Thursday, August 30, 2012

Clinicians: How to Document the EHR Screens You Encounter That Cause Concern

Healthcare IT "glitches" as reported on this blog should make any clinician - and patient - wary of the technology in its present state.

In the past, when camera film was the only image recording medium, it was often difficult to get high quality photographs of TV screens.  No longer.

Clinicians, here's a hint: it's now easy to photograph computer screens, either old CRT-based or newer flat panels, with a cellphone or other digital camera.

When you see something you are concerned have the tools to document and share as necessary with the appropriate authorities, and to protect yourself.

Further, hospitals often claim they cannot show data as clinicians see it on-screen because of "print page" restrictions or due to the "oppressive burden" of someone having to do multiple screen dumps to a printer.

That excuse is no longer valid:

A screen shot of the very screen used to create this post, taken with an old 2 megapixel cellphone, default settings, no flash, ambient (dim) light, unremarkable flat screen monitor.  The same can be done for EHR, CPOE, etc.  Click to enlarge.

This example blows that Discovery-impairing excuse out of the water.

"Glitches" should be reported, and in a manner as I wrote at this post, reproduced below:

(Disclaimer:  The IT sellers and hospital corporate officials are likely to invoke IP rights regarding EHR screens and HIPAA regulations in the attempt to limit transparency about problems, for which I take no responsibility.  Use this technique with appropriate precautions with regard to information sharing.)

... When a physician or other clinician observes health IT problems, defects, malfunctions, mission hostility (e.g., poor user interfaces), significant downtimes, lost data, erroneous data, misidentified data, and so forth ... and most certainly, patient 'close calls' or actual injuries ... they should (anonymously if necessary if in a hostile management setting):

  • Inform their facility's senior management, if deemed safe and not likely to result in retaliation such as being slandered as a "disruptive physician" and/or or being subjected to sham peer review (link).
  • Inform their personal and organizational insurance carriers, in writing. Insurance carriers do not enjoy paying out for preventable IT-related medical mistakes. They have begun to become aware of HIT risks. See, for example, the essay on Norcal Mutual Insurance Company's newsletter on HIT risks at this link. (Note - many medical malpractice insurance policies can be interpreted as requiring this reporting, observed occasional guest blogger Dr. Scott Monteith in a comment to me about this post.)
  • Inform the State Medical Society and local Medical Society of your locale.
  • Inform the appropriate Board of Health for your locale.
  • If applicable (and it often is), inform the Medicare Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) of your state or region. Example: in Pennsylvania, the QIO is "Quality Insights of PA."
  • Inform a personal attorney.
  • Inform local, state and national representatives such as congressional representatives. Sen. Grassley of Iowa is aware of these issues, for example.
  • As clinicians are often forced to use health IT, at their own risk even when "certified" (link), if a healthcare organization or HIT seller is sluggish or resistant in taking corrective actions, consider taking another risk (perhaps this is for the very daring or those near the end of their clinical career). Present your organization's management with a statement for them to sign to the effect of:
"We, the undersigned, do hereby acknowledge the concerns of [Dr. Jones] about care quality issues at [Mount St. Elsewhere Hospital] regarding EHR difficulties that were reported, namely [event A, event B, event C ... etc.]

We hereby indemnify [Dr. Jones] for malpractice liability regarding patient care errors that occur due to EHR issues beyond his/her control, but within the control of hospital management, including but not limited to: [system downtimes, lost orders, missing or erroneous data, etc.] that are known to pose risk to patients. We assume responsibility for any such malpractice.

With regard to health IT and its potential negative effects on care, Dr. Jones has provided us with the Joint Commission Sentinel Events Alert on Health IT at, the IOM report on HIT safety at, and the FDA Internal Memorandum on H-IT Safety Issues at

CMO __________ (date, time)
CIO ___________ (date, time)
CMIO _________ (date, time)
General Counsel ___________ (date, time)
  • If the hospital or organizational management refuses to sign such a waiver (and they likely will!), note the refusal, with date and time of refusal, and file away with your attorney. It could come in handy if EHR-related med mal does occur.
As EHRs remain experimental, I note that indemnifications such as the above probably belong in medical staff contracts and bylaws when EHR use is coerced.

Physicians can create health IT transparency; waiting for the industry or HHS to do so is, in my view, futile and not a patient advocacy stance.

-- SS

Aug. 31, 2012 Addendum:

I tried this method on a 20 year old, cathode ray tube-based Fisher 13" (appx.) color TV set.  Of course, this TV set is limited to a few hundred lines of resolution, and is interlaced (unlike most computer monitors after the early 1990's). Here's what I got.  Note that the picture was moving:

Old TV, old 2 MP cellphone, default settings.  Click to enlarge.

Again, old 2 MP cellphone, ambient background, default settings.  I tried several shots, and all were of similar quality.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

Hospitals do not want the doctors and nurses documenting and carrying the evidence that the EMR devices are flawed and defective, and that they endanger patients.

No printing is allowed of most of the screens.

Scott Mace said...

iPads with cameras work even better. You can instantly evaluate whether the photo you took is properly framed and focused.