Free Wired EMR Practice Newsletter Want to receive the latest updates on EMR from a Doctor's perspective sent straight to your email? Get all the latest EMR and EHR updates from a practicing doctor for FREE!

Making Tablets More Effective for Data Capture

Six months ago I wrote about the virtues of using an iPad Mini tablet in the patient care setting.  At that time I was using my tablet almost all day, every day for multiple purposes including EMR data capture.  Things went well for a while, but as time passed I used the tablet less and less.  Eventually I stopped using it almost altogether except for displaying and annotating CT images during patient visits.  At first I did not understand why.  Was the non-Retina display finally getting to my 50+ year old eyes?  Was the external microphone I used to improve speech recognition losing performance?  Was the battery fading after 9 months of charge / discharge cycles?  Or was the “gadget lust” of a new tech-toy finally wearing off?

Each of the above may be just a little bit true.  But two other reasons are most relevant to me.  First, my efforts to add a medical vocabulary to the embedded speech recognition failed.  But most importantly, I became frustrated with how difficult the tablet was to hold for extended periods of time.  When I wrote that the tablet was “easily and comfortably held by its edge” I was wrong.  Tablets are beautiful to behold, but their clean lines and smooth surfaces make holding them for extended periods of time very cumbersome.

So I created something that would fix the problem by making a tablet more comfortable and safe to hold.  Now that the provisional patent application is registered I can share the design:

                 figure 11                     

The photos are of a nonfunctional mockup I made out of Styrofoam, balsa wood and spackling compound.  It is a grip that attaches primarily to one edge of a tablet computer and facilitates holding the tablet by its edge rather than the back.  It is shaped to fit the hand and allows both proper hand positioning and proper viewing angle.  It provides a mechanical interface between the tablet edge and a semi-pronated (handshake position) hand/forearm.  Its purpose is to facilitate extended use of the tablet by minimizing orthopedic strain to the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulders and neck.   The interface with the remaining 3 edges is minimal, preserving the ability to store the tablet-grip assembly in a coat pocket.

The external shell is a composite of plastic, rubber, metal, leather or similar materials.     There may also be a thin covering over the back and/or front faces of the tablet for protection and mechanical stability.  The top side is contoured to engage the thumb and guide the thumb to the home button.   The bottom is contoured to engage the fingers.  This shape gives the thumb and fingers stability and purchase to counter the tablet’s weight and torque in the yaw and roll axes.  The gripped portion has bilateral symmetry to allow left hand or right hand grip.  Openings and mechanical and/or electronic pass-throughs provide access to tablet buttons, ports, etc.  It could also include a stand for self-support on a tabletop and a place to store a stylus.  Some panels could be customized for color, shape (i.e., for different hand sizes) or material.

There is space available within the grip to add hardware and enhance functionality.  Examples include – but are not limited to – extended battery, external microphone / speaker, Bluetooth keyboard interface (to make the composite device appear as a keyboard to an external workstation), wireless USB, and apps that use cloud-based speech to text capability.  Any companion software component – an app – would be loaded into the tablet itself.

I need your help both to estimate the potential of this idea and get some advice on what to do with it next.  If you think this is an idea worth pursuing give me a like on Facebook at the bottom of the article.  If you feel strongly about it give it a Tweet as well.  And if you have some advice I would be grateful to hear it.

 

February 27, 2014 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.

Six Years Later, What Has Meaningful Use Accomplished?

In Atlanta we are recovering from one of worst winter storms in many years. Weather events are financially devastating for a medical practice.  Revenue completely stops while expenses continue without interruption.   Today for the first time we saw patients in the office on a Saturday to recover a little.

During our 3 snow days this past week I decided to take on John Lynn’s challenge regarding what I would do if the Meaningful Use (MU) incentive money disappeared.  There has been a range of responses including one person who wouldn’t change a thing about MU.  However, recent data continue to support my long-held opinion that MU has been harmful to health IT and the EMR cause.

Think about where we were before MU was conceived.  Six years ago the NEJM study cited by the designers of MU showed a 4% EMR adoption rate.  Among EMR users the vast majority (72%-96%) reported a positive effect of EMR on patient care.  Among EMR users physician satisfaction was 93%.  Among EMR non-users, the major reasons for not getting an EMR included cost (66%), uncertainty regarding the return on investment (50%), and loss of productivity during implementation (41%).

Six years later, what has MU done for EMRs?  Medical Economics recently released an EHR survey of 967 physicians polled in late 2013 with very disturbing results:

  • 70% did not feel their EHR investment was worth the cost and the effort
  • 73% would not re-purchase their current system
  • 69% report coordination of care has not improved
  • 65% do not believe EHR has improved quality of care.  45% believe EHR has made patient care worse
  • 66% report financial losses resulting from EHR.  38% report significant losses.
  • Lack of system functionality was the most common complaint among EHR users (67%)
  • 45% of all physicians spent over $100,000 on EHR and 77% of the “largest” practices spent over $200,000.  It is unclear whether this is the total practice cost or cost per physician.  Increased staff costs and loss of productivity were also cited as major issues.

Also telling are data reported by CMS last May that a staggering 17% of all providers who attested for the 90 day period required for MU Stage 1 / Year 1 (2011) did not participate the following year.  A CMS survey of these “non-returning providers” (NRPs) showed many of them gave up for reasons related to the MU program as well as reasons related to dissatisfaction with their EMRs.

Analysis of these 3 studies suggests that the satisfaction rate among EMR users has fallen from over 90% to about 30% over the past 6 years.  The proportion of providers that believe EMR improves quality of care has fallen from 82% in 2008 to 35% in the 2013 ME survey.  The misgivings of non-EMR-users in the NEJM 2008 study were proven valid among the dissatisfied EMR-users in the ME 2013 survey: high cost, poor return on investment and loss of productivity.  Even 5 figure financial incentives can’t get MU / EMR participation beyond a very short time of 90 days.

How could EMR’s reputation among EMR users fall so far?  The Meaningful Use program is solely responsible.

Go back to 2008 for a moment.  Had the health IT market been left undisturbed, EMR vendors would have engaged their existing base of satisfied customers in order to improve their products and sell to new customers.  This base of early EMR adopters was unique and special.  Our practice was among those that had a fully functional EMR in 2007-2008.  We shared a vision and saw the potential for information technology to improve health care.   We had both the IT resources and the will to work hundreds of extra hours to build effective EMR systems from products that were almost useless as they came “out of the box.”  We willingly accepted that proposition.

In 2008 the early adopters would have gladly offered their own practices as examples to demonstrate the value of EMR and help their vendors sell to new customers.  This slow, evolutionary growth would have created a stable environment that allowed the health care system to safely assimilate the cultural and operational changes that EMR brings.  This environment would have also supported stable evolution and improvement of EMR products.  The result would have been modest but steady growth in the EMR market for decades to come.

But thanks to MU this never happened.  Replacement of stable, natural market forces with MU incentives drove immediate, explosive short-term growth in the EMR market.  But these MU-driven EMR purchasers are not like the practices before 2008 that freely chose to purchase a system. These practices had decided against EMR initially, at least partly because they lacked the IT resources to make EMR work for them.   MU coerced them to purchase EMR against their better judgment.

I have spoken with many of these physicians.  They do not share the inspiration and vision of the early adopters.  They are rightly unhappy and cynical, forced by MU to spend huge amounts of money on unproven, underdeveloped EMR products that they did not want and were not prepared to properly use. To these practices the question of EMR’s potential is irrelevant.  In their minds MU (and by association EMRs) lives next to HIPAA, SGR and RAC audits as another method for the government to intimidate doctors and intrude upon their practices.

The MU program gave EMR vendors what they wanted – legislation requiring hundreds of thousands of providers to buy EMR products, with no need to prove that those products do anything useful.  But here’s the bad news: the Feds got what they wanted as well.  Through MU they created an EMR industry that is dependent on government incentives and penalties to maintain a stream of new customers.  This gives them complete control of the EMR market.  There is more bad news.  MU also destroyed the base of satisfied EMR customers from 2008, replacing it with a much larger base of unhappy, resentful customers.

So what happens as MU payments decrease with each passing year as MU requirements go up?  Who can argue that the market won’t collapse without another EMR stimulus package?  John Lynn’s question is appropriate and timely.  MU incentives will indeed disappear over the next couple of years.  How the EMR market will survive is not clear.

February 15, 2014 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.

Web Portal Use by the Numbers

With our first year of web portal use well behind us I started looking for practical ways to begin mining some data to get some basic statistical observations regarding patient use of web portal.  As with all new undertakings in health IT this was far more difficult and cumbersome than it should have been.  Nonetheless I got a few interesting observations documented over the past couple of days.  I did not do an exhausting review but I don’t think data like this exist anywhere else.

I was curious about what proportion of our network’s new patients have used the web portal over the past 6 months.  Overall 22% of our new patients used the web portal for clinical data entry.  This differs significantly from my subjective observation that about half of my new patients were using the portal; this data includes all 19 of our network physicians, not just my own.  I am in the process of looking at my patients only.

 

The breakdown by age is here – the first table  – web portal figure 1

 

Portal use is very steady at around 25% through age 65 years.  Use among pediatric patients shows parents are just as willing to use the portal for their children as they are for themselves.  It is reasonable to expect portal use to drop with increasing age but I didn’t expect 65 year olds to be using the portal as much as 25 year olds.  Portal use among patients in their 70’s and 80’s is quite respectable.  The bump in use in patients over 90 years of age is interesting but likely to be a statistical illusion due to the very small absolute numbers in those age brackets.

 

The second table shows the same data expressed as raw numbers rather than percentages.  All our new patients, regardless of portal use, tend to be from age 40 to 70 years.

 

 

October 7, 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.

The Doctor’s Best Use of the Tablet

I recently reviewed the Epocrates 2013 Mobile Trends report.  The study has a somewhat unusual participant profile, consisting only of primary care, 3 medical specialties and no surgical specialties; nonetheless the observations are probably close to the mark and are consistent with my experience with my first tablet a couple of years ago.

I purchased an iPad within a couple of months of the introduction of the first model thinking it was perfect for EMR use in my office.  I abandoned it after a couple of months when I discovered several shortcomings.  First, the first iPad was too heavy to hold by the edge and had to be held by a fully supinated hand (totally flat palm facing up).  Try that for 5 minutes and see how your forearm feels.  The first iPad was also too big to put in a physician’s white coat pocket.  And the screen resolution of the first iPad models was not good enough to display a busy EMR screen.   But the biggest drawback was that the early remote desktop apps did not work very well.

The iPad mini addresses all four of these issues.   The Mini is small enough to fit in a white coat pocket with the standard magnetic cover in place.  It is easily and comfortably held by its edge.  It needs a Retina screen badly but the display is better than the original iPad and is (barely) adequate for my 50-year-old eyes to see.   And remote desktop apps have come a long way.  It appears that similar advances have been made in tablets from other manufacturers as well.

I was therefore surprised to learn from the Epocrates study that although a majority of providers (53%) use tablets for patient care related activities, only a small portion (2%) use tablets for actual patient care record keeping in an EMR.  So I thought it would be interesting to outline my current methods of using a tablet that put me in the 2% category as well as the 53%:

 

  • Entering data into my EMR via a Remote Desktop app.  There are important lessons here.  Don’t expect to stick a tablet in the physician’s hand and have it work like magic.  Our office workflow is designed to optimize the physician / tablet combination.  I use the tablet for only 2 data fields in EMR:  assessment and coding (CPT and ICD).  The office staff enters all the other parts of the note and initiates treatment workflow through the EMR at the physician’s direction.  After the patient is seen I review all parts of the note (on a laptop or desktop), make additions / corrections, and sign it.
  • Cloud based voice-to-text.  This takes the tablet from merely useful to spectacular. There are 3 characteristics of Apple’s built-in cloud-based speech recognition that make it comparable to the Dragon software I have used in various forms for over 10 years:  1.  It is embedded seamlessly into the soft keyboard, 2.  An inexpensive external microphone plugged into the headphone /microphone jack raises transcription accuracy tremendously, and 3.  It works well with Remote Desktop, eliminating the need for a “dictation box” or other similar workaround.  These attributes make up for its most serious drawback, the lack of a medical (or at least customizable) vocabulary.  At the moment I have the right people talking to each other to address that problem.
  • Hospital EMR.  Our hospital is still in the implementation phase of a new Cerner system.  I am still learning the system myself but my initial experience using the system on my tablet using Citrix Receiver has been very positive.
  • Patient education.  LUMA, a product of Eyemaginations, is a very nice product for showing surgical patients the complex head and neck anatomy of their diagnosis and/or proposed surgical procedure.  There are both online and iPad versions available.  I can switch back and forth between EMR and LUMA without losing the Remote Desktop connection.
  • Medical imaging.  I can’t load an image disk directly onto my tablet but I can load it onto my desktop and take a photo with my tablet to review relevant images with patients.  I have tinkered with some apps that allow me to draw on the image to help educate patients.  Still looking for a way to conveniently reduce the file size to facilitate copy-pasting into EMR notes.
  • Literature searches in the exam room.  Not glamorous but helpful, most commonly to review medication side effects.

 

I think that is a pretty complete use of the tablet for the physician.  No doubt new uses will appear before long.

 

August 27, 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.

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.

The Naiveté of mHealth

Last week I attended a seminar on mHealth sponsored by the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).  The presenter was Arthur Lane, Director of Mobile Health Solutions at Verizon Wireless.  He gave a nice presentation and video of a system Verizon is designing to improve care of congestive heart failure (CHF) patients after hospital discharge.  CHF patients are treated effectively in the hospital setting with closely monitored vital signs and carefully administered medications / diet.  The problem is that once the patient goes home it is difficult to maintain the same level of monitoring and precision of the medication / diet regimen.  As a result re-admission rates for CHF are high, adding to the cost of care.

The Verizon system claims to correct this problem with smart phone technology.  The video showed a smart phone reminding a CHF patient to weigh himself before bed.  He has gained ½ pound since the morning.  When he wakes up the next morning the phone again reminds him to weigh himself.  He has gained another pound.  Weight gain day-to-day is an indication that CHF is getting worse.  The phone sends the weight data to a server, which in turn notifies a provider to call the patient and somehow prevent him from getting worse and showing up in the ER.   It was never clear to me how the provider was going to fix worsening CHF over the phone.

After Mr. Lane completed his presentation he joined 3 other panelists for a lively discussion moderated by a local physician whom I know.  Some of these panelists described their devotion to mHealth with near breathless excitement.  The physician moderator posed the ever-present question to the panel:  “How do we get doctors interested in this system (and mHealth overall)?”  The answers ranged from good – “Give doctors a product that is cost-effective” – to the ridiculous – “Align incentives by making physicians join ACOs.”  The silliest thought of the night was the suggestion from one panelist that health care is no different from banking.  I left the meeting with some concerns about who would pay for the Verizon system but decided to hold my reaction until I did a literature review.  After all, I am no cardiologist and have not treated a patient for CHF since med school.

 My review did not yield good news for Verizon or mHealth.

Turns out physicians have been working on home monitoring for CHF patients for years.  Unfortunately their studies do not support remote home monitoring for CHF to reduce hospital admissions.  A study from Yale Medical School published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 randomized over 1600 CHF patients to either a control group or a remote monitoring group for outpatient care following admission for CHF.  There were no differences in readmission rates for CHF or for any other cause over the 6-month study.  Several other studies, including comprehensive reviews of existing literature, reach similar conclusions.

So what would a more realistic mHealth video look like?

Our CHF patient is discharged from the hospital all tuned up with appropriate medications, diet and smart phone remote monitoring using a CHF app.  The monitoring app works well at first, feeding him periodic words of encouragement and reminders to take his meds, record his vital signs, weigh himself, etc.  After several days of his phone going off constantly with all the reminders, alert fatigue sets in.   After ignoring the alarms for a few days he gets fed up and shuts the CHF application off.  The monitoring network detects the data interruption, and a provider calls the patient.  At first the contact with a real human helps, but after several calls alert fatigue strikes again.  Our patient recognizes the caller ID and stops answering.

In the meantime he tires of his medication regimen and diet restrictions and succumbs to the urge to scarf down some pizza and beer with some potato chips for dessert.  His smart phone isn’t smart enough to change his behavior.  The salt and fluid load makes his heart failure worse.  In the middle of the night he wakes up short of breath and calls 911.  Back to the hospital he goes.

The mHealth community is so enamored with their toys they can’t see what is right in front of them:

  1. Peer-reviewed medical literature does not support the use of home monitoring for CHF patients.  Period.  LTE smart phones and glitzy medical apps do nothing to change that.
  2. Without supporting literature no one is going to pay for remote monitoring.
    Who is going to cough up the dough for all those smart phones, Bluetooth connected home monitoring devices, remote servers, and the army of providers that will be required to manage the terabytes of data that such a monitoring network would generate?  Neither ACOs nor any other ill-conceived “alignment of incentives” for physicians solve this issue.
  3. The mHealth folks fail to recognize that monitoring is not the endpoint.  The endpoint is changing patient behavior.  A smart phone constantly shrieking warnings and reminders is rendered useless by alert fatigue.  Patient behavior is a very tough nut to crack.  The Verizon video ends with a nurse talking to the monitored patient about his weight gain.  But that is NOT the end.  It is just the beginning.  No one knows what that nurse is supposed to say to change the patient’s behavior over the phone.
  4. Like many mHealth ideas this system creates unrecognized changes to the standard of care and thus changes medical liability.  What if our CHF patient who stops listening to alerts and stops answering the phone dies while he is in the monitoring program?  Who is liable?

 So it’s the same thing all over again with health IT.  No proof of effectiveness.  No way to pay for it.  No understanding of the medical challenges involved.  Unrecognized changes in standard of care and liability.  Health care is not the same as banking.  Duh.

 Verizon has no business getting into health care beyond the LTE connection itself.  They are going to lose their shirt investing in a treatment the literature says doesn’t work.  Perhaps unwittingly, the physician moderator said it best when he asked the panel, “Where is the app that slaps my hand when I reach for the bag of Oreo cookies?”

Don’t get me wrong, folks.  Our practice has enjoyed great success with EMR in over the past 7+ years.  Our experience just scratches the surface of the awesome potential of health IT.  I want you to succeed.  But the health IT industry is headed in a direction that will guarantee failure.  To succeed you must stop chasing pipe dreams and focus on the one goal that must be met before anything else – HIEs, mHealth or anything else – can succeed:

Find a reliable way for doctors to succeed with EMR in the office setting.  Upgrade EMRs to reflect some understanding of the practice of medicine.  Design patient portals that actually work.  Demonstrate that EMRs are effective at improving care.  Design a business model that shows the path to a return on investment.

Until that goal is met, nothing else matters.

October 5, 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.

My Presentation Submission to 2012 mHealth Summit.

I decided to turn my rant on the 2011 mHealth Summit into something productive and submit a talk to the 2012 Summit.  A description of the proposed talk follows, as it appears on the application.

We’ll see what happens…

 

Why are doctors so apparently reluctant to embrace mHealth?

It is easy to appreciate the mHealth community’s frustration regarding this question. Clearly the physician community and the mHealth community do not understand each other very well.  The purpose of this presentation is to establish a mutual understanding and better lines of communication between practicing physicians and the mHealth community.

The first part of the presentation addresses practicing physicians’ concerns about mHealth:

1.  What is mHealth?  Has it been clearly defined?

2.  The safety and efficacy of mHealth / HIT products are not proven.  Technology always has unintended consequences.  In medicine such unintended consequences can increase costs and can harm patients.

3.  There is no widely accepted business model that establishes the return on investment for mHealth / HIT products.

4.  Government regulations and incentives may also have unintended adverse side effects.

Many of these concerns originate from the cultural differences between the physician and HIT communities. Each of these cultures sees the health care system and the role of mHealth / HIT differently.  The second part of the presentation addresses the cultural differences between these two communities and how these differences impede the adoption of mHealth / HIT.  Examples of cultural differences will include e-prescribing, health information exchanges and telemedicine.

The final part will outline the concessions both physicians and the HIT community need to make in order to facilitate communication, promote adoption of mHealth and improve the quality of mHealth products.  This will be difficult but worthwhile for both sides.

June 26, 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 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 “Enthusiasm Gap” in Health IT

My next piece is published at Townhall.com:

 

Despite the success of information technology (IT) in transforming many parts of the economy, the health care sector has proven itself immune to the seduction of smart phones and iPads.  This is puzzling at first glance.  It is certainly not due to any shortage of health IT products.  The problem appears to be on the demand side.

A recent article by Olga Khazan in The Washington Post provides some explanation. She reports on the third annual mHealth Summit, held earlier this month in Washington D.C.  The event has attracted such notables as Bill Gates and Ted Turner, according to the mHealth website.  The piece laments the “enthusiasm gap” between Health IT startup companies offering dozens of miracle products and those darn stick-in-the-mud physicians who just can’t get with the program.   But meetings like the mHealth Summit actually hurt the movement of Health IT that they profess to support.

The poster child for Ms. Khazan’s article is Dr. Eric Topol, one of the Summit’s keynote speakers.  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined Dr. Topol behind the podium.  Together they offered Health IT Utopia – where “you can take a video of a rash on your foot and get a diagnosis…without making a doctor’s appointment.”  Then they criticized practicing physicians using the same old Obamacare propaganda.  Ms. Sebelius continued, “Americans still live sicker and die sooner than many of the people in other nations…Healthcare has stubbornly held on to its cabinet and hanging files.”  Dr. Topol called the medical community “ossified” regarding the adoption of health information technology.  The author starts the online post-article comment thread herself with the question, “How do we encourage doctors to be more open to these technologies?”

This kind of meeting is common in the Health IT (HIT) community.  A bunch of self-described HIT experts get together, pump each other up about the absolute perfection of their products, and then start bashing physicians because – literally and figuratively – we aren’t buying it.  At similar meetings I have heard HIT people brag about walking out on their doctor the minute he pulled out a paper prescription pad.  Doctors are called fearful, stupid, or rich fat-cats protecting their turf.  Now thanks to our “colleague” Dr. Topol we can add, “ossified” to the list of unflattering terms.  It comes as no surprise that the government is happy to join in the sing-along.  It is a free opportunity to serve Obamacare Kool-Aid.

I am a dedicated supporter of HIT.   Our practice’s EMR implementation reached a reasonable level of maturity long before Obamacare, HITECH incentives, and Ms. Sebelius came along.  We became Meaningful Use – compliant the first of October.  I believe in the potential of HIT to revolutionize the practice of medicine by reducing costs and improving efficiency and quality of care.  But I do not believe the HIT community is on a course that will take us to that vision.

Read the rest of the article here at Townhall.com

January 5, 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.