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Why Secure E-Mail Is Not Healthcare Communications Utopia

I am fortunate to work at an institution that has a fully deployed electronic medical record (EMR) system that incorporates outpatient physician notes and inpatient notes under one umbrella. By and large, patient care is facilitated since both outpatient and inpatient notes appear simultaneously in the patient’s chart, along side telephone messages and clinical results. While there are plenty of kinks to work out, most of us have to admit that there are huge patient care advantages to such a system.

The system also promotes a secure e-mail service for patients to e-mail their physician and a mechanism to have their results forwarded directly to them. With the ability to empower patients directly, many would consider this as the Utopian model for heath care delivery of the future.

And what could be better? Patients get virtually unlimited access to their health care provider, 24-7. Results are whisked to the patient. Speed. Efficiency. “Green.” It’s all good, right?

Maybe. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

The 2000-Word Patient Email

We assume that technology will improve communication between doctors and patients.

But not always.

Look at the 2,000 word email.

While it isn’t yet the standard means of communication in our clinic (it will be soon) we occasionally take email from patients.  My experience has been that they’re sometimes long and unfocused with tangential information irrelevant to the problem at hand. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Medical Records: One For The Insurance Company And One For Doctors & Patients?

Apparently, there are some legitimate reasons why a patient may lie to their physicians.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times discusses the phenomenon, which as Dr. Gregory House would aptly summarize as, “Everyone lies.”

In fact, a recent survey suggests that “38% of respondents said they lied about following doctors’ orders and 32% about diet or exercise.”

One interesting reason is that patients are wary disclosing potentially damaging information to health insurance companies. Indeed, when patients apply for individual health insurance, their medical record is pulled up. And since trivial details can cause insurance companies to deny health coverage, patients certainly may have second thoughts about giving an accurate history.

Furthermore, “when processing a claim, the insurance company finds something in a patient’s records that contradicts something the patient said when purchasing the policy, the company can retroactively cancel the policy.”

That’s pretty harsh.

But making medical decisions on inaccurate information has consequences as well, including providing poor patient care.

One suggested option would be to maintain two sets of medical records, one that is shared with the insurance companies, and a private one that is not released to third parties. Some patient advocacy groups even go as far as saying, “If your physician won’t do that, it’s reason enough to leave the physician.”

I currently don’t offer such an option. I wonder how many other practices do.

*This blog post was originally published at*

Health Data Rights – Facilitating Personal Responsibility

My colleague, Alan Greene, has been in the lead with a group of professionals putting forth a declaration of health data rights and, as founder of eDoc, I am completely in support of it. He points out that more than 7 percent of abnormal tests results fall through the cracks, according to a study released today in the Archives of Internal Medicine. According to Alan, as quoted today in his blog: “Whether we use this power to track our family’s medications, BMIs, lead levels, vaccines, or allergies, by being more actively engaged I believe we can make better health choices, reduce costs, reduce errors, and enjoy better health. Too often, bureaucracy, old thinking, or paternalistic concerns keep people from having their own health data or from having the courage to act on it.

I believe this is about to change. On June 22, 2009, we released a Declaration of Health Data Rights a profound, simple statement that, among other things, we all have the right – the license – to take possession of a complete copy of our health data without delay and at minimal cost, in a computable form if our lab data or pharmacy records or growth charts or other health data exist in that form….This doesn’t mean that we won’t value physicians and others who have devoted their lives to a study of health, but it does mean that we will engage with them in a new and more effective way…I hear concerns from some doctors that patients shouldn’t have a set of keys: they won’t make safe drivers. And it would be dangerous, for instance, for patients to be able to get worrisome lab results or biopsy results without someone present to reassure them. As I’ve heard more than once, what if this led to suicidal behavior?

Yes, I think it’s valuable to have support when getting bad news, but I also think the choice of whether to have support, when, and what kind belongs to the person getting the news. Our routine of keeping people in the dark until we are ready for them to get information is too a high price to pay. What if people misinterpret or misuse their own health data in less extreme situations? No one has a greater interest in an individual’s health than that individual and their loved ones. Armed with up-to-date data, they are free to consult experts and other resources as they wish. Our health is our responsibility, and having our own data is essential to taking charge.

The Declaration of Health Rights is simple, clear, and self-evident – but I expect the implications of this Declaration will continue to unfold over the years to come What if people misinterpret or misuse their own health data in less extreme situations? No one has a greater interest in an individual’s health than that individual and their loved ones. Armed with up-to-date data, they are free to consult experts and other resources as they wish. Our health is our responsibility, and having our own data is essential to taking charge…One natural extension of this will be people’s ability to order lab tests for themselves.

Of course, insurance will only pay for the tests if the situation warrants, but if your child has a sore throat and a fever, why shouldn’t you be able to order a strep test? Or if you’re a parent in your thirties or forties and have high cholesterol, why shouldn’t you be able to have your child’s cholesterol levels checked? We live in a country that allows people to smoke cigarettes and carry guns. Having our health data is far less dangerous and carries with it the possibility of great good. Let’s shake hands; let’s pick up our keys.

To learn more about the Declaration of Health Data Rights, click here.

To become a signer of the Declaration, click here.”

Thanks, Alan, for stating this so well. I couldn’t do it better than you, so thanks for allowing me to quote you!

*This blog post was originally published at eDocAmerica*

The Real Reason Why Doctors Don’t Want To Adopt EMRs, And What To Do About It

Have you ever been ignored by someone who was texting or otherwise engaged in a digital conversation? Did you feel that the person was being rude and unresponsive to you? If your answer to both of these questions is “yes” then you will understand the real reason why some doctors don’t want to adopt electronic medical records systems (EMRs).

As sappy as this may sound, most physicians were drawn to medicine because they wanted to help people, save lives, and improve the quality of life for those suffering from disease. Even after we’ve been beaten up by our training programs, and weighed down by debt and the mountains of paperwork required by a broken healthcare system, most of us still retain that do-gooder kernal inside us – we genuinely care about our patients.

And so because we care, we know instinctively that the human side of medicine – the attentive listening, the visual cues, the continued eye contact, and the careful history and physical exam – is critical to our profession. The problem we have with EMRs is that they often interrupt the sensitive and intuitive parts of what we do. EMRs and other digital “tools” designed to make our work more efficient, may do so at the expense of the human connectedness our patients deserve and need.

Most EMRs, as they exist today, are not designed to bring patients into the conversation. In order to maximize efficiency, the physician must type while the patient is talking – usually turning their gaze and even their whole bodies away from the individual or family. Those of us who feel that this behavior is socially inappropriate will take a verbal history from the patient and then type it up from memory later – this creates more work than if we’d simply taken notes during the conversation in a paper-record, and may introduce recollection bias if we do our typing at the end of a long day of seeing many patients.

There is certainly a generation gap in terms of EMR adoption (as my friend Dr. Geeta Nayyar has noted) – our new crop of doctors are very comfortable with EMRs and wireless tools of various kinds, while the “older” doctors are often highly resistant to adopting a digital system. But before we label senior physicians as “obstructing progress” – let’s look beyond the technology issues (yes, it takes time to learn how to do something a different way) and at some of the emotional reasons why physicians don’t like what EMRs do to their patient relationships.

Time and again I’ve heard my peers (who use EMRs in hospitals) say that they feel that they spend most of their time “talking to the computer” rather than the patient. They are wracked with guilt about this, and have actually lost a portion of their “job satisfaction” as a result. They know that the digitization of healthcare has robbed them of the luxury of full history and physical exams, conducted in an uninterrupted face-to-face encounter with their full attention on the patient. They feel like a robot – like a mere collection of algorithms used to process people in an “evidence based” framework. And the patients – they report that their doctors are hurried, uncaring, and potentially replaceable with a robot.

In my opinion, EMR manufacturers must understand the collateral damage that their products can do to the physician-patient relationship and create EMRs that engage patients in the physician encounter. I have seen at least one prototype product that is trying to do this (and there may be many more – it’s difficult to keep up with all the new innovations, so please leave a comment about other products that you know of), Microsoft’s Surface. Surface allows the physician and patient to sit together at a table with a screen embedded in its top. The physician can bring up lab results, radiology images, and medical records to discuss them with the patient so they can see it at the same time. I really like this concept, since it facilitates electronic record keeping while engaging the patient in the encounter.

When EMR vendors and civil servants bemoan the slow technology adoption rates of physicians, I urge them to recognize that there is more at play than just “resistance to change.” There is a resistance to dehumanizing doctor-patient interactions, to turning one’s back on a crying patient to type notes on a laptop, to spending more time “talking to a computer” than talking to a patient. That resistance is actually a good thing – it means we still care, we have hearts, we are human.

Now, to get physicians to adopt EMRs – don’t use a stick (“adopt our EMR or we’ll fine your practices”) use the younger generation of physicians (already comfortable with technology) to teach the older ones how to integrate digital record keeping into their workflow. During that interaction, I believe the senior physicians will be able to teach the junior ones a lot about the art of humanizing their patient interactions, while the younger ones train them about the technical process of incorporating EMRs into their own workflow.

In summary, EMR adoption is slow not just because of cost and technical skills barriers, but because of the potential dehumanizing effect they can have on medical practices. Senior physicians may understand this risk better than junior ones, and should be admired for their desire to maintain fewer barriers in their relationship with patients. EMRs created with the ability to include patients in the conversation can reduce the potential social damage they often introduce in patient encounters. Peer-to-peer training is valuable in improving adoption rates, teaching junior physicians the social etiquette important in a caring doctor-patient relationship (and to maintain the art of listening and observing), and helping senior physicians learn how to use technology to achieve the tasks they currently complete by other methods.

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