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About the National Health Information Network

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The NHIN Defined

Dr. Mata

By Richard J. Mata MD, CIS, CMP™

On November 15, 2004, DHHS called for public comments on its plans for a National Health Information Network (NHIN) within ten years (see Federal Register, vol. 69, no. 219).

This would include establishing “interoperable” (easily exchanged) EHRs for all citizens.

DHHS Template

DHHS outlined four main purposes for the national network:

  1. inform clinical practice (with data from EHRs);
  2. interconnect clinicians so that they can exchange health information using advanced and secure electronic communication;
  3. personalize care with consumer-based health records and better information for consumers; and
  4. improve public health through advanced bio-surveillance methods and streamlined data collection for quality measurement and research.

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What is the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on the NHIN? How close are the NHIN’s goals and original template to reality?

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Conclusion

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On Hospital CPOE Systems [Part One]

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Computerized Physician Order Entry Systems

[By Brent Metfessel MD, MIS]

Since the late 1990s, there has been increasing pressure for hospitals to develop processes to ensure quality of care. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has estimated the number of annual deaths from medical error to be 44,000 to 98,000.  Manual entry of orders, use of non-standard abbreviations, and poor legibility of orders and chart notes contribute to medical errors.  They also concluded that most errors are the result of system failures, not people failures.

www.CPOE.org

Other studies suggest that between 6.5% and 20% of hospitalized patients will experience an adverse drug event (ADE) during their stay. Both quality and cost of care suffer.  The cost for each ADE is estimated to be about $2,000 to $2,500, mainly resulting from longer lengths of stay. The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics reported that about 23,000 hospital patients die annually from injuries linked specifically to the use of medications.

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The Joint Commission and the Leapfrog Group

In addition, the Joint Commission and the Leapfrog Group, a consortium of large employers, have pushed patient safety as a high priority and hospitals are following suit. The Leapfrog Group in particular highlighted CPOE systems as one of the changes that would most improve patient safety.  These patient safety initiatives have further advanced CPOE systems, since these systems have the reduction of medical errors as a prime function.  State and federal legislatures have also stepped up activity in this regard.

For example, back in July 2004, the federal government strongly advocated for electronic medical records, including the creation of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to develop a National Health Information Network. Consequently, regional health information organizations have been established in many states, and these are used for the purpose of expediting the sharing and exchange of healthcare data and information, although there still remain issues in terms of providing adequate funding to these programs.

In addition, consideration was given to the allocation of grants and low-interest loans to aid hospitals in implementing healthcare technology solutions.  In 2000, California first enacted legislation (Senate Bill 1875) stating that as a condition of licensure, acute care hospitals, with the exception of small and rural hospitals, submit plans to implement technological solutions (such as CPOE systems) to substantially reduce medication-related errors by January 1, 2002. Hospitals in California had until January 1, 2005, to actually implement their medication error-reduction plans and make them operational. Unfortunately, many are still not in compliance today.

Health plans also entered the patient safety stage. In 2002, one large health plan in the northeast provided a 4% bonus to hospitals implementing a CPOE system and staffing intensive care units (ICUs) with “intensivists.” Today, this goal is almost the norm, but not yet reality for all.

More than Data Retrieval 

Many hospitals have “data retrieval” systems where a provider on the wards can obtain lab results and other information. A CPOE system, however, allows entry of data from the wards and is usually coupled with a “decision support” module that does just that — supports the provider in making decisions that maximize care quality and/or cost effectiveness.

In this application of HIT, physicians and possibly other providers enter hospital orders directly into the computer. Many vendors of such systems make special efforts to create an intuitive and user-friendly interface, with a variable range of customization possibilities. The physicians can enter orders either on a workstation on the ward or in some cases at the bedside.

Features of a True CPOE System

Basic features of CPOE should include the following:

  • Medication analysis system — A medication analysis program usually accompanies the order entry system. In such cases, either after order entry or interactively, the system checks for potential problems such as drug-drug interactions, duplicate orders, drug allergies and hypersensitivities, and dosage miscalculations. More sophisticated systems may also check for drug interactions with co-morbidities (e.g., psychiatric drugs that may increase blood pressure in a depressed patient with hypertension), drug-lab interactions (e.g., labs pointing to renal impairment that may adversely affect drug levels), and suggestions to use drugs with the same therapeutic effect but lower cost. Naturally, physicians have the option to decline the alerts and continue with the order. In fact, if there are alerts that providers are frequently overriding, providers will often provide feedback that can lead to modification of the alert paradigms. Encouraging feedback increases the robustness of the CPOE system and facilitates continuous quality improvement.
  • Order clarity — Reading the handwriting of providers is a legendary problem. Although many providers do perfectly well with legibility, other providers have difficulty due to being rushed, stressed, or due to trait factors. Since the orders are accessible directly on the workstation screen or from the printer, time is saved on callbacks to decipher illegible orders as well as preventing possible errors in order translation. A study in 1986 by Georgetown University Hospital (Washington, D.C.) noted that 16% of all manual medical records are illegible. Clarifying these orders takes professional time, and resources are spent duplicating the data; thus, real cost savings can be realized through the elimination of these processes.
  • Increased work efficiency — Instantaneous electronic transmittal of orders to radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, consulting services, or other departments replaces corresponding manual tasks. This increase in efficiency from a CPOE system has significant returns. In one hospital in the southeast, the time taken between drug order submission and receipt by the pharmacy was shortened from 96 minutes (using paper) to 3 minutes. Such an increase in efficiency can save labor costs and lead to earlier discharge of patients. The same hospital noted a 72% reduction in medication error rates during a three-month period after the system was implemented. Alerting providers to duplicate lab orders further saves costs from more efficient work processes. And, in another instance, the time from writing admission orders to execution of the orders decreased from about six hours to 30 minutes, underscoring CPOE system utility in making work processes more efficient; thus positively affecting the bottom line.

Assessment

In today’s environment of high expectations for care quality and pay-for-performance initiatives, enhanced quality of care can translate into financial gain. Although there is a significant up-front allocation of funds for CPOE systems, given present trends the time may arrive where there is no longer a choice but to implement such a system.

Conclusion

Although a Computerized Physician Order Entry system alone will reap significant benefits if intelligently implemented, in order to realize the greatest benefit a CPOE system should be rolled up into a fully functioning EMR system where feasible.

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