Monday, December 25, 2017

Clicking Your Way to Burnout

The Mayo Clinic published the article Electronic medical practice environment can lead to physician burnout that “shows the use of electronic health records and computerized physician order entry leads to lower physician satisfaction and higher rates of professional burnout.”

The negative effects of decreased efficiency, massive clerical burden, and provider burnout counterbalance the positive potential for quality medical care using an Electronic Health Record. These negative forces seem obvious to any practicing provider but are generally lost on administrators, insurance companies, vendors, and governmental agencies.

Logical reasoning would indicate, however, that when providers, including nurses, are “happy,” productivity, motivation, and commitment are increased, leading to higher quality and greater safety in health care.

The authors conclude that:  "Burnout has been shown to erode quality of care, increase risk of medical errors, and lead physicians to reduce clinical work hours, suggesting that the net effect of these electronic tools on quality of care for the U.S. health care system is less clear."

What is the solution? Some have been mentioned multiple times in previous blogs. But here is a list of EHR functionalities that have great potential to impact quality of care:

1.    User-friendly, site specific, specialty specific documentation
2.    Easy navigation with intuitive, user-friendly interfaces 99.9% consistent every day, every site.
3.    Changes, should be made gradually, to avoid having to relearn the program every outing
4.    Uniform CPOE (computerized physician order entry) that is the same in every system
5.    Institution of a national database to encourage real-time interoperability
6.    Voice activated technology built-in
7.    Bringing back the “Ward Clerk” – that is, let the doc do doctoring, the nurse nursing.
8.    Decreasing the work burden-eliminate unnecessary machine time, as well as homework
9.    “Alert” controls.  Too many alerts are ineffective, become “white-noise.”
10.    Ability to see what other people are documenting without making lots of clicks
11.     Every click should be counted to help design a better interface, with minimized clicks.
12.    Keep clinical interaction IT separate from bookkeeping and billing IT.
13.    Artificial intelligence that provides an “instant second opinion.”

Hopefully, the future will brighter. Bean-counters should remember that clicks have financial and psychological costs. And the wrong click could cost thousands of beans.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Medical Errors Debate

A recent article published in the BMJ has caused a furor in the medical community claiming that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US.  In the article Sensationalization of Medical Errors: Breaking Down the Data In Order to Improve Patient, the author makes a careful analysis of the data used to come to these conclusions. The methodology of the data collection makes the claims of the study grossly overstated, but does deliver an important message to the medical-industrial complex. 

Wikipedia states a medical error is an error that is a preventable adverse effect of care, whether or not it is evident or harmful to the patient. This might include an inaccurate or incomplete diagnosis or treatment of a disease, injury, syndrome, behavior, infection, or other ailment.

This is where the complications arise. Medical errors are and can be dangerously detrimental to certain patients but whether this is a cause and effect relationship can be very difficult to prove. Medical errors are contributory factors.

Medical errors run the gamut of poor communication, failure to diagnose in a timely manner (a complicated legal question), improper medications, not accessing the right data at the right time (a failure of interoperability of the modern Electronic Health Records, multiple intellectual and emotional biases of the providers, system errors (most common) and etc.

Whether a medical error directly cause a death, was contributory to what degree, and/or irrelevant would have to be carefully ascertained on a case by case basis. Making generalizations on death certificates where the data is frequently incorrect leads to suspect conclusions. 

The bottom line is that the medical community should take this article as a warning shot that there are significant problems in the system. Crying foul is not a solution. Moreover, the use of the word “cause” with respect to medical error is totally inappropriate.  We well know, too well, that “proximate cause” without significant other “contributory” factors, is necessary in a tort case. It is no different here.  When the disease is the underlying etiology, and the healthcare system does its best, but fails, as it naturally does now and then, what is the underlying cause?

Certainly minimizing what are termed “errors,” but should more properly be termed “imprecisions” or “flaws” is a goal to which all strive.  But as imperfect beings, subject to many flaws, a perfect medical world is not going to happen. Preventable means zero margin for the humanity under which we all labor. All we can do is our best to keep the imperfections minimized.

Fixing the present Electronic Health Record Systems to give accurate, clinically specific data would go a long way in solving some of the problems. Artificial intelligence giving specific warnings would give the provider an immediate second opinion that may help guide the proper course. Finally society has to come with grips that medical art and science is not perfect and never will be.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Where Does TeleHealth Fit In?

The authors of Telehealth Poised to Revolutionize Health-care review the present and potential trends in telemedicine- "Three trends, all linked, are currently shaping telehealth. The first is the transformation of the application of telehealth from increasing access to health care to providing convenience and eventually reducing cost. The second is the expansion of telehealth from addressing acute conditions to also addressing episodic and chronic conditions. The third is the migration of telehealth from hospitals and satellite clinics to the home and mobile devices."

 The article does an excellent job of delineating the present and potential benefit of telemedicine.

These include:
1.    Availability for underserved areas
2.    Reduction in costs
3.    24 hour service
4.    Providing specialty support in real-time
5.    Real-time ICU coverage
6.    Real-time diagnostic imaging
7.    Clinical consultation on time sensitive dilemmas like acute stroke and emergency treatment
8.    Etc.

These services will continue to expand but eventually spread to ongoing chronic care. A good example is Diabetes Treatment. It has become so complicated with multiple new medications that the average provider may not have the ability or time to coordinate the care. 

Another service will be online support groups for various conditions where the endless questions and concerns of patients can be addressed and supported.

The modern generation will want easy access to health care without the delay and time spent directly visiting a Emergency Department, Urgent Care, and or Primary Care.

Some downsides include: 

1.    Over-consumption of care.
2.    Most illnesses or problems are solved with tincture of time.
3.    Not knowing when it is important to go right to the Emergency Department because of the potential seriousness of the condition.
4.    Getting care from numerous sources without coordination
5.    Almost totally giving up on the regular Family Provider who “knows you”.

There are also legal issues (future malpractice issues), credentialing issues, lack of access to high-speed internet, and the reality that the computer cannot perfor  m life-saving measures or surgery.
Where telehealth fits in with the primary care provider, urgent care, Walmart/CVS, Dr. Google (being your own provider) and the ultimate safety net –The Emergency Department –will have to be figured out.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

“Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Doctors”

This is Waylon Jennings' and Willie Nelson's 1978 cover of "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys". The song, originally performed by Ed Bruce, was number 1 on the charts for four weeks in the spring of 1978 and was released on the classic duet album "Waylon & Willie".

In the famous song by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, they opine about the hardships of the “cowboy life”. When asked the question of whether you would want your children or relatives to become physicians in the modern era, the answer is always “YES… but….”

Motivations for becoming a physician are multiple with multiple answers. They are generational in scope and multifactorial. These include:

1. Saving the world
2. Helping mankind
3. A means to an end.
4. Avoiding the draft and the Vietnam War
5. Family tradition
6. Economically motivated
7. Opening doors
8. Raising your social statue
9. Good at “School”
10. etc.

The modern day physician is caught in the trap of the “fantasy” of the good old days and ever-changing landscape. The physician is no longer the perceived expert of their domain but a valued cog in the big picture.

Patients still love their personal physician but want input in all aspects of their care. The paternal system of “I’m The Doctor” no longer works.

The physician is also trapped in the electronic world of endless data capture that is rarely relevant to the individual patient in front of them. Click 18 more boxes and you might get paid. 17 boxes and you get a 50% reduction. Did the patient get better? Who knows?

The modern day physician has become a corporate employee with little autonomy unless you are a dinosaur from the past and cling to your “perceived” freedom. Once you accept Medicare and Medicaid payments, you are indirectly/directly an employee of the government.

Getting back to whether you would recommend it as a career. I would do it over again because of the positives definitely outweigh the negative. Every 10-15 years medicine has been shaken up for financial reasons and everyone survived. The burdens are different but with the proper understanding that early acceptors of change are always the winners.