Never Too Late: One Family Practice’s Shift to EHRs after 50 Years of Paper

Editor’s note: We hear a lot about the stress and lack of time for direct patient care that nurses (and physicians) have experienced with the movement to EMRs or EHRs. We’re in a transitional period, and in some instances the use and design of these systems has a long ways to go. But here’s a story with a positive slant, written by someone who might easily have responded very differently, given the circumstances. Change is inevitable; how we react to it throughout our lives, less so. 

By Marilyn Kiesling Howard, ARNP

Niklas Bildhauer/ Wikimedia Commons Niklas Bildhauer/ Wikimedia Commons

I am a nurse practitioner and my husband of 60 years is a family practitioner. We still work full time in our Gulf Breeze, Florida, practice. About five years ago, we first learned that our paper records were becoming archaic and that Medicare was planning to penalize providers who didn’t switch to the use of electronic health records (EHRs) by a certain date.

It was terrible news—we had 50 years of work in the paper chart genre, and were unsure about how to make the transition. Some who were in our position took the pending requirements as an opportunity to retire, but we weren’t ready for that.

Embracing a predigital innovation. In the 1960s, we started a small family practice in Indiana. As we requested our patients’ records from the files of their most recent physicians, it was not unusual to receive an index card that had the date neatly stamped on the left edge, with a handwritten note on the same line. (Needless to say, we’d already gone upscale, with a folder for each patient and a piece of white note paper.)

We quickly found that the medical record was our link to the prospective health of our patients, so we explored how we might make our records more useful. Joe read about a clinic in Bangor, Maine, where physicians were implementing the problem-oriented medical record (POMR) developed by Dr. Larry Weed, so we flew there to learn about this innovation. Dr. Bjorn and Dr. Cross were still developing their application of the model; their favorite medical secretary was a ‘bored bright housewife,’ and the entire clinic had an aura of excitement and discovery.

When we returned home, we quickly converted our folders to a proper chart with the ‘problem list’ fastened on the left and the progress notes on the right, using the new methodology. As we treated our new patients, we dutifully produced the ‘subjective, objective, assessment, and plan’ (SOAP) model we’d also imported from Maine.

This method sufficed for all the years between the first enlightenment and our leap in May 2011 into the world of pixels. It’s a challenge to get up and running with an EHR system. It was as if we were starting a new office with 2,000 patients to enroll. We had to had to translate and enter all of their old information into the new charting system. Two of our staff did not have computer knowledge and could not type. We went to half production, and our lost revenue was felt for months afterwards. (‘Meaningful use’ rules reimbursed us for about one-half of what the transition cost us.)

We’d decided on a cloud-based system because it was easy to access and the records would be safely stored on a server in Maine, an extra plus due to our propensity for hurricanes in the Florida Panhandle. The program was extremely user friendly. Given our level of expertise, this was a necessity. We took lessons online; the training included a live operator who was willing to stay on the line until the information was understood and applied. The company that runs the system keeps us compliant with meaningful use requirements and lets us know of impending changes.

We have, since we started using it at our clinic, found the EHR so far superior to our handwritten method that it would be impossible for us to return to the scribbled messes, as we see our old charts now. We still refer to them to garner important items such as consults, colonoscopies, surgeries, etc. Those reports are then neatly bar-coded into the EHR. It is no longer necessary to weed, retire, or store the charts. We did not abstract the old charts, simply moved important reports from them. We keep them in our office for quick historical reference. […]

April 16th, 2015|digital health, Nursing, Technology|3 Comments

Finding a Job as a Nurse In a Digital Age — and Keeping It

Will at Drawing on Experience manages to post a new comic almost every day. A regular theme is the progress of his career—having finished his accelerated nursing program, he’s now looking for a job. To the left is a thumbnail of a recent drawing he did about one of the more annoying aspects of the process (click the image to visit his blog and see a larger version).

A nurse returns to work at age 68 and finds her biggest challenge is computers.Of course, this isn’t the first downturn we’ve had in the U.S. economy; as AJN clinical editor Christine Moffa wrote back in May, newly minted nurses have struggled to find work before. Once you actually do get a job as a nurse, there’s the small matter of doing it for the first time. Or for the second or third time—but as if it’s the first time, at least in some respects. The October Reflections essay, “Paper Chart Nurse,” gives another perspective on the ways computers have changed the lives of nurses. It’s by an oncology nurse who returned to practice two years ago, at age 66. Her struggles with adapting to using an electronic medical record system were at times profoundly discouraging; she just wasn’t as proficient as the younger nurses at computer use, despite all her skills and experience. Have a look and please, tell us what you think.—JM, senior editor

For Those Interested In Learning More, See Below….

[…]

July 29th, 2010|digital health, Nursing|1 Comment

‘Meaningful Use’: What’s It All About, And Why Should Nurses Care?

By Susan McBride, PhD, RN, professor at Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Nursing. McBride and fellow nurse informaticists Mari Tietze and John Delaney will be blogging here on the intersection of nursing and informatics in the coming days. 

Everyone knows by now that the Obama administration has made electronic health records (EHRs) a high priority and is providing financial incentives to health care providers (and yes, nurses are included in that group) to adopt them. But not everyone knows it’s not just about converting records from paper to digital—its much more than that.

On July 13, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology (HIT) released the final rules establishing definitions for the “meaningful use” of EHRs. The final rule is 864 pages and contains critical information for nurses to understand about how electronic records will change our lives. 

(No one expects every nurse to read the entire document. That’s why we’re going to be blogging about some important aspects of the topic. In the meantime, click here for a good overview of meaningful use and electronic medical records, as well as links to more exhaustive information. And for a short, useful table breaking down the rule by health outcomes policy priorities such as “improving care coordination,” have a look at this PDF: Stage 1. Meaningful Use Objectives and Associated Measures Sorted by Core and Menu Set.)

Ongoing concerns. The idea behind these rules is to establish EHRs within a National Health Information Network that will allow us to exchange health care information regardless of where we are in the nation. There are many concerns about privacy and security related to this network, and these concerns are likely to be the most difficult component to address in establishing it. But there are definite clinical advantages. […]

July 26th, 2010|digital health, Nursing|7 Comments