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E-Patient Update: When EMRs Make A Bad Process Worse

Posted on August 14, 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.

Last week, I wrote an item reflecting on a video interview John did with career CIO Drex DeFord. During the video, which focused on patient engagement and care coordination, DeFord argued that it’s best to make sure your processes are as efficient as they can get before you institutionalize them with big technology investments.

As I noted in the piece, it’d be nice if hospitals did the work of paring down processes to perfection before they embed those processes in their overall EMR workflow, but that as far as I know this seldom happens

Unfortunately, I’ve just gotten a taste of what can go wrong under these circumstances. During the rollout of its enterprise EMR, a health system with an otherwise impeccable reputation dropped the ball in a way which may have harmed my brother permanently.

An unusual day

My brother Joey, who’s in his late 40s, has Down’s Syndrome. He’s had a rocky health history, including heart problems that go with the condition and some others of his own. He lives with my parents in the suburbs of a large northeastern city about an hour by air from my home.

Not long ago, when I was staying with them, my brother had a very serious medical problem. One morning, I walked into the living room to find him wavering in and out of consciousness, and it became clear that he was in trouble. I woke my parents and called 911. As it turned out, his heart was starting and stopping which, unless perhaps you’re an emergency physician, was even scarier to watch than you might think.

Even for a sister who’d watched her younger brother go through countless health troubles, this is was a pretty scary day.  Sadly, the really upsetting stuff happened at the hospital.

Common sense notions

When we got Joey to the ED at this Fancy Northeastern Hospital, the staff couldn’t have been more helpful and considerate. (The nurses even took Joe’s outrageous flirting in stride.)  Within an hour or two, the clinical team had recommended implanting him with a pacemaker. But things went downhill from there.

Because he arrived on Friday afternoon, staff prepared for the implantation right away, as the procedure apparently wasn’t available Saturday and Sunday and he needed help immediately. (The lack of weekend coverage strikes me as ludicrous, but it’s a topic for another column.)

As part of the prep, staff let my mother know that the procedure was typically done without general anesthesia. At the time, my mother made clear that while Joey was calm now, he might very well get too anxious to proceed without being knocked out. She thought the hospital team understood and were planning accordingly.

Apparently, though, the common-sense notion that some people freak out and need to be medicated during this kind of procedure never entered their mind, didn’t fit with their processes or both. Even brother’s obvious impairment doesn’t seem to have raised any red flags.

“I don’t have his records!”

I wasn’t there for the rest of the story, but my mother filled me in later. When Joey arrived in the procedure room, staff had no idea that he might need special accommodations and canceled the implantation when he wouldn’t hold still. Mom tells me one doctor yelled: “But I don’t have his records!” Because the procedure didn’t go down that day, he didn’t get his implant until Monday.

This kind of fumbling isn’t appropriate under any circumstances, but it’s even worse when it’s predictable.  Apparently, my brother had the misfortune to show up on the first day of the hospital’s EMR go-live process, and clinicians were sweating it. Not only were they overtaxed, and rushing, they were struggling to keep up with the information flow.

Of course, I understand that going live on an EMR can be stressful and difficult. But in this case, and probably many others, things wouldn’t have fallen apart if their process worked in the first place prior to the implementation. Shouldn’t they have had protocols in place for road bumps like skittish patients or missing chart information even before the EMR was switched on?

Not the same

Within days of getting Joey back home, my mom saw that things were not the same with him. He no longer pulls his soda can from the fridge or dresses himself independently. He won’t even go to the bathroom on his own anymore. My mother tells me that there’s the old Joe (sweet and funny) and the new Joe (often combative and confused).  Within weeks of the pacemaker implantation, he had a seizure.

Neither my parents nor I know whether the delay in getting the pacemaker put in led to his loss of functioning. We’re aware that the episode he had at home prior to treatment could’ve led to injuries that affect his functioning today.  We also know that adults with Down’s Syndrome slip into dementia at a far younger age than is typical for people without the condition. But these new deficits only seemed to set in after he came home.

My mother still simmers over the weekend he spent without much-needed care, seemingly due to a procedural roadblock that just about anyone could’ve anticipated. She thinks about the time spent between Friday and Monday, during which she assumes his heart was struggling to work “His heart was starting and stopping, Anne,” she said. “Starting and stopping. All because they couldn’t get it right the first time.”

The Evolution of Forms in Healthcare – Working to Empower the Patient

Posted on July 31, 2017 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 recently had a chance to see a demo of the new FormFast Connect product which empowers the patient to complete all their healthcare forms at home or wherever they may be.  Talking with FormFast was really informative since they are the experts at healthcare forms with over 1100 customers using their technology to handle the sometimes messy job of healthcare forms management.

It’s worth taking a second to look at the evolution of forms in healthcare.  Everyone remembers the stack of pre-printed forms at registration and the nursing station.  Then, over time, FormFast and others started creating bar coded forms that could easily be scanned and integrated into your IT systems using document workflow management software.  Shortly after that we started to see forms generated on demand with patient information printed dynamically.  Then, we moved to electronic forms and eSignature capabilities which converted the analog paper form model into a digital one.  The natural next step in the evolution of forms is to push the forms out to the patient outside of the four walls of the hospital.  That’s what FormFast Connect does and is a great evolution of the FormFast product.

We all know that filling out forms in the doctor’s office or hospital registration area is suboptimal.  Many patients don’t have the information with them to fill the forms out completely and the waiting room or registration desk often create a rushed environment to complete the forms.  In fact, many organizations have resorted to making time consuming, expensive phone calls to patients in order to collect the pre-registration paper work they need from the patient.

This is why an online form solution, like FormFast Connect, that is completed by the patient before the visit is going to be an important tool for every hospital.  The reality is that patients are starting to expect the same kind of online conveniences they experience in their normal life in healthcare.  Filling out forms electronically before a patient visit is one area where healthcare can provide a much improved online experience that mirrors the conveniences provided by other industries.

The real question is why has it taken so long for healthcare to create and adopt these solutions?  Many EHR vendors offer some half baked form options in their patient portal, but that’s exactly the problem.  A half baked form option in your patient portal doesn’t really address the issue.  Forms management is a challenging problem and most EHR vendors have been too busy worrying about regulations and other requirements that they haven’t created a high quality forms management solution.

For example, we know that the majority of patients now have some sort of cell phone or mobile device that they would like to use when filling out pre-registration forms.  Any form solution that pushes to the patient outside of the hospital needs to provide a mobile optimized option for the patient or it will likely fail to engage the patient in completing the forms.  Most EHR vendor forms aren’t mobile optimized and thus fail to achieve the desired outcome.  Plus, it’s not enough for the form to be mobile optimized for the patient.  The form must also create an output that is legally structured for the provider and the legal medical record.  Sounds easy, but I assure you it is not and EHR vendors haven’t executed across all these areas in the forms they offer.

One exciting part of a mobile optimized form solution is it opens up a number of opportunities that were a challenge previously.  For example, mobile devices can easily snap a picture of the patient’s insurance card as part of the form completion process.  The same goes for an electronic signature which is easily captured on a mobile device thanks to all the great touch screen technology found in all our mobile devices these days.  I’m also interested to see how smart form technology continues to evolve and improve as data becomes more liquid in healthcare and certain portions of the form can auto complete for you.

It’s great that we’re finally pushing form completion out to the patient where they can do it in a convenient, comfortable environment.  This is valuable to the patient who enjoys a better experience and for the hospital who receives better quality information.  Plus, even if the patient elects not to fill out the forms before the visit, this is one more opportunity for the hospital to build a relationship with the patient outside of the hospital.  That relationship is going to be key in the new world of value based reimbursement.

FormFast is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. 

With 25 years exclusively focused on healthcare needs and over 1100 hospital clients, FormFast is recognized as the industry leader in electronic forms and document workflow technology. FormFast’s enterprise software platform integrates with EHRs and other core systems to automate required documents, capturing data and accelerating workflows associated with them. By using FormFast, healthcare organizations achieve new levels of standardization and operational efficiency, allowing them to focus on their core mission – delivering quality care. Learn more about FormFast at formfast.com.

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?

EMRs Can Improve Outcomes For Weekend Hospital Surgeries

Posted on April 7, 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.

Unfortunately, it’s well documented that people often have worse outcomes when they’re treated in hospitals over the weekend. For example, one recent study from the Association of Academic Physiatrists found that older adults admitted with head trauma over the weekend have a 14 percent increased risk of dying versus those admitted on a weekday.

But if a hospital makes good use of its EMR, these grim stats can be improved, according to a new study published in JAMA Surgery. In the study, researchers found that use of EMRs can significantly improve outcomes for hospital patients who have surgeries over the weekend.

To conduct the study, which was done by Loyola Medicine, a group of researchers identified some EMR characteristics which they felt could overcome the “weekend effect.” The factors they chose included using electronic systems designed to schedule surgeries seamlessly as well as move patients in and out of hospital rooms efficiently.

Their theories were based on existing research suggesting that patients at hospitals with electronic operating room scheduling were 33 percent less likely to experience a weekend effect than hospitals using paper-based scheduling. In addition, studies concluded patients at hospitals with electronic bed-management systems were 35 percent less likely to experience the weekend effect.

To learn more about the weekend effect, researchers analyzed the records provided by the AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Database.  Researchers looked at treatment and outcomes for 2,979 patients admitted to Florida hospitals for appendectomies, acute hernia repairs and gallbladder removals.

The research team found that 32 percent (946) of patients experienced the weekend effect, which they defined as having longer hospital stays than expected. Meanwhile, it concluded that patients at hospitals with high-speed EMR connectivity, EMR in the operating room, electronic operating room scheduling, CPOE systems and electronic bed management did better. (The analysis was conducted with the help of Loyola’s predictive analytics program.)

Their research follows on a 2015 Loyola study, published in Annals of Surgery, which named five factors that reduced the impact of the weekend effect. These included full adoption of electronic medical records, home health programs, pain management programs, increased registered nurse-to-bed ratios and inpatient physical rehabilitation.

Generally speaking, the study results offer good news, as they fulfill some the key hopes hospitals had when installing their EMR in the first place. But I was left wondering whether the study conflated cause and effect. Specifically, I found myself wondering whether hospitals with these various systems boosted their outcomes with technology, or whether hospitals that invested in these technologies could afford to provide better overall care.

It’s also worth noting that several of the improvement factors cited in the 2015 study did not involve technology at all. Even if a hospital has excellent IT systems in place, putting home health, pain management and physical rehabilitation in place – not to mention higher nurse-to-patient ratios – calls for different thinking and a different source of funding.

Still, it’s always good to know that health IT can generate beneficial results, especially high-ticket items like EMRs. Even incremental progress is still progress.

Emergency Department Information Systems Market Fueled By Growing Patient Flow

Posted on March 20, 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.

A new research report has concluded that the size of the emergency department information systems market is expanding, driven by increasing patient flows. This dovetails with a report focused on 2016 data which also sees EDIS upgrades underway, though it points out that some hospital buyers don’t have the management support or a large enough budget to support the upgrade.

The more recent report, by Transparency Market Research, notes that ED traffic is being boosted by increases in the geriatric population, an increasing rate of accidents and overall population growth. In part to cope with this increase in patient flow, emergency departments are beginning to choose specialized, best-of-breed EDISs rather than less-differentiated electronic medical records systems, Transparency concludes.

Its analysis is supported by Black Book Research, whose 2016 report found that 69% of hospitals upgrading their existing EDIS are moving from enterprise EMR emergency models to freestanding platforms. Meanwhile, growing spending on healthcare and healthcare infrastructure is making the funds available to purchase EDIS platforms.

These factors are helping to fuel the emergence of robust EDIS market growth, according to Black Book. Its 2016 research, predicted that 35% of hospitals over 150 beds would replace their EDIS that year. Spurred by this spending, the US EDIS market should hit $420M, Black Book projects.

The most-popular EDIS features identified by Black Book include ease of use, reporting improvements, interoperability, physician productivity improvements, diagnosis enhancements and patient satisfaction, its research concluded.

All that being said, not all hospital leaders are well-informed about EDIS implementation and usability, which is holding growth back in some sectors. Also, high costs pose a barrier to adoption of these systems, according to Transparency.

Not only that, some hospital leaders don’t feel that it’s necessary to invest in an EDIS in addition to their enterprise EMR,. Black Book found. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the 2016 study said that they were moderately or highly dissatisfied with their current EDIS, but 90% of the dissatisfied said they were being forced to rely on generic hospital-wide EMRs.

While all of this is interesting, it’s worth noting that EDIS investment is far from the biggest concern for hospital IT departments. According to a HIMSS survey on 2017 hospitals’ IT plans, top investment priorities include pharmacy technologies and EMR components.

Still, it appears that considering EDIS enhancements may be worth the trouble. For example, seventy-six percent of Black Book respondents implementing a replacement EDIS in Q2 2014 to Q1 2015 saw improved customer service outcomes attributed to the platform.

Also, 44% of hospitals over 200 beds implementing a replacement EDIS over the same period said that it reduced visit costs between 4% and 12%, the research firm found.

Paris Hospitals Use Big Data To Predict Admissions

Posted on December 19, 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.

Here’s a fascinating story in from Paris (or par-ee, if you’re a Francophile), courtesy of Forbes. The article details how a group of top hospitals there are running a trial of big data and machine learning tech designed to predict admission rates. The hospitals’ predictive model, which is being tested at four of the hospitals which make up the Assistance Publiq-Hopitaux de Paris (AP-HP), is designed to predict admission rates as much as 15 days in advance.

The four hospitals participating in the project have pulled together a massive trove of data from both internal and external sources, including 10 years’ worth of hospital admission records. The goal is to forecast admissions by the day and even by the hour for the four facilities participating in the test.

According to Forbes contributor Bernard Marr, the project involves using time series analysis techniques which can detect patterns in the data useful for predicting admission rates at different times.  The hospitals are also using machine learning to determine which algorithms are likely to make good predictions from old hospital data.

The system the hospitals are using is built on the open source Trusted Analytics Platform. According to Marr, the partners felt that the platform offered a particularly strong capacity for ingesting and crunching large amounts of data. They also built on TAP because it was geared towards open, collaborative development environments.

The pilot system is accessible via a browser-based interface, designed to be simple enough that data science novices like doctors, nurses and hospital administration staff could use the tool to forecast visit and admission rates. Armed with this knowledge, hospital leaders can then pull in extra staffers when increased levels of traffic are expected.

Being able to work in a distributed environment will be key if AP-HP decides to roll the pilot out to all of its 44 hospitals, so developers built with that in mind. To be prepared for the future, which might call for adding a great deal of storage and processing power, they designed distributed, cloud-based system.

“There are many analytical solutions for these type of problems, [but] none of them have been implemented in a distributed fashion,” said Kyle Ambert, an Intel data scientist and TAP contributor who spoke with Marr. “Because we’re interested in scalability, we wanted to make sure we could implement these well-understood algorithms in such a way that they work over distributed systems.”

To make this happen, however, Ambert and the development team have had to build their own tools, an effort which resulted in the first contribution to an open-source framework of code designed to carry out analysis over scalable, distributed framework, one which is already being deployed in other healthcare environments, Marr reports.

My feeling is that there’s no reason American hospitals can’t experiment with this approach. In fact, maybe they already are. Readers, are you aware of any US facilities which are doing something similar? (Or are most still focused on “skinny” data?)

Access To Electronic Health Data Saves Money In Emergency Department

Posted on October 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.

A new research study has found that emergency department patients benefit from having their electronic health records available when they’re being treated. Researchers found that when health information was available electronically, the patient’s care was speeded up, and that it also generated substantial cost savings.

Researchers with the University of Michigan School of Public Health reviewed the emergency department summaries from 4,451 adult and pediatric ED visits for about one year, examining how different forms of health data accessibility affected patients.

In 80% of the cases, the emergency department had to have all or part of the patient’s medical records faxed to the hospital where they were being treated. In the other 20% of the cases, however, where the ED staff had access to a patient’s complete electronic health record, they were seen much more quickly and treatment was often more efficient.

Specifically, the researchers found that when information requests from outside organizations were returned electronically instead of by fax, doctors saw that information an hour faster, which cut a patient’s time in the ED by almost 53 minutes.

This, in turn, seems to have reduced physicians’ use of MRIs, x-rays and CT scans by 1.6% to 2.5%, as well as lowering the likelihood of hospital admission by 2.4%. The researchers also found that average cost for care were $1,187 lower when information was delivered electronically.

An interesting side note to the study is that when information was made available electronically on patients, it was supplied through Epic’s Care Everywhere platform, which is reportedly used in about 20% of healthcare systems nationwide. Apparently, the University of Michigan Health System (which hosted the study) doesn’t belong to an HIE.

While I’m not saying that there’s anything untoward about this, I wasn’t surprised to find principal author Jordan Everson, a doctoral candidate in health services at the school, is a former Epic employee. He would know better than most how Epic’s health data sharing technology works.

From direct experience, I can state that Care Everywhere isn’t necessarily used or even understood by employees of some major health systems in my geographic location, and perhaps not configured right even when health systems attempt to use it. This continues to frustrate leaders at Epic, who emphasize time and again that this platform exists, and that is used quite actively by many of its customers.

But the implications of the study go well beyond the information sharing tools U-M Health System uses. The more important takeaway from the study is that this is quantitative evidence that having electronic data immediately available makes clinical and financial sense (at least from the patient perspective). If that premise was ever in question, this study does a lot to support it. Clearly, making it quick and easy for ED doctors to get up to speed makes a concrete difference in patient care.

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.”

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Value Based Reimbursement: Another Challenge for HIM Professionals

Posted on August 3, 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.

How many times have you heard something along these lines: “HIM professionals must stay relevant and current with the continuous healthcare changes.” I must sound like a broken record to my team but it is absolutely true! HIM professionals provide the bridge between clinical data and reimbursement methodologies through CDI, coding, documentation integrity, and health data analytics to name a few. It has been proven time and time again that these HIM skills are vital to healthcare organizations but these skills must also be adapted and be put to good use each time a new guideline or rule is introduced.

Value-Based Reimbursement is an area that continues to grow with the push for quality patient outcomes and healthcare savings with potential penalties for excessive costs and poor quality of care. Reimbursement incentives that are tied to quality of care make perfect sense and HIM professionals need to take the plunge into these initiatives. By marrying departments and cross-functioning teams, we are able to generate proactive data and improve performance.

At my facility, I oversee the HIM department as well as the Quality department because we work closely together and will continue to have an even closer relationship throughout healthcare reform. This is becoming very common in the industry.

In this roundtable article for the Journal of AHIMA, we each outlined how we are bringing HIM to the table for Value Based Reimbursement initiatives and maximizing the tried and true skills of HIM professionals.

I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Always keep your finger on the pulse of healthcare and stay relevant by taking on these new challenges!

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