Vol. 212 May 1, 2019 MMR Vaccination Updated and DTaP Explained

May 1, 2019

YET ANOTHER STUDY PROVES THAT MEASLES VACCINE DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM
An eleven year study of 657,000 Danish children showed that those who received the MMR vaccine had no increased incidence of autism. In fact, the girls who received the vaccine had a 5% reduction in their risk for autism. In Denmark all vaccinations are free of charge and voluntary. When 95% of children in a community are vaccinated against measles the 5% of unvaccinated children are protected through “herd-immunity” due to the reduction of exposure to the highly contagious measles virus.

Measles was declared “eradicated” in 2000. Since then we have had unexpected U.S. measles outbreaks in 2014 and presently we are breaking all records for new cases (78 cases just this very week). Since January 1, 2019 the U.S. has had 465 cases in 19 states. Recent U.S. measles outbreaks in Brooklyn, NY, Portland, Oregon, and Rockland County, NY were caused by unvaccinated visitors to an annual Jewish pilgrimage in the Ukraine returning to their unvaccinated orthodox Jewish communities in the U.S.

Surrounded by states with nearly 700 new measles cases Dayton, Ohio is voicing concern about a measles outbreak in their city. Of the 9 counties in Ohio 8 have measles vaccination rates between 90 – 93%. Montgomery County, Dayton is the county seat, has a rate of only 88%. Remembering that herd immunity is achieved at 95%, Ohio, which requires proof of vaccination within 14 days of school attendance, is considering rewriting their current reasons for exemption (about 9% in Montgomery County) of “religious, medical, or reasons of conscience.”

THERE IS NO HERD-IMMUNITY FOR TETANUS
The “T” in the DTaP vaccine stands for tetanus. Tetanus is not a contagious disease like measles. It is caused by wound contamination with a bacteria that causes intense, painful muscle spasms, clenched jaw (“lockjaw”), and extremely unstable vital signs.  The tetanus vaccine is the only protection against tetanus.  It is rare because most children receive the tetanus vaccine. Oregon in 2017 reported its first case of tetanus in thirty years. An unvaccinated 6 year old sustained a cut on his forehead while playing on a farm and developed tetanus. His 2 month hospitalization cost $800,000. The total bill for his care including rehab services and transportation exceeded $1 million. Upon discharge the parents continued to refuse any immunizations for him  including a tetanus vaccine booster to complete their child’s protection!

PERTUSSIS (“WHOOPING COUGH”) OUTBREAKS HAPPEN IN THE SPRING
The “P” in DTaP immunization stands for pertussis and the standard recommendation is to get 4 DTaPs before age 18 months ,starting at 2 months, with a booster at 6 years and as a teenager. Our periodic pertussis outbreaks can not be blamed wholly on anti-vaxxers who refuse immunizations because the pertussis vaccine is not as effective as other vaccines in maintaining protection; the immunity created by the vaccine wanes over time. The little “a” in front of the “P” stands for “acellular”. The acellular vaccine has less of the side effects of injection site pain, temporary fatigue, and a fever than the earlier vaccine that contained cells of the bacteria. But, this newer vaccine (introduced in the late 1990s) produces a smaller increase in and a shorter duration of immunity. “P” vaccinated people can get pertussis, but unvaccinated children and adults are 8 times more likely to get pertussis.

Pertussis immunization is now recommended for all pregnant women since protective antibodies pass through the placenta to the unborn child affording protection to the infant in the first months of life. Pertussis can be diagnosed in some one with a persistent cough by a simple nasal swab done in the office, and it can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

WHAT ABOUT THE “D” IN DTaP?
Diphtheria is a bacterial disease with a terrible sore throat. When severe it can form a membrane in your throat that blocks off your air and sometimes it produces a toxin that attacks the heart, causing death.  In 1921 the U.S. had 206,00 cases of diphtheria with 15,420 deaths.  The diphtheria vaccine is so effective that such cases are extremely rare in the U.S. Herd immunity is important in diphtheria. The CDC estimates that 94% of kindergarten pupils in U.S. are immunized against it. The Soviet Union, India, and Yemen remain areas with large numbers of diphtheria cases.

“Good ole” Montgomery County, Ohio had one of the last reported U.S. diphtheria cases; a teen age girl with a bad sore throat in 2014. That rare event got lots of press coverage which might be why Montgomery County is a particularly skittish about a possible measles outbreak in 2019.

Diphtheria can be treated effectively with antibiotics and anti-toxins. Any contacts of the person with diphtheria can also be treated to prevent spread of the disease. A simple skin test (Schick test) identifies people with no immunity to diphtheria, so efforts to control its spread can be highly targeted.

MY MODEST PROPOSAL MAY NOT BE THAT “FAR OUT”
My previous blog suggesting that one way to change the behavior of anti-vaxxers would be to sue the parents of an unvaccinated child for neglect to recover the cost of the medical treatment, loss of wages of caretakers, loss of school performance, continued rehabilitation of complications, etc. of any person who then got measles from the unvaccinated case. Perhaps that might send an effective message to anti-vaxxers of a personal financial risk where scientific data holds no sway. What if the parents of the Oregon tetanus-afflicted child were sued by tax payers in Oregon to “recover” the medical care costs of nearly a million dollars presumably borne by Oregon’s tax payers?

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Vol. 206 January 15, 2019 Updates on 2018 Blogs

January 15, 2019

Causes of Deaths of U.S. Children in 2016
Firearms-related deaths are #2, just behind motor vehicle crashes.  60 % of the three thousand plus firearms-related deaths were homicides. 35% were suicides. Both motor vehicle and firearms-related deaths percentages have increased every year since 2013. The ratio of causes of firearms-related deaths of adults (over 20 yo.) was the opposite: 62% suicide and 37% homicide. Cancer was #3 at 9% of all children deaths both years.

Continued resistance to gun safety reform legislation has been called “another example of U.S. public health intervention being cast as an attack on individual liberty.”

Driver safety being the other example, of course.

Benefits of Aspirin in Elderly or Diabetics
Three studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine this October showed that daily low dose aspirin provided no benefit to the elderly against all types of deaths, cancer-related deaths, dementia, physical disability, or cardiovascular events. They did reveal an increase in non-fatal significant bleeding events. 3% of those taking the aspirin suffered such an event compared to 2% taking the placebo.

A fourth study published in the same issue appeared to show that low dose aspirin reduced the incidence of non-cardiac vascular events in adults (all ages) with diabetes. The percentages of adverse bleeding events (mostly gastrointestinal) was again 1% higher in those taking the aspirin. In contrast to other studies the use of aspirin did not reduce the incidence of gastrointestinal cancer.

Immigrant Children in Detention
The latest independent estimate of children held in 9 U.S. centers is 15,000. The Department of Home Security does not publish statistics, and, in fact, is not too sure itself how many they have. There have been two instances when Home Security could not account for 1400-1500 children. Most of the children are held in large centers with up to a thousand children. The length of stay has been from 104 to 240 days. Currently nearly 300 are children whose parents have already been deported, so that their eventual disposition is up for grabs. 

The recent deaths of two Guatemalan children in detention (one 7 yo. and the other 8 yo.) remain under investigation, but in reading between the lines I suspect that they were caused by flu-like illnesses in dehydrated, malnourished, and tired kids, i.e. eminently preventable deaths.

More About the Southern Border Immigrants
The number of people arrested trying to illegally cross the Mexican border has been decreasing each year since 2005 (President Bush) and is now at the lowest point since 1971. The number of “people in families” arrested monthly during the same period has increased 2.5X from under 10,000 to 25,172 this November. Hence, one reason for the recent development of an “humanitarian crisis”. The number of arrests of “unaccompanied children” has remained the same at about 5,000 per month

The Mexican border is the primary entry point for cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine which is mostly carried by trucks through official border crossings.

Texas is the only state that has statistics on crimes by immigrants (the federal agencies have none). In 2015 the relative rates of crimes per 100,000 residents in Texas analyzed by the Cato Institute were:

All Crime – (3307 per 100,000 persons) – 
           54 % native born
           27% undocumented immigrants
          18%  legal immigrants

Larceny – (403 per 100,000 persons)
           66% native born
           15% undocumented immigrants
           18% legal immigrant

Sex crime – (64 per 100,000 persons)
            45% native born
            41% undocumented immigrants
            14% legal immigrants

Probiotics for Diarrhea/Effects on Your Microbiome
Two recent very large studies in children showed that twice daily doses of a certain probiotic did NOT shorten the duration of diarrhea or reduce the number of bowel movements per day. This is yet another study showing no real benefit from probiotics, but believers point out that maybe they were using the “wrong” probiotic. 

In other probiotic news: In contrast, another recent study suggests that probiotics can change a person’s own gut microbiome in such a way to make the person’s gut microbiome LESS protective against illnesses.

The Microbiome and Obesity
A study of multi-generational Southeast Asian immigrants showed that soon after arrival in the U.S. the diversity of their gut microbiome began to decrease to the level resembling the less-varied microbiome of European Americans. “Just living in the U.S. reduced their microbiome diversity by 15%.” At the same time their obesity rate spiked!  Previous studies indicated that the more diverse gut microbiome in people in less developed countries protected them from developing metabolic diseases like diabetes.

We Are All Getting Heavier
In the U.S. both the average man and the average woman gained 24 pounds from 1960 to 2002.
By 2016 men had gained an average of 8 pounds more; women 7 pounds.
Both white and black men increased an inch in waist size. White woman increased their waist size by 2 inches; black women reduced theirs by an inch.
The average American man is now 5 feet 9 inches, weighs 198 pounds, and has a 40 inch waist. The average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches, weighs 171 pounds, and has a 39 inch waist. Both have a BMI near or at 30, the “high end of overweight.”
These results are from actual measurements because “ people tend to overreport their height and underreport their weight.”

Editorial note: Our local YMCA “free sign-up day” on January 1 was mobbed. On January 6 the men’s locker room was quite crowded. Overheard from the next cubicle: “Just wait 3 weeks. There’ll be plenty of room again.”
Update in the near future.


Vol. 199 September 15, 2018 Nature vs. Nurture . . . an update

September 15, 2018

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“The closer scientists get to understanding the impact of individual genes,
the smaller that impact seems to be.”
– Evan Horowitz, Boston Globe, 9/11/18,C1

The discussion about what influences our upbringing the most, the environment (“nurture”) or our genes (“nature”), has been going on for decades. Sets of twins, particularly comparison of fraternal twins (two genetically different people born at the same time) and identical twins (two genetically identical people born at the same time), have been the subjects of much research trying to tease out the answer to which has the most influence. Why is one twin smarter than the other? Why does one love football and the other the violin? Why do they have the same walk, the same tastes in clothing, and the same gestures, but one has no sense of humor and the other is the class clown?

Despite the revelations in the recent movie, “Three Identical Strangers, many ethical and scientifically-rigorous twin studies have added a great deal of insight into the nature vs. nurture conundrum, and the discussion continues in the absence of consensus. The completion of the human genome project in 2003 was heralded as an historic step in finally settling this question. The hope was that, at last, we would be able to correlate a specific gene, or maybe just two or three genes, with a human characteristic, a human condition, and even a human disease.

In a recent study of the human genome, researchers found 1,271 different genes that seemed to improve educational outcomes. However, the cumulative effect of these educationally significant genes explained only about 11-13% of real world, actual educational attainment. (1) In a separate study by other researchers, the role of inherited genes in height, obesity, and education seemed to have much less influence than previously estimated . . . and a drastically much smaller role than suggested by twin studies. The influence of genes was highest for height (55%) and lowest for years of schooling (17%). The gene effect on cholesterol level was about 31% and the gene effect on determining your body mass index (BMI) was 29%.(2) There is no single “fat gene.”

One group of researchers suggested that perhaps the genes of the parents that are NOT passed to their offspring are important. What if the parents’ genes made them “slightly more attentive to kids and more willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the benefit of the kids”? Perhaps that could result in those children receiving a richer education. They suggested calling this influence of the parents’ genes on the children’s environment “genetic nurture”. (Thanks a lot for mudding the waters some more!)

There is no doubt that the genes we inherit from our parents influence our health and longevity. The adage, “To enjoy a long life, pick your parents right”, was dramatically brought home to me one day in the hospital cafeteria many years ago. A dozen of us physicians were discussing over lunch the pros and cons of a new study that daily baby aspirin could prevent some heart attacks, and different opinions about this brand new data were being voiced. A cardiologist espousing the strong genetic influence on heart disease interrupted our lively discussion with the question, “How many of you can call your father on the phone right now?” Only three could.

So the discussion of nature vs. nurture continues despite our growing knowledge of the human genome, but we have nothing to worry about as long as we have picked our parents right.

References
1. Nature Genetics, July 2018, as reported in Boston Globe, September 11, 2018
2. Ibid


Vol. 198 September 1, 2018 A RX for Play

September 1, 2018

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“Unfortunately both the value and the meaning of play are poorly understood in our hurried society.”
The Hurried Child, 1981

“Play for children buffers toxic stress, builds parental relationships,
and improves executive functioning.”
-The Power of Play,  2018

This month the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all clinicians write a “prescription for play” for all children at each well child visit. The AAP first touted the benefits of play in 2007.  What’s new about this 2018 report, “The Power of Play”,  is 1) the compilation of 139 scientific studies supporting the benefits of childhood play, 2) the specific recommendation that clinicians give a “prescription to play” to the parents of children at every well child visit in the first two years of life, and 3) the inclusion of a list of specific parental actions and behaviors to help parents actually “fill the prescription”.

What is not new is the knowledge that play is very important for children’s cognitive (academic), social, language, and emotional development. In 1981 (almost 40 years ago!) David Elkind, Ph.D. in The Hurried Child, Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (1) catalogued how play was one of the antidotes to the toxic stresses on our children at that time. His 1981 list of the sources of that stress on children sound still familiar to us in 2018:

  • early pressure to gain academic skills
  • early intervention to help learning in the early years (concept of “readiness” was disputed)
  •  media presentations of adult clothing and behavior as models for children
  •  changes in the traditional family model (dual-career couples, increased single parent families, single parent dating, increased divorce rate )
  • summer camps (and after school programs) becoming competitive training sites for specific skills
  • Cutting of recess, physical education (“gym period”), art, music and drama from school curriculum
  • increasing modes of passive play (no real-time human interaction; media play is passive).

“Play has been transformed into work. Perhaps the best evidence of the extent to which our children are hurried is the lack of opportunities for genuine unstructured play available to them. Genuine play involves human interaction, mostly child to child but also child to adult. Play is nature’s way of dealing with stress for children as well as adults.” – All written in 1981 by Dr. Elkind.

What are some of the specific ingredients listed by the AAP to fill the 2018 “prescription for play”? (2)

Newborn- 6 months

  • talk to your infant, mimic his or her sounds
  • make various faces at the infant so he or she can mimic you
  • let him or her put safe objects in their mouth

7-12 months

  • put infant in different positions so that he or she can view the world from different angles (“tummy time”)
  • use a mirror to show different faces to your infant
  • Peek a boo is a BIGGIE !
  • give him or her more toys to drop (teaches that actions have effects)
  • let infant safely crawl and explore freely

1-3 years

  • give paper, crayons, etc. to encourage scribbling
  • play make-believe with the child
  • read regularly to the child
  • sing and play rhythms to the child

4-6 years

  • allow child to move between make-believe and reality (pretend making biscuits and then tolerate the “spreading of flour all over the kitchen table”; if you can’t tolerate the mess, maybe change this play into ‘actions have effects’?)
  • tell stories and ask your child what she or he remembers about it
  • encourage a variety of safe physical movements (climbing, somersaults, etc.)

“Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills in a competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation.”(3)

Dr. Elkind won me over completely when he explained why young children are entranced by dinosaurs; something that has perplexed me for years.
“Dinosaurs provide children with a symbolic and safe way of dealing with the giants in their world, namely adults.” (pg. 196)

Refernces:
1. Also “The Power of Play, Learning What Comes Naturally”, 2007, David Elkind, Ph.D
2. from www.pathways.org
3. Michael Yogman, MD, lead author of The Power of Play, AAP, 2018


Vol. 196 July 15, 2018 Consequences of Separating Children From Their Parents

July 15, 2018

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“Home Security and Family Values –
Is that an oxymoron?”

 

 

Hundreds of children in immigrant families wishing to enter the U.S. from Mexico have been separated from their parents by U.S. policy. The administration has not released the actual number, but the number of unaccompanied children held in U.S. detention centers jumped up by 20% from 8,000 to a little over 10,000 children after implementation of the “zero tolerance policy”.

In 2016 the Secretary of Home Security John Kelly began to talk about such a separation policy as a deterrent to families seeking entrance either illegally or even if legally seeking asylum on our Mexican border. In response to that proposed policy a coalition of pediatricians, psychiatrists, and social scientists published “Separating Families at the Border – Consequences for Children’s Health and Well-Being” in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) June 15, 2017 and founded the Child Advisory Network   to advocate against the “zero tolerance policy”.

Now, nobody really believes that separating children from their parents, unless the children are being maltreated or abused, is good for the children. Our own legal system has a very high threshold for removing children from their parents. And maybe, administration policy makers were probably counting on this universal belief (in all languages, of course) to make their action an effective deterrent to immigration.

The NEJM article summarized the many studies that document the deleterious effects of separating children from parents; all based on the over-activation of the stress response system of the child’s brain and specific hormone producing organs. Proper balance of that system is necessary for normal physical growth, proper and appropriate regulation of emotions, and maintenance of good health. In fact, such stress and anxiety is apparently cumulative and can ever result in an earlier-than-expected death!

The high costs of separating and detaining the children, especially the costs of finding and supporting foster care for U.S.-citizen children of parents who have already been deported, was cited in this review. In many states the foster care system for American children is overwhelmed and an occasional source of horror stories of maltreatment by foster parents.

Perhaps you’re thinking that these are moot points after the announcement of the reversal of the “zero tolerance policy”, but NPR reported on July 12 that in a response to a court order deadline only 57 of the 100 under the age of 5 years had been reunited with their parents (49 other were not). NPR also reported that the total number of separated children is 3000. The next court order deadline in about two weeks calls for 2000 families to be reunited. Both court orders stem from suits brought by the ACLU against the U.S. Department of Home Security.

Reason cited by the Home Security Department for some “failures to reunite” include criminal charges against a parent(s), parent not available since already deported, and a lack of match between the child’s DNA and the parents’ DNA. Wow, talk about opening up another Pandora’s box for the U.S. border staff, Home Security Department, and our judicial system, already creaking under “zero tolerance policy” consequences. Resolution of those instances of DNA “mismatch” will become another nightmare for already stressed-out families and children who were seeking sanctuary from the stress of living in their own country in the first place; a uniquely modern negative consequence of political policy once again trumping science.


Vol. 193 May 15, 2018 Antibiotics are Beneficial: A Reminder

May 15, 2018

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A disease outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere.”
-Dr. Tom Frieden, Director U.S. CDC

 

We read a lot about the dangers of using too many antibiotics. The popularity of “organic foods” is due in part to their claim to be from “antibiotic-free” animals and plants. Concern about the increasing antibiotic resistance of germs due to antibiotic overuse is real as is frequently described in scientific journals as well as the general press. Why, then, would the New England Journal of Medicine publish an article describing the benefits of random, mass distribution of an oral antibiotic to nearly 100,000 children who had no symptoms or diagnosis! Maybe because that effort reduced the death rate of children aged 1-5 months by 25%!

As you’ll remember in my last blog,  I was impressed by Bill Gate’s knowledge of the medical literature because during his presentation he cited this antibiotic clinical trial which had been published that very same week. Well, full disclosure, he knew about the study because his foundation funded it! This study is the kind of innovative medical study related to global health that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports. I think it is worthwhile to review the details of the study, if just to remind us that antibiotics are good, that medical science advances on the shoulders of previous work, and that sometimes simple answers, like putting iodine into salt or fluoride into water, can prevent a whole lot of disease.

Previous studies in sub-Saharan Africa showed that blindness caused by trachoma, an infectious disease, could be reduced markedly through the mass distribution of an oral antibiotic, azithromycin. Other studies suggested that the same antibiotic could prevent other infectious deaths like malaria, infectious diarrhea, and pneumonia. It is known that azithromycin affects the transmission of infectious disease, so that treatment of one person might have benefits on others in the same community. The data in two of these studies of trachoma prevention in Ethiopia suggested that mass distribution of azithromycin “might” reduce childhood deaths. Since death (after the neonatal period) is a relatively rare event, even in these settings, the trial had to be conducted in a large population. Hence the need for a large grant to carry it out.

A single dose of oral azithromycin was given to 97,047 children aged from 1 month to 5 years in three African countries during a twice-yearly census. 93,191 children in different communities of the same countries were given a placebo. Over the two-year study the “treated” children received 4 oral doses of azithromycin, each about 6 months apart. Children were identified by the name of the head of the household and GPS coordinates of their location for subsequent censuses. Approval for the study was obtained from 9 ethics committees in 6 countries (3 in the US, 1 in the UK, and 2 in Africa).

The average reduction of annual death rates of children receiving a single dose of the antibiotic every 6 months was 13.5% . Children aged 1 month to 5 months receiving the antibiotic had a mortality rate reduction of 25%. At the conclusion of the trial all the children in the communities of Niger, which has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world and a mortality rate reduction of 18% for all ages in this study, were offered treatment with azithromycin.

This study is a beautiful example of the testing of a simple hypothesis, generated by the results of previous work, using innovative methods, requiring a large population for validity,  and implemented by a multi-national team of medical scientists with a large grant from a private foundation that resulted in clear benefits for better global health.

I, for one, am happy to trumpet some good news about antibiotics and this example of “medical research for all” at its best.

Reference:
Azithromycin to Reduce Childhood Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa, NEJM 378;17, April 26, 2018

 

 

 

 


Vol. 184 January 1, 2018 To the Dark Side of EMR

January 2, 2018

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“… a fundamental barrier [to successful EMR implementation] that has not received due attention is the disconnect between health IT developers and users.” (1)

I was a solid advocate of electronic medical records (EMRs). Now I am a skeptic.

Primary care physicians are currently paying a big price, in terms of both time and money for the elusive promises of EMRs. As a quality reviewer of hospital medical records, an experienced office-based pediatrician, and a medical director working with an excellent medical staff, I believed that EMRs would really help us to improve the delivery of quality care. I happily jumped on the “evidenced-based medicine” bandwagon and believed that EMR data would help us. After three years of working with two different EMRs in a primary care practice, I have now “gone over to the dark side.” I have slowly realized that EMR “data” does not equate with “useful information” for primary care providers.

I have never belonged to the AMA, for me a “too-conservative” medical organization that I considered primarily a bastion of physician resistance to positive change. A definite sign of my conversion from EMR advocate to EMR skeptic is my agreement with a recent AMA statement by the Executive Vice-President and CEO of the AMA:

“Harnessing the power of health data is an enormous and important challenge, and one that should be led by physicians. The solution must be useful for physicians, and it must allow us to spend more time with our patients and deliver better care.”

Of course, there are all kinds of physicians in all kinds of practice settings, and “one size fits all” does not seem to be working for primary care EMR.

Use of EMR in our office is slowing us down, is decreasing the time we spend with patients and their families, is increasing the chances of provider communication gaps or slips, and has increased the frequency of “work arounds” for the delivery of quality care. “Work arounds” is a traditional quality improvement term that describes the methods that workers in any setting develop to skirt the system problems that hinder them from doing their best job. The presence of “work arounds” is one of the cardinal signs of a dysfunctional system. “Work arounds” often serve as the first target of any effort to analyze quality performance.

So why have I “gone over to the dark side”.
EMR has become way too complicated – There are too many screens requiring too many clicks, too many switches from scrolling wheel to cursor pointer, too many inconsistent navigation routes using tiny icons or miniscule, barely-noticed arrows. To see the basic clinical information I need before entering an exam room with our EMR ,  I need to review 2 or 3 computer screens, make 4 or 5 clicks with the mouse, and both scroll and/or drag with a cursor for the information that I use to be able to read quickly on two facing pages in the paper record.

In the quest for the versatility that is necessary to serve thousands of different physicians in hundreds of different settings, the award-winning EMR we use is awkward and time-consuming for us in primary care. It is driven by the need for reimbursement documentation in specialized (expensive) care settings. Workaround? – I read the paper encounter forms completed by my patients and my staff before I start the patient encounter. It is faster, sometimes more reliable (because there is no absent entry), and is more focussed on today’s encounter than those multiple computer screens which are trying so hard not to “miss” any data, no matter how irrelevant to today’s tasks.

EMRs have too many ways to record information from multiple sources – Valuable patient encounter information from nurses, social workers, and medical assistants can be hard to find in the mass of data. It usually requires purposeful clicking on tiny icons or miniscule arrows (again) on multiple screens. Boiler plate checklists tend to make every patient’s chart read the same. Workaround? – I know how to type. The actual, and helpful, differentiation between my patient encounters is almost always found in my “free text” note. But, not all providers in my office know how to or like to type. When I have to track down another provider to find out the information I need, there are now two of us not seeing patients.

Safeguarding patient privacy in an EMR is more complex. Sensitive results or comments are sometomes consciously avoided in the EMR or are deeply buried underneath a number of more clicks, scrolls, and screens. Workaround? – See above about physically tracking down another provider or more likely, that valuable information is not available in the medical record at the time that you need it. The route(s) of clinical information coming in from outside our office like lab results, X-ray readings, and specialists’ consultations are multiple, varied , and often obscure in our EMR. The vigilance required to NOT miss such reports is INCREASED, not decreased, in EMR. Workaround? – I ask the nurse, medical assistant, or front desk staff to track down the information by telephone or fax just like “in the old days.”

Correction of recorded errors like dates, or names, or even diagnosis can be tedious in the EMR.  A simple single line cross-out and rewrite did it in the paper record. The EMR requires multiple cursor clicks and several screens to do the same. The timing of the clicks, or more nearly correct, the sequence of clicks can be important for success. Workaround? – Sometimes I will delete a whole section of generic computer-speak in an EMR section because I can’t easily change one or two lines  (2 screen colors, at least 3 clicks, and a small check box way down at the bottom of the screen are often involvedin making an EMR correction).

The EMR has reduced the delegation of accepted clinical tasks. Renewing or initially writing common prescriptions ordered by me is not permitted to be done by the nurse practitioners or nurses on our EMR. Instead of a verbal request to a trusted professional, my time and attention is required on at least three computer screens, up to half a dozen clicks, and my entry of my unique password to do that. True, the prescription is sent electronically to the correct (usually) pharmacy, but the nurse or office staff used to do that quite quickly via fax, and it took less of my time. Work around? – Perhaps patient safety clearly trumps convenience here, so I have not spent much time thinking about a work around for this, but it does continue to disrupt a previously smooth work flow.

My computer keyboard is in one room, and I use three other rooms as exam rooms, To complete a note, look up a growth chart,  check results, answer an unexpected question from a parent, or order a medication I often do a far amount of time-consuming walking back and forth between rooms. Workaround? – Why not just get a tablet?, you ask. Well for some mysterious reasons neither of our EMRs support that functionality in our office. After several frustration attempts we know that the tablet works beautifully at IT headquarters, but  not in our office.

What benefits most from EMR in the office setting?
Reimbursement and research.
Clinically the only useful information to know about an ear infection is whether it is “left” or “right”. Our EMR requires a half dozen more adjectives before the diagnosis is “recorded”. It has no effect on reimbursement now (what we are paid for that office visit) ,as far as I know, and I can only hope that such minutiae won’t affect reimbursement in the future.
There are also half a dozen adjectives required to record the diagnosis of “nose bleed”, and I can only imagine that somewhere out there exists a researcher just waiting to write the definitive article on “recurrent, non-injury, chronic, episodic nosebleed” which happen more often on the “right” than the “left”.

Both these R&R benefits of EMRs are quite removed from improving actual clinical care. That is another reason for my move to “the dark side”, and this current blog that deviates from my founding pledge to NOT publish personal rants.

If you chose to dismiss this particular rant as “just another doctor complaining about his poor lot in life”, you should read a more scholarly short treatise on the same subject: “Accelerating Innovation in Health IT”,  New England Journal O f Medicine, 375:9, September 1, 2016, 815-7 (1).

 


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