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Our First Year with a Patient Portal

Last month marked the end of our first year with our web portal.  It has been a steep but worthwhile learning curve.  Similar to every other component of our IT system there were many bumps along the way.  Here are some observations worth sharing:

  1. If you build it – and promote it – they will come.  There is no question that patients in our North Atlanta market like the portal.  Over the first 12 months 12,518 patients have signed up and completed over 130,000 health, demographic and general consent forms.  Participation has increased steadily as we have refined web page usability and improved the reliability of the system.  Subjectively I think about 2/3 of my new patients are using the portal to enter their demographic and personal health information prior to their initial appointment.
  2. Overpromotion backfires.  Our telephone-greeting message says, “To schedule an appointment, dial 0 or go to www.entofga.com.”  Sounds reasonable enough, but patients have misinterpreted this message as meaning that we don’t want to talk to them.
  3. If it doesn’t work, patients get angry – with good reason.  Nothing is more frustrating than spending 45 minutes filling out all your information at home and then getting handed the same forms on paper at the office because your online data was lost.  The IT folks seem to think if the explanation for the failure is fancy enough that will make everything OK.  It doesn’t.
  4. Patients who choose not to use the portal at home don’t want to use it in the waiting room, either.  We have tried iPads, laptops and desktop kiosks.  We have trained our front office folks to promote it and even “walk patients through” the portal.  Nothing has worked.  We have considered recruiting those patients with a different technology such as scanned #2 lead pencil bubble forms, at least for the discrete data.
  5. Patients have little interest in using the portal as an ongoing tool.  After the initial creation of the account, data entry and first appointment, they rarely use the portal again.  Last month with over 12,000 patients enrolled we got only 6 prescription refill requests and 24 “ask the doctor” questions.   Appointment requests were slightly better at 134.  Our telephone appointment schedulers tell me they frequently get calls from folks who made an appointment request online but then immediately call for the same appointment because they were not comfortable with the online appointment concept.  One could argue that this is unique to our specialty practice or that the online forms and workflow need improving.  That may be true, but I am convinced that at least a part of this phenomenon represents cultural pushback from patients.
  6. The ROI on the web portal is in some ways an all-or-nothing situation.  For a while the portal was passing to EMR only about 15 of the 20 data fields required to complete our demographic database.  Intuitively one would think the portal was therefore “75% useful”.  The problem is if I have to pay staff to open the patient’s file to manually enter the 5 remaining fields, I may as well have them manually enter all 20 fields.  That makes the portal 0% useful.  I can’t reassign staff to better things until the portal passes 100% of the data to the EMR.  This also relates to the reliability issues described above.  Until we reach near 100% reliability the return on investment is limited.
  7. As with every health IT product we have ever tried, it doesn’t work completely as advertised.  Although the new patient workflow is going fairly well other features remain severely compromised.  In our vendor’s defense this is partly because our parent EMR has had some upgrades which in turn requires our vendor to update the portal to adapt to the EMR changes.  The point is that none of these products is “plug and play” and the industry has a long way to go before these products become easy to use and practical for everyone.
  8. There are unintended consequences of a web portal.  Unbeknownst to us our portal was directing patients to the vendor’s personal health record product.  The transition is apparently pretty seamless so patients often still thought they were still inside our portal when they encountered very personal questions (i.e., sexual history) that had no relevance to their ear / nose  / throat appointment.

As an “early adopter” practice we are pleased overall with the portal but I’m not sure how a more typical practice would feel.

August 11, 2013 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

EMR Note Cloning is Scarier than I Thought

The health IT community is well aware of the dangers of cloning notes in an electronic medical record.  I include myself in that group.  Until recently I prided myself for doing a good job, both in our EMR design and in my own personal practice, of using just the right amount of automation in our documentation workflow.  Two recent events showed me that I still have some work to do.

The first event occurred a few weeks ago when I was reviewing some records.  One patient note documented an enlarged salivary gland containing a stone.  That would be fine except for one small detail – I had removed that gland one week prior to the date of the note!  My nurse had created that note.  A conversation with her revealed she thought she was doing the right thing by always clicking the “previous finding” button, which I had programmed myself.  My nurse is extremely bright; this was my fault for not training her on this issue.  I had also signed that note.  So it was my fault twice.  After a 30 second conversation with my nurse it has not happened since.

The second event was when an attorney interviewed me regarding one of my patients.  I was a treating physician in a malpractice case (I am not the defendant thankfully).  The attorney wanted to know if, in my opinion, the physician defendant had met the standard of care in treating the patient despite the adverse outcome.

This was a high-risk case for note cloning; the patient had multiple abnormal neurologic findings that were stable over time.  In reviewing my records I was satisfied that my notes were accurate, complete and original for every visit.  I avoided cloning those abnormal but stable findings by describing the same exam but using slightly different wording at each visit.  How else do you avoid cloning?  But the attorney pounced on my small changes in description, trying to establish a trend in my notes that the patient was getting worse.  I explained the cloning issue to him, and he understood…. I think.  Nonetheless I felt somewhat uncomfortable defending my documentation, and I was not even the defendant.  In trying to avoid cloning notes I had stepped right into another problem.

This issue is huge in my practice.  I have a large volume of head and neck cancer patients.  The essence of caring for them properly is to monitor them for changes in their abnormal – but stable – physical findings.  A recurrence of cancer might manifest as a subtle change in one of these findings.

How do you document that an examination is stable and unchanging, but change your wording enough to document that you actually examined the patient at every visit?  We do not yet have the cloning issue figured out.

June 15, 2012 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

EMR Workflow Continues to Evolve

As we approach the midpoint of 2012 our practice will complete 7 years of electronic medical records.  Just like a musical instrument, we will never have EMR fully mastered, but our skills and wisdom continue to grow slowly with time.  Over the past several weeks one lesson is becoming clear.

To this point I have equally supported 2 types of workflow for the exam room.  The first involves the physician working solo in the exam room with a laptop or tablet computer.  The medical assistant remains at the nurses’ station to support workflow.  In our financially strained environment we can’t afford to add another medical assistant to put in the exam room with the physician.   In this model the EMR enhances the physican’s documentation and workflow control capabilities and eliminates the need for an assistant in the exam room.

In the second workflow the doc never touches the computer.  Instead a medical assistant or nurse accompanies the doc to the exam room and documents on a laptop.  After capturing the results of the physician interview and the exam findings, the assistant documents workflow in the EMR.   The doc uses the workflow engine to initiate and control workflow.  It works well but carries the expense of an additional assistant, some $40k per year including benefits.

Over the past year I have been blessed with 2 exceptionally talented RNs who are both outstanding clinicians and savvy computer users.  The first of them will be going out on maternity leave soon, so the second was hired.  For several weeks they have both been working and training together so I have had the (expensive) luxury of having an extra assistant to bring to the exam room.  Thanks to them I have come to realize there is no reason for me to operate the workflow engine.  For most patients the RN can listen to my conversation with the patient and initiate the treatment workflow via the workflow engine.

By allowing the RN / assistant to operate the workflow engine we eliminate the need to keep an assistant at the nurses station and this eliminate the additional expense.

We have also replaced our web portal vendor after several frustrating, unsuccessful years.  I am very excited about the Intuit product.  Although I have been wrong many times about similar technologies in the past I remain hopeful that that the new portal will be attractive to patients.  If that happens we will finally be able to automate several workflows and get a measurable return on investment on the portal itself.

Combining a successful web portal with a sophisticated workflow engine operated by staff holds the promise of taking our practice to the “next level” with our EMR.  This will allow us to automate data input, workflow management and patient communication.  This is very important to physicians.  As a group we docs see EMR as something we constantly put resources into but rarely get anything back out.   This would be a big step past that barrier.

May 8, 2012 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

The Nitty-Gritty of Meaningful Use – Part 2

This is the second in the series of how our practice is getting the work of MU done.  The first of the series can be found here.

Starting with Core Set Item #7:

7.   Record demographics as structured data.  We have been doing this for a long time but MU requires us to add race and “ethnicity.”  Isn’t ethnicity the same as race but more specific?  If you have the latter you don’t need the former.  Furthermore we have had patients push back on asking this question.  Some find this question offensive.  They shouldn’t; since many diseases are race / ethnicity – specific the question is medically appropriate.  Fortunately MU considers the term “undetermined” as acceptable for this data point.

8.  Record vital signs as structured data.  This conflicts with lower level CPT E/M coding with does not require vital signs.  Once again the left hand of government doesn’t know what the right is doing.  Nobody thought it through.

9.  Record smoking status.   No problem here.  Medically appropriate for all specialties.

10.  Quality measures.  These are poorly designed and confusing.  There are 2 redundant measures both dealing with tobacco use and cessation, and these are both redundant (but not identical) to core set #9.  Weight screening is reasonable enough but the follow-up requirements are ambiguous and burdensome.  Are we really supposed to bombard our local dietician with weight loss consultations?

11.  Decision support rule.  We will configure our EMR to prompt for hearing loss screenings in patients over 50 years old.  Fair enough.

12.  Provide an electronic copy of health information to the patient upon request.  Who are they kidding?  This should have been delayed to Phase two.  Qualified EMRs can do this easily enough but the product is exported to your remote server desktop; it is cumbersome to copy from there.  We have had few such requests from patients; I wonder if those few are asking just to prove a point.  I don’t know that for sure.

13.  Provide clinical visit summaries.  Again should have been delayed to Phase two.

14.  Exchange key clinical information between systems.  This one is unbelievable.  Fortunately, as I understand it, you only have to do it once.  You are supposed to upload all or part of someone’s chart (or perhaps a test chart or other hypothetical data) to portable media, go to someone else’s EMR and try to upload the data.  Doesn’t matter if you succeed or not.  Am I misunderstanding this one?  If anybody has a better handle on this one please leave a comment.

15.  HIPAA security risk analysis.  Although I hate paying for it I must admit that is a good idea.

 

The last installment will cover the Menu Set Measures.

September 18, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

EMR Gives Stability to Medical Office Workflow

I am presently devoting all of my extracurricular time to preparing 2 talks for the upcoming Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.  The big talk is a 1-hour instructional course entitled, “Navigating the Unknown Waters of EMR.”  My blogging over the past year has already organized most of the relevant material.  Nonetheless as I try to bring it all together some new thoughts emerge.

One such notion is that EMR stabilizes office workflow by giving the medical office an IT infrastructure similar to other industries.  For example, FedEx has a very elaborate computer system that supports their workflow.  Employees may come and go, but the IT infrastructure forces the work to be performed in a certain manner.

The medical practice has never had anything like that.  Consider the example I used in an earlier blog on workflow design using an EMR.   In that post I reviewed how a “simple” workflow – handling patient phone calls – was improved through the use of an EMR and a contemporary phone system.

Let’s take a look at patient phone call workflow in paper chart office.  Often there is no formal workflow.  Whoever is near the phone answers it, takes the message, and hangs up.  That person may or may not attach the message to the paper chart.  They may then choose any method of communication (voice mail, e-mail, text, phone log slip, sticky note, etc) to notify whomever they choose (doctor, nurse, assistant, etc.) regarding the message.

This continues until something bad happens.  A patient may complain that his phone call was never returned, or a referring physician with an urgent problem is left on hold too long.  Then the doctor sits down with the office manager and says, “Things are out of control around here.  We need to organize better how we do things.  Let’s come up with a plan for patient phone calls and then stick to it.”  The manager dutifully comes up with a plan, meets with the staff, and cleans things up.  Phone calls are handled well for a while, but over the next 12-18 months workflow slowly deteriorates until the next adverse event occurs, and the cycle repeats.

Performance on handling phone calls deteriorates when there is no infrastructure supporting the patient phone call policy.  In a paper chart office the plan for handling phone calls lives only in the brains of the office manager and staff.  As memories fade and staff inevitably turns over, the information is lost and the plan falls apart.

In a practice with EMR and a good phone system, the phone call policy is preserved indefinitely in the programming of these two systems.  Our phone system’s caller menu routes all non-appointment phone calls to the same extension.  The EMR system makes patient charts from all offices available in real time to the single person in our practice assigned to patient phone calls.  The cycle of workflow deterioration, adverse event, and workflow restoration is broken.

Once our patient phone call workflow was programmed into our phone and EMR systems 4 years ago we have had very few problems.

September 1, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

The Nitty-Gritty of Meaningful Use – Part 1

To this point I have contemplating Meaningful Use from 10,000 feet above the landscape.  I have done my reading, been to meetings, and met with our EMR vendor…all the usual things.  But this week it was time to roll up our sleeves and go down from 10,000 feet to cut through the jungle at ground level and bring MU to our practice of 19 physicians.

We faced the maddening task of reviewing 15 Core Set Measures and choosing 5 out of 10 Menu Set Measures, and then getting them done.  I have to admit that some parts of meaningful use are not too bad.  But there are other parts that are confusing, redundant or totally ridiculous.

Regarding the first 6 of the 15 Core Measures:

CPOE for Medication orders.   The concept is fine but the requirement is not structured well.  It reads, “More the 30% of all unique patients with at least one medication in their medication list seen by the EP (eligible provider) have at least one medication entered using CPOE.”  Read it carefully.  It says if a patient walks in my door and reports to be on any medication, I have to prescribe another medication whether the patient needs one or not.  Most doctors write enough prescriptions that by luck of the draw this won’t be a problem.  But we have 2 docs that don’t write a lot of prescriptions and they are currently don’t meet this measure even though they rarely, if ever, write a paper prescription.

Drug-Drug interactions and Drug-Allergy Interactions.  No problems here.

Maintaining a Structured Problem List.  Certified EMRs do this automatically and this function is essential to quality measurement and outcomes research.  Some of us (me included) need to change our documentation habits to get the proper data capture.   By personal habit I prefer writing unstructured paragraphs instead of distilling a patient visit down to a bunch of ICD-9 codes.  I’ll get over it.

 E-Prescribing.  Obviously an appropriate requirement.  But it sets the bar higher than the CPOE for Meds requirement (see #1 above), so why bother having the CPOE requirement at all?

 Maintain structured active medication and allergy lists.  Also a reasonable requirement.  This has always been a part of the physician’s visit routine.  The only problem is that the EMR requires the doc to check a box for each of these requirements.  I am going to try to modify our existing templates to make that task as painless as possible.

 

In future installments on this topic I will cover how we are handing the remainder of the MU requirements.  Stay tuned.

 

 

August 11, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

Lessons Learned from Anesthesia EMRs

Several years ago one of the hospitals where I operate spent 6 figures on an anesthesia EMR system.  After several months and a huge amount of money the whole thing was scrapped because it was so cumbersome to use.  They have not tried again.

A few weeks ago the anesthesia group that covers our surgery center got an EMR.  The product is called Anescan and apparently has many successful installs.  It runs on Windows 7 tablets that communicate with a central server.  Needless to say I was curious to see how this system differed from the failed system I had seen years ago.  What I learned was very interesting.

Medical record keeping in anesthesia is different from all other medical specialties.  The job includes monitoring vital signs constantly and documenting them in the anesthesia record every few minutes.  It is a task that begs to be automated.  Such technology would presumably free the anesthesiologist from mundane repetitive documentation, allowing more efficient and effective monitoring of the patient.   The necessary technology has been available for years and was used in the failed hospital system from years ago.

I was surprised to learn that Anescan avoids that technology.  A conversation with the Anescan rep revealed that is was precisely that technology which caused earlier systems to fail.  It’s easy to measure blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood oxygen level and push that data to an EMR.  The problem is that the data are often riddled with artifact.  If an EKG lead or pulse oximeter comes loose, or if the surgeon leans on the arm-mounted blood pressure cuff, it is not unusual to get an automated pulse or blood pressure of zero.  The anesthesiologist / anesthetist can easily recognize what is happening, fix the monitors and record accurate vital signs.  This often happens several times during a case and is no big deal.

The automated system makes it much worse.  By the time the bad data are recognized the automated system has already pushed that zero pulse and BP to your EMR.  Now the anesthesiologist / anesthetist has to open some kind of editing function in the EMR and delete, edit, or explain away the false readings…AND at the same time troubleshoot the monitors that sent the bad data in the first place…AND by the way your patient is still asleep and you can’t stop watching him.  AND you only have a couple of minutes to get caught up before the monitors send the next the next set of (? bad) vital signs to the EMR.  The potential downward spiral is easy to see.

Anescan avoids this problem.  The tablet PC presents an image of a standard anesthesia paper record with the patient demographics and other data already in place as structured data.  Vital signs are recorded with “digital ink.”   Use the stylus to record vital signs on the form, on the tablet.  When the case is complete the form images are sent to the server for centralized record keeping and billing.   A paper copy is printed for the surgery center chart.  This is an elegant solution that automates only those parts of record keeping where it is practical.

Someday the artifact problem will be solved either through better monitors or better error recognition within the EMR.  But today this serves as yet another example of too much IT and automation in health care causing more problems than it solves.

July 24, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

e-Prescribing: First Impressions

A couple of weeks ago we rather unceremoniously added e-prescribing into our EMR system.  Because of my mistaken interpretation of the CMS guidelines on Medicare e-Rx incentives and penalties we rushed e-Rx a bit.  I thought each of our physicians had to do 10 Medicare e-Rx prescriptions before June 30.  It turns out you are exempt from the 1% Medicare penalty if you have a certified EMR.  The CMS guidelines are incredibly difficult to understand.  No surprise there.

My thoughts after the first 2 weeks:

  1. The concept is sound and very useful. Although it only takes a second to grab a printed script off the printer and sign it, eliminating that step is refreshing and streamlines clinic operations much more than I would have thought.   We have far fewer pieces of paper to push around.  There might even be some cost savings on paper.
  2. Cultural acceptance has been effortless. I wondered if patients would be unhappy without that precious paper prescription.  I should have known better.   We have been calling in scripts forever.
  3. The darn thing works! I held my breath waiting for the wave of angry phone calls from patients and pharmacies.  It never came.  For the first few scripts we called the pharmacies to be sure they received the script.  There was never a problem.
  4. The workflow changes will be interesting. Some changes are obvious.  We had to get the front office staff to get pharmacy information from each patient and enter it in the system.  Other implications are less clear.  Do we really need printers in every exam room now?  Do tablets become more useful over other PCs?
  5. Mistakes are rare and easy to fix. This evening on call I got a message from one of my partner’s patients alleging that her prescriptions were not “called in.”  I got into the EMR from home and saw her e-scripts were created but were never signed.  This was because we took the system off line at about the same time the chart note was created.  We had to install a patch.  I signed the prescriptions and fixed the problem in a second.
  6. The Surescripts HIE is WORTHLESS. This is the feature that allows the EMR to upload a patient’s medication list based on his/her recently filled prescriptions.  But the feature forces a “workflow paradox:”
    1. Uploading prescription histories takes considerable time.  The upload needs to be done in advance of the patient visit so it doesn’t impede workflow.  I don’t understand why it is so slow.
    2. The upload cannot be performed until the patient gives consent.  So you can’t do the upload until the patient arrives at the office and signs the form.

I suppose we could work around this via giving consent on the web portal; that would be very cumbersome.    Even if it worked well the feature does not improve our workflow.  The medication reconciliation step may make it worse.  The bottom line is I don’t care what is in the Surescripts database.  We ask patients what their medications are and they tell us.  Done.

 

July 8, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

Introducing the Patient Pad

 

One of the biggest theoretical advantages of bringing IT into the patient care environment is using technology to replace human labor.  This is more difficult than it sounds.  Some argue that EMRs are actually a step backwards in this regard, reducing health care professionals to data entry clerks.  One of our biggest labor costs is paying office staff to enter patient demographic and clinical information into the EMR.  IT options are available to automate that process.  We have had very good success with our web portal, which allows patients to enter their own data directly into the EMR from home.

But that same technology has failed miserably in our waiting room.  We have tried desktops in private areas and tethered laptops but patients will not use them.  Tablets would probably work better but we have not tried them because of the expense and the risk of theft.  Several commercial solutions are available that use tablets.

An Atlanta-based company, Digital Assent, has a solution and a business model that may help with both of these issues.  The Patient Pad is a tablet device that works well in the waiting room but its operating system renders the device useless outside the wireless connection.  The device itself must be seen to be fully appreciated.  It’s great for its intended purpose but you would never want to take it home.

The Patient Pad is dedicated to patient check-in and data entry in the waiting room.  Like the web portal patients enter their own demographic and clinical data into the Patient Pad, which is then pushed directly to the EMR.  The data input screens are customizable to match the practice’s existing data structure.  When data entry is complete the patient may keep the Pad and review relevant educational and marketing materials based on the information they entered.

Equally innovative is DA’s business model.  The physician gets the tablets for next to nothing.  The revenue comes from sponsors who place ads and educational material on the device.  We are currently working with several pharmaceutical and hearing aid companies to get material relevant to our practice on to the Patient Pad.

To this point DA has only worked with private pay cosmetic practices.  We are the first practice in regular medicine to try the Patient Pad.  As always we are implementing gradually, doing the patient interface first and then building the EMR interface.   So far it has been well received and is doing far better than the desktop workstations or laptops ever did.

I will post an update after we are fully implemented.

I have no financial interest in Digital Assent.

June 30, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.

Lessons Learned from our EMR Upgrade – Part 3

It is after 11 PM and I have just arrived home after a meeting with our practice leadership.   Why so late?  The meeting doesn’t start until 7 PM.  We docs can’t afford to take time out of our practices to meet during the day.  We moonlight as CEOs, CIOs, managers, etc. for our own practices.

This was the first meeting since March that was not dominated by unhappy discussions about the system upgrade.  It wasn’t even mentioned.  Tonight’s EMR discussions were forward looking, including e-prescribing, which just went live for us yesterday, and the pending results of our meaningful use gap analysis that will come out next week.  I think we have reached an appropriate point to take some perspective on our difficult upgrade.

To state the obvious first, we bit off too much at once.  Going 6 years without a software upgrade is bad enough.   But doing a major database conversion at the same time?  And buying all new servers?  And switching to VMware?  What the heck were we thinking?

As I mentioned yesterday we were afraid of using the database merge program (a.k.a. the migration tool) on our precious database until the vendor got more experience with it.  We also thought it was a reasonable strategy to feel all the pain all at once rather than spread it out over several smaller steps.  Regarding our 6 figure server purchase we were trying to cheat the old rule that any computer you buy will be obsolete by the time you get it home and plug it in.

In retrospect those were all good thoughts.  They just weren’t enough.  We failed to realize that while the migration tool was getting better through time, our database and applications were at the same time getting bigger and more complicated.  Every year we added an average of 50,000 new patients to our database.  We also added applications like our web portal and more automated document scanning / indexing.  Time also allows strange things to happen…such as when one office accidentally started scanning clinical documents into the practice management database.  Tens of thousands of documents were in the wrong place.  We picked up on it ahead of time and thought we had fixed it but the migration tool still had a problem with those image files.  Sometimes I wonder if we should have upgraded sooner and taken our chances with a less mature migration tool running on a smaller, less complicated, less entropy-riddled database.

The upgrade was harder and far more stressful than the original implementation in 2005.  I think this was because we no longer had paper charts as a lifeboat when the system wasn’t working well.  The gradual, no-hassle approach to EMR implementation that I wrote about months ago is not an option when you are switching databases.  I have a new found respect for practices that are forced to switch EMR programs.

VMware was a much bigger hassle than I expected.

When one considers that the upgrade occurred at the end of 6 years of relatively hassle-free system performance it really wasn’t that bad.   But it sure felt bad at the time, not knowing when or if we were going to get the bugs fixed.

 

June 29, 2011 I Written By

Dr. Michael J. Koriwchak received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1988. He completed both his Internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Koriwchak continued at Vanderbilt for a fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice. He is board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. After training Dr. Koriwchak moved to Atlanta in 1995 to become one of the original physicians in Ear, Nose and Throat of Georgia. He has built a thriving practice in Laryngology, Care of the Professional Voice, Thyroid/Parathyroid Surgery, Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and General Otolaryngology. A singer himself, many of his patients are people who depend on their voice for their careers, including some well-known entertainers. Dr. Koriwchak has also performed thousands of thyroid, parathyroid and head and neck cancer operations. Dr. Koriwchak has been working with information technology since 1977. While an undergraduate at Bucknell University he taught a computer-programming course. In medical school he wrote his own software for his laboratory research. In the 1990’s he adapted generic forms software to create one the first electronic prescription applications. Soon afterward he wrote his own chart note templates using visual BASIC script. In 2003 he became the physician champion for ENT of Georgia’s EMR implementation project. This included not only design and implementation strategy but also writing code. In 2008 the EMR implementation earned the e-Technology award from the Medical Association of Georgia. With 7 years EMR experience, 18 years in private medical practice and over 35 years of IT experience, Dr. Koriwchak seeks opportunities to merge the information technology and medical communities, bringing information technology to health care.