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Predictive Analytics Will Save Hospitals, Not IT Investment

Posted on October 27, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Most hospitals run on very slim operating margins. In fact, not-for-profit hospitals’ mean operating margins fell from 3.4% in fiscal year 2015 to 2.7% in fiscal year 2016, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

To turn this around, many seem to be pinning their hopes on better technology, spending between 25% and 35% of their capital budget on IT infrastructure investment. But that strategy might backfire, suggests an article appearing in the Harvard Business Review.

Author Sanjeev Agrawal, who serves as president of healthcare and chief marketing officer at healthcare predictive analytics company LeanTaaS, argues that throwing more money at IT won’t help hospitals become more profitable. “Healthcare providers can’t keep spending their way out of trouble by investing in more and more infrastructure,” he writes. “Instead, they must optimize the use of the assets currently in place.”

Instead, he suggests, hospitals need to go the way of retail, transportation and airlines, industries which also manage complex operations and work on narrow margins. Those industries have improved their performance by improving their data science capabilities.

“[Hospitals] need to create an operational ‘air traffic control’ for their hospitals — a centralized command-and-control capability that is predictive, learns continually, and uses optimization algorithms and artificial intelligence to deliver prescriptive recommendations throughout the system,” Agrawal says.

Agrawal predicts that hospitals will use predictive analytics to refine their key care-delivery processes, including resource utilization, staff schedules, and patient admits and discharges. If they get it right, they’ll meet many of their goals, including better patient throughput, lower costs and more efficient asset utilization.

For example, he notes, hospitals can optimize OR utilization, which brings in 65% of revenue at most hospitals. Rather than relying on current block-scheduling techniques, which have been proven to be inefficient, hospitals can use predictive analytics and mobile apps to give surgeons more control of OR scheduling.

Another area ripe for process improvements is the emergency department. As Agrawal notes, hospitals can avoid bottlenecks by using analytics to define the most efficient order for ED activities. Not only can this improve hospital finances, it can improve patient satisfaction, he says.

Of course, Agrawal works for a predictive analytics vendor, which makes him more than a little bit biased. But on the other hand, I doubt any of us would disagree that adopting predictive analytics strategies is the next frontier for hospitals.

After all, having spent many billions collectively to implement EMRs, hospitals have created enormous data stores, and few would argue that it’s high time to leverage them. For example, if they want to adopt population health management – and it’s a question of when, not if — they’ve got to use these tools to reduce outcome variations and improve quality of cost across populations. Also, while the deep-pocketed hospitals are doing it first, it seems likely that over time, virtually every hospital will use EMR data to streamline operations as well.

The question is, will vendors like LeanTaaS take a leading role in this transition, or will hospital IT leaders know what they want to do?  At this stage, it’s anyone’s guess.

Tablets Star In My Fantasy ED Visit

Posted on April 1, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively 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.

Weird News Wednesday – Man Arrives at Hospital with a Chainsaw Stuck in His Neck

Posted on April 2, 2014 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 saw this picture and I knew that I just had to share it even though we usually don’t cover this sort of topic. It’s a picture from a hospital where the guy showed up with a chainsaw in his neck:

This isn’t really a health IT story like we usually do, but I will offer one health IT twist. You just really never know what’s going to come through the doors of the ED. You can plan for a lot in healthcare, but not everything. Maybe some of those funny ICD-10 codes are more common than we think.

EMR Creates Massive ED Jam After Go-Live

Posted on August 20, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively 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.

Washington Hospitals Sue Over Cruel and Unusual Medicaid ED Visit Limits

Posted on October 17, 2011 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

I’ve heard of some draconian budget-cutting measures, but the following, proposed by officials in Washington state, just about takes the cake. Good to see that the state’s hospitals, along with its doctors, are rightfully attempting to slam the door shut onMedicaid planners’ obscene antics.

A new state plan in Washington proposes to limit payment for Medicaid patients’ emergency department visits, on the extremely dubious assumption that such patients can self-diagnose whether they ought to be there in the first place. Not only is this program unlikely to save any real money (unless you count the money saved by not having to care for dead beneficiaries), it assumes that emergency department staffers are adding useless layers of expertise so often that their services should be choked back dramatically. The truth is, there’s boatloads of evidence that the poor aren’t the biggest users of ED services for non-emergent conditions, but I suppose these state penny-pinches wouldn’t be bothered by the facts.

Get this. The state’s Medicaid folks want to cover only three “non-emergency” visits per year — enough of a disincentive to prevent people from going in the first place — but it doesn’t end there. The plan would classify more than  700 diagnoses as “non-emergent,” including (wait for it) chest pain, abdominal pain and breathing problems.  So, I take it that pregnant women, infants, children, the disabled and the mentally ill are supposed to decide with a home thermometer and a bit of prayer whether they’re actually in danger?

According to the folks suing the state, which include the state medical association, hospital association and chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, this program not only endangers patients, but also has thrown a cloud of smoke around payment issues. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the state is threatening patients that they’ll be billed directly, while EMTALA and state charity care laws prohibit patient billing.

Folks, if I were a hospital executive, I’d be suing to avoid legal and political messes that will arise here, sure. But I’d be sick to my gut about what such rules would mean to real people, too. I truly hope that’s what the suing hospitals have in mind.

Would you feel safe in this ugly lobby?

Posted on November 21, 2010 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...

Image via Wikipedia

Folks, I’ll never forget that night.  Led gently by my worried husband, who was a bit concerned about my ability to keep breathing, I walked into the lobby of a mid-sized, plain-vanilla 100-odd bed community hospital in my neighborhood.

I already knew, from phone calls to my PCP, that I probably had pneumonia. And I knew that while I probably didn’t need an admission, I definitely needed a hand.  My temp was 104, my cough was in the Black Plague range  and I could barely walk.

So, then medical reality collided with nice, warm, compassionate medical theory.  The details aren’t important — basically, since the ED staff had nowhere appropriate to put me while I waited, and demanded I wear a mask I simply could not tolerate  — I ended up sitting on the floor inside the glass box between the outside and inside doors to the facility.  At least the cold from the winter night kept my temp down a bit.

I’m sorry, but I absolutely cannot fathom why even a not-so-rich community hospital can’t do more to make very, very uncomfortable and scared people feel safe when they enter an ED door.

Why are hospitals spending SO much energy advertising their abbreviated ED wait times?  Customer service, right? Well, guys, I can assure you that it makes more sense to start with EDs that aren’t a nightmare to visit. Get people through quickly? Sure. But for the time they’re in the lobby, much less in case, make that time welcoming and safe.

Yes, I realize not every hospital will spend enough to put Pottery Barn-style couches and deluxe coffee and tea service out there, but what bothers me is that comfort doesn’t seem to be anyone’s aspiration when patients arrive.

The nursing staff in the emergency departments I’ve visited are largely abrupt and impatient, refusing to make the slightest human connection with patients.  The lobbies themselves stack uncomfortable institutional chairs and horrible lighting on top of one another in a graceless manner which rivals sitting in the New York City subway at 2AM.  And if you want food or drink you often have to go on a hunting expedition you’re in no position to conduct.

My take? This is not acceptable. No. Not for a second.  I don’t want to hear any excuses about it.

If your hospital can’t afford high-toned decor, maybe get a volunteer to serve as a concierge to help make people comfortable. Rent a goddamned cot or two for patients who aren’t dying but feel like they want to.  Provide some hot liquids, for Christ’s sake — it’s not going tap out the budget for a mid-sized community hospital.  Remind your front-desk nurses that people are in pain, and base part of their pay on the reports you get from patients.

You know, evidence is piling up that patient satisfaction correlates pretty strongly with profit.  If compassion and common sense aren’t enough to convince the hold outs that it’s time for them to make their front door inviting, I guess nothing will.