• EHR
  • Pocket mHealth's patient-centric and advances IOp

    Combining the synergy of patients, their mobiles and healthcare’s a growing ambition. Pocket mHealth likes the idea. It’s an app that brings EHRs to smartphones. The group is part of Atos Research & Innovation based in Atos Spain. It can fit Africa’s programmes for mHealth and EHRs.

    Validated by medical professionals, Pocket mHealth aims drives the paradigm shift needed for person-centric medical care. It provides access to EHRs so users can improve the way they take care of their health. An emphasis on Interoperability (IOp) and eHealth standards enabling integration of clinical data from heterogeneous Hospital Information Systems (HIS), it supports benefits such as better clinical efficiency, fewer medical errors and lower costs.

    Pocket mHealth’s underlying philosophies are:

    • Clinical data belongs to appropriate citizens
    • Users supervised by corresponding, responsible health professionals.

    These are achieved by Pocket mHealth’s validation by medical professionals. Other features include:

    • Improved diagnoses
    • Suppressing unneeded paper or DVD reports
    • Avoiding duplicate and redundant tests
    • EHRs are continuously updated and complete, enabling better health and quality of life decisions
    • Supporting patient mobility with accessible clinical data that enables better healthcare in rural or holidays locations
    • Cyber-security mechanisms that guarantee the privacy and data security.

    Both the vision and type of solution fit Africa’s needs. Its strategies and programmes for EHRs can incorporate secure IOp links to citizens’ smartphones. 


  • Rothman Index predicts patients’ increasing risks

    It’s often reassuring to hear that hospital patients are in a stable condition.  When they’re deteriorating, it’s not so good. It’s even worse when the deterioration’s a set of marginal steps that are challenging to find, but lead to catastrophic states. This was the motivation for the Rothman Index (RI), a predictive health analytics tool.

    Florence Rothman was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, narrowing of the exit of her heart’s left ventricle. She had a low-risk surgical procedure and seemed to be recovering, then became weaker and started a slow, steady, subtle decline that detected when her condition became critical. Relevant data was recorded in her EHR, but the trends weren’t easy to see, so wasn’t used by the skilled and caring healthcare professionals. She was discharged, and four days later, collapsed and died in the ER.

    Michael and Steven, Florence’s sons, one an engineer, the other a scientist, both skilled in data analysis, were inspired reveal EHRs’ crucial insights to improve healthcare. They created the Rothman Index (RI), a statistically validated patient acuity score across all diseases and conditions. It presents patients’ real time conditions and can be trended and visualised, alerting doctors and nurses of deterioration before it’s critical.

    Pera Health, formerly Rothman Healthcare Corporation until 2012, provides RI. It includes graphical user interfaces so healthcare professionals can visualise trends in health status from patients’ data in their EHRs. Regularly updated health scores are derived from vital signs, nursing assessments and lab results. The model transforms each input into a common representation of univariate risk, enabling heterogeneous data to be summed, solving the data fusion problem. Outputs are continuous measures of patients’ conditions integrated into their EHRs. Trends enable deteriorating and vulnerable patients to be identified, often with less than24 hours warning, and with minimal false alerts.

    The company says RI correlates well with:

    • 24 hour mortality
    • Unplanned transfers to ICUs
    • ICU readmissions
    • Code Blue events to for cardiac or respiratory arrests.
    • Readmissions within 30 days of discharge
    • Lengths of stay.

    RI can be a part of Africa’s EHR programmes to build predictive health analytics into hospitals; routines. It’ll help to maximise their EHRs’ benefits.

  • Informatics and EHRs can prevent strokes and improve monitoring

    Increasing responses to strokes and their after effects are important health priorities. A report in the US National Library of Medicine has estimated that in 2015, strokes were the second-leading cause of death worldwide after ischaemic heart disease. In 2010, strokes caused 5.3 million deaths globally, 10% of all deaths. Trends include increasing stroke mortality and lost Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) in low- and middle-income countries and a dire estimate of the global economic impact unless effective preventive measures are implemented.

    Another study identified the aged-standardised incidence of stroke in Africa as 316 per 100,000, 0.3% population, and age-standardised prevalence rates of up to 981 per 100,000, almost 1%. Stroke incidence’s increasing, but the study said the “peculiar factors responsible for the substantial disparities in incidence velocity, ischaemic stroke proportion, mean age and case fatality compared to high-income countries remain unknown.” This is despite the incidence being lower than higher-income countries. A study in Sage Journals estimated the incidence of stroke, adjusted to the WHO World standard population, in 51 countries. It ranges from 76 to 199 per 100,000 population.

    Atrial fibrillation (AF) an irregular and often very fast heart rate may cause symptoms like heart palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath. Treating it’s important because it may cause a stroke, with resulting adverse DALYs. After a stroke, AF needs monitoring. A study in Cardiology, published by Karger, aimed to identify the characteristics of atrial fibrillation (AF) in post-cryptogenic stroke. It’s a stroke with an unknown origin.

    The US Stroke Association has an estimate that cryptogenic strokes (CS) may be between 25% and 45% of ischemic strokes, so about 30%. They are where blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. Ischemic strokes are about 87% of all types.

    The team’s project included Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA). Mayo Clinic has a simple description of a TIA. It produces similar symptoms to a stroke, but usually lasting only a few minutes and causing no permanent damage. Often called a mini-stroke, a TIA may be a warning of worse to come.

    The team of cardiologists and informatics researchers from the Department of Medicine and Division of Cardiology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, the Biomedical Informatics Training Program, Stanford University, the Center for Biomedical Informatics Research, Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California San Francisco, stratified a cohort of stroke patients by risk factors. It used data from EHRs.

    These included obesity, congestive heart failure, hypertension, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease and valve disease. A risk-scoring model applied seven clinical variables that assigned patients into three groups. The risk-score’s measures of AF risk and may be used to select patients who need extended AF monitoring, especially home monitoring.

    The study’s an example of the value of doctors, informaticians and analysts working together to exploit the value of data in EHRs. It’s a model for Africa’s health systems and universities to work towards.

  • EHRs aren’t enough, they need communications

    Communicating isn’t easy. In “Is Anybody Listening?” a 1950s article in Fortune Magazine, William H Whyte, a journalist and author, suggested that “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Across health systems and within healthcare organisations, it can be at the demanding end of the spectrum.

    An eBrief from Spok says EHRs don’t do enough for clinical communication and collaboration. It’s particularly prevalent for information needing acknowledgements and prompt action. Spok’s proposal’s a complementary system for messaging and collaboration among all healthcare team members and across whole healthcare organisations. In Picking Up Where EHRs Leave Off: 6 Ways to Bolster the Benefits of Your EHR by Improving Communications in Your Hospital, six requirements are:

    • Support all clinical and other healthcare team members
    • Provide an enterprise-wide directory to serve  as the source of truth
    • On-call schedule integration and clinician status
    • Integration with third-party systems
    • Capability to support many devices
    • Deliver emergency notification rapidly.

    These will combine to enhance EHRs’ benefits. It reflects the changing nature of EHRs since the 1990s when they were seen as a database for healthcare professionals. Now, they’re a vital data source for health analytics, and Spok’s communicating needs.

    The perspective offers Africa’s health systems a broader approach to moving towards their goals for EHRs. Anton Chekov, the Russian story-teller, had an illuminating view of the wider world when he wrote in his Note Book “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

  • BCS provides doctors views on EHRs

    Is addictive texting especially annoying during meals? Some hospital doctors in the US think it is, and think it’s annoying for patients when they’re accessing EHRs during consultations. A study in the Journal of Innovation in Health Informatics, (JIHI) surveyed hospital doctors’ perceptions of EHRs’ impact on patient-doctor interactions. It compared these to perceptions to doctors working from offices. JIHI’s a publication of the BCS Chartered Institute for IT, the British Computer Society (BCS).

    Data for the survey came from the 2014 Rhode Island Health Information Technology Survey. It asks eHealth users about their practice settings and specialties, their EHR and ePrescribing functionalities and frequencies of use, and free-text questions. They include open-ended questions analysed by the BSC study.

    Five main themes emerged from the free texts:

    • Less time spent with patients, more time spent on computers documenting EHRs        
    • Lower quality of patient-doctor interactions and relationships
    • But, no effect because doctors change their workflows
    • Improves access to information and preparation
    • Frequent unintended negative consequences.

    Hospital doctors report benefits ranging from better information access to better patient education and communication. They also frequently say EHRs help them to feel more prepared for clinical encounters. Office-based doctors more frequently say they’ve changed their workflow, while have depersonalised relationships. 

    The study team says its findings have two uses. One’s to modify interventions to improve EHRs’ use in inpatient settings.  The other’s to develop interventions to specific specialties. Both contribute to improving doctors’ satisfaction and patients’ experiences. Africa’s eHealth projects can incorporate these. Will it help to avoid texting at the dinner table?

  • Strategies for EHRs have changed over the years

    Back in the 1990s, EHRs were seen as large-scale clinical databases bringing data from clinical information systems and providing patient data needed for clinical tasks. Their role in public health was acknowledged, but seldom fulfilled. Since then, their role’s extended to become an essential source of data for health analytics, information for patients and a link to numerous mHealth services. EHRs are now as important to public health as they are to clinical practices.

    Many African countries missed out on the initial phase of EHRs. They’re still lagging behind. The WHO global eHealth survey shows Africa’s national EHRs adoption at some 11%, with about 18% of hospitals using them. Investment in some related systems for EHRs is also at 7%, compared to about 24% globally. 

    Alongside these findings, Africa’s mHealth investments pulling well ahead.  Approaching 60% across a range of mHealth features, Africa’s mHealth offers a valuable route into its EHRs.

    mHealth investment alone doesn’t help to deal with the challenges of EHRs. Complex informatics, such as semantic interoperability and architecture, connectivity constraints, increasing cyber-security risks, eHealth skills and establishing sustainable costs and finance all combine to make EHRs challenging for Africa. There’s plenty of good practices that have accumulated since the 1990s to guide Africa’s programmes.

    There’s also evidence of bad practices that Africa’s health systems should avoid. Knowledge of these are extremely valuable. Examples are rushing EHRs through on an unrealistic, short timeline, not understanding or managing risks, not having rigorous business cases and not engaging regularly with the main stakeholders from the start of formulating strategies for EHRs. Avoiding these are prerequisites for success, but doesn’t guarantee it.

  • Which is best, national or regional eHealth platforms?

    India’s Union Government has a national eHospital platform. A report in The New Indian Express (NIE) says Kerala State wants its own. It’s a perspective that can be reflected in Africa’s health systems. Which approach is most appropriate?

    In Kerala, only two hospitals from Kerala - Malabar Cancer Centre in Thalassery and Vaidyaratnam P S Varier Ayurveda College Hospital in Kottakkal have enrolled in the national Online Registration System (ORS). It links hospitals across India to facilitate online appointments for patients by authenticating either through Aadhaar or a mobile number. Aadhaar provides each person with a unique, random 12-digit number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). 

    Hospitals can also use the e-Hospital platform to provide online services to patients. They include online outpatient appointments, viewing their laboratory reports and the status of blood availability in blood banks. The main objective’s to have an appointment system at government hospitals to avoid long queues that inconvenience patients when they register.

    NIE says Kerala State officers haven’t provided a precise reason for opting for its own platform. It is reported as referring to its own eHealth as state-of-the-art, implying it’s a better solution.

    The decisions raise important eHealth issues. If local eHealth’s better than a national service, why give it up. It’s not only Kerala or India where this issue surfaces. It’s been a challenge for many countries. Effective convergence strategies that build on existing good practice are excellent ideas. They’re not easy to achieve.

    Some of Africa’s health systems may face similar challenges as they move from legacy systems. Change can offer new benefits, but it can sometimes bring additional costs.

  • Telemedicine is as big a US priority as EHRs

    Telemedicine’s up with inpatient and outpatient EHRs for US eHealth investment priorities. A survey by Reaction Data found 33% of healthcare executive have it as their top priority, alongside 32 % who have EHRS for inpatients and outpatients as top. Nearly half the respondents work in standalone hospitals. About a third are ion Integrated Delivery Networks (IDN).

    About 20% have investment to support a payment initiative. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act 2015 (MACRA) is a new way to pay doctors who treat Medicare patients. CHIP’s the Children's Health Insurance Program.

  • Some F/OSS EHRs can have limitations

    Africa’s health systems often look to Free and/or Open Source Software (F/OSS) for their EHRs as a way to adopt low-cost solutions. F/OSS’s an expanding service. The 8th Annual Future of Open Source Survey found that F/OSS projects doubled between 2012 and 2014.

    A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) found that there can be limitations in this strategy that need addressing. The team from California-Davis University in Sacramento reviewed 54 F/OSS EHRs and identified some weaknesses in functionality and usability, two essential components for benefits realisation. Only four EHRs in the study are certified by the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

    The State of Open Source Electronic Health Record Projects: A Software Anthropology Study sought information on the characteristics of prevailing F/OSS EHR systems to understand the motivation, knowledge background, and characteristics of developers:

    • Most, about two thirds participate in F/OSS projects as part of paid activities
    • About 26% have been healthcare providers in their careers
    • About 45% don’t work in healthcare.

    The study claims a potential F/OSS weakness for EHR projects where developers’ backgrounds and their abilities to understand nuances of healthcare workflows. It suggests a solution’s to provide developers with direct access to healthcare providers and facilities.

    • Most F/OSS EHR projects don’t have a support service for sale
    • Dependencies on volunteer developers may not guarantee technical support
    • Reliability challenges may be present, especially when original systems are customised by institutional programmers
    • Identifying reliable sources for version updates can be challenging
    • Many organisations fear that open source projects can become inactive anytime, creating an acute need for substantial in-house software development expertise
    • Most healthcare organisations don’t have infrastructure to support software development
    • They may not have ICT staff who can manage Software Development Life Cycles (SDLC) for complex systems
    • Interoperability may be challenging where software isn’t integrated and there are disparate systems or groups of systems, especially with interfaces with commercial systems that require personnel with numerous skill sets
    • Privacy and security may not be rigorously safeguarded with consent or privacy policies, leading to limited protection against unauthorised access and information release
    • The lack of a corporate entity in most F/OSS EHR projects creates a marginal capacity to market F/OSS systems and navigate certification, limiting adoption by the US health systems.

    The study’s findings provide a helpful checklist for Africa’s health systems when they choose to pursue options for F/OSS EHRs. Decisions on all types eHealth providers contain trade-offs. Africa’s health systems can use the results to compare their choices for F/OSS EHRs.

  • Medical schools can train students in EHRs

    eHealth skills needs to expand to match its steady spread across Africa’s health systems. Health workers need them. So do future generations of health workers who’ll be providing healthcare within a year or so, and beyond.

    The American Medical Association (AMA) has started to address the challenge. It already has an initiative to create the medical school of the future. It’s announced a new training platform to ensure doctors and other healthcare professionals learn how to use EHRs to deliver patient care. The goal’s to ensure more medical students and trainees gain direct experience using EHRs during their training. 

    In collaboration with the Regenstrief Institute and collaborating with Indiana University School of Medicine, the AMA produced the Regenstrief EHR Clinical Learning Platform. It uses real, de- and mis-identified patient data to help students to provide virtual healthcare for patients with several complex health conditions. By navigating EHRs, documenting encounters, and placing orders using application similar to real EHRs, it provides an immersive and modern way for educators to teach students how to use EHRs to address important issues for population health, quality improvement, patient safety and social determinants of health. Educators can use the platform’s tools to create customised content specific to their curriculum goals and to evaluate students.

    The platform’s currently rolling out to US medical schools. It’s an initiative that Africa’s medial associations, medical schools and health systems could replicate to prepare medical students for their countries emerging eHealth world. 

    Building their eHealth capacity and capability’s a reliable way of creating the next generations of clinical eHealth leaders and enhancing Africa’s eHealth sustainability. It’s taken the AMA several years to reach its eHealth learning goals, and there’s more to come. Africa’s equivalents should take adopt a steady, smooth trajectory.