What Went Wrong with EMRs: Death by a Thousand Clicks

Link: Death by a Thousand Clicks Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong

This lengthy article highlights a lot of issues with EMRs/EHRs including data sharing between systems, pulldown menus, disruption of physician-patient interactions, upcoding, safety risks and provides numerous personal examples.

An excerpt:

The U.S. government claimed that turning American medical charts into electronic records would make health care better, safer, and cheaper. Ten years and $36 billion later, the system is an unholy mess…

Instead of reducing costs, many say, EHRs, which were originally optimized for billing rather than for patient care, have instead made it easier to engage in “upcoding” or bill inflation…

More gravely still, a months-long joint investigation by KHN and Fortune has found that instead of streamlining medicine, the government’s EHR initiative has created a host of largely unacknowledged patient safety risks…

Compounding the problem are entrenched secrecy policies that continue to keep software failures out of public view. EHR vendors often impose contractual “gag clauses” that discourage buyers from speaking out about safety issues and disastrous software installations…

EHRs promised to put all of a patient’s records in one place, but often that’s the problem. Critical or time-sensitive information routinely gets buried in an endless scroll of data, where in the rush of medical decision-making — and amid the maze of pulldown menus — it can be missed…

[Problem with scrolldown options]: [doctors] had to read the list carefully, so as not to click the wrong dosage or form — though many do that too..

The numbing repetition, the box-ticking and the endless searching on pulldown menus are all part of what Ratwani called the “cognitive burden” that’s wearing out today’s physicians and driving increasing numbers into early retirement…

Beyond complicating the physician-patient relationship, EHRs have in some ways made practicing medicine harder,.. “Physicians have to cognitively switch between focusing on the record and focusing on the patient,” … “Texting while you’re driving is not a good idea.a.. But in medicine … we’ve asked the physician to move from writing in pen to [entering a computer] record, and it’s a pretty complicated interface.

My take: This article makes many good points.  Though, if you polled physicians in our group, hardly any would choose to go back to what we had before EMRs.

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Origins of Hygiene Hypothesis

A recent NY Times article explains the background of the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ and how it has held up remarkably well as a likely factor in the rising number of allergic and immune-mediated diseases.

Link: Your Environment is Cleaner. Your Immune System Has Never Been So Unprepared

An excerpt:

The British Journal of Homeopathy, volume 29, published in 1872, included a startlingly prescient observation: “Hay fever is said to be an aristocratic disease, and there can be no doubt that, if it is not almost wholly confined to the upper classes of society, it is rarely, if ever, met with but among the educated.”..

In November 1989, another highly influential paper was published on the subject of hay fever. The paper was short, less than two pages, in BMJ, titled “Hay Fever, Hygiene, and Household Size.”

The author looked at the prevalence of hay fever among 17,414 children born in March 1958. Of 16 variables the scientist explored, he described as “most striking” an association between the likelihood that a child would get hay fever allergy and the number of his or her siblings.

It was an inverse relationship, meaning the more siblings the child had, the less likely it was that he or she would get the allergy…The paper hypothesized that “allergic diseases were prevented by infection in early childhood, transmitted by unhygienic contact with older siblings, or acquired prenatally from a mother infected by contact with her older children…

[To avoid disease] we started washing our hands and took care to avoid certain foods that experience showed could be dangerous or deadly…Particularly in the wealthier areas of the world, we purified our water, and developed plumbing and waste treatment plants; we isolated and killed bacteria and other germs…

What does the immune system do when it’s not properly trained?

It can overreact. It becomes aggrieved by things like dust mites or pollen. It develops what we called allergies, chronic immune system attacks — inflammation — in a way that is counterproductive, irritating, even dangerous.

The percentage of children in the United States with a food allergy rose 50 percent between 1997–1999 and 2009–2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

There are related trends in inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, rheumatic conditions and, in particular, celiac disease. The last results from the immune’s system overreacting to gluten..

And even doctors have been wrong….They have vastly overprescribed antibiotics. These may be a huge boon to an immune system faced with an otherwise deadly infection. But when used without good reason, the drugs can wipe out healthy microbes in our gut.

My take: With the increasing frequency of many diseases, there has to be environmental influences since our population genetic makeup does not change rapidly. Thus factors like infections, microbiome and exposure to antibiotics are likely important in the changing epidemiology.

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Clostridium difficile and Cannabis

Briefly noted:

W El-Matary et al. J Pediatr 2019; 206: 20-5.  This study from Manitoba using electronic database found that the incidence rate of C difficile was stable from 2005-2015, with an overall rate of 7.8 per 100,000 person-years.  Children with Hirschsprung’s and inflammatory bowel disease had increased prevalence rates.

JL O’Loughlin et al. J Pediatr 2019; 206: 142-7. Using data from two longitudinal studies in Montreal (Cannabis is legal for adults in Canada since 2018), the authors examined the rate of cannabis initiation starting in 6th grade through 11th grade. Key finding was that cannabis use was 1.8 time more likely among children whose parents used cannabis.  Overall, cannabis use increased from 3.1% in grade 6 to 25.7% in grade 11.

What is erythromelagia?  This term was noted in the title of a recent report (J Pediatr 2019; 206: 217-24) and refers to bilateral episodic pain and redness that occurs in feet, hands and occasionally the ears.  In some case, symptoms progress proximally to involve the legs, arms, and rarely the face.

 

Prevalence of Anxiety, Depression, and Conduct Disorders

For any physician, it is easy to think that the entire world is sick since that is what we see all day long.  In a pediatric GI office, there are high rates of anxiety and depression. A recent study (RM Ghandour et al. J Pediatr 2019; 206: 256-67) shows that not everyone is afflicted.  Using data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (children 3-17 years), which relies on self-administered surveys, the authors found the following:

  • 7.1% had current anxiety problems
  • 7.4% had a current behavioral problem
  • 3.2% had current depression.
  • Nearly 3 of 4 children with depression had concurrent anxiety, whereas 1 in 3 children with anxiety had concurrent depression.

The study includes detailed tables examining age, gender, ethnicity, region of country, rural/urban, insurance status, financial status, educational attainment, and health status. While this study relies on parent/caregiver reports, the authors note that  “research has shown good agreement between parental report and clinical records.”

My take: Problems with anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems are common but not universal.

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Grapefruit Frequently Affects Medication Levels

A recent NT Times article: Can Grapefruit Juice Affect My Thyroid Medicine?

Link: list of medications affected by grapefruit/grapefruit juice

An excerpt:

“You don’t have to drink liters and liters of the stuff to have an effect,” Dr. Bailey said. For example, he said, “if you take simvastatin and drink a single glass of grapefruit juice, it’s like taking three times the dose,” though the impact can be much more or much less, since individual susceptibilities vary widely….Other citrus fruits like Seville oranges, limes and pomelos can also produce a similar effect.