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The Problem With Running Medical Information Through A Digital Intermediary

In my last post I wrote about the communication difficulties caused by electronic medical records systems. The response on Twitter ranged from sentiments including everything from “right on, sister” to “greedy doctors are only complaining about EMRs because of their price tag.” The disconnect between policy wonk’s (and EMR vendor’s) belief in the transformative power of EMRs and exasperated clinician users of these products is jaw-dropping. Physicians are often labeled as obstinate dinosaurs, blocking progress, while policy wonks are considered by physicians to be living in an alternate reality where a mobile phone app could fix all that is wrong with the healthcare system.

Being on the dinosaur side, I thought I’d try a quick experiment/analogy to demonstrate that EMR dissatisfaction is not a mere cost artifact. To show what happens when a digital intermediary runs medical information through a translator, I selected a random paragraph about the epidemiology of aphasias from an article in Medscape. I copied and pasted it into Google translator and then ran it backwards and forwards a few times in different languages. In the end, the original paragraph (exhibit A) became the second paragraph (exhibit B):

Exhibit A:

“Not enough data are available to evaluate differences in the incidence and clinical features of aphasia in men and women. Some studies suggest a lower incidence of aphasia in women because they may have more bilaterality of language function. Differences may also exist in aphasia type, with more women than men developing Wernicke aphasia.”

Exhibit B:

“Prevalence and characteristics of men and women are expected to afasia is not enough information available. If afasia some studies, women work more, not less, because they show that the spoken language. There may be differences in the type of OST, women and men to develop more of a vernikke afasia, more.”

Although the B paragraph bears some resemblance to A, it is nearly impossible to determine its original meaning. This is similar to what happens to medical notes in most current EMRs (except the paragraph would be broken up with lab values and vital signs from the past week or two). If your job were to read hundreds of pages of B-type paragraphs all day, what do you think would happen? Would you enthusiastically adopt this new technology? Or would you give up reading the notes completely? Would you need to spend hours of your day finding “work-arounds” to correct the paragraphs?

And what would you say if the government mandated that you use this new technology or face decreased reimbursement for treating patients? What if you needed to demonstrate “meaningful use” or dependency and integration of the translator into your daily workflow in order to keep your business afloat? What if the scope of the technology were continually expanded to include more and more written information so that everything from lab orders to medication lists to hospital discharges, nursing summaries, and physical therapy notes, etc. were legally required to go through the translator first? And if you pointed out that this was not improving communication but rather introducing new errors, harming patients, and stealing countless hours from direct clinical care, you would be called “change resistant” or “lazy.”

And what if 68,000 new medical codes were added to the translator, so that you couldn’t advance from paragraph to paragraph without selecting the correct code for a disease (such as gout) without reviewing 150 sub-type versions of the code. And then what if you were denied payment for treating a patient with gout because you did not select the correct code within the 150 subtypes? And then multiply that problem by every condition of every patient you ever see.

Clearly, the cost of the EMR is the main reason why physicians are not willing to adopt them without complaint. Good riddance to the 50% of doctors who say they’re going to quit, retire, or reduce their work hours within the next three years. Without physicians to slow down the process of EMR adoption, we could really solve this healthcare crisis. Just add on a few mobile health apps and presto:  we will finally have the quality, affordable, healthcare that Americans deserve.

Research Points Out The Down Side Of Chasing Success

Bill Gates once said:

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.

It’s clever, and it seems right.  Now there is science to prove it.

In a study published last week, scientists studied special imaging scans of doctors’ brains as they made simulated medical decisions.  Those doctors who paid attention to their mistakes made better decisions than those who were more interested in their successes: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Attempts To Reduce Re-Admissions To Hospitals May Not Be Worth It

Hospitals across the country are working on quality initiatives to reduce re-admissions to hospitals.  There are consultants, conferences, forums, meetings, physicians, nurses and administrators who are spending hours upon hours (and lots of $$$) to find ways to keep patients who have been discharged from being readmitted within 30 days.  Why all of this activity?  It is one of the quality measures that is being tracked by Medicare and Medical (CMS) and decreased reimbursement will be next if a patient is readmitted to any hospital within 30 days of a discharge. The diagnosis doesn’t matter.

A new study shows all of this focus and cost may not be worth it.  Readmission after a hospital discharge may not be an indication of poor care.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at 4,812 patients and had medical experts review the cases of the 649 who needed urgent readmission within 6 months. (Not one month as we are measuring).  They found that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Misdiagnosis Happens All The Time: Tips To Avoid It

Billionaire Teddy Forstmann has apparently been diagnosed with a serious form of brain cancer.  There’s a tragic twist to the story: according to Fox Business News, Forstmann believes that for more than a year, he had been misdiagnosed with meningitis.

ABC News wonders:

How could such a misfortune befall a billionaire —- a man able to afford the best doctors, best technology and the most sophisticated diagnostic tests?

They’re missing the point.  Misdiagnosis happens with shocking regularity – as much as Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Take An Active Role In Your Own Health: It Can Save More Than Just Your Life

Sometimes you need a published study to tell you what should be obvious in the first place.

This time, researchers have discovered that:

When physicians have more personalized discussions with their patients and encourage them to take a more active role in their health, both doctor and patient have more confidence that they reached a correct diagnosis and a good strategy to improve the patient’s health.


But wait, there’s more. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

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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