At a developer conference hosted at the White House last week, six of the biggest tech companies issued a joint statement in support of health IT interoperability. It’s another sign that tech behemoths are serious about taming the vast and often unmanageable health data ecosystem – and getting their piece of it.
The federal office that oversees electronic health record implementation at hospitals, physician offices and other venues announced last week that it is relaxing rules which in the past helped officials determine whether EHR products on the market meet government standards.
In response, some leading provider groups expressed concern that easing such oversight could leave hospitals and physicians with sub-par products. Continue reading
Last week’s announcement that the Department of Veterans Affairs would replace its homegrown electronic health record system VistA with a Cerner product came ahead of the expected July 1 deadline for a decision on the matter.
The move made waves in the health IT sector for several reasons. Most notably, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, M.D., chose to invoke a “public interest exception” in the Cerner pick, bypassing the usual competitive bidding process for government contracts. Continue reading
Can technology save us? It’s among several questions on a lot of people’s minds these days. Can technology save us from rising health costs? Can technology save Medicare by reducing costs to the program? Can technology help our veterans gain better access to care? Can technology help people take control of their health decisions?
At the same time, criticism of technology has grown in the aftermath of a presidential election that shocked many. Continue reading
Here’s a question to ask dental leaders in your state or community:
Does dentistry need a uniform, commonly accepted system of diagnostic codes?
I had the chance to listen in on a daylong conference that focused on the topic and to write about it for DrBicuspid.com, an online publication that serves the dental profession. The question is one more way to think about the gap between dentistry and medicine.
Dentists have long used procedure or treatment codes for billing and for keeping patient records. But, in terms of diagnostic terminology, “we’re behind medicine by a lot,” said Joel White D.D.S., M.S., at the conference.
“Back in the days of the bubonic plague, medicine captured why people die. We don’t capture why teeth die. We’re centuries behind,” said White, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry and a member of an international academic workgroup focused upon developing a useful vocabulary of dental diagnostic terms.
To that end, the team has come up with the EZCodes Dental Diagnostic Terminology, a system of 1,358 terms organized into 91 subcategories under 15 major headings.
Team members said their system, being tested in 17 dental schools and institutions in America and in Europe, will help dentists in providing care for patients and in tracking clinical outcomes as well as assist in mapping disease patterns, monitoring community oral health status and identifying best practices.
The use of diagnostic terms represents “a move from treatment-centric to diagnostic-centric,” dentistry according to EZCodes lead developer Elsbeth Kalenderian, D.D.S., M.P.H., chair of oral health policy and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. With the growing importance of electronic health records (EHRs), diagnostic coding will become increasingly important, many at the conference pointed out. Developers of the EZCode system say they set to work on the diagnostic vocabulary because other efforts to standardize dental diagnostic terms have failed to gain wide usage. The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Disease coding system, or ICD, includes some oral and dental diagnoses, but lacks sufficient specificity in its dental terminology, they said. They criticized as too cumbersome a second system of more than 7,000 terms called SNODENT which is contained within the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms (SNOMED-CT.)
For its part, the American Dental Association, developer of SNODENT says EZCodes is an “interface terminology” that is useful for capturing health problems but which is not a replacement for SNODENT in terms of storing information in electronic health records.
The Nov. 28 conference at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine did not end the discussion, as Dental Informatics blogger Titus Schleyer, D.M.D., Ph.D., pointed out in ”Does Dentistry Need More than One Diagnostic Vocabulary?”
Chicago Tribune reporters Judith Graham and Cynthia Dizikes explore the pitfalls of health information technology through the story of an infant boy who survived despite being born months early and weighing just 1.5 pounds, only to be killed by a sodium chloride overdose when a pharmacy tech entered information into the wrong field of his electronic medical record.
Photo by Christiana Care via Flickr
The tech’s fatal clerical error was compounded by disabled alarms on a compounding machine, incorrect labeling on an IV bag and an ignored lab test. The heart of the errors, the reporters write, seems to be that all the different systems involved don’t communicate.
Almost all medication requests at Advocate are transmitted by a doctor’s keystroke to the hospital pharmacy’s drug-dispensing system. But in this case, there was no electronic connection with the automated compounding system that prepared the IV bag for baby Burkett, a specialized device that handles low-volume, highly individualized orders.
So a technician transcribed the order by hand, and an error was introduced.
Electronic communication gaps are common at large hospitals, which typically use upward of 50 to 100 different information systems at their facilities, with different technologies used in emergency rooms, labs, pharmacies and other medical departments, said Ross Koppel, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies health information technologies.
“To some degree these systems talk to each other, but mostly they don’t, so hospitals have to design custom-made software ‘bridges’ to make this happen,” Koppel said. With each jury-rigged software solution comes the potential for new software bugs, transcription errors and other problems.