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Electronic medical records: are we there yet?

In a happy coincidence, my favorite blog fodder feeder sent me a link to an article about Kaiser Permanente’s electronic medical record woes a day prior to Dr. Feld’s latest post on the subject of EMRs. Dr. Feld’s thoughts on the matter will certainly help to round out this discussion.

I’ve always been fascinated by technologies that are ahead of the curve. I blame this on my parents (take note – parents can be blamed for good things). Growing up in rural Canada our family was ahead of the tech curve – we had a satellite dish before there was scrambling, we had the very first Apple computers at home, and we built our own yogurt factory complete with an advanced digitally automated temperature gauge system, before the rest of the industry had moved beyond millimeters of mercury.

In college I was the first kid with a laptop in class, and in med school I was one of the first with a PDA. I took a portable printer with me to Europe in the late 80’s to go along with my Wordstar word processing program. I thought I was pretty cool, I guess! Stirrup pants, granny boots, permed hair and pink lip gloss.  Those were the days.

Cliff Bassett recently asked me why I was working at a new company (Revolution Health) that was so cutting edge rather than remaining in clinical practice. I had never thought about why I did it before – but now I see that it was part of my pioneering pattern. There’s nothing more fun than being ahead of the curve… but it can be aggravating as well.

Technologies are awkward for their first adopters – they aren’t streamlined, they can actually take more time rather than saving it, and they can make communications with others (who don’t use it yet) more difficult. But a few of us do it anyway – we jump in head first, believing by faith that the enterprise itself is worthwhile and that once we get to version 3.0 we’ll be sitting pretty.

But what do we do when we’re at version 1.0? Normally, we just tear our hair out and send lots of “bug alert” messages to developers. But when the technology affects someone’s health, the bugs are a lot more sinister. The recent article about Kaiser Permanente’s digital growing pains is disturbing indeed:

Kaiser Permanente’s $4-billion effort to computerize the medical records of its 8.6 million members has encountered repeated technical problems, leading to potentially dangerous incidents such as patients listed in the wrong beds, according to Kaiser documents and current and former employees… Other problems have included malfunctioning bedside scanners meant to ensure that patients receive the correct medication, according to Kaiser staff.

Still, 90% of physicians use paper records, making it difficult to share information – and this is no doubt contributing to the IOM’s estimated 98,000 error related deaths/year. Dr. Feld explains the complexity of a fully functional electronic medical record:

However, a paperless chart is in reality worth little unless the information entered is usable in a relational data base format rather than word processing format. Only then, can patient care be enhanced…An effective Electronic Health Record must consist of five components

Electronic Medical Records
Personal health records (PHR)
Continuity of Care Record (CCR)
Electronic health record (EHR)
Financial Management Record (read more…)

So, the bottom line is that the EMR is in version 1.0 at Kaiser Permanente, and only a twinkle in our government’s eye. It is complicated to create, nearly impossible to coordinate, dangerous if implemented half-way, and yet utterly necessary for ultimate cost savings and patient safety.

What can we do between version 1.0 and 3.0? Prayer and vigilance come to mind… it will be up to the foot soldiers (the docs, nurses, and hospital staff) to keep patients safe while juggling paper and digital until digital can fly on its own.

How do you think we can minimize our digital growing pains?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Sex selection: just because we can doesn’t mean we should

As I read the opinion piece in the New York Times about fertility clinics that permit parents to choose the sex of their baby before pregnancy, I was suddenly aware that I had strong feelings about this. As I tried to analyze my indignation, I realized that my emotions came from a place beyond mere reason.

Although technically, this issue could be reduced to a matter of sperm sorting – we all know it’s much more than that. Choosing the sex of your unborn child wanders into an unexplainably uncomfortable territory – swirling unconscious feelings about the value of human life, sexual equality, and the pain of sexism that many have experienced. We have heard the horrible stories about female babies being selectively aborted, or left to die in the elements in India and China, and we wonder if choosing the sex of a baby is somehow part of the same phenomenon.

Why should it matter which sex the baby is? Why is “family balance” cited as a reason to sex select? Perhaps the balance comes from the makeup of the individual personalities in a family, or maybe from parents who plan for the right number of children, not the gender of them.

Personally, I cannot support the practice of sex selection for anything other than sex-linked genetic disease prevention (and even this makes me feel a little uncomfortable, frankly).

I’m curious to know if men and women are equally disturbed by the practice of sex selection… What do you think?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Nurses escape death penalty

Makes being a nurse in the US seem like a cake walk, right?

“The son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi said five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor condemned to death by a Libyan court had received unjust verdicts and that they would not be executed, a Bulgarian newspaper reported on Monday.

A Libyan court last month convicted the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor of intentionally infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, despite scientific evidence that the youngsters had the virus before the medical workers arrived in Libya. It sentenced all the medical personnel to death.

‘The original files were manipulated and there were many mistakes, but it was the fault of the police officers and investigators who handled the case at the initial stage.’”

As I was thinking about how these relief workers were “ambushed” I imagined that the parents of the HIV positive children were looking for a scapegoat – there is a lot of stigma associated with HIV, and in a country where mere finger pointing can result in the death penalty… taking care of those infected with the virus can be more deadly than the virus itself.

The article also hinted that if it weren’t for the Bulgarian embassy publicizing the unjust executions, they would have occurred without a second thought.

Let’s hear it for the healthcare workers out there who put their lives in harms way to treat the innocent and helpless.  Do you know of other examples?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

My medical heroes

On New Year’s Eve when many people are drinking champagne and worrying about who they should kiss at midnight, Dr. Brian Fennerty, Section Chief of Gastroenterology at Oregon Health & Science University is fighting to keep patients alive in the Intensive Care Unit. Severe internal bleeding has put these patients’ lives in jeopardy, and Dr. Fennerty stays with them all night, ordering blood transfusions and tamponading their bleeding.

Dr. Jack Cook, US Navy veteran and former submarine commander, is under a mountain of medical charts. At 67, he is spearheading the transition from paper records to an electronic medical records system for his group practice of primary care physicians in Virginia. He wants his patients to have the opportunity to experience chart portability – something he believes might save their lives in cases where they are brought to the ER in an unconscious state. Although this project will take his group 2 years to complete, and cost untold hours in lost wages (with no clear reimbursal benefit for his practice) he is making the investment for his patients’ sakes.

In the middle of a teleconference, Dr. Iffath Hoskins, Chair of Ob/Gyn at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, excuses herself to perform an emergency C-section on a young woman with a complicated pregnancy. Against all odds she saves both mother and baby, and reschedules the teleconference for late that evening so she can complete her interview on time for a feature article at Revolution Health.

Just returning from Africa, Dr. Leo Lagasse, Vice Chairman of Ob/Gyn at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, is preparing for his next mission’s trip with medical residents and faculty. His non-profit organization, Medicine for Humanity, has been behind countless trips to Afghanistan, Kenya, and Eritrya – serving impoverished women with medical problems. Dr. Lagasse takes time out to explain to me the link between smoking and cervical cancer for an article I’m preparing.

Dr. Charlie Smith is spending the afternoon with his son Jordan in Arkansas. Jordan was accidentally shot in the chest by a child with a BB gun, tearing a hole in his heart that caused him to go into cardiac arrest. He was rushed to the hospital where surgeons resorted to cardiac massage to keep him alive – he survived the ordeal, but his brain never fully recovered from the temporary lack of oxygen. He was rendered permanently bed-bound, and raised at home by his loving parents. Dr. Smith created a company called eDocAmerica to allow him to work from home and spend more time with Jordan. eDocAmerica is devoted to answering consumer medical questions via email.

At Harlem Hospital, Dr. Olajide Williams works tirelessly to raise awareness of stroke symptoms in a high risk inner city population. He organizes outreach through musical youth initiatives, lectures nationally to narrow the racial gap in quality care, and declines all prestigious medical recruitment offers. He is steadfast in his devotion to his community – no matter what the cost. Dr. Williams spends part of his weekends preparing blog entries for Revolution Health.

These are only a handful of the wonderful physicians associated with Revolution Health. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them through their blogs, articles, and future contributions. They are here for you… to support your need for credible information, to answer your questions, and to help guide you towards optimum health.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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