Sunday, November 21, 2010

Converting paper order sets to electronic

If you're reading this, I hope you're the person in your institution trying to "convert the paper order sets to electronic ones".

Don't worry - you're perfectly normal. The job is usually a lot harder than it looks. And no, you're not the only one who hears, "Why can't you just take the paper order sets and put them on the screen?"

(Most people think it's simple, until they actually start to dissect the order sets.)

First, let's start with some of the challenges of paper order sets :
  1. Paper order sets generally keep multiplying - Let's say you decide to fix the paper order sets, and so you need to take the old versions "off the shelves". Beware - People tend to make copies of paper order sets. So the old ones can turn up weeks and months later.
  2. Paper order sets are often engineered differently - In the electronic (CPOE) world, orders are very concrete. You may have specific safety features put into your electronic PCA (Patient-Controlled Anesthesia) order. How will you put those safety features into your paper order set? You may also have hidden "protocols" in your paper order sets. What will you do with those protocol (conditional) orders? 
  3. Paper order sets are sometimes ignored, after a hospital "goes electronic" - If you ignore your paper order sets, what will your hospital use during electronic downtimes? Can you afford not to have paper backup order sets, if your OR/ED are busy?
Believe it or not, how you address these paper-order-set problems will be vitally important in your long-term electronic success. Ignore the paper order sets, and you will miss an opportunity to really set up a robust electronic platform.

Let's look at each of these issues in a little more detail :

1. The "Multiplying paper order sets" -
This is a phenomenon many organizations struggle with. The solution : Centralize all of your order sets on one common electronic web site, and publish them as non-editable .PDF files. Create a clinical policy where "If it's not on this site, it's not an acceptable order set".  It will take you a while to get the site together, and organize all of your paper order sets there, but in the end, you will have a way of controlling the paper order sets in use. 

2. The "Engineering differences" between paper and electronic order sets
Some organizations, on going electronic, focus on developing electronic order sets, while the paper order sets continue to be produced in the way they "always have been built". If you have two separate processes (an electronic and a paper process), the problem is that you will start to have significant engineering differences between the two. 
If you have different paper and electronic order sets, you will then encounter :
  • Paper order sets that don't meet the engineering standards needed for order entry in your EMR, so they will be very hard to "send-to-pharmacy-so-someone-else-can-do-the-order-entry"...
  • Paper order sets that don't match the electronic order sets
  • Two cultures : Docs who use electronic order sets, and docs who use paper order sets. (If your organization does a "flip-the-switch" approach to EMR/CPOE, then this won't apply to you. If you do a "gradual conversion", then this will apply to you.)
The way you fix this, of course, is to develop simultaneous paper and electronic order sets. Set up your informatics platform, update your policy on order set development (to include paper and electronic order sets), and ask your informaticists to develop the paper and electronic order sets simultaneously. Have them tested by the same people, and approved by the same committee. This will ensure that they match, and even if you are a "100% CPOE" organization, you will still appreciate having matching paper order sets during electronic downtimes.
Remember, the solution isn't to make electronic orders that mirror your bad paper processes. Make good, solid, and safe electronic orders, and then use those in your updated paper order sets.
A final tip : Embedded "protocol" (conditional) orders generally need to get pulled out of the paper order sets, before you can "make them electronic" - and you will need to decide what to do with those : A. publish them as new protocols, or B. throw them out. This will take work and can be politically challenging. 

3. The "Ignored Paper Order Sets"
Some organizations, on going electronic, ignore the paper order sets, thinking, "We don't need them anymore, right?". My advice : Don't ignore them. Not only will you need to figure out what your pharmacy will do if they end up getting faxed paper orders, but you will still need them for computer downtimes.

If all of this sounds complicated, and it sounds like a lot of work, you're right - It is. This is why order sets are the political and organizational challenge that they are. A good informaticist can help sort out the issues and put a plan and process into place for your organization, where it doesn't have to be too painful. Unfortunately, because healthcare doesn't have standards in clinical processes, every organization handles this conversion differently, and as a result, order sets are notoriously hard to standardize. (Think of them as a "custom-fitted suit".)

One last tip : Beware the "quick fix" - There are consultants who will "easily and quickly convert your paper order sets to electronic ones". The way they usually do this is by taking the paper orders, no matter how they are engineered, and simply build new electronic orders that match them. In the short term, this may appear to work, but in the long term, it may leave the nurses with orders which are unclear (and may create extra pages to doctors to clarify), since some paper orders are not as well-defined as their electronic counterparts. You may also miss out on the opportunity to streamline your clinical processes, and miss out on the time and cost savings that an EMR can really bring. My recommendation : Build the new paper order sets to match the engineering standards of your electronic order sets - Not the other way around. 

As always, my advice with order sets : There are no quick fixes. Hire a good informaticist to help you with this. :)

Hey, by the way, I'm open for questions - If anyone has any EMR conversion or informatics questions that you'd like to chat about, feel free to leave a comment here or email me. I'll try to devote my next posts to reader questions! So send me stories, questions, or whatever else you'd like to discuss in upcoming posts - I look forward to hearing from folks! :)

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