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

Posted on April 28, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

Taking no chances

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

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

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

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

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

The whole picture

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Financial Losses After EMR Implementation

Posted on April 3, 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 hospitals buy EMRs to improve their operations – both clinically and financially – too often they take a hit before they work out the kinks in their installation.  In fact, healthcare institutions often end up losing up to 5 percent of their gross revenue after EMRs are implemented, according to consultant Erick McKesson.

One typical story comes from Maine Medical Center, which found that patient charges weren’t appearing after its $150 million Epic installation in 2012. These billing errors were one of the reasons the medical center posted a $13.4 million loss in the first six months after the installation, hospital executives reported.

But according to McKesson, managing consultant with Navigant, it’s possible to overcome these problems. In an article for Becker’s Hospital Review, he tells the story of a group of health systems which worked together to avoid such losses. The group worked together to identify the most valuable software features that flagged mischarges or reporting errors. They then identified the five charge program “edits” which had the largest financial impact.

Areas the cooperating health systems considered the most important included:

* Administrative codes

The health systems noted that incorrect administrative codes lead to lagging revenue. That’s particularly the case when there are different codes for the same procedure. Hospitals need to be sure that clinicians use the higher code if appropriate, which can be helped by the right technological fixes.

* Anesthesia

It’s important to monitor your charges when there are two distinct aspects of a single procedure that are charged separately, particularly with anesthesia services. If your audit system flags the absence of the added codes, it can recapture a substantial level of missing revenue.

* CT

Seeing to it that radiology charges are automatically reviewed can ensure that appropriate levels of revenue are generated. For example, in the case of CT exams, it’s important to see that charges are assessed for both the exam and if needed, the use of a contrast agent.

* Emergency Department

It’s not unusual for ED physicians to undercode high-acuity patients. But it’s important to address this issue, as undercoding can result in significant financial consequences.  Not only that, in addition to generating financial losses, undercoding can create problems with performance-based reimbursement contracts. If patients are depicted as less acute than they actually are, payors may expect better outcomes than the patients are likely to have. And that can lead to lower revenue or even significant financial penalties.

* Infusions

Auditing infusion charges can be very helpful in capturing added revenues, given that they are one of the most frequent charges in healthcare. Infusion codes are very complex, including the need to track start and stop times, difficult rules regarding what charges are appropriate during infusions and issues related to “carve out periods.” Auditing systems can help clinicians comply with requirements, including simple-to-create functions which automatically flag missing stop times.

As readers will doubtless know, getting competing health systems to engage in “coopetition” can be tough, even if it helps them improve their operations. But given the need to combat post-EMR lags in revenue, maybe more of them will risk it in the future.

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.

Tablets Star In My Fantasy ED Visit

Posted on April 1, 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.

As some readers may know, in addition to being your HIT hostess, I cope with some unruly chronic conditions which have landed me in the ED several times of late.

During the hours I recently spent being examined and treated at these hospitals, I found myself fantasizing about how the process of my care would change for the better if the right technologies were involved. Specifically, these technologies would give me a voice, better information and a higher comfort level.

So here, below, is my step-by-step vision of how I would like to have participated in my care, using a tablet as a fulcrum. These steps assume the patient is ambulatory and fundamentally functional; I realize that things would need to be much different if the person comes in by ambulance or isn’t capable of participating in their care.

My Dream (Tablet-Enabled) ED Care Process

  1. I walk through the front door of the hospital and approach the registration desk. Near the desk, there’s a smaller tablet station where I enter my basic identity data, and verify that identity with a fingerprint scan. The fingerprint scan verification also connects me to my health insurance data, assuming it’s on file. (If not I can scan my insurance card and ID, and create a system-wide identity status by logging a corresponding fingerprint record.)
  2. The same terminal poses a series of screening questions about my reasons for walking into the ED, and the responses are routed to the hospital EMR. It also asks me to verify and update my current medications. The data is made available not only to the triage nurse but also to whatever physician and nurse attend me in my ED bed.
  3. When I approach the main registration desk, all the clerks have to do is put the hospital bracelet on my wrist to do a human verification that the bracelet a) contains the right patient identity and b) includes the correct date of birth for the person to which it is attached. If the clerks have any additional questions to pose — such as queries related to the patient’s need for disability accommodations  — these are addressed by another integrated app the clerk has on their desk.
  4. At that point, rather than walking back to an uncomfortable waiting room, I’m “on deck” in a comfortable triage area where every patient sits in a custom chair that automatically takes vital signs, be it by sensor, cuff or other means. In some cases, the patient’s specific malady can be addressed, by technologies such as AliveCor’s mobile cardiac monitoring tool.
  5. When the triage nurses interview me, they already have my vitals and answers to a bunch of routine clinical questions via my original tablet interaction, allowing them to focus on other issues specific to my case. In some instances this may allow the staff to move me straight to the bed and ask questions there, saving initial triage time for more complex and confusing cases.
  6. As I leave the triage area I am handed a patient tablet which I will have throughout my visit. As part of assigning me to this tablet my fingerprint will again be scanned, assuring that the information I get is intended for me.
  7. When I am settled in a patient bed in the ED, I’m given the option of either holding the tablet or placing on a swing-over bed desk which can include a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for those that find touchscreen typing to be awkward.
  8. Not long after I am placed in the bed, the hospital system pushes a browser to the tablet screen. In the browser window are the names of the doctor assigned by case, the nurse and tech who will assist, and whenever possible, photos of the staff involved. In the case of the doctor or NP, the presentation will include a link to their professional bio. This display will also offer a summary of what the staff considers to be my problem. (The system will allow me to add to this summary if I feel the triage team has missed something important.)
  9. As the doctor, nurse and tech enter the room, an RFID chip in their badges will alert the hospital system that they have done so. Then, a related alert will be pushed to the patient tablet – and maybe to the family members’ tablet which might be part of this process — giving everyone a heads up as to how they’re going to interact with me. For example, if a tech has entered to draw blood, the system will not only identify the staff member but also the fact that they plan a blood draw, as well as what tests are being performed.
  10. If I have had in interaction with any of the staff members before, the system will note the condition the patient was diagnosed with previously when working with the clinician or tech. (For example, beside Doctor Smith’s profile I’d see that she had previously treated me for stroke-like symptoms one time, and a cardiac arrhythmia before that.)
  11. As the doctor or NP orders laboratory tests or imaging, those orders would appear on a patient progress area on the main patient ED encounter page. Patients could then click on the order for say, an MRI, and find out what the term means and how the test will work. (If a hospital wanted to be really clever, they could customize further. For example, given that many patients are frightened of MRIs, the encounter page would offer the patient a chance to click a button allowing them to request a modest dose of anti-anxiety medication.)
  12. As results from the tests roll in, the news is pushed to the patient encounter home page, scrolling links to results down like a Twitter feed. As with Twitter, all readers — including patients, clinicians and staff — should have the ability to comment on the material.
  13. When the staff is ready to discharge the patient — or the doctor has made a firm decision to admit — this news, too, will be pushed to the patient encounter homepage. This announcement will come with a button patients can click to produce a text box, in which I can type out or dictate any concerns I have about this decision.
  14. When I am discharged from the hospital, the patient encounter homepage will offer me the choice of emailing myself the discharge summary or being texted a link to the summary. (Meanwhile, if I’m being admitted, the tablet stays with me, but that’s a whole other discussion.)

OK, I’ll admit that this rather long description caters to my prejudices and personal needs, and also, that I’ve left some ideas out (especially some thoughts related to improving my interaction with on-call specialists). So tell me – does this vision make sense to you? What would you add, and what would you subtract?

P.S.  Some high-profile hospitals have put a lot of work into integrating EMRs with tablets, at least, but not in the manner I’ve described, to my knowledge.

P.S.S. No this is not an April Fool’s joke. I’d really like for someone to implement these workflows.

The Hospital With No EMR

Posted on May 20, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ED Docs Spend More Time With EMRs Than Patients

Posted on October 2, 2013 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.

Emergency department doctors spend substantially more time entering data into EMRs than they do interacting with patients, according to an American Journal of Emergency Medicine study reported by FierceEMR.

According to FierceEMR, the study found that the average percentage of time ED docs spend on data entry was 43 percent. During a 10-hour shift, researchers concluded, total mouse clicks neared 4,000.

In contrast, the amount of time emergency department doctors spent interacting directly with patients during the AJEM study was 28 percent, the researchers found.  Meanwhile, reviewing tests and records accounted for an average of 12 percent of the doctors’ time, and talking to colleagues consumed 13 percent.

It’s hardly surprising that doctors would rack up nearly 4,000 clicks during a shift. Mouse clicks for common charting functions and patient encounters range from a low of six clicks for ordering an aspirin to a high of 227 for completing a record for patients with abdominal pain through the point of discharge, according to an article in Medscape Medical News cited by FierceEMR.

These results are consistent with those of a similar study published earlier this year in the Journal of General Internal MedicineiHealthBeat reports. According to iHealthBeat‘s story,  researchers who observed 29 medical interns at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the University of Maryland Medical College found that the interns spent 40 percent of their time on computer related tasks, and 12 percent of the time talking with and examining patients.

Such reliance on EMRs in the ED may have some benefits, but there are also risks involved,  according to a recent study appearing in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. According to the study, the design of EMRs for emergency departments varies widely, with some having problems which can compromise clinician workflow, communication and ultimately, quality and safety of care.

The Annals research suggests that hospitals ought to be auditing the performance of their EDISs regularly,  given how central these tools are to emergency medicine these days.  If doctors are going to click nearly 4,000 times during a single shift, it’s best if the EDIS in question doesn’t foster communication failures, alert fatigue or wrong order/wrong patient mistakes, all problems which emerge when the EDIS doesn’t function well, researchers concluded.

Emergency Department EMR Designs Can Compromise Safety

Posted on June 28, 2013 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.

Emergency department EMR designs vary widely, with some having problems which can compromise clinician workflow, communication and ultimately, quality and safety of care, according to a new study reported in the Annals of Emergency MedicineiHealthBeat reports.

The study, which was written by the American College of Emergency Physicians’ work groups on informatics and quality improvement and patient safety, outlines four situations in which EDISs can generate medical errors. According to iHealthBeat, these include:

* Communication failures
* Poor data displays
* Wrong order or wrong patient mistakes
* Alert fatigue

The degree to which these issues emerge in EDs is not consistent, given how widely system functionality varies among EDISs. Factors that lead to this variation include whether the systems were homegrown within the hospital, purchased from a commercial EMR provider or are “best of breed” systems, iHealthBeat reports.

Researchers with the work groups noted there are several factors which hinder efforts to address such issues, including a lack of research on the problems, the lack of a mechanism to collect feedback  from  users on safety concerns systematically, and provisions within vendor contracts which prevent ED professionals from sharing information on software safety.

To improve the performance of EDISs, the researchers recommend the following, according to iHealthBeat:

  • Appointing a “clinician champion” to oversee the EDIS performance improvement process
  • Creating an EDIS performance improvement group
  • Establishing a review process to monitor ongoing safety issues within EDISs
  • Promptly addressing issues that providers, administration and vendors have identified during the review process
  • Making public lessons learned concerning performance efforts
  • Learning and promptly distributing vendors’ patient safety improvements
  • Removing the “hold harmless” and “learned intermediary” clauses from vendor contracts

The work group was particularly emphatic about the need to do away with “hold harmless” and “learned intermediary” provisions in vendor contracts, as such clauses create a lack of accountability among vendors and unreasonably shift liability to clinicians, iHealthBeat notes.

EMR Creates Massive ED Jam After Go-Live

Posted on August 20, 2012 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 little anecdote which deserves some attention. In the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps C-suite folks up at night, a hospital in Indiana saw wait times in its emergency department soar to double what they were once it installed an EMR.

Columbus Regional Hospital, which sits about an hour south of Indianapolis, installed a new EMR in June.  Prior to installing the system, average ED wait times hovered at about two hours and 25 minutes for fast tracked,  less-severely-ill patients, while acute-care patients waited an average of two  hours  and 32 minutes.

But things got ugly quickly once the EMR went live, reports iHealthBeat. During the first week of the EMR transition, fast-track patients waited four hours and 41 minutes for ED care, while acute care patients waited four hours and 13 minutes. This happened despite the fact that the hospital had brought in extra nurses to ease ED overcrowding.

Over the past two months, wait times have come down to similar, but slightly higher, levels than they were at before the EMR was put into place.

I suspect the problem occurred because the hospital simply got caught flat-footed. Adding extra nurses is a good first step, but unless the news sources I’ve accessed have failed me, the institution didn’t do much to anticipate where the snags would be.

So what exactly happened here?  Of course we don’t know, but it’s easy to make a few guesses.

One possibility, of course, is that the EMR was installed poorly or unready, though I’d guess this was less likely given the pressure on IT departments to get it right.

Did the hospital do enough to train doctors and nurses on the system before the pressure was on?  It seems fairly likely that it did not.

The real cause of Columbus Regional’s problems, however, is probably that the hospital bought a cruddy EMR and superimposed  it on a not-too-efficient ED operation. (Those original wait times sound pretty heinous — acute patients waiting more than two hours? — much less the post-EMR figures).

It seems to me that this hospital’s ED processes must have had one foot on a banana peel already when the EMR was launched.  Sadly, even the best EMRs can’t fix problems they aren’t designed to address.

A Shocking Journey: Health Data Reaches EMR Via Writing On Hand

Posted on February 1, 2012 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.

Nurses have one of the toughest jobs in the world.  As for me, I doubt I could do what they do for 30 minutes, much less an entire shift.

And of course, it doesn’t help that half the hospital world doesn’t appreciate them particularly, especially at salary review time. So please rest assured that the following is not a needless slam on the nursing world.

That being said, what I saw tonight in a Maryland hospital ED was appalling. Either the nurse in question was way, way out of line, or someone in IT should have their head examined.

As is often the case when you’re parenting young children, I end up bringing one of them into the ED now and then. (Being a child is a dangerous lifestyle, especially when you’re a venturesome, intelligent kid!) And tonight was one of those times.

The ED was humming, with patients practically stacked in the hallways awaiting triage.  Not surprisingly, nurses were jumping like the proverbial longtailed cat.  But when my child and I were called back, I was still shocked by what I saw.

When the triage nurse asked my kid to step on the scale, she wrote the result on her hand. Then she measured his height. She recorded that on her palm, as well.  As she took his blood pressure, pulse ox and temperature, she transferred the data from her palm to a yellow sticky, and then into the EMR.

In my view, transferring data via sneakernet — heck, palmnet — is something that should never happen if you want accurate data in your EMR.  So why, for heaven’s sake, hasn’t IT provided overworked nurses like ours with a COW or wall-mounted terminal or tablet they can use to capture data when away from the triage desk?  Otherwise, given the pace at which nurses work, what does CIO think will happen?

While I’m not happy with the way nurse X handled things, I imagine she’s just adapting to an impossible situation. What’s more, I’m betting that her system is no more or less accurate than manual data entry if she’s very careful with what she does.

But ultimately, hospitals simply can’t allow this kind of thing to happen. Imagine the liability it would face if careless data transfer led to a needless error in care?  The very thought makes me cringe.

The moral of the story, as I see it, is that point of care devices are an absolute necessity these days, not a “nice to have” investment. Sure, picking among various options is a trying exercise, and IT leaders may have to try out a few form factors before they find solutions that work. But let’s not kid ourselves: it’s something that has to happen.

What’s the point of investing a year’s revenue in an EMR if your frontline nurses are fudging data entry?