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Why Do Certain Electronic Health Record Installations Fail?

The article Denver Health CIO, COO quit, blame pricey Epic EHR installation, says Denver Health Medical Center (where Dr Kamens and I trained during our early EM careers) our alma mater had considerable financial and personnel problems during their Electronic Health Record installation. As one might expect, the vendor and the hospital had different versions of what actually happened. Lots of finger-pointing ensued.

Implementation problems of this type may be caused by locally specific factors, but are not unusual throughout the EHR industry, and appear in diverse locations. Finding out (and revealing!) what those fundamental issues were would be a great help to other institutions and vendors. Unfortunately scenarios of installation blunders are only rarely shared outside the vendor’s office, and we are left doomed to repeat history from which all could have learned.

In the old days (circa 1970’s-80’s) it was common to attend a hospital educational programs called M & M conferences. The New England Journal weekly case discussion at Mass General was a paradigm for many through which medical prowess could be advanced. M & M stood for Morbidity and mortality. Wikipedia notes:

“M&M conferences “are traditional, recurring conferences held by medical services at academic medical centers, most large private medical and surgical practices, and other medical centers. They are usually peer reviews of mistakes occurring during the care of patients. The objectives of a well-run M&M conference are to learn from complications and errors, to modify behavior and judgment based on previous experiences, and to prevent repetition of errors leading to complications.[1] Conferences are non-punitive and focus on the goal of improved patient care. The proceedings are generally kept confidential by law.[2]M&M conferences occur with regular frequency, often weekly, biweekly or monthly, and highlight recent cases and identify areas of improvement for clinicians involved in the case. They are also important for identifying systems issues (e.g., outdated policies, changes in patient identification procedures, arithmetic errors, etc.) which affect patient care.[1][3] “

In the purely clinical realm, perhaps due to present liability issues, M & M’s may not be as forthright as in the past. For certain, every intern and resident dreaded to be on the podium at one of these events. “And what were you thinking at that point, Dr. Ausgiblinken? Today, it is likely that the extent of dread probably includes most staff, physicians, attending, and others. After all someone has to take the blame when things go south.

Knowing an implementation is coming up is a common cause for major anxiety too. Can we do anything about the fact that many doctors, nurses, other providers, and administrators shake in their boots when a new installation is on the calendar? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could be at least as relaxed and as confident as when about to have a colonoscopy? That should not be such a distant dream. Really. Nobody puts the clinical, IT, and administrative teams into Sims or Trendelenburg. But to look at their faces the week before the new system arrives, you wouldn’t know it.

Could we have M & M conferences for EHR implementations, sharing analyses of the good as well as the bad? Publically available, they could vastly improve implementations, avoid common failures, and create an important knowledge base. Such M and M reviews would be welcome tools from which to learn about what really happened and what problems could have been avoided.

One might discern whether problems encountered were: 1. Systemic 2. Caused by individuals, particular departments, or departmental relationships 3. Resulted from lack of buy-in by the providers 4. A result of insufficient training 5. Caused by Hardware and/or software issues 6. Plagued by Usability issues 7. Due to an absence of effective leadership 8. Arose from a combination of two or more of the above 9. Etc.

Data gleaned from such open discussion would certainly help all institutions and vendors. Become more effective at EH R implantation, for the overall benefit of patients, and healthcare delivery.

XpressTechnologies Electronic Health Record, Practice Management, and Billing continues to support the development of the industry with its innovative, user-friendly products.

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