Epic Fails And Deadly IT Cultures An OPINION Piece

The Ebola Virus…Image courtesy of scienceblogs.com

It’s bad enough that a foolish man from Liberia by the name of Thomas Eric Duncan through hubris or stupidity brought Ebola to our shores. He did ultimately seek medical attention in the Emergency Room of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas when he became symptomatic with the characteristic fever and pain of an Ebola infection. In fact, he presented twice to the Dallas ER. In between his two visits, Mr. Duncan was set loose on a city of well over a million souls while his disease was at its most infectious level. (He has since died of his disease.) How could this breach of public health have happened? It seems to have something to do with IT, specifically, the configuration of the hospital’s EHR.

CNBC quotes Jonathan Bush (no relation to George, just so you know), head of Athenahealth:

The failure of a Dallas hospital’s electronic medical record system to flag a man who turned out to be infected with the Ebola virus underscores how clunky, outdated and inefficient health information systems typically are in the U.S., a medical IT CEO charged Friday.

“The worst supply chain in our society is the health information supply chain,” said Bush. . . “It’s just a wonderfully poignant example, reminder of how disconnected our health-care system is.”

“It’s just a very Stone-Age sector, because it’s very conservative,” Bush said. “Hospital health care is still in the era of pre-Internet software.”

“The hyperbole should not be directed at Epic or those guys at Health Texas,” Bush said. “The hyperbole has to be directed at the fact that health care is islands of information trying to separately manage a massively complex network . . . People trying to recreate their own micro-Internet inside their own little biosphere . . . that’ll never, never, never be excellent,” Bush said. “There’s no ‘network effect’ in health care today.”

How does this apply to Mr. Duncan unleashing Ebola in the heart of Texas?

The hospital Thursday night said when Duncan was first examined Sept. 25 by a nurse, he was asked a series of questions, including whether he had traveled outside of the U.S. in the prior month.

“He said that he had been in Africa,” the hospital said in a statement. “The nurse entered that information in the nursing portion of the electronic medical record.”

But it turns out that answer—which could have alerted doctors of the possibility Duncan had Ebola—was not relayed electronically to them because of “a flaw” in the way doctors’ workflow portions of the electronic health records interacts with the nursing portions of the EHR.

“In our electronic health records, there are separate physician and nursing workflows,” the hospital said. “The documentation of the travel history was located in the nursing workflow portion of the EHR, and was designed to provide a high reliability nursing process to allow for the administration of influenza vaccine under a physician-delegated standing order. As designed, the travel history would not automatically appear in the physician’s standard workflow.”

Of course, that particular problem at that particular hospital is now fixed. But . . .

“We have made this change to increase the visibility and documentation of the travel question in order to alert all providers,” Texas Health said. ” We feel that this change will improve the early identification of patients who may be at risk for communicable diseases, including Ebola.”

Bush noted that typically when problems like the flaw in Texas Health’s EHR system are fixed, “they’re fixed only at the place where they appeared.”

“Those mistakes are happening constantly,” Bush said.

But, “philosophically I think hospitals should get out of the business of trying to program computer systems, and expand in the business of treating patients. But that’s a standard thing that goes wrong with millions of configurations” of EHRs, he said.

Mr. Bush was quite tactful, but the implication of his statement is truly astounding. He is saying, perhaps not quite in so many words, that the IT department of the Texas Health hospital in Dallas, by poorly implementing (my opinion, not necessarily his) poorly designed (again, my opinion, not necessarily his) software, could be responsible for a disaster. This glitch has potentially allowed Ebola to spread further than it would have had Mr. Duncan been put immediately into confinement upon his first presentation. To be fair, the patient had been in contact with others before his first ER trip; still, we can assume he had more interaction with more people than he might have otherwise. We can only wait and see how many of his family members and acquaintences come down with the often-fatal disease. I should also mention that the ER physician should probably have thought to ask about foreign travel when presented with a feverish African national presumably speaking with an accent.

There is much online about Epic, Presby’s EHR provider. Google will supply link after link after link if you so desire. There are several take-away messages: Epic has severe interconnectivity / interoperability problems, and it is a HUGE political player, with its founder Judith Faulkner being quite the Obama supporter. Faulkner, and Epic employees, have given millions to Mr. Obama and other Democratic causes. Epic has received significant federal subsidy money, and it is up for an $11 Billion government contract. Michelle Malkin also reports that:

Faulkner, an influential Obama campaign finance bundler, served as an adviser to David Blumenthal. He’s the White House health information technology guru in charge of dispensing the federal electronic medical records subsidies that Faulkner pushed President Obama to adopt. Faulkner also served on the same committee Blumenthal chaired.

Cozy arrangement, that.

I’m straying a little off-topic here, but I think it is unlikely in the extreme that Epic will shoulder even the slightest blame for Mr. Duncan’s Dallas destruction. After all, as we say in the trade, PBKAC, Problem (was) Between Keyboard and Chair. In other words, it wasn’t Epic’s fault that whatever IT employee or committee failed to connect the dots and the map the critical foreign travel field from the  nurses’ intake screen to the doctors’ review screen. Oops. So sorry.

Personally, for what little it’s worth, I do NOT let Epic, or any other software company, off the hook quite so easily, nor do I bow to the IT departments which often control such software but don’t grasp the criticality of the workflow they are now governing, let alone the workflow itself.

I’ve ranted for pages and pages about image sharing, and how it is malpractice for patient images to be essentially held hostage by the IT and other administrative types who are adamant that the competing hospital across town (or across the street) will NEVER EVER be allowed to touch their precious data. And I’ve yowled and whined about PACS software that was clearly NOT written for use by any practicing radiologist I’ve ever met.

Please indulge me while I add to these rants.

I had the occasion to accompany Mrs. Dalai to her annual (8 years postponed) internist visit. Her doc showed me how much fun it is NOT to order something as simple as a PA and Lateral CXR in our illustrious EMR’s bilious CPOE (Computerized Physician Order Entry) system. It is a complete miracle that any order at all is entered correctly in this absolute abortion of an interface, and I’m not at all surprised when the wrong order comes through for the wrong indication. The electronic chart function isn’t any better. Finding a particular lab value can be an exercise in agony (akin to using some PACS I can name) and it just goes downhill from there. When I asked around to find out who OK’d this particular piece of garbage, I was met with shrugs and silence.

Do you sense a familiar refrain? (Lawyers please note…THIS IS ALL MY VERY OWN HUMBLE OPINION, as is every other word that I have ever written or ever will write, unless quoted from someone else, and worth every cent my dear readers paid for it.) Once again, here in the Health Care Field of Dreams, we have badly written, badly designed software, created with minimal input from those who have to use it, selected and then implemented by IT types who also don’t have to use it and don’t understand enough about those who do to get it done right. This has to stop. Right. Bloody. Now. Hit CNTL-ALT-Delete and start over.

With Epic and the government having their hands deep inside each others’ panties, we may well be stuck with these unusable systems for the foreseeable future. (And as an aside, if you deconstruct the Meaningful Use rewards and penalties, doctors are being bribed to buy EHR’s that have the certified and confirmed ability to transmit data to Washington, D.C., so again, we won’t expect the government to do anything about anything.) But, the demise of Mr. Duncan, and no doubt dozens if not hundreds more that he inadvertently infected between his two ER visits may level the playing field.

It is clear that Epic’s epic Dallas fail (which might not really be totally attributable to Epic per se, but rather to the way the product was set up in the field, not passing that one lil’ bitty critical entry to where it should go), contributed to Mr. Duncan’s being released when he should have been locked up in the local version of Wildfire. It is possible, just barely possible, that this tragic episode will awaken the public to the dangers inherent in the IT-controlled medical software industry and its acronymbysal spawn, EHR’s, CPOE’s, and the occasional unruly PACS. Get enough people upset about this, and they will call their congressmen, and more importantly their lawyers. (I would submit that more gets done by class-action suit in this country than by Congress.)

I realize that replacing these huge legacy systems which were outdated before they were even conceived would cost somewhere in the trillions of dollars, and so I’m not holding my breath that this will ever happen. But maybe a few million and billion dollar suits and fines would get the attention of the Epics, the Cerners, McKessons, and all the others who create these nightmares. Or maybe, just maybe, the execs will read this, and the other rebellious propaganda promulgated we are starting to see online, and realize that they are causing damage rather than progress, and be inspired to turn it all around. I’m a staunch believer in the electronic record, PACS, computers, iPhones, Apple Watches, and anything else technical. This is the future, without question. But it has to be done right, and so far that hasn’t happened.

We can hope that the late Mr. Duncan’s can accomplish in death what no one has yet been able to manage while alive.  We can hope, anyway…

via Blogger http://ift.tt/11ct3Ft October 12, 2014 at 10:23PM

Saving Candy Crush

What may seem obvious to some can be mysterious to others. Case in point: the introduction of Western-style toilets to parts of China. It was necessary to provide pictographic instructions to be sure the new equipment was utilized properly:

Assuming you have flown on a commercial airliner ever in your life, you’ve had to sit through what some would consider an equally-foolish instruction set: the safety briefing. This is how you buckle your seat belt, if the plane goes down somewhere it shouldn’t, find the closest exit unless said exit is under water, in which case you should go elsewhere. And of course, if the oxygen masks should drop, grab them all for yourself and don’t let anyone else have one unless they pay you a lot of money before they pass out.

In years past, we passengers have had no other entertainment during the safety spiel except for the airline magazine, and SkyMall catalog, and those get old fast. But about a year ago, the FAA allowed us to have our small personal electronic devices on during take-off and landing. And so, many of us have our phones or tablets running at all times, in Airplane Mode of course, playing Candy Crush while the frustrated flight attendants drone on about the unlikely possibility of a water landing on a trans-oceanic flight.

The flight attendants are not pleased about this. From the Wall Street Journal:

Lawyers for the nation’s largest flight-attendant union argued in federal court Friday to effectively reinstate a government ban on the use of electronic devices during takeoffs and landings.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is suing the Federal Aviation Administration, saying the agency notice last year that paved the way for fliers to use their devices throughout flights violated federal regulations that require passengers to stow all items during takeoffs and landings.

Justice Department lawyers representing the FAA say the agency’s guidance, which permitted fliers to keep smaller devices in their hands during all phases of flight, doesn’t violate the stowage rule because small devices aren’t governed by it. The two sides argued the case Friday to a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. . .

Attorney Amanda Duré, who is representing the attendants union, said that since the policy change, many fliers have stopped listening to attendants’ emergency announcements and, in at least one incident, a tablet became a projectile during turbulence. The union also is concerned the devices could impede passengers’ exit from an aircraft during an emergency.

ONE tablet flew, and we have to take everyone’s away. How do we know it wasn’t thrown?

I have great respect for flight attendants. They don’t have an easy job, and they have to deal with throngs of humanity, some of whom are more accustomed to the joys of Greyhound than The Friendly Skies. I remember the days when stewardesses (can I still use that term?) were all female, 22 years old and coiffed to the nines. This is no longer the case, for better or worse. But with the demise of “coffee, tea, or me,” an element of customer service has gone by the wayside. There is at least a faint edge to the attitude of many attendants today, and downward spirals ala Alec Baldwin are not unheard of. I personally think the suit against the FAA is mostly a temper-tantrum, lashing out at the passengers who are now even more contemptuously ignoring the boring lecture that in a panic situation they would all forget anyway.

This adversarial situation does not have to continue. A little thinking outside the box, or at least inside a different box, could provide a very easy fix. It’s time for the airlines to take a page from Disney’s book. The Disney people know crowd control and safety better than most any other operation out there. I’m sure most of you have been to Disney World, or Disneyland, and thus you’ve been a passenger on Star Tours and the old Body Wars. While waiting the better part of a day for your 5 minutes on the ride, Disney entertains with various props and videos. In fact, just before boarding your StarFarter 2000, you will be shown this video:

As with comedy, it’s all in the timing. . . We are all captive in the gate area while waiting to board the plane, and also while standing in line on the jetway while waiting on Ma and Pa Kettle to jam their entire life’s possessions into the overhead bin. THIS is the time to show the safety video on strategically placed monitors! Make them funny, as Delta has started to do lately, and the message will get across far better than it does under the present system. Trust me and Disney, this will work!!!!

Here’s one of the new Delta safety videos for your viewing pleasure:

If you think this might work, let the FAA and the airlines know your opinion. But please don’t mention my name. I have some traveling to do, and I don’t want to be the target of angry flight attendants. It seems they have some secret approaches to revenge:

1. Coded hand gestures
Flight attendants “employ all sorts of unofficial methods and codes” to deal with difficult fliers, reports Emma Messenger at the Daily Mail. A “subtle wag of a finger” behind someone’s head means that he’s lecherous and may get handsy (or worse) with the staff. To alert colleagues that a passenger is drunk, attendants cross their fingers over the hospitality cart.

2. High winds
At the end of a demanding flight, writes David Sedaris in The New Yorker, some attendants indulge in the peevish practice of “cropdusting” — silently passing wind as they walk down the aisle making their final checks. “Reclined in their seats, heads lolling to the side … airplane passengers are prime fart targets,” comments Maureen O’Connor at Gawker.

3. Dirty drinks
Ellen Simonette — author of Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant: The Queen of Sky Blog — reminisces in The New York Times about the time a colleague took revenge on a loudmouthed passenger by making him “a very special drink” in the privacy of the galley, rubbing the rim of his glass on the plane’s “filthy floor” before serving it up with a “devious smile.”

4. Abusing their powers
We’ve all seen the seat-belt sign light up in midflight, though there isn’t a hint of turbulence. Blame your attendants, says the Daily Mail’s Messenger, who often switch it on so they can “have a nice cup of tea and gossip in peace.”

5. Starting a blog
Countless flight attendants vent about passengers by blogging anonymously. Dubai-based blogger Tampax Towers recently railed against fliers who hold up security lines by wearing metal-studded jeans, while, over at These Wings Talk, a catty account of an experience with a “One-Eyed Cyclops Passenger” makes for surprising reading.

Coffee, Tea, or Dalai?

via Blogger http://ift.tt/1vXO7ZH October 11, 2014 at 10:04PM