A Dream About U.S. EMR’s; A Reality in th U.K.

I’m back at it again, talking about my continued love/hate relationship with EMR’s. From my conversations with doctors at different hospitals in our region, it seems that most docs appear to be falling into the “hate” column. Meanwhile, I’m still chugging along with the Allscripts Professional EHR that’s been installed in my office. And while it works just fine for the needs of a 3 physician single-specialty outpatient practice, it’s hardly the type of technology that, by itself, can change medical care for the better for a large number of people.

A recent study challenges that notion. In a study published in Chest, researchers in England sought to determine if inhaled steroids are a risk factor for pneumonia among asthmatics. It has already been shown inhaled corticosteroids are associated with an increased risk of pneumonia among patients with COPD. To determine this they looked at a database of medical information known as The Health Information Network (THIN).

In the UK, EMR’s have been in use for years, and general practitioners are encouraged (but not required) to participate in THIN. When a general practice elects to participate in THIN, software is installed in their EMR which runs in the background. The program collects data, while de-identifying it. The anonymized data is then uploaded to THIN, where approved researchers may have access to it.  There is no cost to the practices for participating, and in return for their participation practices not only receive in depth practice metrics, they also receive a percentage of any research revenue generated from the use of the THIN data. At the time that the study was conducted, the database contained data from 9.1 million patients.

But back to the question at hand. From a cohort of 359,172 people with asthma the researchers were able to identify 6857 people with pneumonia, along with 36,312 control subjects.  They were thus able to find a positive correlation between inhaled steroids and pneumonia. (for more on these findings, see my previous post: ) Continue reading “A Dream About U.S. EMR’s; A Reality in th U.K.”

Should EMR’s Be Able To Talk to Each Other?

I’ve written several times before about my love/hate status with my EMR. While I enjoy using mine, I long for it’s usefulness to get to the next level. While the EMR is useful at tracking data, it’s greatest handicap right now, is that it can’t talk to other systems. Data is still locked in individual systems and can’t be shared across platforms. This lack of inter-operability has thus far been the EMR’s greatest handicap, and I have longed for the time when EMRs are able to share data.

But as I see more and more systems being employed in my area and talk with other physicians about their experiences, I am becoming increasingly concerned that  the inexorable march forward is going too quickly.

Shouldn’t we get these systems right before introducing interoperability into the equation?

The administration and the public are now clamoring that the information in these systems should be able to be shared among providers. In effect, that the information should not be “held hostage” by each providers respective system. These are fair and reasonable requests that should be expected in the long run. To that end, some EHR vendors have agreed in principle to begin writing standards that would allow inter-operability between systems.

The unfortunate problem here, and one that the public does not understand, is that these systems are not like the  computer operating systems that they accustomed to using. It’s easy to forget that Microsoft, Word, Windows, Powerpoint, and Macs are more than 20 years old.  They’ve gone through several generations and hundreds of billions of dollars in development by the worlds most talented programmers. All to now finally be at a point where the program does not routinely stop working for some unknown reason. Continue reading “Should EMR’s Be Able To Talk to Each Other?”

My EHR Tells Me I’m a Bad Doctor.

I’ve written before about our EHR and all the the things that I really like about it. Add to that list the fact that we can now get incentive payments from Medicare (or Medicaid) for buying and using an EHR (we were early adopters of the technology before the current incentives came out). But in order to qualify as an electronic health record in the government’s eyes, the federal government determined that everyone’s systems must meet certain minimum functionality requirements, what they call “meaningful use”. This is where things are getting tricky. . . because my beloved EHR is telling me that my medical records are are not meaningfully useful, and in fact are meaninglessly useful, or meaningfully useless, one or the other, or perhaps both.
As if that was not enough of a slap in the face after all the love and adoration I’ve showered upon the system, there’s this bitter morsel. I’m being told that the manner in which I’ve been deficient is in the department of documentation of smoking. Can you believe that? Smoking! Me! The super-anti-smoking guy! The one who wrote this article. And then the other one. Plus, remember that other one? Seriously?
Could I truly be deficient in my smoking documentation? Refusing to believe such blasphemy, I delved into the medical records. No, see, there it is? Right there.  Under HPI, “patient has no history of smoke exposure”. And there again, in the next chart, more extensive smoking data meticulously typed into the history. I knew that I was documenting this stuff. What could the problem possibly be? Continue reading “My EHR Tells Me I’m a Bad Doctor.”

EMR and the Loss of Eloquence

Much has been made of the downside of the increasing use of EMR systems by physicians. But I am not going to  dwell on those pervasive complaints concerning the cost and complexity of setting up the systems. Nor shall I rehash the well known issue of what I call “doc blocking”. . . wherein a computer (or other entity) stands between the patient and physician, slowing the exchange of information to however many words can be typed per minute. No there’s another more pressing issue to me personally that is rarely discussed in regards to use of the EMR. The loss of eloquence. Continue reading “EMR and the Loss of Eloquence”