One Texas physician leads a global healthcare mission from Moscow, supporting thousands of poor and underserved Russians, while maintaining a full-time practice in Midland, Texas.
Part 1 of a two-part series.
For more than 10 years, Dr. David DeShan has been traveling between Midland, Texas, and Moscow, Russia. DeShan is a physician and a missionary — serving patients at Midland Women’s Clinic in Texas and providing needed prescriptions, exams or treatment to hundreds of indigenous Russians.
The contrasts between the two worlds in which DeShan lives are stark. Here in the United States, he’s connected to his patients through electronic health records and secure web-based practice portals that allow him to communicate, share records and provide consultative services. Likewise, his patients can connect with him through any web-enabled device from anywhere in the world where there’s an Internet connection. His practice, which is building a new state-of-the art clinic, provides 21st century medical care.
In Russia, he is the president of Agape Unlimited, an international Christian medical mission program. Through Agape he visits people that are often secluded in very remote villages far removed from first-world creature comforts. Sometimes, as part of his medical mission work, he travels days into the lost wilderness of one of the world’s most vast and remote regions.
Four to five times a year he ventures outside of Midland, Texas, for up to four weeks on each trip. The majority of his travels are to Moscow where he oversees the nonprofit and its network of clinics. His involvement with Agape includes both the oversight of the organization in addition to traveling to the countryside to administer medical care. Despite being half way across the world he is able to effectively take care of his patients and colleagues in Texas.
In 2002, when Dr. Deshan first started his missionary work in Russia, he was completely detached from his practice in Texas. Needing to reach his patients, he eventually secured a satellite phone. Today, with the help of his EHR, he is fully connected irrespective of his location. Dr. Deshan has access to patient charts and tracks their progress remotely. Occasionally, he will use the information from the EHR and Skype his clients if a face-to-face conversation is warranted. Either way, when he returns to his patients in Texas, he never misses a step.
“None of what I’m now able to do through the ministry and the practice would have been possible without our EHR,” Dr. DeShan said recently. “I run the ministry over there, provide medical education over there, conduct outreach in Siberia and bring doctors here to the U.S. to train. The EHR really allows me to stay connected, in a fashion not available just a few years ago. It’s nice to have the opportunity to live in two worlds at the same time, and the EHR technology really makes it possible.”
Empowering an impassioned dream
Being a full-time physician and president of Agape is highly demanding and Dr. Deshan works up to 90 hours a week.
He has been on 14 expeditions into central Siberia and has made another 16 trips to Russia working in Moscow for a total of 30 trips since 2002. Outside of the expeditions to the countryside he does not practice medicine in Russia. “My role with our organization is to administer, encourage and enable our Russia staff to do the work and to invite others to join us,” DeShan said. “I have also been spending more time in medical education working with the medical schools and hospitals in Russia.”
Healthcare is different there than in the United States, as would be expected. The system is more socialized and less open compared to the U.S. Technology is also limited and use of such tools like EHRs are minimal. In fact, DeShan says there are just a few EHR-like systems in place in Moscow at elite practices.
Each workday, he logs in remotely to his EHR, reviews the pap smears, lab work and patient calls that need his response. His nurse highlights any abnormal mammograms and scans them into the system for his review, and he reviews the physician assistant encounters with his patients. The only things remaining when he gets back home is to go through the mail and review the bone density exams and normal mammograms, usually taking about 30 minutes.
“The EHR is truly what enables me to work in Russia yet still stay caught up. Since I can do this from Russia, it greatly reduces the burden on my partners and most of my patients really don’t miss me while I am gone because everything is still answered in a very timely fashion,” DeShan said.
From Midland to Moscow
DeShan said he’s always been drawn to serving his faith through medicine.
“I’ve always been very interested in Christian outreach, and I see medicine as a tool to this end. I wanted to find an organization for Christian doctors and I went to Russia once and kind of got hooked. I just felt like I was supposed to do more. It called to me,” he said.
He leads a handful of international volunteers from Germany, Canada and the U.S. and a staff of 10 in Russia working on the ministry and 40 working at Agape’s clinic. About 50 serve on expeditions each year. Despite resources, these folks see more than 365,000 patients a year at the group’s clinical network throughout Moscow and provide more than 2,000 pairs of eyeglasses to people throughout the country. Outside Moscow, more than 70,000 consultations have been given since DeShan became involved with the mission.
Though Russia is considered a first-world country, more than 75 percent of its rural residents don’t have plumbing. Without running water, medical infrastructure is not just impossible, it is a wishful hope.
“There’s a tremendous need for care, especially in rural areas out there, for medicine, and things like glasses,” he said.
What is Agape Unlimited?
Agape goes where no others go, taking action to improve the health of people who may have never seen a physician. This takes the organization to remote areas in Siberia and beyond, as well as to Moscow, meeting the needs of the medically underserved in the capital city, DeShan said.
Since 1993, Agape has been providing medicine, medical consultations and assistance to those who have little or no access to medical care in Russia. Agape sends teams to areas where the need for medical help is urgent , focusing on both the most remote and isolated people in the Arctic and Siberia, as well as the poor and overlooked in rural and urban areas,.
Agape’s medical expeditions always work in conjunction with a church within the region; this way the work continues in the community after the medical missionaries leave.
Agape provides everything to its patients for free. There’s no cost for the consultation, for medication or for the glasses received. Because of the care provided for the folks in the rural areas, sometimes this is the only medical treatment they’ll receive for years. Word of mouth spreads and people come for miles. In one instance, a group of patients rode on a reindeer-pulled sleigh for more than 24 hours for a visit with an Agape physician.
For more about Agape Unlimited, visit www.agaperu.org.
In an effort that could revitalize the EHR space (at least the mainstream market), the Veterans Affairs Department’s classic and still heavily used VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) system is getting the open source EHR treatment.
In a move that is revolutionizing other technology sectors — like manufacturing, gaming and the device world and because of the success of such sites as Kickstarter (I know because I represent clients in this space and have seen their success first hand), which is a haven for open source projects, allowing volunteer programmers who are passionate about code and perhaps even passionate about healthcare, is really a pretty swell idea.
From the VA’s perspective, how else could it possibly bring a beleaguered and somewhat bemoaned product like VistA to the modern area after more than 30 years in use? Certainly, the government didn’t seem to have the funds or the necessary experience to overhaul the system by itself.
According to Rick Baker, chief information officer for the VA, even though there is a contract with a firm to make changes to VistA’s code to make it less complex and more readable, the open source community will be involved directly, day to day, with the EHR’s refresh.
The success of involving the open source community in healthcare, and in the development and maintenance of EHRs, is showcased at Oroville Hospital in Northern California, which recently passed on some of the mainstream vendors like McKesson and Meditech for a personalized, customer version of its.
Leaders at the hospital wanted the flexibility to make changes to its EHR system, and they wanted to ensure they received the attention they felt they deserved from their vendor of choice. Ultimately, they wanted total control over the hospital’s electronic health record.
The best solution to the problem for the hospital? Build its own EHR.
In addition to gaining every advantage over the creation and implementation of the home-grown system, Oroville Hospital plans to save a bunch of money by not purchasing a commercial system even though it is building a complete EHR soup to nuts.
The hospital chose to build the system with the help of the same open source folks who are working on the VistA system; the same folks the VA is using to update VistA. Once done, Oroville Hospital’s EHR was even certified for meaningful use and the hospital received more than $5 million in meaningful use incentives.
What all of this seems to suggest is that custom solutions are viable options in a sea of corporate technology offerings. With open source now breaching the professional world of electronic health records, this may only just be beginning of a wave of technology innovation, especially as hospitals and practices seek more efficient solutions and more control of their EHR technology.
Given the time, patience and buy in of leaders, healthcare facilities may be closer to independence than we’re used to in the regulated and oversight-driven world that has become healthcare.
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.”
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.
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:
What new work tasks/process are you going to start doing?
What work tasks/process are you going to stop doing?
What work tasks/process are you going to sustain?
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:
Mapping your current workflow and analyzing how you get things done
Mapping how the EHR will affect your workflow, and how you hope it will enable you to perform certain tasks or functions like how you plan for them to create more efficiencies and reduce duplicate processes?
Creating a backup plan to address issues that arise during implementation. This is crucial as issues beyond your control will come up and if you’re not prepared for them, they could derail your process and set you back. Think of worst case scenarios and plan for them to happen then hope for the best. No implementation is ever the same as another; each are there own experiences.
Building a project plan to blueprint the transition then appoint a team member to manage the plan.
Identifying data that must be transferred to the EHR either from paper or from the previous EHR (charts are the most obvious example here)
Finally, find out what can be transferred to the new system like patient demographics and schedules.
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.
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.
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.
First off, Irvine suggests requiring and maintaining complex passwords to access the devices.
Next, create a separate encrypted container for business applications and data and don’t allow the same email application to access both personal and business emails.
Set up a registration and provisioning system for the devices that allows for monitoring, remote application installation, locating and wiping of company data. Irvine says, “Use the system to remotely install all company applications as well as mobile device systems updates, patches and security fixes.”
Also, make sure to install antivirus and malicious application scanning solutions keep the devices clean, and disable its ability to access public Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can pirate networks and surf for information though unprotected devices of unsuspecting users. “Allow only known secure networks to include the user’s home network and the company network,” Irvine says.
Perhaps one of the most important steps is to require that all maintenance, updates and disposal of devices be done by the company or authorized vendors who follow specific security requirements. More information than you’d like to think gets swiped while your device is in the shop and you never know.
Finally, don’t allow enterprise data to exist on a personal device, and educate all users on the secure appropriate use of mobile devices. Once you’ve done so, get them to acknowledge and sign an appropriate usage policy.
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.
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.
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.
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’sarticle 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.
As in all areas of life, social media also permeates healthcare. As practice leaders, hospitals and facilities, and providers wrestle with strategies for capitalizing on the communication forum, some have found success while others continue to struggle.
For each person that has made the attempt, though, valuable experiences have been gained, some worth sharing.
In the piece, Sevilla offers advice to physicians about the need to engage in regular and ongoing social media activities.
Physicians, he says, must begin to interact with patients and the public through a variety of social channels including blogs for no other reason than because patients are beginning to demand it. Without the outside the office interactions, patients begin to disengage from their physicians and seek alternative sources who are willing to meet them where the live.
Seville offers a few compelling reasons for physicians and their practices to engage socially, including:
Social media allows physicians the opportunity to tell their story – telling your story provides evidence of your experience and helps establish you as a leader in the space. Doing so also helps patient consumers have a reason to “buy in” to your system.
Social media allows you to find a community – by connecting with others, you are able to establish bonds, develop stronger collaboration with peers and bring people together for a unified cause.
Social media allows you to discover your passions outside the practice – social media helps you explore new ventures and avenues for creating relationships and bonds outside of the practice.
Social media leads to free marketing opportunities – social media helps you connect with others, Sevilla said. Those connections mean you are marketing yourself and your practice without having to spend anything but your time.
Social media allows physicians the opportunity to manage their online reputations – conversations are taking place about many of us, physicians or not. If we know what is being said, you can help protect ourselves and your practices.
There are a few things Sevilla fails to mention in the piece, though.
For example, social media is more than about building one’s own brand and developing recognition for one’s own efforts. Engaging in social media is about creating relationships with others; specifically, patients.
As such, when using social media tools in the healthcare setting, you must stay close to your customers. Social media can, and should, be used to generate conversations with the public and build relationships with those you are serving. In doing so, you gain ground in each of the areas Sevilla mentions above.
In addition, physicians and practice leaders may consider using social media as an educational tool for patients. With less than 10 minutes of face time with a physician on average, patients can turn to their social media tools to learn more about a certain procedure, to ask generalized questions or to learn how the practice’s online patient portal, appointment setting or how billing and payment processes work.
Also, consider using your Twitter feed to ask questions of your patients. Conduct informal surveys asking for feedback about visit times, practice hours or services offered. Set up a weekly or monthly lunch-hour Twitter chat where a physician takes generic questions from the public or set aside a week each month to provide health and wellness tips about certain conditions.
The results of these efforts may surprise you. And soon, you’ll discover that conversations on social media are two way rather than one sided. Perhaps you’ll even have your own strategies to share.