Tag Archives: electronic medical records

CPI investigation details health information technology sector’s lobbying efforts

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, Josh Israel reports that, with billions of stimulus dollars still at stake, the number of health information technology lobbyists taking advantage of the lucrative “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the private sector is sky-high, even by D.C. standards.

The Obama administration is still working to iron out the details of the “meaningful use” mandate expressed in the recovery act, and the big players in health IT are pulling out all the stops to ensure the rules are written to their advantage.

Healthcare Informatics magazine publishes an annual ranking of the 100 largest health IT companies by annual revenue. According to the Senate Office of Public Records, 15 of the companies in the 2010 ranking — most of them ranked in the top third by revenue — reported health IT-related lobbying activity in the first quarter of 2011 or the last quarter of 2010. Of the 90 lobbyists listed as having done health IT lobbying for those firms, at least 63 were former Congressional and/or executive branch staffers, many of whom worked for health-related agencies or committees.

For those interested in additional details on HIT’s lobbying efforts, Israel also included two sidebars:

Report explains doctors’ reluctance to adopt EMRs

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, Susan Jaffe spent time in the trenches to better understand how government incentives toward the adoption of electronic medical records are (or aren’t) working. She spent time with Cleveland-area small practices and government agencies to understand the real obstacles faced by physicians on the ground. It offers a picture of the reality of EMR today. Some of my favorite tidbits:

  • “570 different electronic health systems certified by private organizations for non-hospital settings may be used to qualify for the bonus.”
  • “The systems are priced in a way that does not make comparison shopping ‘easy or necessarily valid,’ said Dottie Howe, a spokeswoman for the Ohio regional extension center. There is no basic price because each company offers different components, features, options, and level of technical support.”
  • EMR systems can include more than a thousand sometimes-customizeable details, and that’s not including the myriad warnings and cross-checks.
  • Compatibility with the systems in the area’s large hospitals is tough to guarantee, yet factors as a major concern for many small practices.
  • How early adopters in the field were burned and are wary of getting fooled again.
  • When practices adopt EMRs, they typically have to go through a “learning curve,” a period of weeks or months during which they can only see about half as many patients.
  • Many major HIT companies don’t guarantee that physicians who adopt their systems will meet the standards for a government HIT bonus.
  • The VA’s proven HIT system is available for free, but can’t handle billing and insurance.
  • To get the maximum bonus payment, practices must adopt EMRs this year or next.
  • Only certified systems can earn bonus payments, yet the second and third stages of certification haven’t even been finalized yet.

An accompanying piece by Emma Schwartz looks at one physician’s concerns.

Baby’s death illustrates how health IT can introduce complexity, error to system

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

health-it

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.

Audit: UK’s health IT program falls short of expectations

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

After a damning report from the U.K.’s national audit office indicating that the National Health Service’s massive health IT program has essentially been a black hole which vacuums up far more money than its lack of progress would justify, politicians are now calling for what amounts to the program’s termination.

Physicians support a national system of health records, but there seems to be a consensus that, in the current climate of British austerity, it may be time to amputate the program to stop the bleeding. After all, the audit indicated that despite a seven-year extension, it looks like the program has no chance of meeting its 2014-15 deadlines, or even of producing meaningful results. Here’s Polly Curtis in The Guardian.

The original aim of the £11.4bn NHS IT programme – to install a patient record database accessible from any point in the NHS in England by 2015 – will fail, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned.

The £2.7bn spent so far on the system has not been value for money, the watchdog said, adding it had no confidence that the remaining £4.3bn would be any better spent.

The nine-year-old project – the biggest civilian IT scheme attempted – has been in disarray since it missed its first deadlines in 2007. While its ambitions have been downgraded in recent years, the bill from the suppliers has remained largely unchanged, the report said.

ER scribes handle EMRs, free up doctors

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Michele Munz has found that some emergency rooms are easing the transition to electronic medical records by hiring “scribes” to enter information into the system, thus freeing up the doctor to focus on the actual patient.

emr-scribes

Photo by MC4 Army via Flickr

Munz reports that scribes are often young, well-trained, tech-savvy pre-med types who get $8 to $10 an hour and plenty of real-world clinical observation for their trouble. The use of one California-based company’s scribes has grown sevenfold in the past two years, expansion its CEO called “exponential.”

Munz’ story shows that the growth is driven by the desire to ameliorate productivity hits that many hospitals have faced in the wake of EMR adoption.

After the switch to computer records, emergency departments have reported a loss in productivity. At DePaul, patient wait times initially increased 28 percent and patient satisfaction declined 40 percent despite additional staffing, said Dr. Stephen Larson, director of the hospital’s emergency department. St. John’s Mercy also reported a peak in wait times.

While both hospitals have seen wait times drop as doctors get past the learning curve, the emergency physicians group at DePaul decided to begin the scribe program in December “to allow us to continue to add to our gains,” Larson said.

New EHR error-reporting system to keep data confidential

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

EHRevent.org, a service that will allow health workers to report and track errors associated with electronic health records, has launched with broad support and no small amount of fanfare. In cooperation with the federal government, the new system will be run by the iHealth Alliance and the PDR network. The iHealth Alliance already runs the Health Care Notification Network, while the PDR Network, perhaps best known for their Physicians Desk Reference, already distributes FDA warnings and drug labeling information.

It shows promise, of course, but that promise comes with one hefty caveat for health journalists: The resulting data will be kept under wraps. Wall Street Journal health blogger Katherine Hobson has the details:

The aggregated data will be available to medical societies, liability carriers and agencies such as the FDA, but will remain confidential — and won’t be subject to legal discovery. (The mechanism for this type of information sharing is the patient safety organization, federally sanctioned groups formed by providers, nonprofit groups and other interested parties to analyze data about medical errors. Groups can get aggregated data if they agree to keep it out of the public domain.)