Complications May Be to Blame for Some EHR Miscommunications, Perhaps Even in the Dallas Ebola Case

John Backhouse
John Backhouse

Guest post by John Backhouse, executive director of the Omni Program, Information Builders.

Patient data resides in many systems and in multiple locations, which requires adept coordination and collaboration to deliver quality healthcare. However, sometimes pertinent data slips through the cracks – as demonstrated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

Dr. Daniel Vargi of Texas Health Resources explained the breakdown in EHR miscommunication in a recent CNN interview: “While we had all of the elements of information that were critical to understand a potential diagnosis of Ebola, the way we built them into our clinical process – not only the process of gathering the information but then communicating the information between caregivers – was not as front-of-mind as it should have been.”

This gap in information sharing needs to be bridged, especially to mitigate risk when dealing with significant diseases such as Ebola. It is critical that healthcare systems obtain a 360-degree view of patients, and achieve EHR interoperability.

Providers wrestle with EHR technology to enter patient information that is often never reconciled with patient history or existing data on countless other data sources including ancillary services, and other healthcare organization’s electronic medical record (EMR) system.

The HITECH Act (2009) initiated governmental incentives and penalties designed to nudge healthcare to adopt certified EHR technology for better patient outcomes. As of 2013, 59 percent of acute care hospitals (non-federal) have adopted at least a basic EHR system with clinician noted.

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Karen DeSalvo Leaving ONC Immediately to Battle Ebola

Karen DeSalvo

As has been much reported, national coordinator for health IT, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., is leaving the office effective immediately to become acting assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. The announcement was made Oct. 26, 2014, by HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

Burwell requested that DeSalvo to make the move in an effort to help battle and lead to containment of the Ebola crisis. DeSalvo will serve as acting assistant secretary until the Senate confirms an assistant secretary. There is no pending individual nominated for the permanent position.

Lisa Lewis, the ONC’s chief operating officer, now will serve as the acting national coordinator at ONC.

According to Modern Healthcare: HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, in a notice to her staff, welcomed DeSalvo, saying, “As the acting assistant secretary for health, Karen’s experience as a practicing physician, a senior member of the HHS team, and as a nationally recognized leader in public health, will be invaluable to the department and me.”

“She will bring her knowledge and real-world experience to bear on some of the most important issues confronting our department, especially our Ebola response efforts,” Burwell said.

DeSalvo was appointed in December 2013 and started in mid-January 2014. She took over after the departure of former national coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari who stepped down in October 2013.

To date, she’s the shortest serving ONC national coordinator, if she’s leaving the position permanently, which has not been verified.