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Better Health Covers HIMSS, Day 3

Nick Genes and Mike Sevilla and I had a fascinating series of interviews with key exhibitors at HIMSS yesterday. I hope you enjoyed them on UStream. We will edit them a bit and offer them up on the blog soon. Please join us from 8am-6pm today for more HIMSS coverage. Here is our interview schedule (all meetings will be held in the Better Health conference room, located behind the Information Desk in the lobby of Building B (near HIMSS Central):

himssagendaday3

Dr. Val Gives ABC News A Sneak Preview Of The Largest Health IT Convention Of The Year: HIMSS In Atlanta

This year, the Better Health team will be offering live coverage of healthcare’s largest tech conference: HIMSS in Atlanta, March 1-4. Three medical bloggers, Dr. Val Jones, Dr. Mike Sevilla, and Dr. Nick Genes will interview over 40 different exhibitors and stream their interviews live via UStream. You can ask questions of the interviewees by submitting questions to @drval during the event. Dr. Val Jones will report to ABC News, DC via Skype from the convention floor on Wednesday, March 3rd at 10:50am. Here’s a sneak preview of HIMSS:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v96kje6mCRU

Stay tuned to the Better Health blog for more information about HIMSS coverage… Or meet Dr. Val at HIMSS during her “Meet The Bloggers” panel discussion. Read more »

Reporting Allergies Inaccurately Can Cause EMR Alert Exhaustion

There’s a satisfying post on WhiteCoat where he rants against patient-reported allergies. A sample:

When I ask patients about their medical allergies, more often than not patients suffer from at least one. During a recent shift, I had 17 people who told me that they had medication allergies. When someone has an allergy, I always ask what the allergic reaction is. The responses I received included the following:

* Seven people had allergies to various medications (most often penicillin) because their parents told them they had a reaction as a child. They didn’t know what the reaction was, but they have never taken the medication since.

* Four people had nausea and vomiting with medications that typically cause nausea and vomiting as one of their side effects…

He’s right — a lot of people have unwarranted concerns about mild or entirely predictable reactions, and sometimes this can be frustrating on a busy shift. But I also like the commenter who wrote:

I’m not sure how you think the patient is supposed to know which things actually require medical attention, especially when doctors and nurses refuse to give any guidelines over the phone. ‘Come on in, and if you’re aren’t seriously ill, then we can make fun of you on the blog tomorrow.’

Patient perceptions of allergies is a subset of a larger issue facing all of emergency medicine — patient perception of disease. We don’t expect patients to triage themselves, or figure out which symptoms are worrisome and which are benign. That’s our job. I try to look at proper allergy reporting as another opportunity for patient education (my favorite is explaining why someone can’t be allergic to the iodine atom).

More importantly, from the informatics perspective, allergy reporting is a big frustration as well (and one we can actually do something about, ourselves). Patient-reported allergies find their way into every EMR, and trigger the most inane alerts and stops, forever. If a patient reported vomiting once after codeine, every subsequent doctor who sees this patient will have to jump through electronic alert hoops just to order IV morphine. It doesn’t matter if the patient is taking oxycontin and wears three fentanyl patches. The same goes for antibiotics — I think most lay folks would be surprised that we have to wrestle, years later, with the inherited family warning of about penicillin reactions, even when ordering a 4th-generation cephalosporin with essentially no cross-reactivity

There’s no intelligence built into the system, yet, I think because everyone’s afraid that if a patient has a bad outcome because that 14th medication alert was eliminated, they’d be liable. This line of thinking ignores the notion that bad outcomes are probably happening because there are so many useless alerts, they all tend to be ignored.

Someone told me recently (perhaps it was Dr. Reider?) that non-clinical folks involved in setting up electronic health information exchanges thought that communicated allergies to new providers would be the top priority, and were surprised when physicians considered allergies to be less important than, say, recent EKG’s, imaging, current med lists, and the like.

I wonder if this attitude toward allergy records is because we don’t think most allergies are that serious, because we can most often treat whatever arises… or because we’re overcome with alert fatigue.

Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt in my mind that if we had an intelligent, efficient system to process patient-generated allergy reports, we’d be less frustrated with this information, and more sympathetic to the patient’s concerns.

*This blog post was originally published at Blogborygmi*

Vivek Kundra: Training Physicians To Use EMRs Is The Key To Adoption

I attended the 29th annual Management of Change (MOC) Conference with Dr. Val.  The conference is sponsored by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council.  MOC brings together government and industry leaders to share knowledge, collaborate, and develop actionable technology management strategies.  As a physician, attending this conference for the first time, I assumed a great deal of the conference topics would be over my head and in very “techie” terms. My hope was to get a glimpse of some of the technology solutions the government was considering as they relate to health care IT.

Vivek Kundra, first Chief Information Officer of the United States, addressed the audience early in the day in language that even a doc could understand. He spoke about the need to simplify government, and connect people to solutions, instead of “endless bureaucracies.” The same of course goes for medicine. How great would it be to connect our patients to systems that actually had interoperable medical data?

I was able to catch up with Mr. Kundra after his talk for a few minutes and ask him how technological simplification would apply to physicians such as myself, operating in a haphazard infrastructure with varying PAC systems, EMR’s and paper charts. He said the key would not only be investing in technology, but investing in training healthcare personnel to master new technologies. He acknowledged that different generations of physicians would embrace technology differently, but ultimately, if a physician says he “can do a better job on paper” then we have a problem.

I was very impressed by Mr. Kundra’s answer namely because it was so insightful for a man who’s expertise lies primarily in the technology field. He does not come from a healthcare background, and yet had hit the nail on the head. There has been so much talk about HIT being the “key” to cost savings and the next “breakthrough” in medicine. With very little discussion on how physicians feel about it. For some docs – particularly those that come from an older generation – the thought is quite terrifying. They are happy with their paper charts and manual dictations. Health technology is almost viewed as an impediment to those set in their ways, and accustomed to a system that has worked for them and their patients for years. This upheaval will not come without it’s challenges even after we find the best technologies for the tasks at hand. It will be imperative for government leaders to understand that the mission of HIT implementation may be just as difficult as finding the technology solutions they are currently seeking.

As Mr. Kundra and his team embark on this huge task, it will be important for physicians and health care personnel to engage with the government and serve as a guide for what docs need from technology, and what will and will not work for our patients. I hope next year’s conference is attended by more physicians such as myself and Dr. Val.

The Achilles Heel Of Electronic Medical Records Systems

The following is a reader take by Paul Ravetz.

Does the “Art of Medicine” really exist, or perhaps more importantly, can it do so in the computer age?

Computers are both the boon and the bane of medicine. Electronic medical records (EMRs) are excellent for retrieval of information about labs, medications, and past medical history of our patients. These records are much easier to access than our old paper charts. However, I feel that the Achilles Heel of these advances lies in the fact that physicians are so busy inputting information into their computers that they do not spend enough time communicating with the patient.

Communication with your patient is the epitome of the Art of Medicine. It is vital that physician and patient understand each other. This includes not only what the patient says but what they mean. This takes time, a commodity which is in short supply in the age of EMR. One should always remember a basic caveat about computers, which is, “garbage in, garbage out.” If wrong information is fed into the computer, it doesn’t matter what algorithm that you use because you will be following a false trail.

Computerization of medicine will lead to great advances if it is implemented properly. However, the way things are presently being done cheats the patient out of the most important part of the doctor patient relationship – time to communicate. I always remember the precept advanced by Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine, “Listen carefully doctor, the patient is giving you the diagnosis.”

The combination of the computer age along with the time to listen to the patient and to accurately define their problem will indeed lead to a new age in medical care, but to ignore one or the other is not to fulfill our obligation to our patients.

Paul Ravetz is a family physician.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

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