Reaping the Rewards of a Mobile Health Technology Environment

Patients are not the only ones who will become more engaged as mobile devices continue to infiltrate healthcare; physicians, too, are reaping the so-called rewards.

As the debate continues to rage about the efficiencies created when EHRs are used in a practice setting, there seems to be little argument as to whether tablet PCs, smart phones and even applications like Skype actually improve the business of communication and interaction with patients and their physician partners and physicians with their colleagues.

A physician whom I very much respect, Dr. David DeShan, is one such physician who communicates with patients and colleagues via Skype from his mission outpost in Moscow, Russia.

Spending weeks at a time in Russia each year, he also maintains his status as a partner and practicing physician at a growing OBGYN clinic in Midland, Texas. As an early adopter of the virtual visit, DeShan is able to maintain contact with his patients if they need a consult, and he’s also able to maintain his connection to his practice so he can check labs, review diagnosis and provide counsel to his practice mates should they request it.

By his own admission, he works a full-time practice schedule from abroad in addition to his full schedule as the leader of a  major international mission. By partnering Skype and his EHR, DeShan is essentially a full-time practicing physician without a need to be restricted by the brick and mortar location of his practice. At the same time, he’s able to dedicate himself to his medical mission work in Russia and serve individuals throughout the world’s largest country in places that would never receive even the most primitive of care without him and his network of medical volunteers.

But, I digress. I’ll save DeShan’s story for another day.

The point I’m trying to make is in support of CDW Healthcare’s article “Momentum Surges for mHealth,” which cites a recent IDC Health Insights observation that shows clinicians use more than six mobile devices in the care setting each day.

Accordingly, as the mobile world continues to open new opportunities in all aspects of life, physicians, like all of us, know that they will come to rely more on these devices to practice, communicate and collaborate.

Clinicians and practice leaders continue to embrace the devices in the care setting, and they expect practices to allow them in their work. When technology delivers upon its promise and actually makes life easier, it is obviously going to be supported and used, like DeShan has done with Skype.

The technology helps him bridge gaps and essentially eliminate a half-the-world-away gap between himself and his practice. But, in some places, there are policies in place to inhibit this type of care offering. (Policies in opposition to this type of approach should be considered archaic and simply regrettable.)

The CDW piece goes on to state that according to a University of Chicago School Medicine study, providing tablet PCs to residents actually reduced patient wait times in hospitals. Likewise, the study found that the same residents did not have to look for an open computer for medical charting and actually allowed the residents to spend more time with patients.

Novel concept. Technology working as promised. Not so unbelievable when spelled out so clearly as this.

As I said, mobile health will continue to grow in popularity. If internal policies are not supported and encouraged, you’ll quickly find yourself in a BYOD environment, which is not such a bad thing.

In fact, if it develops or if you’re unable to support your own internal mobile device initiative, set some rules and let it bloom.

According to CDW, “You need to establish and enforce policies for mobile users including setting up passwords, separating personal from corporate data on devices … and you need to educate users on how to securely use mobile devices.”

For a more exacting plan to deal with BYOD, take a look at the following piece: Creating a BYOD Plan Protects Your Practice and Your Employees.

When managing a population that’s more likely to use or own a mobile device like a tablet PC than the rest of the consumer population, the infiltration is well underway so it’s time to begin reaping your mobile rewards.

Creating An EHR Implementation Plan: Map Your Route, Follow Through

In continuing a series based on HealthIT.gov’s “How to Implement an EHR,” now seems like an appropriate time to seek additional insight into how to prioritize your implementation plan and identify critical tasks to perform when putting your system in place.

As the HIT world continues to reel from continuous change – meaningful use stage 2, ICD-10 postponement and mobile health among the biggies – like any commercial market, there’s bound to be some constant ebbs and flows.

Selecting, and changing, an EHR are bound to happen no matter what else is going on in the market. So, though much of the market may be focused on regulation and reform related to EHRs, there are still practices who haven’t yet implemented, and there are practices that are looking to get out of their current solutions.

According to the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), “Building an EHR implementation plan becomes critical for identifying the right tasks to perform, the order of those tasks and clear communication of tasks to the entire team involved with the change process.”

Implementing an EHR is really about implementing a change management process: new rules, new ways of doing things and new things to learn. That’s an oversimplification, but it essentially hits the mark.

Setting up an implementation plan (the plan should be in place before the implementation begins) first starts with segmenting tasks into three categories, according to ONC:

The three categories help determine the future work environment of the practice; how things will work after the change.

Obviously, if you are moving from an existing EHR, you’re probably going to be more familiar with how things will work once the system is in place, with a few exceptions. However, moving from paper to electronic records means there are going to be a great number of changes that, if not accounted for, may cause some initial hurdles along the way.

Your next steps should include:

Once this point has been reached, you can bring other parties into your plan, like consultants and vendors, to get the plan rolling and potentially start the implementation.

Next, you can begin the selection and implementation or upgrading process, but if you need additional information about planning your implementation or assessing your readiness, read “Assess Your Practice’s EHR Readiness and Plan Your Implementation.”

Otherwise, you’re on your way.

When Purchasing an EHR: Price Points to Consider

Fee, fees are everywhere, and not all EHRs are similar. But when purchasing an EHR, there’s much more to consider than just the amount of cash you’ll have to spend for the actual system you want. More than the sticker price of the system alone, you have to account for all the other functional pieces — like support, training and licensing — that need to be bolted on.

So, let’s hear it for the Maryland Health Care Commission. The Commission provides some great insight into all of the things you need to consider before making an EHR purchase and some intangibles that, when addressed, may determine your long-term happiness or misery with the tools you decide to implement.

The Commissions’ list is succinctly published by AmericanEHR Partners, which also makes a fine and sincere recommendation to take into account during the pricing of any EHR: “Price of the system alone should not be used as the primary determinant for the system, but rather one single factor to help make the decision.”

Licensing and Subscription Fees

Check to see how licensing and subscriptions work with the vendors you are shopping: Do you pay per clinician or per user, and do you pay more for more “seats” at the table if you need them? Is your payment all inclusive, meaning, are getting a fully integrated EHR with practice management system or are covering for additional features?

The Commission makes an interesting point here: Client server systems are usually licensed based upon a one-time fee with maintenance costs.

I’ll add the following: Hosted, cloud solutions are less expensive than client server to implement; typically fees are paid on a monthly retainer; and they often are less robust systems than on-site server-based counterparts.

Practicing with Your Practice Management System

If purchasing an EHR that includes and PM system, be cautious of paying extra for the practice management capabilities. With continued integration of the systems and requirements brought on by regulation, such as meaningful use, there really should not be any additional fees for the capability.

Vendors may offer a full version and a light version of PM. Make sure the light version can meet your practice’s capabilities if you decide to take that option.

It goes without saying, but make sure that the PM, like the EHR, is meaningful use compliant.

Paying for Patient Portals

According to the Commission, “Vendors may have tiered pricing for portals based upon level of functionality.”

Make sure you have an understanding the portal’s functionality, how it fits with your system and if it’s part of the EHR or an add on. It could go either way, but from experience, you’ll be paying extra for it. Don’t forget to budget for it if you plan to meet meaningful use.

Support, Training and Maintenance

No surprises here, vendor support costs vary significantly based on the level of service you need and when the support can be accessed. You’ll pay more for support at certain times like nights, weekends and holidays.

Training cost may be a bit more difficult to figure. Don’t get undersold, either. For more about training, read my recent post, “The More EHR Training You Receive the Happier You’re Likely to Be.”

To budget for training, you have to account for the trainer’s time, travel expenses and the amount of training you want. Plus, there may be a flat fee built in to cover it with additional hours sold in blocks.

The most important thing with training is to clarify how much you’re going to get for the price paid. A word of advice: Log your own hours. Track how much you’ve actually used and compare it to the amount that you’re billed.

Another cautionary tale from the Commission is to be prepared for any training initial fees and should be priced out separately.

Finally, the maintenance. Maintenance fees are generally included as part of your software agreement. If not, proceed with caution and read the agreement carefully.

And, according to the Maryland Health Care Commission, maintenance fees for client-server systems are generally 20 percent of initial licensing and interface fees.

Hopefully, some of the preceding information helps as you price and shop for your EHR. If you have additional tips or insights, please post them in the “comment” section.

The More EHR Training You Receive the Happier You’re Likely to Be

When someone says, “It’s just like riding a bike,” they typically mean that once you learn how to do a certain thing, you never forget. There’s something about the task or the ability of your body and mind to remember how to effortlessly accomplish the goal that just brings it back.

The same can be said for breathing; perhaps even driving or swimming.

Okay, point made.

But, remove the training, the time spent rehearsing or the practice attempts (you know, the fall on your head and the scars on your knees) and the whole process begins to make a lot less sense than it would had you put in the time to understand how to accomplish said task.

In fact, in the example of the bike, without the practice many never get to experience the exhilaration of reaching the peak of the hill after fiercely pumping on the pedal and finally zipping like a bullet train down the other side. In that instant of wind-rushing joy, all the hard work on the first half of the hill was worth the effort of being able to experience the second half of the hill.

I can’t imagine life without having learned how to ride a bike, or learning how to disappear into the pages of a favorite book because I knew how to read. Frankly, I can probably say the same thing about a few pieces of technology and software that I have been trained to use or that I have taught myself to use. Had I not learned how to use them properly, life wouldn’t be so rich.

Perhaps electronic health records don’t fall into the category of technology that enriches users’ lives if used properly, but there’s apparently a connection between the level of experience one has when working with the systems and the success they’ll have using them to track health outcomes and build efficient practices if they have received proper training of the systems.

According to AmericanEHR Partners, the results of a study it issued shows that user satisfaction was lower for clinicians that used an EHR but received less training than their counterparts who received more training of the systems.

Essentially, the more training and experience using the systems the more likely users are to get more out of the systems. Likewise, clinicians who received less training of the systems perceived their experiences with systems as less than positive.

According the study, five findings were discovered, none of them all that shocking, but certainly very telling.

AmericanEHR Partners found that the more training a survey respondent had with the EHR, the happier the respondent was. Secondly, three to five days of training on the EHR was typically required to achieve the highest level of satisfaction. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they received at least three days of training. The report’s other findings suggest more training leads to happier users.

In addition, according to the finding, those who had a hand in selecting the EHR were generally happier when using it than those who did not help select it.

So, there are some obvious questions here, which Steve Ferguson of Hello Health asks pointedly in his blog post on the same topic. In summary, Ferguson asks: are doctors not getting sufficient training? Why? Do vendors not offer enough training? Is it too expensive? Is the doctor at fault?

Well said; questions deserving of answers.

In some cases, though, no one is really at fault. Vendors, looking to finalize a sale add the fewest number of training hours to the deal so as not to scare new clients away. Training hours are expensive and typically not a free service provided by the vendor. The number of training hours vendors require their clients to buy have been know to cost vendors some deals. Too many training hours can cause some practice leaders to run.

In some cases, there’s often not a lot of margin in selling the EHR systems. Some vendors have even given them away to lure customers.

For vendors, the EHRs are a lot like gasoline at gas stations. The stations make next to nothing by selling the gas; it’s all the convenience store items you purchase while you’re filling up that keeps them in the cash. Same can be said for movie theaters. Theaters make little profit on the movie tickets; their dough is made selling you candies, popcorn and Cokes.

The point is that practice leaders are often scared by the often high prices of vendor’s training hours. Vendors sell systems so they can lock in lucrative annual maintenance and service agreements. They’ll forgo the training hours to close a deal to get to the monthly or annual client stipends.

Practice leaders are sometimes like moviegoers who buy the ticket, but bring their own sandwiches and sodas from home. They think they can get by on their own or will ask for free assistance from colleagues using similar systems.

In the end, it seems quite a few folks are standing around looking at the bike rather than getting on it and taking it for a spin, even though the practice and the inevitable falls is where the real value is at.

Using EHRs with Patient Portals May Generate Patient Loyalty

Electronic health records can build patient loyalty. And using them within a practice and letting patients know about them and their uses, it is more likely that patients will return for service again in the future.

At least that’s the latest news from Kaiser Permanente.

Also according to the health plan/care provider is that patients are more loyal to a practice using an EHR if the practice is also using a patient portal for the patient to access their personal health records.

Accordingly, people using Kaiser’s personal health record to track their health, manage their care and access records through Kaiser’s My Health Manager (the organization’s patient portal) were more likely to stick with the Kaiser health plan than not in future plan years.

Though I maintain my fair share of skepticism about the study featured in the American Journal of Managed Care because Kaiser members are incredibly loyal (I know because I’ve worked with Kaiser members as a benefit plan communications director for a major government program in the region where the study was conducted) and they probably would not have switched plans regardless of the patient portal (and because the study seems somewhat self serving of Kaiser), there may be a nugget of truth here.

Apparently, according the study, Kaiser plan members who used the portal to view their medical records, make or change appointments and communicate with their doctor or other health provider electronically, where more likely to continue to pick the same plan in subsequent plan years.

The results are derived from more than 160,000 Kaiser Permanente Northwest members enrolled in a Kaiser plan between 2005 and 2008. Members who used the portal were more than twice as likely as nonusers to stay with the health plan during the period studied. “The only greater predictors of retention likelihood were more than 10 years of plan membership and a high illness burden,” the study authors wrote.

Essentially, the authors of the study suggest that EHRs integrated with a patient portal are more likely to create loyal patients.

Really, though, the findings of this Kaiser study are nothing new. As have been reported numerous times before, patients continually perceive healthcare technology positively, at least according to my perspective.

Here’s a personal example to support my claim. Let’s take a look at the results of a survey I administered for a major healthcare vendor more than a year ago.

In the survey, patients said they felt more comfortable with physicians that used an EHR system, and more importantly, patients felt that the information contained in the medical record was more accurate when they physically saw information being entered electronically. Physicians using EHRs in front of their patients said they felt the most comfortable with the accuracy of the information contained in their records.

Additionally, in the survey I conducted, 45 percent of patients had a “very positive” perception of their physician or clinician documenting patient care with a computer or other electronic device, and patients believe that using an EHR will actually improve care outcomes in the long term.

Physicians and patients also agreed on the benefits of using electronic devices to document patient care during an encounter. The most important benefits of EHRs, as agreed upon by the two groups, were

To put it bluntly, yes, there appears to be a great deal of patient loyalty for physicians using an EHR. Kaiser’s data only seems to strengthen this claim, and, certainly, it appears that integrating technology that’s “interactive,” such as a patient portal, helps foster this connection.

If nothing else, using an integrated EHR seems to generate greater patient engagement and may create more loyalty toward a practice, which ultimately builds stronger practices and potentially more word-of-mouth customer referrals, which help businesses grow.

Creating a BYOD Plan Protects Your Practice and Your Employees

Given the increasing popularity of mobile devices that continue to proliferate all areas of our personal and professional lives, clearly personal devices are going to show up in business settings and will be used to disseminate information with internal and external stakeholders.

Even if not an official piece of technology authorized for use in the workplace, their ease of use and availability make them attractive and affordable tools in the professional setting. Though most personal mobile devices not provided by an employer are allowed by employers because organizational leadership believes they lead to more productive employees who are “always on.”

Healthcare is no different. Mobile devices allow physicians to stay connected to their practices, like employees of all other businesses, and where available (as in, practices with systems that support mobile integration) connected devices allow care to be virtually administered from nearly anywhere. In the very least, notes and patient records can be reviewed while the care giver is out of the office or on call giving said care giver a head start on the case should a call come in.

On the other hand, savvy practices are realizing that some patients understand the value of mobile health. Practices are encouraging their employees to interact with patients using portable devices in the care setting. Patients who value mobile technology consider their providers innovative and ahead of the proverbial curve. Sometimes personal mobile devices may be used to accomplish this goal.

However, there are clearly inherent risks involved with blindly and openly accepting the use of personal devices in the workplace that many small businesses simply choose to ignore or overlook. Not because they feel invincible, but most likely because they just don’t know or understand the risks.

Jerry Irvine, CIO of Prescient Solutions — an IT consultancy — points out in a recent editorial for Firmology.com that the most prevalent security risk of mobile devices is that they will be lost or stolen.

According to Irvine, if a smart phone, for example, is stolen, all of the information on it is available to whoever holds it. In most cases, the personal phones don’t have identity-related security benefits to protect the information meaning all personal and business information can be accessed.

As Neil Versel tells in his recent piece, the devices, at some point will go missing. When they do, most affected organizations have little or no plan to prepare for the possibility that the information will be used maliciously. The obvious risk here, in healthcare, is the exposure of patient’s personal health information, cases we hear lots about when they occur.

Offering advice to businesses without a BYOD policy, Irvine provides a nice succinct list of musts that organizations allowing employees to BYOD must consider. Picking some of the high points here, you can see the complete list at the link above.

These steps may not protect you from every incident, but they do create a foundation for what may be an otherwise unscripted and unregulated program. And, putting these steps in place lets your employees know you encourage an environment where initiative and innovation are accepted, and perhaps even rewarded.

With the Right Culture, Practices Face Fewer Hurdles — Especially During Times of Change

The adoption of electronic health records continues as more physicians and practice leaders either realize the benefit of the technology or chase meaningful use in an effort to secure some cash or to avoid the soon-to-be enforced penalties for those without the systems.

However, adoption of the systems isn’t without its roadblocks nor is it as simple as plugging and playing as some might like us to believe.

In an insightful entry featured on EHR Intelligence, Dr. Kyle Murphy nicely summarizes what he labels as the top 10 reasons EHR adoptions stall, according to interviews and conversations he’s had with other physicians.

Some of the reasons cited are what we might expect. For example, at the top of his list is cost. Few can afford the cash required and the initial investment. Practice leaders know that to do it right, they have to buy the right system, as well the training, support and other required bells and whistles.

Two and three on the list are time and preparation, respectively. Typically, implementing an EHR takes a good deal of time and a great deal of preparation. Without the proper commitment, neither will come out right, which can result in less than desirable outcomes for practices.

According to Murphy, practices fear the downtime that can come with an implementation and they know that any good transformation requires total buy in from everyone at the practice. Perhaps the top concern for physicians, concerns that I’ve heard personally, has to do with the EHR implementation preparation.

Next, at No. 4 on the list, is “rollout strategy.” Ah, the choices: to implement all at once or one piece at a time. To each his or her own, but the decision remains and it’s a hard one for many to make while remaining un-conflicted.

At No. 5, is availability of vendors, or lack there of. More specifically, he recommends taking greater ownership of the process and not giving every crucial part of it to your vendor partner. Like everyone else, they are taxed and their resources spent, especially now as the rush to get in on full meaningful use reimbursements is upon us.

At six and seven are training and communication. Do away with one and you’ll likely do away with the other.

Interoperability comes in at No. 8. The system must work with the practice’s other systems. They’ve got to speak the same language and work together. Easier said than done, but at the heart of it, practice leaders are asking, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Skipping ahead to No. 10, data migration rounds out the list. The system, according to Murphy, must do more than its paper-based predecessor. It has to do more than replicate the past, but help power the future.

Perhaps the most important, and somewhat obvious, hurdle practices face, though, lies at the heart of the practice: its culture.

Culture, at No. 9, truly affects every aspect of the implementation. For example, if the culture of the practice is one that embraces change or technology, there’s a greater likelihood that finding the cash to make the investment will happen. Likewise, preparing for the change and developing a rollout strategy will seem much easier with buy in versus having to fight most of the employees who have their heels buried in the sand in resistance to the change.

Finally, with the right culture in place the practice is much more likely to get the most out of its training, even if it’s only a small amount, because there is more acceptance and will to learn on the practice employee’s part. They are more likely to communicate with all partners – vendors, consultants, even patients – because they want to ensure the greatest, most successful process from start to finish.

When the culture of a practice is one of a winner, the list of hurdles faced during this or any other change is greatly reduced and nearly everything, at that point, can be accomplished.

Student Physicians Not Taught to Use EHRs at Teaching Hospitals

The adoption and mainstreaming of electronic health records continues to face hurdles, even in the least likely of places: teaching hospitals and residency programs. Apparently, even though medical students are using EHRs at the highest levels ever, only a small portion of those students are actually able to write notes or fully access the systems.

According to new studies published by Teaching and Learning in Medicine, researchers “found that 64 percent of the medical school programs allowed students to use their EHRs, but only two thirds of those allowed the students to write notes in them.”

The irony here seems to be that most, if not all, of the residents entering practice after school will either implement EHRs on their own, if they start their own practices, or will seek practices with the latest technology, including EHRs. Certainly, practices with paper-based systems will find it hard to retain and attract new talent to their practices if they don’t employ technology, such as an electronic health record or mobile devices.

With this in mind, one would think that teaching and residency programs would encourage the use of the systems if for no other reason than to attract the best talent to their programs, let alone to ensure that the doctors entering the commercial sector and serving patients are best equipped to provide the best care in the most efficient manner. Unfortunately, given these new findings, it appears student physicians will be forced to potentially deal with not only learning the ropes of the business world – payroll, insurance, employment laws – but also with how to navigate learning technologies they have rarely seen or worked with.

Regarding the limited use of the EHRs in the hospital setting, authors of the study sum up the reason for lack of participation by the students pretty well — Medicare rules. It seems Medicare doesn’t allow physicians to rely on trainee’s EHR notes in care setting.

Odd, given the fact that the student “trainee” is allowed to save lives in the ER, practice care alongside a staff physician throughout the hospital, is most likely months or so from entering professional practice, but for some reason, said trainee’s notes can’t be relied upon for accuracy and integrity, at least as far as Medicare is concerned.

This, frankly, seems like another example of a flawed system. Training programs should be opening up their systems to students, if not in a live setting then at least in a closed classroom-type environment so that they can get they hands on the systems and be more adept at using them once they move onto professional careers.

Perhaps EHR vendors should partner with hospitals to initiate training programs or create partnerships that allow for classroom-based training sessions where the students can use a system for several weeks or months to see how they work and can benefit the provider. The students are, after all, still students and should be given every opportunity to learn. And, participating vendors could go a long way toward getting their products into the good graces of thousands of new physicians who are entering commercial practice and likely in need of an EHR and other technology solutions.

Patients Want Electronic Interaction with Their Physicians, but Not Sure How to Get It

Those who conceived and brought meaningful use to life can apparently chalk up another victory, according to a new survey conducted by Accenture.

As told by For the Record, patients overwhelming want access not only to their medical records and personal health information through connected devices (mobile or otherwise), but they also want direct electronic access to their physicians.

By “access to their physicians,” I mean they want to interact with their caregivers through web portals and email. Actually, respondents of this survey (88 percent) said they want to receive email appointment reminders from their physicians, while 76 percent of survey takers said they want the option of email consultations directly with their physicians.

Enter the patient portal. Secure, web-based portals that, for most EHR systems, allow patients the opportunity to interact directly with their physicians, view lab results (in certain non-overly sensitive cases), schedule appointments and make payments, among other things. The same patient portals that are required ingredients of meaningful use certified EHR systems.

Despite the arguments over the benefits or lack thereof of meaningful use, the requirement that EHRs contain patient portals so patients and their caregivers can interact with each other seems to be giving the patients exactly what they want.

In the very least, at least according to the results of this survey, patients are more likely to engage with physicians and take greater ownership of their care if they are simply allowed to communicate with their doctors electronically.

And given the seemingly current lack of patient engagement that’s prevalent in our healthcare community, anything that sparks interest in patients should be considered a welcome sign to every healthcare professional. After all, patient engagement will continue to become more popular as consumers take greater ownership of their care as they discover that their healthcare providers are actually easier to access because of electronic health records and patient portals.

Unfortunately, however, the average patient doesn’t know whether his physician offers a practice portal or if the practice uses an EHR as fewer than half of the 1,100 survey participants in the Accenture study didn’t know whether they had access to such systems.

Despite this minor detail, there’s plenty in this survey to celebrate. Specifically, patients clearly want to access their health records electronically and they want to be able to connect with their physicians when they want or need through any connected device wherever they are in the world.

The other good news here, for practice professionals anyway, is that there is plenty of room for and an abundance of opportunity to educate patients about a practice’s internal technology systems. Patients clearly want to know more about the technology their physicians are using in their practices.

If you don’t currently have these systems in place, engaging patients is a great way to find out what they might like to see from you in the future and, if nothing else, the information gathered helps you build and develop your practice and tailor it to your customer’s needs.

Conflicting Electronic Health Records Studies Support Similar Conclusions

In conflicting reports recently released by two separate healthcare publications, the benefits and success of meaningfully using EHRs is debated with one publication citing its success while the other notes EHRs alone do not improve care, though, if certain steps are taken by providers, outcomes could be better.

The conflicting data from each report really comes as no surprise. What is a bit surprising, though, is that each report provides valid and tangible information that seems to support a similar conclusion.

For example, according to Becker’s Spine Review’s article featuring the report, “Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Record Systems and Process Quality of Care,” meaningfully using electronic health record improves hospital care quality.

In fact, citing the report again here, “hospitals with primitive or limited IT that upgraded to an EHR system satisfying Stage 1 meaningful use objectives saw a significant improvement in healthcare delivery.”

The study was designed to report whether hospitals that implemented and used EHRs meaningfully actually saw improved healthcare outcomes. Apparently, they did, at least in quality measures for heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care infection prevention.

The study’s findings seem to tell a somewhat stunning story, frankly: “Hospitals transitioning to EHR systems to meet the meaningful use Stage 1 requirements saw statistically significant improvements in the outcomes for conditions of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. The improvements varied depending on hospital baseline quality performance, with low-quality hospitals seeing the largest improvements in quality.”

So, in other words, healthcare systems implementing EHRs saw the greatest improvement from their previous systems, which I assume is paper.

But wait; let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. According to The Health Care Blog’s piece “EHR Adoption Alone Does Not Guarantee Quality Care,” adopting a meaningful use EHR system does not automatically improve care. The ability to house the data is important, but it’s obviously just the first step in a long process. Perhaps with some work, desired (but not guaranteed) results may be achieved.

According the authors the THCB piece, to fully engage an EHR in the care process and improve health outcomes, more pre-visit work is needed to understand all of a patient’s potential health needs then care givers must take what’s learned, plant it in the system to better serve the patient in the future. Pretty basic, but true, I assume, since the EHR isn’t going to do it by itself.

The next step, according to the blog, is to encourage practice leaders to sub-categorize patients into groups with like conditions to track their health within the population. This should allow for physicians and practice leaders to see how the health among specific populations of the practice is improving or declining. Again, simple enough, and something easily enough done with virtually any EHR currently on the market.

Other advice offered by the blog’s authors to physicians is to participate in local, national and regional care quality measures and initiatives, and compare best practices and care outcomes with other professionals to continue honing their crafts and learning new initiatives and providing innovate care.

Finally, and most importantly (and I agree with THCB on this one), involve patients in their care. Engage patients from the beginning and draw them into their care plans and they’ll likely engage in their health for life.

So, ultimately, the differing points of view from these two reports seem to support the same argument: meaningfully using an EHR allows for the potential of better healthcare outcomes, but achieving better outcomes doesn’t necessarily come from simply having the system.

Additional work is required to get the most of out of the data that goes into it, even if that means committing more to the actual care process, connecting with peers and colleagues to employ innovation and involving patients to ensure what goes into the EHR is everything it should be: meaningful, useful and helpful.