Work Flow

Here we go again, forcing physicians to use technology that is not yet mature

Here we go again, forcing physicians to use technology that is not yet mature.  Texas House Bill 2743, if adopted, would require physicians in Texas to use electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) for controlled substances.   

While I agree with the goal (physician adoption of e-prescribing for controlled substances), the proposed tactic imposes requirements on the wrong stakeholder.  If e-prescribing tools and associated work flows were intuitive, effective, seamless and safe, then there would be no need to require physicians to use e-prescribing.  Physicians naturally gravitate toward technologies that are easy-to-use, safe and effective or time-saving.  I don't see many physicians writing checks now that debit cards are easy to use nearly everywhere we go.  The adoption of robotic surgery and MRI scans come to mind as well.

So to reach the desired goal, should not the state representatives instead require e-prescribing vendors to bring mature, useful products to the market?   Should we not require NCPDP, the organization that develops standards for script transmissions, to more rapidly develop standards needed to close gaps in current functionality and usefulness?  

My ER patients rarely prefer a written paper prescription.  But sometimes the patient wants a paper Rx because they just came from out-of-town, or they want to shop around for a 24-hour pharmacy in the middle of the night, or for other occasional, sometimes unusual reasons.  One of my patients preferred a written prescription because she liked how prescription paper smelled.  You might successfully guess the category of medication she received.  

It is rarely in the best interest of  my patients for me to write a prescription rather than to e-prescribe one.  Unless my e-prescribing system is down, or my patient tells me they prefer a paper prescription.  Or if I'm prescribing a narcotic, because my EHR vendor has not yet enabled my e-prescribing system to do so.  In my case it will take a major upgrade to get that done.  And I have not yet gone to a Federally-approved credential service provider (CSP) or certification authority (CA) to be "identity-proofed" so that I can obtain a two-factor authentication credential or digital certificate which is required to use e-prescribing for controlled substances.  I'll go through that hassle when my vendor enables the controlled substance e-prescribing tool.  And that upgrade will cost my organization a lot to implement.  

In the doctor's real world e-prescribing tools are not easy-to-use, intuitive or hassle-free.  Instead they are cumbersome and remain prone to some easily-preventable medication errors. In the real world of the pharmacist, it is not efficient to manually transcribe  into their own system the e-prescription information I sent.  They might have to use two screens to accomplish that task, or they might print my e-prescription and then transcribe it into their system.  That printer is likely to be in the far corner of the room.

 So in the real world Texas House Bill 2743 makes little sense.  I urge our state representatives to focus their tactics on the real problem--immature e-prescribing tools and processes.   Stop imposing unnecessary risks on physicians and patient care.  

Matt Murray, M.D.                                                                                                                                                                 cook childrens 

Increasingly hazardous healthcare environment should urge Congress to create a National Health IT Safety Center

Discharge instructions for a child’s insulin dose were correctly entered into the electronic health record (EHR), but when the mother received the printed instructions there was a decimal point error resulting in a 10-times dosing error.  This error was fortunately noticed by the bedside nurse and corrected manually.  I reported this near-miss to the EHR vendor and they corrected the technical problem.  However, when I asked vendor representatives whether or not this problem was being corrected with other physician clients across the country, they informed  me that no other client had reported such a problem. 

This is analogous to a situation where an airbag explodes and sends shrapnel into your face.  You might ask the automaker whether this is a problem with their other vehicles.  They might tell you that they are not aware of others having the same problem.  However, in the transportation industry they are required to report safety incidents and near-misses.  These reports are collected, aggregated and analyzed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  If NTSB notices a trend in airbag-induced shrapnel injuries, they will initiate an investigation.  When NTSB discovers a problem with a specific airbag that is used across multiple types of automobiles, not just the type you purchased in your own state, then they are authorized by Congress to make safety recommendations to help ensure the risk is appropriately managed across the industry.

This insulin dosing incident is one of many health IT-related patient safety risks I have encountered and resolved in collaboration with an EHR vendor.  When my experience is extrapolated to the experiences of all physicians and EHR vendors, the scope of health IT-related patient safety risks can be seen as immense.  But unlike the safety of interstate commerce produced by the auto industry that is overseen by the NTSB, the safety of interstate commerce produced by EHR vendors has no cohesive oversight mechanism.  

The lack of oversight for health IT-related patient safety incidents and near-misses creates a hazardous patient care environment that I believe is urgent for Congress to address. The threat is increasing because the Meaningful Use Program (MU) has led to an exponential increase in the use of EHRs and other technology.   As a result, physicians are assuming a higher level of risk and accountability for computer programs, networks and infrastructures that are increasingly used as tools to generate patient care actions and facilitate medical decisions.  Although health IT-related patient safety risks would best managed through a shared accountability between physicians and EHR vendors, the vendors are not currently held accountable for patient safety.  Furthermore, the aggressive MU timelines have required EHR vendors to make rapid changes to EHRs without sufficient time to align changes with efficient physician workflows or to improve the flow of data between systems.  As a result, EHRs are increasingly plagued by poor usability problems and  lack of interoperability between EHR systems--both of which are patient safety risks that physicians commonly encounter.

So it is time to urge Congress to create a National Health IT Safety Center that can implement an effective EHR safety program designed to reduce EHR-related patient safety risks.  Within this concept EHR vendors could be required to report patient safety incidents and near-misses to the Health IT Safety Center similar to how transportation safety incidents must be reported to the National Transportation Safety Board.   The Health IT Safety Center could collect, aggregate and analyze reported data.   It could have power to investigate incidents involving patient harm and require EHR vendors to make appropriate changes.  It could monitor near-misses to identify trends and risks.  It could coordinate with other agencies to develop and broadly disseminate educational information and tools that mitigate identified patient safety risks related to technology use.  

I also envision that this resolution would lead to an entity that has the authority and influence to drive improvements in EHR usability and


interoperability, which are the two most significant impediments to effective and meaningful use of electronic medical records.   




Keys to Gain Value from EHR Implementation and Use

Many physicians who use an electronic health record (EHR) are having difficulty realizing value in their investment.   A recent KLAS survey found that more than one out of every four physician practices are so dissatisfied with their EHR that they are considering replacing it.    Although many physician practices have earned a financial award by using an EHR to achieve “meaningful use”,  data is lacking on whether or not such efforts actually improve patient outcomes.  

I believe, anecdotally, that I practice higher quality medicine when using an EHR.    But I am a pediatric emergency medicine physician using a hospital EHR to document patient encounters in a children's hospital's emergency department, not a physician in private practice.  On the other hand, my past experience as a a Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for my pediatric healthcare system provided opportunities to visit many private physician offices using a variety of ambulatory EHRs and to visit with many EHR vendors.  I met many physicians  who were happy with their EHRs and see the value.  Others I met were unhappy and see no value in their EHR.  Perhaps my most eye-opening experience came when I visited with a group of unhappy physicians who were using the same EHR as some happy physicians I had met one week earlier.   So what gives?

The answer is simple, but the explanation is complex.  

The simple answer is that the value gained from an EHR is dependent on how effectively it is implemented and used.   When well-implemented and well-used, an EHR provides clinical and financial value.   When poorly-implemented and poorly-used, EHRs detract from patient care and are a financial drain.  

The complex explanation might best be explained using examples.  So, based on my past visits with physicians who use various EHRs and on other personal research, I have created an outline of what I think are the key factors that allow physicians to gain value from their EHR.  I am in the process of writing a series of blogs with case studies to help explain each of these factors.  Stay tuned! 

Keys to Gain Value


cook children's


Dr. Matt Murray

Cook Children's

Mandating Physicians to Use SNOMED codes Has Higher Potential to Improve Healthcare Than ICD-10 Mandate

I have consistently advocated for skipping ICD-10 and initiating an unprecedented effort to accelerate the development of ICD-11-CM.  Although I still believe this strategy to be the one best aligned with quality care, I fear that the sunken ICD-10 costs are now so large that skipping ICD-10 is unpalatable for most organizations, even for some physicians, and is politically perilous.  Since we must do something, I have been thinking more about the proposal to replace ICD-9 with SNOMED in physician practices.  Leveraging SNOMED to improve care, lower costs and remove physician practices from the ICD conversion melees should be a serious national conversation at this point.  
After several delays CMS has established October 1, 2015 as the new implementation date for the replacement of ICD-9 code sets used by medical coders and billers to report healthcare diagnoses and procedures with ICD-10 codes   But another postponement remains a possibility--especially when one considers the unclear reasons for action taken by Congress earlier this year to call off the 2014 implementation.  ICD conversion delays are costly to the healthcare industry and action should be taken to address the impediments that increase the risk of such delays.   One of the major impediments to address is the adverse impact ICD conversions have on individual physician practices.    
So let's jump out of the box of conventional charged impulses propagating across our cerebrums (thinking) to consider how to make ICD-10 optional for physician practices while still achieving our goal of dispensing with obsolete ICD-9 code sets.  One alternative is to mandate physicians replace ICD-9 codes sets with SNOMED code sets and require EHRs to incorporate translator technology that converts SNOMED to ICD codes in the background.  Since it would not be practicable to expect EHR vendors to incorporate the translator technology into their products by October 1, 2015, there would need to be an interim period where physician practices are exempt from the requirement to use ICD-10 codes sets until their EHR incorporates the translator technology.    This alternative mandate allows the ICD-10 conversion to proceed for the rest of the healthcare industry including any physician practices who see value in completing their conversion.  This mandate would reduce the current and future adverse impacts that ICD conversions have on physician practices, has higher potential to improve care, is more cost effective, helps EHRs be more user-friendly to physicians and mitigates the risk of further delays to ICD-10 as well as future ICD-X conversions.
I would anticipate a two-year transitional period where the ICD-10 conversion would be optional for physician practices based on an assumption that EHR vendors will need until 2017 to upgrade their products.  
Some opposition among physicians is likely to be encountered due to their lack of familiarity with SNOMED as well as questions about how this alternative strategy adds value to patient care.   I base that on the responses I heard from some respected colleagues at this weekend's Texas Medical Association meeting.  The unfamiliarity issue can be addressed by pointing out that many of us are already using SNOMED, but that we just do not know it.  CMS mandates that the problem lists in EHRs use SNOMED codes, so when one selects "Exercise-induced asthma" from a pick list of problems in their certified EHR, they are actually using SNOMED. 
More difficult to articulate to physicians is how this proposal to convert from using ICD-9 to SNOMED codes in our EHRs would improve healthcare, how it would improve their work flow and how this is more cost effective for physicians as compared to complying with the current mandate.  So I have developed the following bullet list to use when describing this to my colleagues:
  • Informatics experts are in agreement that ICD-9 is obsolete, and that although ICD-10 has potential to improve healthcare, ICD-11 and SNOMED have higher potential to improve healthcare. 
  • SNOMED, which is interwoven in ICD-11's development, is inherently compatible with ICD-11 and is already required by CMS to be incorporated into certified EHRs for Problem Lists--thus, mandating use of SNOMED is not really new to physicians and will not result in an added cost to physicians
  • EHRs can be built with technology that automatically converts SNOMED codes into ICD codes--thus, mandating use of SNOMED is agnostic to the version of ICD-X being used; the cost to physicians of using the translating technology is very small as compared to the cost of finishing the conversion to ICD-10 and then converting to ICD-11 in the next 15 years.
  • After we convert to ICD-10 in 2015, discussions about implementing ICD-11 will ensue; since ICD-10 is over 20 years old and is less sophisticated than ICD-11, it will become apparent rather quickly that we need to convert to ICD-11 as soon as possible in order to improve healthcare (i.e. today's argument about ICD-9)
  • It takes the U.S. 7-10 years to refine the international version of ICD codes into the U.S. version we use--since the ICD-11 international version is expected to be completed in 2017, the earliest conversion to ICD-11 in the U.S. would be 2024 unless an unprecedented effort to accelerate development took place
  • In any case, converting to ICD-10 in 2015 will result in two ICD conversions in physician practices over the next 15 years.  The proposed alternative strategy to convert physicians one time from ICD-9 to SNOMED results in just one conversion with all future ICD conversions occurring in the background without significant impact on physician practices--thus, mandating the use of SNOMED to replace ICD-9  would be a significant cost savings to physicians.
  • SNOMED codes have been developed for the purpose of clinical input; ICD codes are developed for important administrative and financial output purposes-- thus, use of SNOMED codes for input will improve physician work flow because SNOMED is more intuitive to use for physicians to describe clinical encounters; this also preserves the use of ICD code sets for the important administrative and financial functions that our healthcare system currently depends on.
I believe that if CMS is going to maintain their mandate to move off of ICD-9, then we should move on to an available coding system that has the most potential to improve healthcare at the lowest cost:
  • Informatics experts agree that ICD-11 is more sophisticated and has more potential to improve healthcare than ICD-10, but the earliest that a US version of ICD-11 could be available is 2024 unless an unprecedented effort to accelerate development occurs
  • On the other hand, SNOMED is already incorporated in EHRs and being used by physicians
Thus, I believe the mandate to convert off of ICD-9 is more likely to improve healthcare, improve physician work flow and impose the lowest costs if we make the 2015 conversion to ICD-10 optional for physician practices and mandate physicians start using SNOMED (with the translator technology incorporated in EHRs) in 2017.    There will inevitably be tactical challenges involving diverse groups of healthcare stakeholders to work on, but if we remain aligned to the goal of improving quality care, I am confident we will find mutually agreeable solutions. 
cook children's healthcare system

Texas Medical Association video provides in-depth look at meaningful use, how RECs can help physicians

This video does a good job of describing Meaningful Use, the electronic health record (EHR) incentive program and how the four regional extension centers (RECs) in Texas leverage federal grants to subsidize services for physicians that help them select/implement or upgrade an EHR, and then use their EHR to improve quality of care and meet the Meaningful Use requirements.  

The four RECs in Texas currently charge primary care physicians only $300 for consulting services valued at $5,000.  These services include:

o    Select and implement a certified EHR (or upgrade your current EHR to a certified version)

o    Optimize your practice workflow,

o    Achieve meaningful use,

o    Qualify for EHR incentives, and

o    Obtain CME credit hours      

 cook children's

Comparison of Web-based vs. Traditional EHRs For Physician Offices

An ambulatory electronic health record (EHR) can be provided to the physician practice through one of two different models:    

  1. Web-based-- also referred to as a "hosted EHR" or the "ASP Model" where the physician accesses the EHR through an Internet connection
  2. Client-Server (C/S)--  the traditional model where the EHR server may physically resides in the  physician's office

Both models are considered to be acceptable, but each has inherent pros and cons to consider.   The traditional model of choice has been the “client-server” model.   In this model the EMR software is installed on a server that is typically located in the physician’s office.  The physician and staff access the EMR through computer devices that are connected to the server through a local area network (LAN) set up in the office.  The computers may be connected wirelessly to the network if desired.   This model has a few similarities to loading Quicken on your home computer and then using Quicken to pay bills online: 

  1. After loading Quicken onto your computer you will periodically be advised by Quicken to take "updates" to fix known "bugs" in the software.  Similarly, you will load the EHR software onto the server in your office and physically download any updates to fix "bugs" that the vendor discovers and fixes.     
  2. Microsoft periodically advises you to take security updates on your home computer.  Similarly, the EHR server will need to take periodic updates from Microsoft.
  3. You may later decide to upgrade Quicken to its latest version, and then purchase and install the Quicken upgrade on your computer.  Similarly, you will want to upgrade your EHR software periodically, usually every 12-18 months.
  4. You may decide in the future to purchase a new home computer that is faster;  you will have to then load the Quicken software onto that new computer and transfer all of your old Quicken data to the new computer.  Similarly, you will need to periodically replace the EHR server with a newer one that is faster, stronger and/or meets future recommended requirements of the EHR software.  And make sure your data gets transferred as well.

The web-based model is gaining popularity.  In this model the EHR software is located on a server at a remote location designated and hosted by the EHR vendor.  The physician and staff access the EHR through the Internet on computer devices in the office.  This is analogous to online banking that you access on your home computer and use to pay your bills online (instead of using Quicken).  Using this analogy: 

  1.  You will not physically have to take updates because the bank will update the software themselves
  2.  Microsoft will not ask you to take Microsoft security updates to the online banking server because the bank hosts the server and will do that themselves
  3. When there is an upgrade to the online banking software, you do not have to purchase and physically load that software on your computer because the bank does that on their server that you are simply accessing.
  4. If the online banking server is too slow you will not have to purchase a new server, the bank will do that (if enough customers complain)...and they will migrate your data over to that new server)

Here is a comparison chart for these two EHR models:






















Personally, the business side of me is strongly averse to allowing a 3rd party vendor to take care of the “heart and soul” of my practice (i.e. the revenue dollars and the clinical data).   Hence, in private practice I would strongly favor keeping the server in-house.     However, the clinic I currently work at is a small part of a large academic institution.   For our ambulatory EMR I am leaning toward recommending a web-based model.  The presence of an institutional IT Department whose primary purpose is to support the education of thousands of students, not to understand and dedicate the resources needed to provide a high level of clinical IT support required for a clinician using an EHR.  And I know who is most likely to get trumped down the road when conflicting priorities arise!

Why should primary care physicians enroll for Regional Extension Center services?

Why should primary care physicians sign up for REC services?   What are the unique selling points and assistance they will receive as compared to other consultant organizations?  

These are excellent questions I am hearing from physicians in Texas regarding the four RECs that cover our entire state.  The RECs are subsidized by the federal government through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act which appropriated $640 million in REC grant funds to create 62 RECs across the nation, including the four in Texas. 

Primary care physicians in Texas should use REC services because they will receive a steep discount for high quality services that are provided through a trustworthy, physician-centric organization that was specifically created to meet the technological needs of physicians in their region.

In Texas the four RECs have collaborated to develop a shared business plan that leverages the federal subsidies to provide onsite technical consulting for a token fee of $300.    For this $300 enrollment fee Texas physicians receive over $5,000 in consulting services which include:

  • EHR implementation and project management;
  • HIT education and training; 
  • Vendor selection and financial consultation; 
  • Practice and workflow redesign; 
  • Privacy and security compliance education; 
  • Meaningful use analysis, tracking, and monitoring; 
  • Assistance in meeting meaningful use requirements for CMS incentives; 
  • Collaboration with state and national health information exchange (HIE); 
  • Ongoing technical assistance; and 
  • Opportunities for CME credit hours

In addition to this steeply discounted enrollment fee, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) works closely with the RECs to help ensure that the RECs are physician-centric and focused on meeting physician needs.    Physicians hold 50% of the seats on each REC's governing board as a result of the TMA’s early efforts.

Another unique selling point is that the REC technical consultants are specifically focused on, and experienced with, the small physician practice.    Other IT consultants naturally give priority to large practices or healthcare systems where they get large amounts of money from a small number of contracts.    The REC consultants, on the other hand, only get a small amount of money per contract, but they get a large number of them.    This business strategy allows them to become more experienced with and more focused on the small practice.    The REC administrative staffs enable this strategy by facilitating the enrollment of a large number of physicians and by using the REC federal grant funds to offer physicians the steep discount.

The four RECs in Texas are:

Physicians Use E-mail With Patients Safely By Avoiding Misuse, Mishandling and Medicolegal Issues

Effective communication is a hallmark of patient satisfaction with their physician as well as with quality outcomes.  It is not surprising that surveys reveal more than 90% of patients desire to e-mail their doctors.  Physicians, however, are tentative about moving forward. In a 2009 survey by the Texas Medical Association, only about 20% of physicians reported the use of e-mail with their patients.

Those of us who do successfully use e-mail with patients know that we must be attentive to the risks involved to use e-mail safely. We also recognize that in order to use this technology efficiently we have to think about our work flow and be smart about redesigning it.  The risks of using e-mail with patients can be categorized into misuse, mishandling and medicolegal issues.

Misuses of physician-patient e-mail include:

  • seeking or providing new diagnoses/treatments
  • using e-mail with new patients with no previous face-to-face encounter
  • communicating on sensitive matters such as HIV, sexually transmitted infections, genetics and mental health
  • using e-mail for urgent or emergent issues
  • writing long, complex messages
  • using e-mail attachments with formats that patient’s computers may not be able open and read
  • forwarding e-mails from patients without their consent
  • advertising or promoting goods and products through e-mail

Mishandling issues with physician-patient e-mail include:

  • problems with e-mail triage or distribution within the office such as failure to adhere to established protocols or meet expected turn-around times for actions/replies
  • physicians using their personal e-mail accounts to send e-mail to patients
  • misunderstandings by patients/office staff regarding over who actually received, sent or replied to messages (authorship issues)

Medicolegal, privacy and security issues include:

  • failure to properly identify patients and verify e-mail addresses
  • privacy breaches
  • security problems with the e-mail system or related computer systems
  • not getting e-mail communications into the patient’s medical record
  • repudiation issues (i.e. patient denies sending or receiving an e-mail)
  • accountability issues
  • legal e-discovery issues
  • medical liability associated with diagnoses/treatment
  • failure to follow Texas Medical Board rules, HIPAA regulations or other on privacy/security regulations

These issues are certainly not insurmountable.  With an awareness and understanding of the rules, regulations and guidelines published by one’s state medical board, HIPAA, professional societies and other professional organizations such as the AMA, a physician can develop a set of policies and procedures to safely and efficiently use e-mail with their patients.  The procedures should include oversight mechanisms, adequate training of staff, adherence to privacy and security regulations, appropriate identification and authentication of each patient who consents to the use of e-mail and patient education to clarify what the physician will allow e-mail to be used for.  Patients should also be educated on how the office will manage e-mail messages and on what the expected turn-around times for replies will be.

How to Shame or Acclaim the Same EMR Through Work Flow

It is not uncommon to find physician groups who use the same version of the same electronic medical record (EMR) product but with significantly different degrees of satisfaction.  How can this be?  The following case study illustrates how successful EMR implementations leverage the capabilities of the EMR to streamline work flow and achieve specific goals.  This is the second of six case studies being used to describe the safe use of EMRs.

Work Flow and Communications Case Study:

A pediatric group in the final stages of selecting an EMR product sent their “physician champion” on site visits to two similar practices who had implemented identical versions of the same EMR.  At the first site visit the physicians are very pleased with the EMR and describe how clinical decision support tools help them achieve their goals.  For instance, during an 8 month-old Well Child visit the EMR defaults in a developmental history template that prompts age-appropriate questions.  With a single click on the order button an order set with routine orders for an 8 month-old Well Child visit displays.  The orders are completed in 30 seconds.  The pediatricians proudly tout the weight-based dosing option that calculates medication doses based on the patient’s current weight.

At the second site the physicians, parents and staff grumble about “going electronic” and complain about how long it takes to enter orders.  The visiting physician gains much insight while observing an 8 month-old Well Child visit.  The physicians rarely make eye contact with the parents as they struggle to find age-appropriate developmental screening questions from a long pick-list of questions they had built on a single developmental history template used for all patients.  They order each immunization, test and prescription separately.  Each test requires at least 5 clicks, three screens and a lot of scrolling.   They also manually calculate medication doses and type them onto the e-prescribing screen.   It takes several minutes to complete the orders.   When you ask why they don’t use the EMR’s weight-based dosing option, they reply that they discovered the weight-based dosing function is not safe to use.

Key Points:

Successful EMR implementations leverage the capabilities of the EMR to streamline work flow and achieve specific goals

Most EMRs have at least some features that can be designed and configured to work in different ways, or not used at all, such as order sets, documentation templates, health care maintenance tools and other clinical decision support tools.  Understanding these capabilities and designing optimal ways to leverage them are critical for successful EMR implementations.  The first group knew their goals and designed the EMR to achieve them.  They were particularly adept at leveraging the EMR’s capabilities to streamline work flow.  The second group, on the other hand, is floundering with poor work flows and no apparent goals for the EMR other than “going electronic”.

Automation of inefficient paper-based processes is a common risk to avoid

In the first office the physicians consider weight-based dosing to be a real time-saver and patient safety enhancement, but the second office considers it to be a patient safety risk.  It turns out that in the second office the nurse opens up and uses a single documentation template to enter documentation during the entire patient visit just like she did with paper records.  She keeps this template “open” because it takes too much time to submit part of the documentation, then re-open it to document more, then submit, re-open and so on.  So when the physicians used the weight-based dosing option, “today’s” weight would not display because the nurse had not yet submitted that data.  Thus, their poor work flow design and lack of synchronization not only slowed them down, but created a patient safety issue if the weight-based dosing option was used.  In the first office they avoided this by designing a “Vital Signs” template that the nurse used at check-in.  After the vital signs were entered into the template and “submitted” by the nurse the next logical documentation template conveniently popped-up to use. This group had used an IT consultant to help them redesign their work flow to take advantage of a paper-less environment.

• EMRs can interfere with physician-patient and physician-nurse communications

The lack of eye contact noted by patients in the second office is an example of how EMRs can impede communications in healthcare settings. It is prudent to be aware of the potential for such communication problems and to consider ways to avoid them.

I am using six case studies to illustrate that most EMR-related problems, even those involving hardware and software, can usually be traced back to some controllable factors.   The safe and meaningful use of EMRs is facilitated by leveraging these controllable factors to minimize these problems.  

Work Flow Analysis Helps Physicians Select Ambulatory EMR That Meets Needs

In a previous blog the methods used to perform a work flow analysis in a physician's office as a part of the EMR selection process were described.  The  next steps are to:


  • Determine at a high level the future desired work flows (when an EMR will be used)
  • Prioritize this list of work flow desires
  • Develop a prioritized list of EMR functionalities needed to meet those  desires 
  • Compare EMR products based on these priorities
  • Document Future Desired Work Flows

    An analysis of current work flow identifies bottlenecks in the physician's practice.  Changes in work flow may alleviate those bottlenecks.  Some of the identified changes may not be dependent on having an EMR and could be made immediately.  The other work flow changes that are dependent on using an EMR and will later become part of the EMR implementation.   

    It is not readily apparent to many physicians how an EMR could improve work flow in their office.  There may also be unrealistic expectations about how an EMR could improve things.  Therefore, it is helpful to first gain knowledge about the "best uses" of ambulatory EMRs as experienced by other physicians before identifying desired future work flows.  To gain insights on the realistic and best uses of EMRs physicians may be wise to engage a knowledgeable IT consultant.  Alternatively, physicians may use other resources  to gain insights such as:

    The knowledge gained on EMR "best uses" and the identified work flow  bottlenecks can now be analyzed together to determine at a high level what future work flows are desired for the practice. 

    Prioritize this list of work flow desires

    The physician practice may now discuss these desired work flow changes and prioritize them.  For the purposes of discussion let's suppose the practice has identified a top ten list of desired work flow changes that they want make when they implement an EMR.

    Develop a prioritized list of EMR functionalities

    The prioritized top ten list of desired work flow changes will naturally translate into a list of EMR functionalities that are top priority.  For instance, a practice that determines "refilling 80 prescriptions/day" is currently their top bottleneck, then the most important EMR functionality to compare among products is the usability of the EMR's e-prescribing feature.  A different practice may identify their top bottleneck to be getting patients through the check-in processes and determine that they want to reduce time patients spend filling out papers on clipboards by providing online registration forms and using a self-serve kiosk in the waiting room.  They also desire an EMR that can quickly register and check-in patients.  In that practice the most important EMR functionalities will be a robust patient portal, efficient integration with kiosks and the fewest number of necessary screens and "clicks" when registering or checking-in patients at the front desk.

    Compare EMR products based on these priorities

    EMRs have hundreds of functionalities.  It is not humanly possible to effectively compare hundreds of functionalities between different EMRs.  Comparing EMRs without focusing on specific needs easily leads to frustration and/or confusion.  Using the described list of prioritized EMR needs will improve the comparison process. 

    Physicians might consider limiting their comparison to EMRs that have been certified by CCHIT (and soon to those certified for "Meaningful Use" as well).  One can be confident that a CCHIT-certified EMR has all of the functionalities that are described on the CCHIT website.  There are hundreds of such functionalities.   However, CCHIT does not necessarily quantify how well the EMR performs each function.  So, if a physician practice limits their comparison to CCHIT-certified EMRs, they can be assured the EMR can do those hundreds of things an EMR should be able to do and instead spend their time comparing how well the EMRs meet their own, identified "top ten" needs.  

    Using an earlier example of an identified "top ten" EMR need, a comparison may find that EMR Product "A" allows prescription refills to be completed in 45 seconds using three screens and 17 clicks, while Product "B" refills prescriptions in 15 seconds (30 seconds faster) on one screen with 6 clicks.  Since the work flow analysis revealed that the practice has 80 refills/day, refilling prescriptions using Product "B"" would take 40 minutes less each day as compared to Product "B".  

    In summary, it is helpful for a physician practice searching for an ambulatory EMR to perform a work flow analysis to identify the major bottlenecks in the office, gain insights on how EMRs can improve work flow, use this knowledge to develop a prioritized list of desired future work flows, identify the "top ten" things an EMR needs to do to meet those desires and then compare CCHIT-certified products based on this prioritized list of EMR needs.

    EMR Selection Guide provides an outline of other topics on the selection process


    EMR Implementation Guide provides an outline of topics on the implementation process

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