The intended goals of requiring electronic medical record (EMR) systems in all hospitals and clinics were rational and, for the most part, patient-centered. EMRs have prevented large numbers of potentially serious medication errors, served as a secure means of making laboratory and imaging data readily available to surgeons, and have provided an efficient mode of communication among members of health care teams.
Unfortunately, the design of most, if not all, EMR systems is focused on coding and billing, not on the doctor-patient interaction during the all-important face-to-face clinic visit. This has had the unintended consequence of requiring dense, protracted documentation of care interactions that seems to de-emphasize the most important part of the EMR entry: the physician’s thought process and treatment plan.
In the September 19, 2018 edition of The Journal, Scott et al. provide us with a unique cost-and-productivity view into the impact that implementing an EMR had within an outpatient orthopaedic clinic. During the first 6 months after a new EMR was launched, total labor costs increased, driven by attending surgeons and medical assistants spending increased time documenting visits. Although the total per-encounter cost returned to baseline levels after 6 months, more time was spent documenting encounters and less time was spent interacting with patients than before EMR implementation. So, even after a return to normal clinic “productivity” after the 6-month learning period, the price paid for increased time spent documenting on the new EMR was decreased provider-patient “face time.”
In my opinion, it is essential that we work to remedy this deficiency. Personally, I do not use EMR-provided templates for documenting physical exam findings, imaging study results, and treatment plans. Instead, I engage with the patient during the visit and make detailed notes in the EMR after the patient leaves. This probably results in “under-billing” for my services, but I am willing to pay that price to increase the value of the visit for the patient—and for my colleagues who may review my notes.
The study by Scott et al. is a necessary first step in understanding EMR ramifications in orthopaedics, but our community needs more broad-based research to further delve into the full impact of EMRs on patient care, patient satisfaction, and cost. Toward that end, the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) recently extended until September 28, 2018 the deadline for grant proposals to investigate the impact of EMR regulations on the patient-physician relationship. We must continue to address this apparent problem to improve patient care, which was the goal of EMRs in the first place.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
While patients are sometimes concerned that resident involvement in their surgical case might lead to untoward outcomes, the article by Neuwirth et al. in the January 17, 2018 edition of JBJS provides data to alleviate some of those fears. The authors used the NSQIP database to evaluate whether resident involvement with the surgical treatment of intertrochanteric hip fractures resulted in increased 30-day mortality or morbidity, compared to similar cases in which a resident did not participate. The study found no differences in either 30-day mortality or severe morbidity between cases that involved a resident and those that did not. However, cases involving residents did have significantly longer operative times, lengths of hospital stay, and times from operation to discharge.
These findings, which are similar to those of studies performed in other orthopaedic subspecialties, provide both relief and unease. Surgical education is built on apprenticeship and increasing autonomy throughout residency, so it is comforting that cases of this fracture type involving residents do not increase patient risks of mortality or severe morbidity. The findings suggest that residents are being appropriately supervised and given responsibilities that are commensurate with their level of training.
However, this study also shows that there is a price to be paid for resident education. Any “extra” time that a patient spends in the operating room or the hospital has associated costs to the health care system. Neuwirth et al. show that cases involving residents had a five times greater incidence of lasting more than 90 minutes and an average operative time that was more than 20 minutes longer, compared to cases not involving residents. If one were to extrapolate those added time-related costs across all intertrochanteric fracture surgeries performed in the US each year, the total added annual costs could be astronomical.
My concern is that as we move further toward value-based care, justifying these resident-training costs will become more challenging. Should resident involvement in a case be stopped after a certain amount of operative time? How close should a resident’s surgical time be to that of an attending surgeon’s by the time of graduation? What is the actual cost of resident training per surgical case? This study prompts these and similar difficult questions.
Education, like most investments, requires both time and money in order to pay dividends. While everyone can agree that it is important to train our future surgeons appropriately, there will likely be increasing pressure to do so in the most cost-efficient manner possible.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
As Fleischman et al. observe in the January 17, 2018 edition of The Journal, “there is a prevailing belief that patients living alone cannot be safely discharged directly home after total joint arthroplasty [TJA].” Not so, according to results of their Level II prospective cohort study.
The authors reviewed outcomes among a cohort of 769 patients undergoing lower-extremity arthroplasty who were discharged home, 138 of whom were living alone. While patients living alone more commonly stayed an additional night in the hospital and utilized more home-health services than patients living with others, there were no between-group differences in 90-day complication rates or unplanned clinical events, including readmissions.
These findings are reassuring, but all patients discharged home after a lower-limb arthroplasty need some support with meal preparation, personal hygiene, and other activities of daily living for the first 10 to 14 days. Clinicians should therefore adequately assess the local support system for each patient living alone in terms of family, neighbors, or friends to be sure the patient will be safe if discharged home. This crucial determination is a team exercise involving nursing, the surgeon, physical and occupational therapists, and a social worker. Fleischman et al. implicitly credit the “nurse navigator” program at their institution (Rothman Institute) with coordinating this team effort.
Investigation into these issues is very important as the orthopaedic community works to lower the costs of arthroplasty care while improving patient safety and satisfaction. If the appropriate support is in place, patients and clinicians alike would prefer that patients sleep in their own beds after discharge from joint replacement surgery.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
From the perspective of a geriatric patient with a hip fracture, having a preoperative echocardiogram may not seem like a big deal, especially since it’s a noninvasive test. However, as Adair et al. reveal in an April 19, 2017 JBJS study, following clinical guidelines established by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) could have prevented “cardiac echoes” from being done in 34% of 100 elderly hip fracture patients without missing any disease. Such unnecessary testing not only adds cost to the health care system, but can also delay surgical treatment for an operation that evidence suggests is best performed within 24 to 48 hours.
A single reviewer blinded to the later results of the tests assessed whether the ACC/AHA guidelines were followed in each case of an ordered echo; when ≥1 of the criteria were met, the echo was considered ordered in accordance with the guidelines. The rate of adherence to the guidelines was 66% over the 3.5-year study period. No important heart disease was found in any of the 34 patients who underwent an echocardiogram that had not been indicated by the guideline criteria, and 14 of the 66 patients (21%) for whom an echo was indicated by the criteria were found to have heart conditions serious enough to modify anesthesia or medical management.
The most common documented reasons for ordering an echo outside the guideline criteria were dementia that prevented evaluation of preoperative cardiac condition and generic “evaluation of cardiac function,” even though those patients had no history, physical exam findings, or work-ups that suggested heart disease.
Adair et al. conclude that these findings “suggest that integration of [clinical practice guidelines] into a perioperative protocol has the potential to improve the efficiency of preoperative evaluation, reduce resource utilization, and reduce the time to surgery without sacrificing patient safety.”
Eighteen percent of nearly 400 orthopaedic surgeons responding to an 89-question survey about patient safety said they do not perceive a positive climate for patient safety in their organizations. In the July 15, 2015 JBJS, authors Janssen et al. call that percentage “high when compared with the [10%] threshold for highly reliable organizations.” Perceptions of patient safety were higher among men, surgeons in non-teaching hospitals, and those working in hospitals with a safety program already in place.
The authors surmise that the perception of a better patient-safety climate in non-teaching hospitals may be attributable to less complex care requirements that permit “a more structured approach,” and to typically smaller institution sizes in which care providers are “more adapted to each other and work more as a team.”
The respondents said that orthopaedic surgeons themselves are mainly responsible for preventing wrong-site surgery and retained foreign bodies. The most commonly cited strategies for improving patient safety overall were:
- Making safety everyone’s responsibility
- Improving communication, and
- Standardizing procedures, equipment, and supplies.
Interestingly, surgeons who received salaries not linked to procedure volume were more enthusiastic about safety programs than those who received fee-for-service compensation. Janssen et al. conclude that “knowledge of the variation in perceived safety and the enthusiasm for specific strategies to improve safety among surgeons can serve as a starting point for necessary cultural change.”