A Good Covid Vaccination Is Like Calligraphy

Join CT on the front line of vaccine clinic at UCHealth!

Hi y’all! I volunteered for a vaccine shift. Me and a couple dozen of my best friends. Here’s the scene: this clinic day was dedicated to second-vaccine doses for nearly 1000 healthcare colleagues, 12 vaccinator stations, and a constant stream of patients down the hallway. Our location can handle 2-3x this number, if we had vaccine supply to do so (and on last Friday, our location and 9 other UCHealth vaccine locations dispensed over 5000 vaccine doses across UCHealth).

Having been a grateful recipient of both my shots, I’m ready to wade in and do my part as well.

Ever wonder what it is like to be a vaccinator at a high-volume vaccine clinic?

On the Vaccine Front Line

First, you receive an email to take your training on EHR documentation requirements ahead of time, and a super quick anatomy refresher on deltoid muscle and intramuscular injections. Easily done, about 10 minutes. Then you report for duty at one of the twice daily 7-hour shifts. You get a quick in-person briefing, some quick hand-holding (ok sounds weird in pandemic times), and off we go!

Here’s my station. Because, as my daughter says, I’m totally into ‘hume-optimizing’ (determining the optimal way for humans to do things – sometimes to the great annoyance of family members or colleagues: sorry y’all) I thought hard and asked lots of questions of my more experienced medical assistants and nurses sitting nearby. Here’s what I learned:

  • Card colors: Green card: hold in air when ready for another patient; Yellow card: running out of any supplies; Red card: medical question (just embarrassing to hold this one up if you’re a physician)
  • Computer: login, find the immunization clinic, filter out discharged patients, sort by time of arrival, click to remove word-wrap to show more patients per screen.
  • The data entry fields pull forward 80% of relevant data to each new patient, as well as the vaccine name, lot#, and details, and I’m down to just confirming patient identity, confirming injection site (6- R deltoid, 7-L deltoid: even the physical mapping makes it easy: when patient facing you, the 6 key is on the same side as the patient’s R arm!), asking the 3 screening Q.
  • Then the shot itself! Vaccine syringe (obvious) but don’t stick yourself or the patient unintentionally. (HOT TIP) And when you insert the needle, do it with a quick pop so that breaking the skin and finishing the motion are in the same moment and the patient’s sensory nerves don’t get a chance to register more than one ‘oh’ of surprise. Specifically, don’t be slow.
  • (HOT TIP from a PA colleague in Interventional Radiology) hold the syringe between your thumb and 3rd and 4th digits, with your index positioned over the plunger. Really? That’s the way? (Sooooo much faster than my jab, then switch hands, try not to be awkward, plunge, untangle my hands and pull back) and the jab+plunge was now less than a second. Level up! (Gamer talk). After my “technique improvement” lots of patients were surprised: “Hey! Didn’t feel that at all!”
https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2017/03/28/maggie-cross-chinese-painting/
  • (Irrelevant aside) I notice that this new syringe grasp is reminiscent of the way you are to hold a Chinese Calligraphy brush, like you are cupping an egg and then grasping the brush. Ah, such elegance.
  • (HOT TIP From a brilliant nurse colleague) After the alcohol swab of the deltoid, pre-attach half of the bandaid and let it hang down. That way, you know where to put the shot and you don’t lose track (if no spot of blood) of where it went as you look away to dispose of the syringe. Then flip the bandaid fully on, VOILA! Totally changed my life.
  • Click the needle protector closed with one finger, toss in Sharps container.
  • Mumble sweet nothings to your anxious client while doing the next steps. Answer any questions.
  • Type ‘n’ in the time field to get the time Now. Click Accept to complete the vaccine charting. Their patient portal account is automatically updated, and the State Vaccine Registry is updated (I believe either real-time or at midnight every night)! Add 15 minutes to write onto a sticky note to attach to their vaccine card for them to know when they can leave if feeling okay.
  • Reach for a tiny sticker to put on the vaccine card with vaccine name, lot#, date, location.
  • Smile with your eyes, gesture to the seating area.
  • (HOT TIP from another RN colleague): Wipe down: with gloves on, pull an antiseptic wipe for the desk, chair, relevant surfaces. Whip off gloves, rip and prep an alcohol swab and bandaid —easier with gloves off. New pair of gloves, position a new syringe on desk, check if running low on supplies, raise the green card.
  • NEXT! Cycle time when all was humming, as little as 3 minutes. Less time than it took to read this.

Of course, GEEZ some patients had the temerity to ask questions. Or we would briefly run low on vaccine as the pharmacy team whipped up another batch in the next room, or someone had to run for sticky notes or wipes or gloves etc. Or maybe I NEEDED A POTTY BREAK, OK? Other times, we would have lulls in the action. Then it was up to our green-card-waving skills as to which of a half dozen vaccinators the lone patient would walk to.

Here’s a counterintuitive tip for non-medical workers.

You might think that having your vaccine done by a person in green scrubs or a white coat (in my case, both) would be ideal: they’re the doctors or providers. In our organization, nurses wear dark blue scrubs, medical assistants wear dark purple (violet?). Almost uniformly, the docs volunteering haven’t given vaccinations since … medical school. In my case, 30+ years ago. My recommendation: go with blue or violet scrubs for technical proficiency and years of practice. Of course, if you want a long medical conversation, by all means stop by my booth!

Here’s my tally. Actually 55 by end of day. I figured out that I could keep my needle caps on the desk until I had a break to make my hash marks and throw out the caps. The system worked. I know many of my RN and MA partners were quicker than me or had better patient-attracting green-card-waving skills or took shorter breaks. Not bad for my first half-day shift.

This was unlike my daily work.

As a physician in an internal medicine clinic I would worry about how to reduce the blood sugar of an overweight, depressed and anxious diabetes patient with high blood pressure, severe arthritis, needing wheelchair repairs, a dozen prescription refills and several prior-authorization meds, and now with several new worrisome symptoms and family pressures. As CMIO I would worry about how to balance the anger of providers spending long hours writing notes and orders versus allowing a sloppy, error-prone verbal-order paper-like system. And how to allocate time and effort between reducing physician burnout and improving predictive algorithms when those projects were sometimes in conflict.

Working in a vaccine clinic by contrast was like playing a fun, fast-paced, team-based video game (not that I would know): clear goals, mutual reinforcement, visible progress, strong team camaraderie, repetitive (and improving) physical skills, opportunities for rapid learning, immediate positive feedback and customer appreciation, excitement over doing a public good. We were IN THE ZONE.

Honestly, on good days, both regular clinic and informatics work is like this too.

What’s not to like?

Oh, here’s one of our physician leaders, Dr. Andy Meacham, even with everything he knows about how docs are the worst vaccinators, willing to be my victim. Thank you for your service, Dr. Meacham.

Gratitude

Honestly, it humbles me to part of such an amazing organization that assembled the people, the process, the tools so that I could drop in as part of a well-oiled machine, only a couple weeks into this brand new process. I’ve noted quite a few physician leader colleagues also taking part. So cool. 

“Covid-19, Yes, Your Days are Numbered! We’ll take back our streets and those jobs you’ve plundered!” — CT Lin & his terrible (My Shot – Covid) ukulele song

If all this talk gets you interested in the vaccine, See my recent blog post on how to get in line for a vaccine at UCHealth

CMIO’s take? Serving as a Covid Vaccine vaccinator was one of the most gratifying things I’ve done. I’m signing up for more shifts. See you soon!

I am NOT throwing away my Shot (I got mine today!)

Covid-19 Vaccine! I got mine! And University of Colorado Hospital is set up to give over 1000 doses per day just at our hospital.

As you know, Covid-19 vaccine is out in the wild. Colorado received the first shipment earlier this week, and we at UCHealth received the first 17,000 doses. We set up an infrastructure to schedule vaccinations through My Health Connection, our patient portal. We sent out over 10,000 invitations this week, and already 5000 health care workers have already booked their appointment. IN 48 HOURS! Never have I ever heard of something moving this fast. 97% of physicians/providers state their willingness and intent to be vaccinated.

Among my colleagues, many of us were hitting “refresh” waiting for our invite to schedule the vaccine. Last night, I was super excited receive my invite. Woo! So organized the portal ensures you book both appointments at the same time. Super simple!

Then, super easy on arrival; we use our patient portal to e-check in, verify my demographics, read the consent form for the vaccine, so that my check in can be super simple and super quick. Yes!

And here we are! 8 check-in stations humming smoothly. Everyone masked up, smiling, everyone so excited to be part of DOING SOMETHING to fight back against the pandemic. Bam!

Here we are in our auditorium. Sixteen vaccination stations, with appointments every 10 minutes, and vaccine service hours from 5am through 9pm. I calculate our capacity to vaccinate about 1000 people a day. This just at UCH; we have 9 other vaccine locations throughout UCHealth’s hospitals in Steamboat, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak, also actively vaccinating. Our goal: to administer our entire received batch before Christmas day. Zowie!

I got mine! 15 minutes socially distanced in the auditorium to observe for immediate reaction, and then done! In and out in about 30 minutes! Woo!

As you know, the FDA and CDC guidance is: Healthcare workers and long term care residents and staff first (winter), then high risk general public (spring) and then general public (summer). We are getting started, and have infrastructure now to deliver shots just a quickly as possible. We anticipate vaccinating up to 20% of all people of the State of Colorado. Hope to see you here soon!

CMIO’s take? I am NOT throwin’ away MY SHOT! (could it be there is a new ukulele song/rap? … stay tuned!)

Forest bathing: what is it good for?

Sometimes it is good to get away. Mind you, this photo is more than a year old (before pandemic), but it makes a few points…

Exercise

Remember to get some exercise. Just … not with 3 super-fit members of your family. Notice everyone having a good time running, except Dad with the barely suppressed grimace of pain and facial mask of determination.

Family

Remember, family members are supposed to support each other. And not run too fast for old people to keep up.

Forest

This is the beautiful Forest of Nisene Marks. I have to say, those articles about Forest Bathing? Yup, they’re right on. That time spent in the woods? When I wasn’t gasping for air, it was a spectacular place, a place to recharge.

Leisurely Jog

As always, I had agreed to go for a “leisurely jog” with the kids and with my baby sis. We would run up the path for maybe a mile or 2, then “It’ll be easy, coming back down! Come on! It’ll be fun!”

Grasping my iPhone with a death grip, I set off. Because, if you’re going to go for a run, your iPhone HAS to track your exercise, doesn’t it? As quippy daughter always says:

“Dad, it’s NOT about the steps. IT’S ABOUT THE LIFE.”

I disagree. If my exercise app doesn’t track it, what’s the point?

Nevertheless, we get to the top (barely). I sprint to the turnaround sign (because, Dads have to make a point). This causes nausea with imminent vagal response.

After some time spent with arms tripod-ed on the knees, gasping for air, concerned looks from the sister (the kids are immune to these cries for sympathy) and an extended period of hands-on-hips walking back down the trail, we commence our downward leg.

I was promised an easier time headed down. This was a complete fabrication.

It was several hours later (or so it seemed) we got back to the car.

CMIO’s take: I do have to admit, the smells, the sights, the laughter were a wonderful respite. Yes, we did bathe in the forest (with our clothes on). And it did refresh my spirit. How do YOU recharge?

Fatal crashes, the Macintosh, and the Shallows

https://www.wired.com/story/how-dumb-design-wwii-plane-led-macintosh

Thanks to WIRED for this article on the design of planes, specifically the B-17 bomber in World War II and how fatal crashes led to better design and human/machine and human/computer interfaces, leading to the Macintosh.

Although thought provoking, I dislike and disagree with some of the discussions in this article:

  • Carnival Cruise’s idea that a “personal genome” should learn your preferences as you wander the ship, and show and encourage you to see more of the same. Where is serendipity, discovery, and being exposed to contrasting ideas?
  • Furthermore, what about The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains? Like what I’m doing to you here, reading my blog post, probably sent here from a link from your Twitter or Linkedin or Facebook streams. We are skimmers, not readers anymore. Can we even hold a complex thread of ideas in our head on one topic?
  • I’m reminded of the medical term “clang association” where patients with psychosis hear something which reminds them of an unrelated conversation. Distractable, are we.
  • Also, the pre-flight checklist, I think, comes from the B-17 bomber, the plane that was claimed to be “too complicated for humans to fly”.

CMIO’s take? See how I illustrated clang associations for you? AFAIK I don’t have psychosis or schizophrenia, but then maybe — SQUIRREL!

What clinical informatics is NOT. Also Nerd Glasses and Propeller Hats.

My offspring. An out-take from Go-Go, their K-pop dance routine. See hyperlink below.

I’m reading a book called Mindfulness in Plain English: another book my daughter left laying around the house with her annotations in it. I love the underlining and ‘YES!’ marks and also the ‘is it though? You shouldn’t wait to be perfect…’ comments. Just a few short years ago, she was in the playpen, and now I love to see her mind at work.

Anyhow, mindfulness meditation is something that I aspire to: I have had months where I meditate daily, and there are times when I forget and lose the habit. I have found it calming and centering and have found clarity through the practice.

You can refer to my blog series ‘CT Meditates, a comedy’ from 2017.

What I love about this current book is the chapter on what Meditation is Not. I love it. It helps define the thing by talking about what it is NOT. For example an annotated list:

WHAT MEDITATION IS NOT

  • Misconception 1: meditation is just relaxation
  • Misconception 2: meditation means going into a trance
  • Misconception 3: meditation is mysterious and cannot be understood
  • Misconception 4: meditation is for saints. Not regular people.
  • Misconception 5: meditation is running away from reality

I love this idea. Writing about the negative space helps clarify what something IS. So, here goes.

There are lots of misconceptions about what Clinical Informatics is.

It can be defined as the science and practice of managing information by capturing, storing, analyzing, retrieving, and using data to improve the care of patients and populations.

Sure, whatever. Perhaps it is more meaningful to talk about misconceptions.

WHAT CLINICAL INFORMATICS IS NOT

  • Misconception: informatics people are the secret Star Chamber of the Electronic Health Record. They wear propeller hats or nerd glasses. <– Yes, these are my nerd kids wearing propeller hats and nerd glasses. And yes, I am proud of them.
  • Misconception: informatics helps you set up your computer. (That’s Information Technology)
  • Misconception: informatics has to do with servers, network cables, wifi problems. (still, IT)
  • Misconception: informatics is a way to force people to do things they don’t want to do. (no, no, no)
  • Misconception: informatics is only about designing things, we leave training to others. (ok, partly right, but we all fail if we don’t train adequately)
  • Misconception: informatics is for people who prefer computers and don’t like talking with humans. (no. please do not send us “the doctor who is our resident computer nerd.”)
  • Misconception: informatics is quick and easy, just put a hard stop there, and DONE! (no. we do not “force those other doctors to do this thing because it makes it more convenient for me and my project” UNLESS it is also good for patient care and clinical leaders all agree)
  • Misconception: informatics has no need of customer/user (patient or clinician) feedback. (just no)
  • Misconception: informatics is a special and arcane field that only computer geeks will understand. (sigh. we fail if this happens)
  • Misconception: informatics is a field of medicine where most people tell you, NO we can’t do that.
  • Misconception: informatics always takes months to achieve the goal or complete a project. (when we do Sprints, we can amaze our docs)
  • Misconception: informatics is unnecessary: an EHR project only needs a subject matter expert and a computer analyst (sorry, without an informaticist to translate, such a project is likely to fail)

Informatics is NOT “Hard stop, and Done!” Instead it is building relationships, understanding the pressures and desires of patients, providers, staff, and understanding the ultimate goal of health care.

Indeed, it is perhaps, one of the major advances of modern healthcare. I would argue, the field of “clinical informatics” should eventually become standard curriculum for ALL physicians.

CMIO’s take: Health care is about using our best science, our best work-flow, our best teamwork. We use this information to heal individual patients and improve the health of our communities. We need great, up-to-date information to do that. Only by capturing, storing, analyzing data, creating new knowledge, and delivering that seamlessly to the provider at the bedside (or directly to the patient) can we grow, improve and evolve as a learning health system.

The Quandary 14’er. Observations of an aging human.

Coming out of the tree-line, noticing the bright moonlight, we shut off our headlamps, casting the trail in an eerie black-and-white moonscape. We hiked by moonlight!

Quandary Peak, left, dominating the Breckenridge valley.

Quandary, for many Coloradoans, is just another one of those 53 peaks in Colorado over 14,000 feet in elevation. For me, however, it was a daunting collection of challenges posed by my college-aged kids. Would I get up at 2:45am to attempt to summit at sunrise? Would I know how to hike in darkness with a headlamp and not trip and fall? Would I keep the pace? Would I tumble off the wind-blown trail on the way up?

Quandary Peak is apparently one of the easier Colorado 14’ers to hike; only 3 miles from the trailhead to summit. How hard could it be?

Yup. Pretty hard.

Those of you who have followed The Undiscovered Country know that I will try anything … once. For example, a 7 mile cross-country ski-in trip to Uncle Bud’s Hut.

Some quick observations:

  • At 2:45am, not a lot of cars on the road to the Quandary trailhead, up near Breckenridge, about 2 hours from Denver.
  • Hiking in the middle of the night, with disappearing trails, steep rocky steps and tree roots galore, is … trippy? exhilarating? disorienting? All of the above.
  • Hiking with a headlamp is surprisingly do-able (especially with the adrenaline of: am-I-going-to-survive-this energy).
  • Hiking with a headlamp is also highly claustrophobic, in that your entire world is the stomp of your boot, the clatter of your hiking poles, the next visible tree, the next rock, the next chance to trip in your faint circle of light.
  • About 4am, coming out of the tree-line, noticing the bright moonlight, we shut off our headlamps, casting the trail in an eerie black-and-white moonscape. We hiked by moonlight! This distracted me from the gusting, bone-chilling winds and the constant scramble over the rock fields. Nope, don’t have a camera that can capture this. But, next best thing (below):
Stars, the son, and the hint of sunrise.
Pre-dawn scramble. Before the madding crowds.
Pre-dawn gloam in solitude, then blazing sun on descent, increasingly crowded.

About 530am, a purple, then green, then orange glimmer of sunrise to the east. Interestingly, the rocks started to glow orange UNDERNEATH, while faintly white on top. Is this what sunrise hiking is like? Never, have I ever…

Imagine: much darker, and somehow, the rocks glow orange underneath…

About 630am, after some shifting clouds, orange crepuscular rays burst through and the entire rocky ascent turned brilliant orange, moonlight banished. 4 liters of water disappears fast on a constant upward climb at 11,000 then 12,000 then 13,000 feet. So do snack bars and ham and cheese sandwiches.

Summit! about 7am. How could 3 miles take 4 hours? In hindsight: donning and doffing gear. Frequent gasping-for-air breaks (disguised as water breaks). I have no idea how Everest climbers have base camp far above 14,000 feet. Even acclimated to 5000 ft altitude in Denver, the additional elevation is tough on the lungs, heart, brain.

The US Geological Survey marker, 14,200 ft. Quandary Peak.

The timing of our climb, on a Saturday morning starting around 3am, was good; few people on the trail, and at our summit, we were among the first 10 people there, taking pictures. The descent, however… Well, lets just say, the photo below was about 8am. Within the hour, we saw hundreds of other peak-aspiring hikers on the narrow trail.

Rocks, and a cool ridgeline hike.

I’m thankful of active offspring who invite me along on such adventures. I’ve summitted 3 peaks that were 14’ers: Gray’s and Torrey’s, and now Quandary. Today I vow that this is my last 14’er: no need to punish this body any further.

On the other hand, I said the same after Gray’s and Torrey’s, two peaks side-by-side and commonly done on the same hike. I made the mistake that day of not bringing hiking poles. The descent, not the uphill, was my undoing: near the end of the hike, my right knee was so swollen and painful that I ended up keeping the knee straight and just swinging it outwards to take a step forward. In our family, we call that the “Pinocchio leg” for somewhat unclear reasons.

Quandary summit with daughter. The Rockies go on forever, it appears.

My main goal this trip: 1. Survive. 2. Use hiking poles to aid descent and avoid Pinocchio leg. 3. Blog about it. Success!

CMIO’s take? What are you doing to recharge?

Ghost Kitchens and their meaning

image from the NYTimes article

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-silicon-valley/our-ghost-kitchen-future

This is a great thinking piece from the New York Times. A ghost kitchen is a trailer set up in a parking lot, with chefs cooking dishes from restaurants, sometimes from 3-4 different restaurants. This can result in serving meals in the parking lot, or setting up for local delivery AS IF delivered from the main restaurant. This solves the problem of underemployed chefs at restaurants with inadequate social distancing seating, or restaurants that have had to remain closed for some reason.

Observations:

  • Placing ghost kitchens in parking lots leverages old spaces
  • Ghost kitchens emphasize hyperlocal location
  • Ghost kitchens are thriving during the pandemic
  • Ghost kitchens leverage internet tools: apps, A/B testing, analytics, and allows nimble innovation, recombination, creativity, disruption

Read the article, and come back here to think with me. What could healthcare learn from Ghost Kitchens? We are already seeing the beginning of disruption in healthcare: the use of telehealth visits with patients has increased the flexibility of patients and providers by removing geography as a constraint (in some cases). What could A/B testing, or analytics do to further serve our patients in a high-quality, personalized, lower cost way?

CMIO’s take? Sometimes, you have to look outside your usual work-sphere to get the best ideas. Sometimes you have to be willing to disrupt yourself before someone else gets there first.

All y’all EHR-using folks don’t know how good you have it.

The author, Chief Medical Information Officer of 3 million paper medical records.

For fun, I’ve set my Zoom background with an actual vintage 1997 photo I took of the medical records room in the basement of University of Colorado Hospital on Ninth Avenue in Denver (back when giants walked the earth). This aisle featured 6 stacked rows of medical record charts AND piles of paper record folders ON TOP since we were out of room (not shown). This was one of 29 aisles of records in the Records Room, holding ONLY the latest 3 years of records: the rest were retained (for 27 years) in a downtown warehouse.

Fun fact: we turned down lots of innovation partnerships and offers of free services because the medical information locked in those paper records was too difficult to pull out:

  • We have a Pulmonary Function mobile van parked out front: send us all your patients who currently smoke and we will screen their lung function for free!
  • Hey, our insurance company will pay you a bonus payment if you can prove all of the patients who have had a previous heart attack are taking aspirin! (true story, a clinic trying to prove this using paper medical records and clerical staff paid more gathering the data than they received in bonus money)
  • Quick: the mobile mammogram bus is coming next week: let’s call all our patients who are due for mammography screening!
  • We have a new diabetes educator visiting for a couple weeks! Can we contact all our patients with diabetes to come for a free visit?
  • Uh, oh! The medication Bextra is being recalled by the manufacturer; quick: call all our patients taking that medication! (True story: 1/2 of our clinics were able to run a report on our EHR at the time and call affected patients immediately; the other half, still relying on paper records, had to say… “well, when the patient calls for a prescription refill in a few months, THEN we’ll tell them…”)

Fortunately, it is simple in our current EHR to run ad-hoc reports to do all this now. Whew! And, we can do predictive analytics on this data to save lives that would have blown my mind back then.

Here’s another flashback:

Don’t tell the post office; this is where all their bins went

THIS is the Medical Records intake room, back when we were ONE hospital, 40 clinics (we’re now 12 hospitals, 800 clinics). On average, 6 vertical feet of paper, received EVERY DAY. Fifty medical records staff, filing, sorting, pulling, sending, receiving, creating new charts. And, still, we were 2 WEEKS behind on filing.

We had over 20 transcription services, all local, receiving tiny tape-recorder dictaphone tapes, transported by COURIER from the doctors dictating. As an aside, some of us remember hearing doctors mumbling their ultra-fast, only partly understandable dictations walking the halls between patients. On average, outpatient transcriptions took about 2 weeks to complete and print out, mail, and file back into the record. Inpatient daily transcriptions were ordered STAT for 3x the cost and typed same day, arrived by urgent courier in the late evening and taped into the paper chart.

I am proud of my doctor handwriting

For the record, here’s a paper progress note I wrote in 1999 on “non-carbon paper” sending the original copy to Hospital Medical Records, and then keeping the yellow copy in a “shadow chart”: a duplicate set of medical records kept in our “off-site clinic” because … we could not count on Hospital Medical Records to pull the relevant charts for clinic patients scheduled each day.

Don’t even get me started on our appointment scheduling system. “Oh yes, thanks for calling! So you’re looking for Dr. Lin’s next available appointment? Sorry, nothing for the next 3 weeks. Oh, you’d like to see the next available doctor? =sigh= OK I’ll pull down the other twelve 3-ring binders, one for each doctor, and see who might have an open spot.”

Are you keeping track? 50 medical records staff at the hospital to maintain Main Medical Records, and 1-2 additional medical records staff at EVERY clinic (about 40 clinics) to keep a shadow chart. Because we don’t trust each other to keep track and deliver records on time!

Hello, dolly

Oh, and meet this guy. In 1997, our medical information (see: x-ray films, paper medical records, dictaphone tapes) moved at the speed of rush-hour traffic on Colfax Avenue. Seven miles each way, 12 leased buildings throughout metro Denver. Two round trips every day.

With all this person-power and effort, the result? On a typical clinic day, I would see about 18 internal medicine patients. Main medical records would successfully deliver charts for about 9 patients. Our clinic’s shadow chart system would deliver charts to my exam room for about 6 additional patients, leaving, on average THREE patients with NO CHART. Just a piece of non-carbon paper, with handwritten vital signs and a list of patient-reported allergies that day. Mind you, there was no such thing as a clinical computer system at the time. As a result:

“Hi Doc! It is great to see you! What did my cardiologist tell you about me when he saw me 2 weeks ago and did all those tests? He said that I should come talk to you about his report.”

Um. I don’t have any of your records today. I see your blood pressure looks good and that you report no allergies to medicines though.”

“What?! I made this appointment to go over his report! That visit was 2 weeks ago!”

“Yes. Um. What condition, exactly, do you have? Why did we send you to my cardiology colleague? What do you remember that he told YOU? Can you help me out here?”

“This is disappointing. You mean you really have nothing on me? Do you at least have the blood test results or the echo result?”

“Um, no. I’m really sorry about this. Okay, tell you what, no charge for today, my apologies for wasting your time and I will call you later this week after I call and yell at my medical records people and maybe get your chart and see what it says.”

“Whatever. You guys should really get your act together. Okay, can you at least go ahead and refill those 3 medicines that you prescribed for me from last year? I’m about out.”

(Excitedly taking out prescription pad) “Sure, I’m happy to! Do you happen to remember the names of the medications and the doses and what they’re for?”

Let’s not even talk about loading up a 2-foot-tall stack of medical records in our arms, walking out to the car, throwing them in the trunk, driving home and dictating late into the night, and hopefully remembering to bring them back into the office the next day.

And, if there was an urgent need for a particular medical record? We would routinely have a couple staff members wandering the clinic, from office to office, desk to desk asking: “Do you have the chart for Peterson, Mary, or Smith, Joseph, or Samuels, Jane?” and thus not answering the phone, or rooming patients…

Of course, by contrast, with our current EHR, tap-tap-tap: instant access to any patient record.

Yesterday, for example, my patient met her oncologist to discuss a new diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Today, I was able to read her consulting note, review the pathology from a recent biopsy, refresh my education about peritoneal carcinomatosis in an EHR-linked online textbook, secure-chat and then phone call with the oncologist about prognosis and treatment options, set up a video visit with the patient and her family, and have a have a well-informed, thoughtful conversation about her next steps.

This speed and coordination would not have been possible in the era of paper charts.

Not as cool as Jimmy Fallon’s Thank you Notes

Wait! One more thing! Remember the good old days when we received faxed blood test results and then had to notify patients by writing a STACK of folded post cards? I faced a stack of these EVERY EVENING at the end of clinic. Please don’t ask me how many times a patient brought back a post card saying: “Um, this looks pretty important, but, I think you meant to send this to a different Peter Smith. I haven’t had a blood test in awhile.”

Yikes.

Our patient Portal, we call My Health Connection: we release test results to the patient online, and then send comments with our interpretations, arriving to the patient’s inbox instantly. Comment from my patient? “It feels like I have my doctor in my pocket. So cool.”

CMIO’s take? All y’all don’t know how good you have it.

On the other hand, are you old, like me? Do you remember those days?

On the third hand, in another decade, I hope folks will look back to TODAY and marvel how much better the future is.

Moment of Zen for Mother’s Day

If you’re not getting away enough from all things Pandemic, here’s a nice long-exposure photo from my iPhone 7. Yes, a CMIO with an iPhone 7. And I still love it. At least I have a smartphone, unlike one of my informaticist colleagues.

Forest bathing is a thing in Japan and increasingly worldwide, and perhaps we could learn a thing or two. OR, try Norway’s Slow TV (YouTube, almost 10 hours! Surprising how compelling it is, try it full screen), as highlighted by CBS Sunday Morning (8 minutes, YouTube). Don’t miss it!

Hope you all have a great Mothers’ day.