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Pilot Effort Improves EHR Documentation

Posted on February 9, 2018 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.

Though EHRs were intended to improve medical documentation, in many cases they seem to have made documentation quality worse. Despite their best intentions, bogged-down physicians may resort to practices — notably excessive copy-and-paste usage — that turn patient records into bloated, unfocused data masses that don’t help their peers much.

However, a pilot program conducted by a group of academic medical centers suggests using a set of best practice guidelines and templates for progress notes can improve note quality dramatically. The pilot involved intern physicians on inpatient internal medicine rotations at UCLA, the University of California San Francisco, the University of California San Diego and the University of Iowa.

According to a related story in HealthData Management, researchers rated the quality of the notes created by the participating interns using a competency questionnaire, a general impression score and the validated Physician Documentation Quality Instrument 9-item version (PDQI-9).

The researchers behind the study, which was published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, found that the interns’ documentation quality improved substantially over the course of the pilot. “Significant improvements were seen in the general impression score, all domains of the PDQI-9, and multiple competency items, including documentation of only relevant data, discussion of a discharge plan, and being concise while adequately complete,” the authors reported. Even better, researchers said notes generated by the participating interns had about 25% fewer lines and were signed 1.3 hours earlier in the day on average.

One side note: despite the encouragement provided by the pilot, the extent to which interns used templates varied dramatically between institutions. For example, 92% of interns at UCSF used the templates, compared to 90% at UCLA, 79% at Iowa and only 21% at UCSD. Nonetheless, UCSD intern notes still seemed to improve during the study period, the research report concluded. (All four institutions were using an Epic EHR.)

It’s hard to tell how generalizable these results are. After all, it’s one thing to try and train interns in a certain manner, and another entirely to try and bring experienced clinicians into the fold. It’s just common sense that physicians in training are more likely to absorb guidance on how they should document care than active clinicians with existing habits in place. And unfortunately, to make a real dent in documentation improvement we’ll need to bring those experienced clinicians on board with schemes such as this.

Regardless, it’s certainly a good idea to look at ways to standardize documentation improvement. Let’s hope more research and experimentation in this area is underway.

E-Patient Update: Hospitals Need Virtual Clinicians

Posted on July 20, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epic or Best-of-Breed? The Billion-Dollar Question

Posted on June 27, 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.

Ah, the Judy Faulkner stories. They’re beginning to be as numerous, and, uh, epic as those of Microsoft and Apple’s early days.  Imagine the average-looking, middle-aged Faulkner — Epic’s CEO, of course — walking into a room of hospital CIOs and telling them she’d come “to decide who she wanted as customers.”  Kinda makes you want to admire Faulkner even if you don’t.

But more importantly, such behavior brings up the question of whether Epic brings enough to the table to make such grandstanding tolerable.  As Zina Moukheiber, a Forbes contributor, notes in a recent article, Epic has certainly convinced a lot of CIOs that the answer is yes, largely because it offers a single ecosystem hospitals can deploy across the enterprise.

But like myself, Moukheiber seems very skeptical that Epic has justified its astronomical prices, which include:

* Partners HealthCare and Duke University Health System, $700 million each
* University of California, San Francisco, $150 million
* Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, $80 million

I’d also drop in a casual mention of Kaiser Permanente’s Epic installation, which allegedly hit $4 billion-ish before it was done.

Of course, the issue isn’t merely whether Epic is expensive, but whether it gets the job done in a way which can’t be done by less expensive systems.  That, clearly, is the billion-dollar question.

In response, Moukheiber notes that in a recent New England Journal of Medicine piece, published earlier this month, two Boston Children’s Hospital Physicians argue that “diverse functionality needn’t reside within single EHR systems.”  Children’s uses Cerner, Epic and best of breed software as needed.

Yes, that’s  the heart of the matter, isn’t it. If you believe that there’s less risk and more chance of success implementing one system — thinking embraced by many hospital boards — Epic is likely to be a smash.

But if you’re a best-of-breed CIO, you’re probably astonished that anyone trusts their whole enterprise to a single vendor. Honestly, I am too.