Is failing to use an EMR unprofessional conduct?

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It has come to this.

Some hospitals in Toronto are starting to use virtual reality in patient care (to help ease pre-operative anxiety). Yet, there are still family physicians in the province using paper charts to record and monitor the health of their patients: Not many for sure and far, far fewer than a decade ago an (an increase from 37% to 73% between 2009 and 2015).

But nonetheless, in an era where the health technology envelope is being pushed harder and faster than ever before, the most recent international comparison of use of electronic medical records (EMRs) by family doctors shows Canada continues to lag behind countries such as the U.K. and New Zealand where use is almost universal.

This finding comes from a study released earlier this year by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and with co-funding from Canada Health Infoway looking at data from the Commonwealth Fund 2015 survey of 10 countries.

Maybe the time has come to seriously ask whether the acceptable standard of care for family doctors practising in Canada involves using an EMR and that failure to do so could be seen as failing to maintain that professional standard.

It is a question that was first asked quietly more than a decade ago, back in the twilight era when only the most forward looking physicians and jurisdictions were using EMRs routinely. Now, when EMRs have hugely increased functionality and proved their value in efficiently managing the health of populations, the question can surely be asked with more authority.

Of course, nobody wants to force some physicians to use technology they don’t like, don’t understand, and which can sometimes lead to gross inefficiencies in the use of their time. In fact we can imagine there may be parts of the country where a physician still cannot even purchase a reliable EMR. And we in Canada still struggle with interconnectivity and many family doctors remain stranded on ‘electronic islands’ unable to use their EMR to communicate effectively with others in their community.

But the reality is that electronic storage of patient data is here to stay whether the medical profession likes it or not.  With almost three quarters of Canadian family physicians now using EMRs for patient care the time has to come to ask medical licensing authorities whether they need to apply more diligence to observing those doctors who choose not to rely on paper records.

The failure of family doctors to totally embrace electronic records is hindering both patient care management and population health management. Even of those who use EMRs, the CIH report notes fewer than half routinely use the system for at least 2 of the following: electronic alerts or prompts about a potential problem with drug dose or drug interaction; reminder notices for patients when it is time for regular preventive or follow-up care; alerts or prompts to provide patients with test results; and/or reminders for guideline-based interventions and/or screening tests.

Surely the time has come for this to change.

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Teledermatology: Every picture tells a story (#AAD17)

Teledermatology

One can imagine the era of modern telemedicine beginning with dermatology.

“Hey, I have this rash. Mind if I e-mail you a picture so you can tell me how to deal with it”?

While teledermatology can actually be a far more complex and sophisticated interaction between patient and doctor, that core ability to send an image of the key diagnostic feature is what has led some dermatologists to be involved in telemedicine for almost two decades now.

And with telemedicine and virtual medicine now entering prime time, it is not a surprise that more dermatologists are focusing on teledermatology as a way to allow more people to access quality care.

What is somewhat more surprising is that fact that after two decades of practice, the dermatology specialty still lacks a good remuneration model and more importantly agreed upon standards for how quality care should be delivered.

The recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (#AAD17) meeting in Orlando provided a snapshot, if you will, of all these issues. Not only was teledermatology the focus of at least two educational sessions, it was also the subject of one of the plenary named lectures.

In her plenary presentation, Dr. Carrie Kovarik (@carriekovarik), associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania and a

teledermatology pioneer, gave a blunt assessment of telemedicine in her specialty.

“There are people in the middle who see teledermatology as a good thing when it is used to provide quality care and provide access,” she said in an interview published in the conference newsletter. “Unfortunately, there are also people on one end of the spectrum who think this is a way to make a lot of money and sell products. Then there are people at the opposite end who are afraid that telemedicine is eventually going to take away their patients.”

If that was the bleak overview of telemedicine within the speciality, Kovarik’s assessment of how unprofessional and unethical websites are exploiting patients by offering teledermatology services was worse. “We have businesses that have scaled-up teledermatology using non-dermatologists, anonymous apps and apps where the patients have to self-diagnose.”

Despite the potential value of teledermatology for improving access to underserviced areas and populations through the U.S., in her speech Kovarik noted only 12 States currently reimburse specialists for the “store forward” approach in which pictures of a patient are assessed after they are taken.

Another challenge is that in many instances the patient’s primary care provider receives no payment for helping facilitate the process by, for example, taking high-quality images of the patient for the dermatologist to assess.

However at the end of the day, despite all these challenges, Kovarik predicted it would be harder and harder for dermatologists to avoid telemedicine.

The key she said was to ensure the quality of care provided is the same as that seen in a face-to-face encounter.