Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Doctor, or Druggist? Washington Post Asks

Today's edition of the Washington Post examines the growing trend of physicians who dispense prescription medications at the point of care. We thought our readers would want to read the story, since we recently highlighted a national study that found most Americans would prefer to receive their medications directly from their doctors instead of the local pharmacy. The story is thorough, but it doesn't exactly discuss the role of technology in safely dispensing drugs to patients.

Read the story and let us know what you think about this practice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Presidential Candidates and Health Care Information Technology: Where Do They Stand?

Election day is more than twelve months away, but the contest for president of the United States is already shaping up to be a fierce one. Many presidential candidates have either released or announced their intention to release a comprehensive plan for health care reform. Following is an attempt to summarize each candidate's position on health care information technology such as e-prescribing and electronic medical records. You are encouraged to visit each candidate's Web site on your own, as their positions may change in the future.

Joe Biden (D): His home state of Delaware is a leader in adopting new health information technology, and the candidate notes the Delaware Health Information Network (DHIN) is a state-wide health information and electronic data interchange network for public and private use. Biden says the potential savings to the health care industry from full adoption of electronic medical records is substantial. He notes that researchers at the RAND Corporation estimated that full adoption of electronic medical records could save $77 billion annually. RAND also determined that by 2004, 15 to 20 percent of U.S. physician offices had adopted electronic medical records systems.

To get to 100 percent adoption of EMR/EHR software, Biden says he would invest at least $1 billion dollars per year in moving to electronic health records systems, provide grants to states to develop electronic medical records and other health IT systems, and assist hospitals, medical facilities and doctors in upgrading to electronic record systems and implementing them in their practice.

Electronic Medical Records Information and Resources

Sam Brownback (R): Brownback advocates for lifetime electronic medical records. On his Web site, he notes that he is " ... the sponsor of a bill that would offer patients both ownership and control over their personal health information and ensure that personal health information is not used by third parties without the consent of the patient. This proposal would also offer patients debit-like cards containing their private and portable personal health information."

Hillary Clinton (D): In her comprehensive plan for health care reform, Clinton pledges to ensure that all health care providers and insurance plans use privacy-protected information technology. She says her proposal will give doctors financial incentives to adopt health information technology and facilitate adoption of a system where high quality care and better patient outcomes can be rewarded. Clinton also notes on her Web site that the Business Roundtable, SEIU and AARP estimate that “widespread adoption [of such IT reforms] raises the potential savings to $165 billion annually.”

Chris Dodd (D): In his plan, Dodd says health insurance premiums will be affordable based on leveraged negotiating power, spreading risk, reduced administrative costs and incentives for adoption of information technology and savings from better care. He implies that technology such as electronic health records and practice management software systems will help integrate clinical information tools, monitoring technologies and care management such that chronic diseases are kept under control.

John Edwards (D): Edwards advocates for universal health care, and healthcare information technology will be critical to ensuring his model delivers high quality care without breaking the bank. On his Web site, the presidential candidate notes: "Many insurers and hospitals still rely on cumbersome paper systems and incompatible computer systems. The outdated 'paper chase' causes tragic errors when doctors don't have access to patient information or misread handwritten charts. It creates needless administrative waste recreating and transporting medical papers, performing duplicative testing, and claiming insurance benefits. Edwards will support the implementation of health information technology while ensuring that patients’ privacy rights are protected."

Edwards pledges to support new technologies, such as handheld devices and electronic medical records, to give doctors the latest information at their fingertips. Edwards also promises to support public-private collaborations that reduce medical errors through electronic prescribing (e-prescribing).

Rudy Giuliani (R): Giuliani has pledged to invest in health information technology to reduce medical errors, improve efficient and detect health threats, noting that thousands of hospital deaths each year are attributed to preventable medical errors. He sais public-private partnerships to improve and set standards for health IT but without overbearing regulations can play a major role in improving quality of care and reducing health care costs.

Mike Gravel (D): It does not appear that Gravel has a position on the role of information technology in health care reform; if he does, we were unable to find it.

Mike Huckabee (R): Huckabee is famously known for losing 100 pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes, and for his steadfast support for preventive health care. He has not released a comprehensive plan for health care reform, but he does note that health care can be made more affordable by adopting electronic record keeping, among other strategies such as medical liability reform and health insurance portability.

Duncan Hunter (R): There's no mention of health care on his Web site, let along discussion of electronic medical records.
Kucinich's proposal is for universal, single payer health care plan completely funded by the government.

Dennis Kucinich (D): Kucinich has proposed a universal, single payer health care plan completely funded by the U.S. government, called the United States National Health Insurance Act (H.R. 676). In his proposal, he calls for the creation of a "standardized, confidential electronic patient record system in accordance with laws and regulations to maintain accurate patient records and to simplify the billing process, thereby reducing medical errors and bureaucracy," and that "notwithstanding that all billing shall be preformed electronically, patients shall have the option of keeping any portion of their medical records separate from their electronic medical record."

John McCain (R): He says that reforms to federal health care policy and programs should focus on enhancing quality while controlling costs, but we were unable to find any references to health care information technology in his campaign materials.

Barack Obama (D): In his Plan for a Healthy America, Obama calls for lowering costs through investment in electronic health information technology systems, acknowledging that paper-based medical records make it difficult to coordinate care, measure quality and/or reduce medical errors. He also says processing paper claims costs twice as much as processing them electronically.

Obama pledges to invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records. He will also phase in requirements for full implementation of health IT, and promises to "commit the necessary federal resources to make it happen." He also pledges to ensure that these systems are developed in coordination with providers and front line workers, including those in rural and under served areas.

Ron Paul (R): He's a Medical Doctor, but he has not proposed a plan for health care reform, and makes no mention of electronic medical records in his campaign materials.

Bill Richardson (D): To achieve health care for all, Richardson proposes streamlining health care administration by using "21st Century Health Care Bonds" to invest in health information technology, thereby saving the system $22 billion per year.

Mitt Romney (R): In August, Romney shared his health care reform plan with physicians in Florida, where he underscored the importance of bringing market dynamics and modern technology to health care. In his presentation, Romney supported the idea of federal incentives to foster more widespread adoption of electronic medical records technology.

Tom Tancredo (R): He has announced a very basic plan for reform, but there's no mention of electronic medical records or other types of information technology.

Fred Thompson (R): Thompson says he is committed to a health care system with five key attributes. One of those five guiding principles: "Modernized delivery and administration of care by encouraging the widespread use of clinical best practices, medical information technology, and other innovations."

For more information on each candidate's health care ideas, visit the Association of Health Care Journalists.

An EHR Implementation Checklist

When implementing an electronic health records (electronic medical records) system, you will need to perform the following tasks. Adapted from "EHR Implementation in Ambulatory Care," a 2007 white paper from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, this list is intended to give practices a better idea of how to allocate staff and whether you'll need to hire a project manager when implementing an electronic medical records (EMR) software system.

1. Develop an implementation plan. Establish the plan, which might include having the most computer-savvy physicians "go live" until the EHR's idiosyncrasies are identified and resolved, and then adding the remaining physicians.

2. Develop a scanning and abstraction policy. Convert paper records to electronic format. This might include having physicians review charts and select files important to patient care for scanning into the EMR.

3. Analyze workflow. With input from the practice's whole staff and help from the vendor, map how the practice's work will flow using electronic records. Use the study to train the entire practice.

4. Facilitate third-party interfaces. Set up the EMR system to communicate with several devices and entities, including: labs, hospitals and pharmacies; picture archiving and communication systems; diagnostic devices; and practice management systems. Consider paving the way for e-prescribing, patient e-mail and patient portal access.

5. Develop templates. Get input from all physicians on the template for physician note entry. Typically, these "electronic charts" are modified vendor templates or are designed by the practice.

6. Conduct training. Develop training material for all existing and future staff. In a sample workflow system from HIMSS, medical assistants enter simple patient history and vitals directly into the electronic medical records software, and physicians enter data from a patient worksheet into exam-room EMR terminals.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mississippi Medicaid Program Considers Expanding E-Prescribing Program

An electronic prescribing program shown to save the State of Mississippi some $1.2 million per month in medication costs could be expanded, according to several news sources. The Mississippi Division of Medicaid is discussing expanding its successful e-prescribing program by equipping 225 doctors with handheld e-prescribing devices.

E-prescribing refers to an electronic prescription order/fulfillment route that directly connects physician workstations with mail order or retail pharmacies. Many electronic medical records (EMR) systems include an e-prescribe function, and some companies sell programs independent of an EMR.

Physicians can use the Informed Decisions devices to access patients' medication histories, avoid dangerous drug interactions and see if patients are filling and refilling their prescriptions. Doctors who use the devices write fewer prescriptions on average, and those prescriptions are likely to cost the state less, state officials say.

The state pays $35,000 per month for the program but is saving nearly $27,000 per month on hospitalizations because the physicians receive real-time alerts about the dangerous drug interactions, according to Mississippi officials.

The state Medicaid program is looking to expand the initiative because it consistently has been saving money for 18 months.

The devices also help detect fraud. Kurt Bruckmeier, a physician for about 200 Medicaid beneficiaries in Hattiesburg, Miss., said the system has "helped identify drug abusers who would very likely have gone undetected were it not for our ability to evaluate the full scope of prescriptions they were taking."

Mississippi officials said they did not know of any negative aspects to the program. Florida has launched a similar program with comparable results.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Malpractice Insurance Carrier Announces Unusual Policy Credit for Physicians Using Electronic Medical Records

In an unusual and what appears to be unprecedented announcement by a medical malpractice carrier, Midwest Medical Insurance Company (MMIC) earlier this week announced it will offer a premium credit to any solo physician or physician group policyholder who implements and uses electronic medical records software. The credit begins January 1, 2008.

Why the special discount? According to a press release, the MMIC board of directors strongly believes that EMR software improves the quality of care through better patient safety. "As a physician-owned insurance company, our goal is to help our physicians reduce loss frequency and severity," their CEO said. "Offering the premium credit just makes good business sense."

We agree, as countless studies have shown electronic medical records software reduces errors and improves overall quality of care when the EMR is fully utilized.

To receive premium credits of 2% to 5%, a physician group must meet the following requirements:

* The EMR system must be certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), the recognized certification authority for EMR systems.

* The physician group must have implemented or plan to implement the latest vendor updates for their system. (No old school EMR systems, please.)

* At least 75% of the physicians in the group must be using the EMR or EHR.

* The group must have been using the EMR or EHR for at least a year.

* The group must be using at least two of the six EMR's functions listed on the application.

What do you think about this announcement? Will a 2-5% discount on malpractice insurance encourage physicians to implement electronic medical records in their practice, or is this yet another plastic carrot promising to boost healthcare IT adoption rates? Share your comments.

Note that electronic health records are the same as electronic medical records here - we use them interchangeably.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Physician E-Mail: How Many Doctors E-Mail Patients?

We know the adoption rate of electronic medical records software is low among physicians, but what about e-mail? Are doctors e-mailing their patients?

It turns out there's not much difference between the percentage of physicians who use an EMR and the percentage of doctors who regularly e-mail their patients. Thirty-one percent of physicians in 2007 said that they communicate with their patients via e-mail, up from 24% in 2005, according to a January 2007 survey by Manhattan Research. However, the remaining 69% of physicians said that concerns -- such as liability, lack of reimbursement and technology integration -- still remain barriers to adopting the technology.

The survey also found that most physicians approve of patients bringing information that they found online to an office visit. Sixty-five percent of physicians said it is a good thing when patients bring in information they found on the Internet, while 34% of physicians said it was a bad thing, according to the survey.

Many more physicians (50%) reported using a personal data assistant (PDA), most often relying on the device to store a prescription drug reference database, according to the survey.

Results are based on a telephone survey of 1,353 physicians in Q1 2007.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Rules for E-Prescribing Faxes Generated by Computers?

E-prescribing - a prescriber's ability to electronically send an accurate, error-free and understandable prescription directly to a pharmacy from the point of care - is an important element in improving the quality of patient care. In an effort to encourage the adoption of e-prescribing (also known as e-rx), the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed eliminating the exemption for computer-generated faxes from the e-prescribing standards by early 2009.

In the earlier rule, the U.S. government adopted e-prescribing standards for use by physicians and suppliers in connection with prescriptions under Medicare Part D. They included the SCRIPT standard for communications between physicians and pharmacies regarding prescription information, but provided that entities that transmit prescriptions via a computer-generated fax were exempt from the SCRIPT standard. SCRIPT is a data transmission standard intended to facilitate the communication of prescription information between prescribers and pharmacists.

Will Your E-Prescribing Software Pass the Test?

Many older electronic medical records (EMR) systems have a computer-generated fax function, whereby a fax is generated on a physician's computer and sent to a pharmacy's fax machine. Think of it as the halfway point between the old fashioned paper system and the "new fashioned" electronic system. CMS anticipated that physicians using computer-generated fax software would adopt the SCRIPT standard over time, but this hasn't occurred. In the words of CMS, developing e-prescribing standards "is one of the key action items in the government's plan to expedite the adoption of electronic medical records and build a national electronic health information infrastructure in the United States.

So, what's "wrong" with computer-generated faxing? In short, it retains some of the disadvantages of paper prescribing. For example, the pharmacy must key the prescription into the pharmacy system, where data entry errors could jeopardize patient safety. It's better than the old fashioned paper prescribing system, but in the minds of Medicare, it falls short of true electronic prescribing.