Healthcare records
Overwhelmed by Alerts, Physicians Are Fed Up With EHRs
Despite a huge push by the federal government to subsidize electronic healthcare records (EHR) for providers, problems with current EHR software are frustrating physicians and hospitals alike, with systems that don’t communicate and outdated software that wastes time, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

AMA released a new framework in September outlining eight priorities for improving EHR usability to benefit caregivers and patients, such as reducing cognitive workload and promoting care coordination. In a RAND study AMA funded in 2013, physicians expressed feeling demoralized by inefficient EHRs that “created a sense of information overload—the unceasing volume of messages reaching them has expanded beyond the number that they believe they can handle diligently.”

During a call with journalists about the new framework, AMA President-Elect Steven Stack, MD, called current EHR software immature and costly. “The current experience with most electronic health records is more like typing into a DOS-based computer with the blinking C prompt,” Stack said. “You may have to check, click, double click, triple click, and scroll incessantly to get through simple tasks. It’s inordinately inefficient to do that.”

Making matters worse, the government has yet to publish standards for interoperability among different vendors’ EHRs. Only half of hospitals are able to transmit a patient care document to another provider. As a result, many clinicians are still faxing patient records.

Deductibles in Employer-Sponsored Health Plans Rising
Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,834 this year, up 3% from last year, continuing a recent trend of modest increases, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) 2014 Employer Health Benefits Survey. However, workers now face much higher deductibles, averaging $1,217. Many health insurance companies include laboratory testing under the plan’s deductible.

In 2014, approximately 80% of all covered workers face a general annual deductible, with the average deductible reaching $1,217. Workers typically must pay this deductible before most services are covered by their health plan. The average deductible has risen 47%, from $826 in 2009.

“The deductibles for workers have crept higher over time,” said lead study author Gary Claxton, a foundation vice president and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project. “Today, four in 10 covered workers face at least a $1,000 deductible, nearly double the share from just five years ago.”

HHS Funds Advanced Flu Tests
The Department of Health and Human (HHS) Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Pre­paredness and Response (ASPR) is spending more than $20 million to develop two new influenza tests that aim to boost flu pandemic preparedness.

One award will advance the ­development of a simple, low-cost molecular test under a 3.5-year, $12.9 million contract with Alere. The company will develop a test which could yield results within 15 minutes and show whether a patient has an ­infection caused by a seasonal flu virus type A or B infection. The company plans to submit studies for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance or approval, including a CLIA waiver.

The other award goes to InDevR. The company is working on what it calls a biochip test under a 2-year, $7.9 million contract, with options to extend the contract up to $14.7 million over 4 years. InDevR will develop a test to identify seasonal flu viruses and recognize novel flu viruses within 4 hours in near-patient settings. If successful during the first 2 years, InDevR will submit for clearance or approval from FDA and develop a fully automated version of the test. Both companies’ tests would use nasal swab samples. According to ASPR, the tests will help clinicians distinguish viral from bacterial infections and help avoid unnecessary antibiotic use.