As I put together my travel schedule for the next year, I’m looking at various conferences. One that caught my attention in email was Becker’s 8th Annual Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting. The attention-getter was its list of keynote speakers including former President George W. Bush, former professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, and professional golfer Michelle Wie. It’s certainly an eclectic mix of speakers and I’m not sure how much they individually have to bring to the digital health discussion, but hopefully someone who is willing to pay the $950 admission fee will clue us in.
The costs for conferences keep rising, and it’s not always clear whether attendees receive the value offered. For comparison, the American Academy of Family Physicians charges between $695 and $895 for its Family Medicine Experience (FMX) conference. The National Association of Community Health Centers charges $1,290 for member organizations to attend its annual Community Health Institute & Expo and $2545 for non-member organization attendees. HLTH is pricing registration for in-person admission at $2,295. Typically, an employed physician might have one conference covered by their employer per year, so there are certainly some choices to be made.
I’ve been working with EHRs and consulting with vendors for more than a decade, so it’s been gratifying to see the improved focus on patient safety and greater movement towards standardization. A Viewpoint article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week discussed ways that we can continue to improve EHR safety and usability. The authors note that computer-based records have failed to live up to their promise particularly as related to the support of health care providers’ thought processes and that in fact the EHR creates distractions for caregivers.
They state that “…the term electronic health record” is a misnomer… It is not designed primarily to capture and present a patient’s record as efficiently and effectively as practical.” They go on to recognize what we all know – that “…the EHR has many stakeholders, including physicians, health system executives, educators, regulators, and patients whose needs influence EHR capabilities. In the US, requirements for reimbursement, regulatory compliance, and administrative workflow automation often take precedence over clinical efficiency and effectiveness.”
I don’t think anyone who has been working in the healthcare IT space for any length of time would disagree. We’ve all been stymied by EHRs that won’t let us document things the way we need for the patient in front of us. For example, one EHR I worked with didn’t have the capability for the physician to set a default follow up instruction of “within 24 to 48 hours.” The system’s designers insisted that a date be used, which doesn’t necessarily support what the urgent care physician is trying to say when they want a patient to see a specialist quickly but not necessarily on a certain date. As a result, the physician ends up free-texting what they want on every single patient rather than taking advantage of labor-saving features – which costs much more time and money in the long term. There are also organizational impediments to efficiency, such as when EHR decision makers refuse to let clinicians personalize their workflows because of a fear of increased maintenance or support costs.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a final rule stating that hospitals should review their systems using the Safety Assurance Factors for EHR resilience (SAFER) Guides so that they can evaluate usability and safety of clinician systems. The authors call for greater focus on minimizing the cognitive load created by EHR workflows. When there is too much mental effort needed to complete a given task, user performance suffers. The authors propose a SMARTER Guide to improve EHR cognitive support:
- Synthesizing information and supporting goal-oriented search.
- Monitoring care decisions, taking patient data and care setting into account, and suggesting better alternatives.
- Automating routine tasks.
- Recognizing trends toward or away from idealized patient models.
- Translating important user actions into documentation.
- Exposing contextually relevant data; and
- Reliably and consistently performing these functions.
It will be interesting to see how some of these elements are incorporated into technology over the next few years, and whether technology begins to better serve clinicians or whether it continues to be a distraction.
As an avid outdoor adventurer, sustainability and environmental protection are high on my priority list. I enjoyed this article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the use of informatics to assess healthcare systems with regard to climate impact and environmental footprint. The authors note that healthcare delivery — including facilities, pharmaceuticals, and more — accounts for approximately 5% of global carbon emissions and propose informatics efforts to monitor healthcare’s carbon footprint. Other contributors include supply chain (production and transportation of supplies) along with staff travel and waste disposal. The authors propose synthesizing economic activity data alongside life cycle assessment models for products and processes.
Most of the organizations cited in the article are located in the UK or Australia. I would be interested to see how US organizations are looking at the problem. One of the aspects that was mentioned was one that I’ll admit I hadn’t thought very much about in the context of sustainability – wasteful clinical practices. This includes unnecessary imaging, duplicate tests, medication overprescribing, and unneeded surgeries. Many patients in the US feel that greater technology use leads to better outcomes and that medications are a much better solution than more environmentally friendly treatments such as lifestyle modification. Often the decisions made for hospital purchasing are focused strictly on cost without consideration of environmental impact, so there will need to be significant changes in priorities in order to see downstream impacts on climate or the environment.
One of my favorite readers clued me in to this publication on health worker burnout from US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. He cites Hawaii Pacific Health’s “Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff” initiative as an example of identifying and mitigating workflows that staff felt were unnecessary or poorly designed. The effort led to a savings of 1,700 nursing hours per month across the organization.
A specific example of burnout-generating work is the prior authorization process. Although I understand the need to reduce ordering of unneeded treatments and tests, I’ve long proposed some kind of golden ticket for those of us who order judiciously. In my time as a traditional family physician, I never had an order that failed to be authorized, which meant I was following guidelines. With years of that kind of track record under their belts, why should physicians be subjected to unneeded scrutiny? To be certain, all those unwarranted prior authorization process cost the payers more money than they saved.
Should providers who follow guidelines and control costs be rewarded by reduction in administrative burdens? Would such a move serve as an incentive for clinician behavior? Leave a comment or email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.