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Advice From The EMR Trenches

The latest from moi: “Implementing Electronic Medical Records: Advice from the Trenches” in the March/April 2011 issue of HIT Exchange magazine. An excerpt:

The news released in late December from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that more than half of the nation’s physicians are now using electronic medical records (EMR)—double the adoption rate of just five years ago—is surely worth celebrating. Until, that is, you take a look and realize that just a fourth of office-based physicians have access to a “basic” EMR system including patient history, demographics, problem lists, clinical notes, and computerized physician order entry (CPOE), while just one in 10 has a “fully functional” system, which also includes the communication system required for meaningful use, such as the ability to send tests and prescriptions electronically.

But the floodgates are about to open. In January, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began registering physicians and hospitals in 11 states for the EMR incentive program announced in 2009 as part of the federal stimulus package. Registration for California began in February, and the rest of the country should be up and running by the end of the year. Physicians could be eligible for up to $44,000 in bonuses over five years through Medicare and up to $63,750 over six years through Medicaid.

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

End-Of-Life Care: When Medicine Prolongs Dying, Not Living

The recent Washington Post article entitled, “Who decides when medicine prolongs dying, not living?” perfectly captures my earlier blog on why we’re afraid of death. An excerpt from the Post piece:

[There's a] huge gap between Americans’ wishes about end-of-life care, as expressed in numerous public opinion polls, and what actually happens in too many instances–futile, expensive, often painful procedures performed on people too sick to leave the hospital alive–much less survive with a decent quality of life. Ninety percent of Americans say they want to die at home but only 20 percent do so. Half of Americans die in hospitals and another 25 percent in nursing homes, after a long period of suffering from chronic, incurable conditions that finally become untreatable. An astonishing one out of five die in intensive care units, often unconscious, isolated from loved ones and hooked up to machines that do nothing but prolong an inevitable death.

This happens partly because of the natural human tendency to procrastinate about addressing painful subjects with relatives and partly because doctors are often too pressed for time–and too uncomfortable with death and dying themselves–to respond when patients do bring up such issues. Just try to get a straight answer out of an oncologist, as an 89-year-old friend of mine did when her doctor advised another course of chemotherapy even though her cancer had metastasized to her brain. “Doctor,” she asked, “what chance is there that I’ll have a few months more of life that I can enjoy with my family?” He replied, “We can’t know these things.” She replied, “No, but we can use our common sense,” and declined further treatment. She died a month later in hospice, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What if she hadn’t been clear-minded enough to to speak for herself? What if her children, out of love, guilt or a combination of the two, had subjected her to treatment that she wouldn’t have wanted? That is what advance medical directives are intended to prevent. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Death: Why Are We So Afraid Of It?

My cousin’s mother-in-law is in her late 90s. She had horrible osteoporosis and can barely move. She has little cognitive function left. She requires nearly 24-hour care and no one would even attempt to say she has any quality of life left. She told her son years ago that she was “ready to go,” and had had enough.

And yet when I asked my cousin’s husband if his mother had any do-not-resuscitate orders, or had ever completed an advanced director  outlining her wishes of what kind of end-of-life care she wanted, he said no. His sister, he said, just wasn’t ready for that yet. So what, I asked, will you do when/if your mother gets pneumonia? Will you treat it with antibiotics? Will you put her on a respirator? If she is no longer able to eat, will you feed her through a tube?

He couldn’t answer. And he was clearly uncomfortable with the questions. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Is Looking At “Long Term” Impossible In Our Healthcare System?

I spent last week in Gothenburg, Sweden covering the European Committee for the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) meeting. Lots of good science, lots of excitement over the new oral and targeted therapies coming on the market to treat this awful disease. But what I want to write about isn’t the science, but about how it will play out in the brave new world of healthcare in which we all live in today.

For instance, consider the first oral therapy to hit the market: Gilenya (fingolimod), which the FDA approved in September. Last month Novartis announced the price: $48,000 a year.

This is not a rant against the high cost of drugs, however. It is a rant against the inability of our healthcare system to take the long view of the impact of such drugs, a view that is particularly important with a chronic disease like MS that strikes healthy young adults in their early 20s and 30s. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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