearly one-third of data breaches came to light due to patient complaints. It’s smart to encourage these reports, as IT staff can’t have eyes everywhere.

Disable laptop cameras and microphones:  Laptops generally come with a webcam and microphone, but at least in an enterprise setting, it may be better to disable these functions. Why? For one thing, attackers may be able to listen to private conversations through the microphone.

As I see it, the bottom line on all of these activities is to infuse security thinking into as many IT interactions as possible.  It may be trite to talk about a culture of security (it’s easier said than done, and too many organizations make empty promises) but such a culture can actually make a big impact on your security status.

To have the biggest impact, though, that culture has to extend all the way to the C-suite, and unfortunately, that rarely seems to happen. When I read research on how often healthcare organizations underspend on security, it seems pretty clear that many senior execs don’t take this issue as seriously as that should. And if the staggering level of health data breaches happening lately isn’t enough to scare them straight, I don’t know what will.

HHS OIG Says Unplanned Hospital EMR Outages Are Fairly Common

Posted on August 24, 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.

More than half of U.S. hospitals responding to a new survey reported having unplanned EMR outages, according to a new report issued by the HHS Office of the Inspector General, due to a variety of common but difficult-to-predict technical problems. Some of these outages have merely been inconveniences, but some resulted in patient care problems, the OIG report said.

The agency said that it conducted this study as a follow up to its prior research, which found that both natural disasters and cyberattacks were having a major impact on EMR availability. For example, it noted, hospitals faced substantial health IT availability challenges in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, include damage to HIT systems and problems with access to patient records.

According to the survey, 59% of the hospitals reported having unplanned EMR outages. One-quarter said that the outages created delays in patient care and 15% said that the outage lead to rerouted patient care. Only 1 percent of outages were caused by hacking or breaches.

The most common causes, in order, were topped by hardware malfunctions, followed by Internet connectivity problems, power failures and natural disasters. (For more detail on the root causes of outages, see this great post by my colleague John Lynn.)

It’s worth noting that these hospitals were selected for having their act together to some degree. To conduct the study, researchers spoke with 400 hospitals which were getting Meaningful Use incentive payments for using a certified EMR system in place as of September 2014.

Nearly all of these hospitals reported having a HIPAA-required EMR contingency plan in place. Also, two thirds of the hospitals addressed the four HIPAA requirements reviewed by OIG researchers. Eighty-three percent of surveyed hospitals reported having a data backup plan, 95% had an emergency mode operations mode plan, 95% said they had a disaster recovery plan and 73% said they had testing and revision procedures in place.

Not only that, most of the hospitals contacted by the study were implementing many ONC and NIST-recommended practices for creating EMR contingency plans. Nearly all had implemented practices such as using paper records for backup and putting alternative power sources like generators in place.

Also, most hospitals said that they reviewed their EMR contingency plans regularly to stay current with system or organizational changes, and 88% said they’d reviewed such plans within the previous two years. Most responding hospitals said they regularly trained their staff on EMR outage contingency plans, though just 45% reported training staff through recommended drills on how to address EMR system downtime. And 40% of hospitals that activated contingency plans in the wake of an outage reported that they saw no disruption to patient care or adverse events.

Still, the OIG’s take on this data is that it’s time to better monitor hospitals’ ability to address EMR outages. Now more than ever, the agency would like to see the HHS Office for Civil Rights fully implement a permanent HIPAA compliance program, particularly given the mounting level of cyberattacks endured by the industry. The OIG admitted that HIPAA standards aren’t crafted specifically to address these types of outages, so it’s not clear such monitoring can solve the problem, but the agency would prefer to forge ahead with existing standards given the risks that are emerging.

Managing Health Information to Ensure Patient Safety

Posted on August 17, 2016 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

This post is part of the HIM Series of blog posts. If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) have been a great addition to healthcare organizations and I know many would agree that some tasks have been significantly improved from paper to electronic. Others may still be cautious with EMRs due to the potential patient safety concerns that EMRs bring to light.

The Joint Commission expects healthcare organizations to engage in the latest health information technologies but we must do so safely and appropriately. In 2008, The Joint Commission released Sentinel Event Alert Issue 42 which advised organizations to be mindful of the patient safety risks that can result from “converging technologies”.

The electronic technologies we use to gather patient data could pose potential threats and adverse events. Some of these threats include the use of computerized physician order entry (CPOE), information security, incorrect documentation, and clinical decision support (CDS).  Sentinel Event Alert Issue 54 in 2015 again addressed the safety risks of EMRs and the expectation that healthcare organizations will safely implement health information technology.

Having incorrect data in the EMR poses serious patient safety risks that are preventable which is why The Joint Commission has put this emphasis on safely using the technology. We will not be able to blame patient safety errors on the EMR when questioned by surveyors, especially when they could have been prevented.

Ensuring medical record integrity has always been the objective of HIM departments. HIM professionals’ role in preventing errors and adverse events has been apparent from the start of EMR implementations. HIM professionals should monitor and develop methods to prevent issues in the following areas, to name a few:

Copy and paste

Ensure policies are in place to address copy and paste. Records can contain repeated documentation from day to day which could have been documented in error or is no longer current. Preventing and governing the use of copy and paste will prevent many adverse issues with conflicting or erroneous documentation.

Dictation/Transcription errors

Dictation software tools are becoming more intelligent and many organizations are utilizing front end speech recognition to complete EMR documentation. With traditional transcription, we have seen anomalies remaining in the record due to poor dictation quality and uncorrected errors. With front end speech recognition, providers are expected to review and correct their own dictations which presents similar issues if incorrect documentation is left in the record.

Information Security

The data that is captured in the EMR must be kept secure and available when needed. We must ensure the data remains functional and accessible to the correct users and not accessible by those without the need to know. Cybersecurity breaches are a serious threat to electronic data including those within the EMR and surrounding applications.

Downtime

Organizations must be ready to function if there is a planned or unexpected downtime of systems. Proper planning includes maintaining a master list of forms and order-sets that will be called upon in the case of a downtime to ensure documentation is captured appropriately. Historical information should be maintained in a format that will allow access during a downtime making sure users are able to provide uninterrupted care for patients.

Ongoing EMR maintenance

As we continue to enhance and optimize EMRs, we must take into consideration all of the potential downstream effects of each change and how these changes will affect the integrity of the record. HIM professionals need prior notification of upcoming changes and adequate time to test the new functionality. No changes should be made to an EMR without all of the key stakeholders reviewing and approving the changes downstream implications. The Joint Commission claims, “as health IT adoption becomes more widespread, the potential for health IT-related patient harm may increase.”

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

E-Patient Update: Hospitals Need Virtual Clinicians

Posted on July 20, 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.

Hospitals have a lot to lose if patients are readmitted not long after discharge. But in most cases, their follow-up care coordination efforts post-discharge are perfunctory at best.

My husband’s experience seems to be typical: a few weeks after his discharge, a nurse called and asked perhaps five or six very broad questions about his status. I doubt such as superficial intervention has ever done much prevent a patient from deteriorating. But this dynamic can be changed. As an active, involved e-patient, I think it’s time to bring artificial intelligence technology into the mix.

In recent times, AI platforms have emerged that may offer a big improvement on the, well, largely nothing hospitals do to prevent patients from deteriorating after they leave the facility. In fact, artificial intelligence technology has evolved to the point where it’s possible to provide a “virtual clinician” which serves as a resource for patients.

One example of this emerging technology comes from AI startup Sense.ly, which has developed a virtual nurse named Molly. According to the company, Molly is designed to offer customized patient monitoring and follow-up care, particularly for patients with chronic diseases. Its customers include the UK’s National Health Service, Kaiser Permanente, San Mateo Medical Center, University of California San Francisco, Microsoft and Allscripts.

Molly, an avatar-based system which was designed to mimic the bedside manner patients crave, can access data to assist with real-time care decisions. It also monitors vital signs – though I imagine this works better with a remote connected device — and tracks patient compliance with meds. Molly even creates custom questionnaires on the fly to assess patients, analyzes those responses for risk, and connects patients directly to real- life clinicians if need be.

While this is admittedly a groundbreaking approach, some independent research already exists to suggest that it works. Back in 2011, Northeastern University researchers found that patients who interacted with virtual nurse Elizabeth were more likely to know their diagnoses and make follow-up appointments with their doctor, ZDNet reports.

And if you’re afraid that using such a tool exposes your facility to big legal risks, well, that’s not necessarily the case, according to veteran healthcare attorney David Harlow.

“The issue is always in the terms of use, and if you frame that properly – and build the logic properly – you should be OK,” Harlow told me. He concedes that if hospitals can be sued for patient care problems generated by EMR failures — which happens now and then — a cause of action could arise from use of virtual clinician. But my sense from talking with him was that there’s nothing inherently more dangerous about deploying an AI nurse than using any other technology as part of care.

Speaking for myself, I can’t wait until hospitals and medical practices deploy a tool like Molly, particularly if the alternative is no support at all. Like those who tested Elizabeth at Northeastern University, I’d find it much easier to exchange information with an infinitely patient, focused and nonjudgmental software entity than a rushed nurse with dozens or hundreds of other patients on their mind.

I realize that I’m probably ahead of the market in my comfort with AI technology. (My mother would have a stroke if you asked her to interact with a virtual human.) But I’d argue that patients like me are in the vanguard, and you want to keep us happy. Besides, you might be pleasantly surprised by the clinical impact such interventions can have. Seems like a win-win.

EMR Lawsuit – A Taste Of Things To Come

Posted on July 13, 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.

A central Pennsylvania health system is embroiled in a court fight with Cerner amid allegations that its EMR technology has created serious patient care problems that could have led to serious harm.

PinnacleHealth, a three-hospital system based in Harrisburg, PA, is blaming series of patient care problems on its Siemens health IT technology, which was acquired by Cerner in February 2015. Apparently, PinnacleHealth had used Siemens as a vendor for 20 years, but when it grew dissatisfied with the platform, cut back its relationship with Siemens and signed a contract with Epic.

Last year, Cerner responded to PinnacleHealth’s actions with a breach of contract lawsuit, asserting that the health system hadn’t paid for services since February 2015. The suit claims that Pinnacle now owes Cerner more than $20 million.

PinnacleHealth, in turn, filed a counterclaim earlier this year in Pennsylvania state court, which seeks damages for Cerner’s alleged fraud and breach of contract. In the counterclaim, it cited several instances of problems it contends were caused by the EMR, including a case in which one patient’s blood pressure dropped dramatically after he was allegedly discharged the wrong medications. It also cites an instance in which a doctor was unable to place a pharmacy order for a newborn to receive vitamin K, a standard step taken to protect babies from serious bleeding.

While some experts are positioning this as the first of a growing number of EMR-related safety disputes, I’d argue that there’s other big issues in play which are more important to consider.

First, though it’s possible the Siemens EMR had problems, it’s impossible to know whether that had more to do with the customer’s unique IT set-up or whether there was an actual tech failure.

That being said, it’s also possible that Cerner missed something during its buyout of Siemens, a risk every vendor who acquires a technology company takes. And EMR vendor consolidation is continuing. If the acquiring vendors move too quickly, or have trouble integrating the new technology into their existing fold, will a growing number of clear-cut cases of EMR failure occur?

Also, it’s important to note that PinnacleHealth is currently battling the FTC for permission to merge with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Clearly, it needs to have technology in place which can scale and isn’t burdened by 20 years of legacy adoption if the merger goes forward. Admittedly, Penn State Hershey is a Cerner shop, not Epic, but who knows what Penn State Hershey has in mind for HIT if it does get to close the deal?

Yes, there will be some product liability litigation over alleged EMR failures. And in some cases, particularly given the ongoing M&A activity among vendors, someone will drop the ball and bad things will probably happen.

But the most important thing I see happening here is the death knell for older systems in the wake of industry consolidation. I’d keep an eye on mergers between health systems and acquisitions by EMR vendors. Those are the forces that will dictate what happens in the HIT world going forward.

Data Sharing Largely Isn’t Informing Hospital Clinical Decisions

Posted on July 6, 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.

Some new data released by ONC suggests that while healthcare data is being shared far more frequently between hospitals than in the past, few hospital clinicians use such data regularly as part of providing patient care.

The ONC report, which is based on a supplement to the 2015 edition of an annual survey by the American Hospital Association, concluded that 96% of hospitals had an EHR in place which was federally tested and certified for the Meaningful Use program. That’s an enormous leap from 2009, the year federal economic stimulus law creating the program was signed, when only 12.2% of hospitals had even a basic EHR in place.

Also, hospitals have improved dramatically in their ability to share data with other facilities outside their system, according to an AHA article from February. While just 22% of hospitals shared data with peer facilities in 2011, that number had shot up to 57% in 2014. Also, the share of hospitals exchanging data with ambulatory care providers outside the system climbed from 37% to 60% during the same period.

On the other hand, hospitals are not meeting federal goals for data use, particularly the use of data not created within their institution. While 82% of hospitals shared lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries or medication lists with hospitals or ambulatory care centers outside of their orbit — up from 45% in 2009 — the date isn’t having as much of an impact as it could.

Only 18% of those surveyed by the AHA said that hospital clinicians often used patient information gathered electronically from outside sources. Another 35% reported that clinicians used such information “sometimes,” 20% used it “rarely” and 16% “never” used such data. (The remaining 11% said that they didn’t know how such data was used.)

So what’s holding hospital clinicians back? More than half of AHA respondents (53%) said that the biggest barrier to using interoperable data integrating that data into physician routines. They noted that since shared information usually wasn’t available to clinicians in their EHRs, they had to go out of the regular workflows to review the data.

Another major barrier, cited by 45% of survey respondents, was difficulty integrating exchange information into their EHR. According to the AHA survey, only 4 in 10 hospitals had the ability to integrate data into their EHRs without manual data entry.

Other problems with clinician use of shared data concluded that information was not always available when needed (40%), that it wasn’t presented in a useful format (29%) and that clinicians did not trust the accuracy of the information (11%). Also, 31% of survey respondents said that many recipients of care summaries felt that the data itself was not useful, up from 26% in 2014.

What’s more, some technical problems in sharing data between EHRs seem to have gotten slightly worse between the 2014 and 2015 surveys. For example, 24% of respondents the 2014 survey said that matching or identifying patients was a concern in data exchange. That number jumped to 33% in the 2015 results.

By the way, you might want to check out this related chart, which suggests that paper-based data exchange remains wildly popular. Given the challenges that still exist in sharing such data digitally, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

E-Patient Update: If Hospitals Were Like Airports

Posted on June 6, 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.

Almost everyone reading this blog has spent some time in an airport. And though not much of it is visible on the surface, airlines do an amazing job of managing people and things seamlessly while you sit reading the New York Times and drinking your latte. People are ushered on and off of flights, baggage is dispatched around the world and airplanes maintained and fueled at a miraculous pace. Although, you probably forget about that when it’s your flight that has delays or issues.

The hospitals many of us work for also do an amazing job of managing people and things, typically in a way that patients never need notice. While the carefully orchestrated dance of care plays out, patients simply eat their meals, sleep, visit with their friends and family and provide whatever bodily fluids are necessary to diagnose them. Meanwhile, multi-million dollar IT systems help see to it that the process works.

In some ways, however, the two industries are quite different in how they work with the people they serve. And in my opinion, the healthcare system would work better if it borrowed from the airlines when it comes to using IT to simplify the customer experience.

Status updates

One thing airlines do well is keep passengers informed about the status of their flight, or the flights of those for whom they might be waiting. Airlines began posting real-time schedules and allowing passengers to preregister for flights from early in the emergence of the commercial Internet.

In more recent times, the airlines have added a mobile dimension to their customer experience, offering small but valuable services like reminder texts and mobile-only information. While being able to check on your flight from your home desktop is great, it’s even better to know what’s up as you head for the airport, and mobile apps make this possible.

Traffic information

Unlike hospitals, airlines post scrolling information on key progress indicators — i.e. arrivals and departures. While you, as a consumer, typically only need to know the status of your own flight, having a comprehensive information source sometimes allows you to better understand delays, orient yourself to time and place and even make a mental note as to which destinations your chosen airline travels.

Such displays don’t disclose any personal information about passengers, but they still offer some value to individuals, if for no other reason than that having this information available helps to put airline staff and consumers on the same page.

Kiosks

These days, many airlines allow passengers to check in for their flights and print tickets without ever speaking to a human clerk. The process not only saves time, but also personal aggravation, as waiting in long airline ticketing queues can be quite tiring.

Checking in at a kiosk also offers passengers additional reassurance that they are indeed booked on the fight of their choice, allows them to confirm their seating choice and in some cases, even add additional flight options.

Transparency is key

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. By exposing what might otherwise have been internal systems to consumers, airlines have substantially improved aspects of their customers’ experience. And they’ve done so without exposing individualized data or subjecting themselves to increased risk of hacking episodes. On the other hand, while health systems and hospitals have dabbled in these areas — for example, by posting ED waiting times on the web — it’s still something of a rarity for them to share live patient information.

Admittedly, hospitals may be leery of giving the patient too much visibility into the process they undergo. After all, their interaction with consumers is a good deal more complex than that of the airline industry, and they don’t have time to explain what they’re doing and why beyond a certain degree.

Still, as a patient who wants to know what the heck is going on with my care, a little transparency would go a long way. If you want patients to be prepared to care for themselves, treat them like adults and include them in what you’re doing.