EHRs: The Bridge to Nowhere–other than despair. An investigative Must Read on ‘an unholy mess’.

If you hate your EHR, think it’s swallowing your information, adding hours to your day, and if you don’t watch it, you’ll make an error, you’re not a Luddite. You’re right. An exhaustive investigation by Fortune and Kaiser Health News (KHN) concludes that it’s ‘an unholy mess’. In fact, even if you are not a physician or clinical staff, it will make you wonder what was going on the collective brains of the digerati, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama–and the US government–in thinking that EHRs would actually “cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year,” committing $36 billion to pursuing the ‘shovel-ready’ HITECH stimulus in the depths of the 2008-9 recession. Perhaps the shovel should have been used on a body part. Now if only those billions went towards an interoperable, useful, and national system rather than a money giveaway–which even Farzad Mostashari, then ONC deputy director and later director, now admits was “utterly infeasible to get to in a short time frame.” (Mr. Mostashari is now head of Aledade, counseling those mostly independent practices which lined up–hungry or terrified–for meaningful use EHR subsidies on how they can continue to survive.) Even the vendors were a bit queasy, but nothing was stopping HITECH. (Your Editor was an observer of the struggle.)

Now that we have been living with them for over a decade, EHRs have been found culpable of:

  • Soaring error rates, especially in medication and lab results
  • Increasing patient safety risks in lack of pass-through of critical information
  • Corporate secrecy, enforced by system non-disclosures, around failures
  • Lack of real interoperability–even with regional HIEs, which only exchange parts of records
  • Incomplete information
  • A very real cognitive burden on doctors–an Annals of Family Medicine study calculated that an average of 5.9 hours of a primary care doctor’s 11.4 hour working day was spent on the EHR
  • Alert fatigue
  • Note bloat
  • Plain old difficulty or unsuitability (ask any psychiatrist or neurologist)
  • A main cause of doctor burnout, depression, and fatigue–right up to high suicide rates, estimated at one US physician per day
  • Lack of patient contact (why the scribes are making a good living)
  • All those dropdowns and windows? Great until you click on the wrong one and find yourself making a mistake or in the wrong record.

Not even the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is immune. Seema Verma’s husband, a physician, collapsed in the Indianapolis airport. She couldn’t collect his records without great difficulty and piecing together. When he was discharged, he received a few papers and a CD-ROM containing some medical images, but without key medical records.

A long read for lunch or the weekend. Death by a Thousand Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong. Also the accompanying essay by Clifton Leaf

Want to attract Google Ventures to your health tech? Look to these seven areas.

The GV Hot 7, especially the finally-acknowledged physician burnout. Google Ventures’ (GV) Dr. Krishna Yeshwant, a GV general partner leading the Life Sciences team, is interested in seven areas, according to his interview in Business Insider (UK):

  • Physician burnout, which has become epidemic as doctors (and nurses) spend more and more time with their EHRs versus patients. This is Job #1 in this Editor’s opinion.

Dr. Yeshwant’s run-on question to be solved is: “Where are the places where we can intervene to continue getting the advantages of the electronic medical record while respecting the fact that there’s a human relationship that most people have gotten into this for that’s been eroded by the fact that there’s now a computer that’s a core part of the conversation.” (Your job–parse this sentence!–Ed.)

Let’s turn to Dr. Robert Wachter for a better statement of the problem. This Editor was present for his talk at the NYeC Digital Health Conference [TTA 19 Jan] and these are quoted from his slides: “Burnout is associated with computerized order entry use and perceived ‘clerical burden’ [of EHRs and other systems]”. He also cites the digital squeeze on physicians and the Productivity Paradox, noted by economist Robert Solow as “You can see the computer age everywhere except in the productivity statistics.” In other words, EHRs are a major thief of time. What needs to happen? “Improvements in the technology and reimagining the work itself.” Citing Mr. Solow again, the Productivity Paradox in healthcare will take 15-20 years to resolve. Dr. Wachter’s talk is here. (more…)

Connected health to help cure–physician burnout?

Here’s an interesting proposition: digital health tools such as telemedicine, telehealth and mobile health can help to reduce physician burnout. Except that if one is looking for support points in this HCI Healthcare Informatics article, one would be hard pressed. There’s no link to QuantiaMD‘s study (a 225,000-member US physician community), an inexplicable lapse. Your persistent Editor tracked it down, and found it connects the dots a bit more. It starts with the proposition that nearly half of doctors wouldn’t recommend medicine as a career to their children, then identifies a key frustration–“healthcare technologies that sap time and money are among the top reasons.” The solution? Other “emerging technologies—in the form of telemedicine, mHealth tools, and connected health devices—may actually help reverse this trend of physician burnout.” The paper then describes how telemedicine virtual visits, giving patients telehealth tools which will aid compliance and monitoring, especially with new treatments, and the opportunity to improve care all are Good Things. But not entirely convincing that these can be effective in mitigating the complex reasons why behind doctor burnout. Read the QuantiaMD study for yourself. Hat tip to Stuart Hochron, MD, JD of Practice Unite via LinkedIn