Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Electronic Medical Records’ Category

What Happens to EMR When the Internet Goes Down?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 25, 2016

Electronic medical records  are here, and for many reasons, they offer tremendous improvement in patient care. Laboratory values are organized. Medication lists are kept current. Immunization records are tracked easily. On the other hand, the typing into the computer by the physician impairs the doctor/patient relationship, a subject that deeply hurts me as a professional. Yet there are other very dark sides to this transformation in medical care. One is the loss of privacy, but the other is the strong dependence on internet service. When the internet goes down, no care can be provided because there is no medical record to access and without a medical record, prescriptions are not right and terrible mistakes may happen. Sure, in the old days, charts could not always be located, and this was indeed a huge issue, but that might be one patient in a week, whereas now, if the internet is down, every patient is impacted. Suddenly continuity of care transforms into an urgent care, where immediate issues are attended to, without the benefit of a history. In the mental health world, which is so dependent on a history, little can be done without a medical record, and hence without internet.

Today was a case in point. I work in an addiction rehabilitation facility which uses EMR (electronic medical records). To my surprise, when I started, I found the system efficient and useful. From any computer I could access patient information and attend to issues quickly and smoothly. My notes serve to jar my memory so that I could stay current with patient concerns. I could type while maintaining eye contact with the patient so I did not feel it impaired my developing relationships. I was pleasantly surprised by my enthusiasm for this new tool until today. The internet connection was poor, not non-existent, but poor. My fast pace at this job slowed to a crawl. I found myself in pain, waiting for the record to “load”. Each entry lead to more pain, as it had to “load” again. The efficiency instantly transformed to inefficiency. With written notes I could move more quickly; at least today, that is true. There was no dire consequences. All of the patients were seen, understood briefly, and given appropriate prescriptions, but my frustration level was high and so it goes. As we change technology, we change our stressors. This post, as you can imagine, is my release valve.

Posted in Electronic Medical Records, Psychiatry in Transition | 2 Comments »

Did Medicine Lose The Narrative?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 8, 2013

Gene Beresin MD, Harvard Medical School faculty, wants to bring back the narrative to medical education. He made the point yesterday that coherent narratives help both patients understand themselves, and medical trainees understand their field. Narratives, he argued, creates attachment, and attachment creates security and comfort-crucial elements of a healing process. I am sorry, Dr. Beresin, as much as I fully support your mission, I am afraid that despite all of the advantages of electronic medical records, the major downside is the loss of the narrative. The stories are becoming much less important, replaced by symptom checklists and automated responses. I am not saying that medical care will get worse without the narrative, but I am saying that without the narrative, the practice of medicine changes its lure. Some folks,  like myself, are drawn to narratives. We love stories, be that in our patients, in books, in film or in theatre. The stories create a richness of life’s experiences which deepen one’s sense of oneself, as one begins to see a wider perspective of the world. So, maybe if I were coming of age today, I would be drawn to Eastern medicine, where the narrative still matters. Dr. Beresin, a man, I would guess, in his sixties, holds the old torch, making me nostalgic. He volunteered that he is also a musician, a man of the arts. That’s cool. Yet, despite his Ivy League credentials, I am afraid no mover or shaker in our health care system is going to listen. The value of the narrative is slipping away from the health sciences. It is too bad, but it is our future.

Posted in Electronic Medical Records, Health Care Delivery, Medical Education, Narratives | 4 Comments »

Doctor, Patient and Pharmacies: An Oedipal Triangle

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 24, 2012

CVS Caremark has become a frequent subject of government probes


For years, pharmacies call me “demanding” a refill for a patient. Sometimes I have never heard of the patient. Other times, I just saw the patient and handed them a prescription. Still, other times, I have not seen the patient in quite some time. Without knowing the circumstances, pharmacists leave messages like “this is our third call,” as if, I have been a “bad girl” and not responded, as if I need to respond to a message that does not make sense. Today’s LA Times, exposes a practice that I have long suspected. Pharmacies call for refills, even when the patient does not ask for a refill, so that they can bill the insurance company. “That is why I don’t call back pharmacies unless the patient tells me ahead of time that I will get a call,” I want to scream to all who will hear. As I see it, the pharmacy represents an intrusion into my relationship with my patient. I work to help my patients, not the pharmacy. The pharmacy enters into my relationship with “demands” which I find out of place. One of the many advantages I have, by not having a staff, is that I am on the front lines with all of the administrative details of practice. My ship is small, but it sails. No intrusions allowed.,0,6138463.story

Posted in Doctor/Patient Relationship, Electronic Medical Records, pharmacies, Psychopharmacology, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

Electronic Medical Records: Do You Want Fries With That?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 16, 2012

  The Affordable Care Act, the digitization of our world, and the changing delivery of health care all comes together to roll out electronic medical records, now active at Kaiser, and soon to be active in almost every primary care setting, certainly by 2014. To be clear, I think that this will be a net positive for patient care. Medical information will be helpful to emergency room visits, doing health maintenance, and tracking prescriptions. I am optimistic about the benefits for the vast majority of patients who now have fragmented care, or no care at all. My concern is how will electronic medical records change the joy in the practice of medicine. Will taking care of patients retain the fun, if a menu comes down for every patient, reminding the provider to remind the patient to wear his seatbelt when he drives in his car? Again, I think it is a good idea, and it will help, for the computer to prompt the physician to remember preventive medicine questions, as preventing accidents, for example, is a very important part of health care. Now, though, that conversation, stems from a general concern for the patient, usually discussed, at a visit where critical medical issues have already been addressed. Yes, of course, the computer eliminates the human error, inherent in trying to remember too many things, especially when the provider has too many patients. At the same time, the fun in patient care, at least for me (and I am not a primary care doctor, I understand that) is the spontaneity of conversation, which is based on a deep training of important questions which are well-timed to the moment of most open communication. For example, there is a big difference if you tell a patient to stop smoking in a rote fashion, as opposed to telling them to stop smoking after they just told you that their uncle died from lung cancer. I fear that this art of persuasion will be lost with the advent of electronic medical records. In so doing, I fear the fun of patient care will diminish considerably. Sure, there is an upside. Efficiency is going to make the doctors feel better, as inefficiency, in the current system is degrading and demoralizing to physicians. Balancing it out though, I still fear that this roll out will be a net gain for patients and a net loss for providers. As with so many of my grim predictions, I really hope I am wrong.

Posted in Electronic Medical Records, Medical Training, Primary Care, Professional Development | 10 Comments »

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