Search Journal-type in search term and press enter
Social Media-Follow Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care on Facebook and Twitter

Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
   Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
   Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 
Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Beyond the AHI 
Multidisciplinary Discussion (MDD) in Interstitial Lung Disease; Some
   Reflections 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Entries in electronic health care record (3)

Sunday
Jul152018

The Highest Paid Clerk

Physicians are the highest paid clerks in healthcare, but we only have ourselves to blame. At one time charts were often unavailable or illegible and x-rays or outside medical records were often missing. How we longed to have searchable records available. Now we have them but digital medicine has come at a cost. For every hour physicians spend with patients nearly two hours are spent with the electronic healthcare record (EHR) (1). Nurses in the hospital spend nearly as much time with the EHR (2). If a picture is worth a thousand words, the drawing by a 7-year-old depicting her visit to the doctor may say it best with the doctor staring at a computer with his back to the patient (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Drawing by a 7-year-old of her visit to the doctor (3).

The EHR has done some very positive things. It has reduced medication errors; it assembles laboratory and imaging information; it allows visualization of X-rays; the notes are always legible; and although introduction of an EHR results in an initial increase in mortality, there appears to be an eventual reduction (3,4). However, EHRs were not built to enhance patient care but to augment billing. Despite the effort that goes into collecting and recording data, much of the data is unseen or ignored (3). Our daily progress notes have become cut-and-paste spam monsters that are mostly irrelevant and nearly impossible to interpret. The diagnoses can be difficult to locate, the documentation for the diagnosis is often incomprehensible, and the plan is unintelligible. Of course, billings have increased but not due to improved care, but because of the electronic gobbledygook that serves as a record. 

Several other recent examples illustrate that doctors are viewed and being used mainly as clerks. I recently, applied to renew my hospital privileges. This involved completing about a 25-page on-line form to including uploaded documentation of all licenses, board certifications, CME hours, a TB skin test and a DTaP vaccination. For this privilege, not only are medical staff dues paid but a $100 fee needs to accompany the application. Pity the poor physician who goes to several hospitals. In our office every piece of paperwork is scanned into the computer and signed by the physician. This includes the insurance forms, notes from co-managing physicians, the prescriptions that I have written and signed, the pulmonary function tests that I have interpreted and signed, the scored Epworth sleepiness scales that the patient has completed and are included in my note, etc.

A recent court decision may further increase the physician clerical load. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a 4-to-3 decision ruled that a physician may not "fulfill through an intermediary the duty to provide sufficient information to obtain a patient's informed consent” (5). What this essentially means is that a physician, presumably the operating surgeon, must obtain an informed consent which usually involves signing a piece of paper. However, signing an informed consent form does not assure informed consent and the form’s main purpose is to protect the hospital or surgical center against litigation by shifting culpability to the surgeon. Now a surgeon must not only inform the patient about the operation but must have a form signed to protect the hospital and discuss every adverse outcome and all alternatives, a clearly impossible task. Will it be long before an unintelligible informed consent is required before prescribing an aspirin?

Many physicians, including myself, have resorted to voice recognition software using a template to generate notes due to increasing documentation requirements. Although this seems to decrease documentation time and increase face-to-face time with the patient, a recent article points out that voice recognition makes mistakes (6). Although there is little doubt that this is true, other documentation methods have their problems such as typographical errors, spelling errors, and omissions in documentation. Hopefully, a hullabaloo will not be made over voice recognition mistakes like was made over copying-and-pasting (7,8). Copy-and-paste errors seem to be mostly trivial and the information they contain is mostly for billing and probably does not need repeating in the medical record in the first place.

Physicians have cowered too long to insurer or hospital interests to avoid being labeled as “disruptive”. Many physicians would be happy to carefully proof every note or spend an hour getting the hospital’s informed consent form signed, but only if adequately compensated. Whining about physician lack of autonomy and increased clerical load either in the doctor’s lounge or in the pages of a medical journal will have no effect. The trend of shifting clerical workload to the healthcare providers will likely continue until either physicians refuse to do these clerical tasks or receive fair compensation for their services.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Verghese A. How tech can turn doctors into clerical workers. NY Times. May 16, 2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/16/magazine/health-issue-what-we-lose-with-data-driven-medicine.html (accessed 7/13/18).
  2. Stokowski LA. Electronic nursing documentation: Charting new territory. Medscape. September 12, 2013. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/810573_1 (accessed 7/13/18).
  3. Toll E. A piece of my mind. The cost of technology. JAMA. 2012 Jun 20;307(23):2497-8.
  4. Lin SC, Jha AK, Adler-Milstein J. Electronic health records associated with lower hospital mortality after systems have time to mature. Health Aff (Millwood). 2018 Jul;37(7):1128-35. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Fernandez Lynch H, Joffe S, Feldman EA. Informed consent and the role of the treating physician. N Engl J Med. 2018 Jun 21;378(25):2433-8. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Zhou L, Blackley SV, Kowalski L, et al. Analysis of errors in dictated clinical documents assisted by speech recognition software and professional transcriptionists.  JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(3):e180530. [CrossRef]
  7. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Electronic Healthcare Provider. December 2015. Available at: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare-Medicaid-Coordination/Fraud-Prevention/Medicaid-Integrity-Education/Downloads/docmatters-ehr-providerfactsheet.pdf (accessed 7/13/18).
  8. The Joint Commission. Preventing copy-and-paste errors in EHRs. QuickSafety. February 2015. Available at: https://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/23/Quick_Safety_Issue_10.pdf (accessed 7/13/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. The highest paid clerk. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(1):32-4. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc089-18 PDF 

Saturday
Jun172017

EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 

Earlier this week the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit report on $6.1 billion paid to 250,000 clinicians in the incentive program for meaningful use of electronic medical records (EMRs) (1). A random sample of 100 clinicians who had received at least one incentive payment revealed that 14 of them who had had not met all meaningful use requirements as they had attested (Table 1) (1,2).

Table 1. Meaningful use deficiencies identified in 14 of 100 clinicians.

  • Six clinicians couldn't provide a mandatory analysis of security risks;
  • Four clinicians couldn't prove that they had generated at least one list of patients-another requirement -who had the same condition;
  • Three clinicians could not provide patient encounter data to document that they had met various meaningful use measures;
  • One clinician had 90-days' worth of patient encounter data when a year's worth was needed;
  • One clinician did not use certified EHR technology as much as required.

The OIG recommended that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services recover the $291,222 paid to the clinicians in the sample group and extrapolated the recovery to $729 million from the remaining clinicians based on this random sample. This is about 13% of the incentives paid to clinicians for the CMS EMR program. The decision to carry out the recommendation will ultimately fall to a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, Tom Price MD, who has opposed government programs that created regulatory hassles for physicians.

"We would protest if they went through with this," said Robert Tennant, director of health information technology policy at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). "Going after folks who tried to meet arbitrary government requirements, who made a good faith effort, isn't fair” (2). Tennant said that this complexity, made worse by evolving requirements, helps explain the deficiencies listed in the OIG audit. "I'm not surprised some providers found it daunting to keep up with the changes," he said. The requirement for a security risk analysis is a problem, Tennant noted, because CMS hasn't given clinicians sufficient guidance on how to meet the requirements. "This is a real stumbling block for smaller practices," he said. "They're not security experts, they're clinicians" (2). American College of Physicians Vice President of Governmental Affairs and Medical Practice Shari Erickson said that clinicians who originally attested to meaningful use lacked clear, specific guidance on what documentation they needed for each requirement (2).

CMS incentivized using EMRs because many clinicians were reluctant to initiate EMRs in their practices because of cost and efficiency considerations. Average costs to initiate an EMR were $163r,765 for a single practitioner and $233,298 for a practice with five physicians (3). Reimbursement under the EMR program was about $65,000 per provider (4). Furthermore, there was an 8% decrease in productivity after EMR initiation (3). In other words, if physicians wanted to see Medicare/Medicaid patients they were asked to use EMRs that cost them money and made them work harder.

The violations identified in the OIG audit seem fairly minor and are the type of trivial violations that the lawyers and bureaucrats seem to delight in identifying and excessively penalizing clinicians. In contrast, large health care organizations seem to go unpunished for more egregious violations. Witness the lack of action against Banner Healthcare for compromising 3.7 million medical records in 2016 (5). The average cost of data breach has been estimated at $398 per compromised record (2). Extrapolating, Banner should be fined nearly $1.5 billion.

Medicine is likely the most regulated industry in the US. Several of my colleagues have complained that the regulation seems more directed at them and not at the hospitals and insurance companies that seem to create most of the increase in cost and the violations. Some of the more paranoid clinicians viewed the EMR as nothing more than a tactic to gain further control of their practice and viewed Hillary Clinton as someone who would continue the onslaught on clinicians. These fines for EMR noncompliance are the first true test for the Trump administration in the area of healthcare regulation. Many of my colleagues are watching Trump and Price to see if their opposition to bureaucracy was merely lip service or has some backbone. 

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Levinson DR. Medicare paid hundreds of millions in electronic health record incentive payments that did not comply with federal requirements. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Inspector General. June 2017. Available at: https://oig.hhs.gov/oas/reports/region5/51400047.pdf (accessed 6/15/17).
  2. Lowes R. Proposal to take back EHR bonuses galls med societies. Medscape. June 13, 2017. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/881563?nlid=115819_4502&src=wnl_dne_170615_mscpedit&uac=9273DT&impID=1368453&faf=1 (accessed 6/15/17). 6
  3. Fleming NS, Aponte P, Ballard DJ, Becker E, Collinsworth A, Culler S, Kudyakov R, McCorkle R, Chang D. Exploring financial and non-financial costs and benefits of health information technology: the impact of an ambulatory electronic health record on financial and workflow in primary care practices and costs of implementation. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). 2011. Available at: https://healthit.ahrq.gov/sites/default/files/docs/publication/R03HS018220-01Flemingfinalreport2011.pdf (accessed 6/15/17).
  4. Hayes TO. Are electronic medical records worth the costs of implementation?American Action Forum. August 6, 2015. Available at: https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/are-electronic-medical-records-worth-the-costs-of-implementation/ (accessed 6/15/17).
  5. Robbins RA. Banner hacked-3.7 million at risk. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(2):80-1. [CrossRef]

Cite as: Robbins RA. EMR fines test Trump administration's opposition to bureaucracy. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(6):312-4. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc079-17 PDF

Thursday
Oct312013

Obamacare and Computers-Who Is to Blame? 

Count me among the unsympathetic to the recent Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) problems with the rollout of Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, Marilyn Tavenner, the Administrator of CMS, apologized for the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance web site and promised to fix the problems that have prevented many consumers from signing up for coverage (1). Today, Tavenner’s boss, Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary acknowledged “frustrating” problems that would be fixed “as soon as possible”. She offered an apology for the site’s troubled launch, while also attributing the glitches to private-sector contractors (2). The later is particularly telling.

We have repeatedly heard how the “magic” of the computer can solve problems in health care (3). To this end, CMS created a Medicare Electronic Health Care (EHR) Incentive Program and touted that eligible professionals could receive up to $44,000 over 5 years for full implementation (4). However, CMS estimated the average cost of implementing an EHR over 5 years was $48,000 or a loss of $4,000 assuming the best reimbursement. It is not clear how close these dollar amounts match the actual numbers but a number of private practice physicians have complained that the cost was much more and the reimbursement much less (Robbins RA, unpublished observations). What was most disturbing is the implication that physicians are to blame when EHR implementation is slow or fails to achieve the promised improved care at lower costs (3).

The recent Obamacare rollout problems can be blamed on a variety of issues from too many contractors involved, inadequate testing, poor leadership, etc., but the main fault has been the perception that health information technology (IT) is easy. However, the available evidence suggests that health IT is not “magic”.  In most industries, IT has taken years, often decades to exert its effects (5).  Personally I believe health IT can have a huge beneficial effect on healthcare delivery-but it might take a decade or two. 

A meaningful partnership between clinicians, administrators and payers achieving and rewarding high-value care is needed. To do this physicians need considerable input, and perhaps more importantly, control of any EHR. Second, physicians need to be rewarded for good care which is centered on improved patient outcomes and not endless checklists that do little more than consume time. Failure to do so will result in inefficient and more costly care and not in the improvements Obamacare promised. To paraphrase Cassius from Julius Caesar, the fault is not in our contractors, but in ourselves. It is distressing that political ambition and arrogance may jeopardize the healthcare of millions of Americans.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Somashekhar S. Administration official Marilyn Tavenner apologizes for HealthCare.gov problems. Washington Post. October 29, 2013. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/administration-official-marilyn-tavenner-apologizes-for-healthcaregov-problems/2013/10/29/4d2a07ea-40c6-11e3-9c8b-e8deeb3c755b_story.html (accessed 10/30/13).
  2. Branigin W, Somashekhar S. Kathleen Sebelius acknowledges “frustrating” problems with health-care web site. Washington Post. October 30, 2013. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/kathleen-sebelius-acknowledges-frustrating-problems-with-health-care-web-site/2013/10/30/8cf36c98-415e-11e3-a751-f032898f2dbc_story.html (accessed 10/30/13).
  3. Robbins RA. Getting the best care at the lowest price. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;5:145-8.
  4. http://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/index.html?redirect=/ehrincentiveprograms/ (accessed 10/30/13).
  5. Jha A. As the debate over Obamacare implementation rages, a success on the IT front. The Health Care Blog. July 12, 2013. Available at: http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2013/07/12/as-the-debate-over-obamacare-implementation-rages-a-success-on-the-it-front/ (accessed 10/30/13).

*The views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arizona, New Mexico or Colorado Thoracic Societies or the Mayo Clinic.

Reference as: Robbins RA. Obamacare and computers-who is to blame? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;7(4):269-70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc145-13 PDF