Thursday, September 17, 2020

Teaching Example : The Ice Cream Order Set

Hi fellow #ClinicalInformatics, #Informatics, #HealthIT, #CMIO, #CNIO, #CPOE, #workflow, and other #design thinking friends, 

Order sets - If you work in Clinical Informatics, you probably have a lot of experience with them

Order sets offer great opportunity, and can really help streamline clinical processes and create predictable outcomes. Since they are a part of the medical record that every doctor uses (like Larry Weed, MD once said), they can help guide and teach. In my 13 years of designing them, I've seen remarkable standardization in processes, reduction in variation, and improved outcomes when they are designed well

For those who design and build them, however, here are the five most common challenges : 

  1. People without solid order set experience often don't budget properly from them, from a time or resources perspective. (They often take more work than most people would initially imagine.)
  2. Doing them well often requires a great deal of effort and coordination between multiple clinical stakeholders (Physicians, Nurses, Pharmacists, and often other ancillary services, operational leaders, finance, legal/compliance, etc.)
  3. It's not just the effort to create them - It's also the effort to maintain them.
  4. People often disagree about the best way to create, review, test, approve, and publish them. 
  5. Managing expectations can take time, especially when people try to use them to solve complex training/education or utilization problems. 
There are actually best-practices for developing them, but they're often not well-understood. It often takes time to build them in a collaborative manner, to help ensure the best outcomes: Order sets that physicians will actually *use*, predictably, to achieve predictable outcomes. 
So recently on Twitter, my CMIO colleague Paul Fu, MD from UCLA shared a tweet about an EMR order for 'birthday cake', presumably from a pediatric hospital that had actually had built an order for pediatric patients who could tolerate a piece of birthday cake on their birthday.

While several Clinical Informatics friends chimed in to comment, I took the opportunity to create a tongue-in-cheek, general-purpose Ice Cream Order Set that could actually be used for teaching and discussion purposes : 

Ice Cream Order Set

This [DRAFT] order set example above basically lets you prepare ice cream for your TV binge-watching purposes. Remember, It's not a real order set, but it's a decent teaching example to show just how complicated and workflow-dependent order set design can be. 

You'll notice that it's a general-purpose ice-cream order set, addressing some common scenarios : 

  • It's fairly flexible, allowing you to eat as little as a single scoop in a bowl or cup, or as much as multiple pints.
  • It does a decent job addressing common allergies (lactose, peanut, dairy, etc.)
  • It uses fairly standardized units of measurement, which are reasonable for most ice-cream consumption purposes. 
  • It lets you select a number of toppings - and even finishes with a cherry on top. 
You'll also notice that it has some limitations : 
  • It only offers three flavors - Chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. (Imagine trying to index an order set to offer more complex flavor combinations?)
  • While it has decision-support built in to help guide an ordering provider to the right choices, it does require a doctor to order the ice cream differently, depending on the utensils and container (cup/bowl versus the ice-cream container)
  • Some Clinical Informatics friends have suggested it should have some alerts and hard-stops for people with certain food allergies (e.g. should you be able to order peanuts if you have a peanut allergy?)
Of course, it's just ice-cream, but the order set is still fairly complex, and required the development of a new term ('unique container') to address the ordering workflow related to eating from bowls/cups versus the ice-cream container - Imagine creating order sets for complex or high-risk clinical workflows.

Feel free to share this teaching example for your own discussion or education purposes - If you don't use an EMR or don't use order sets, it's a friendly way of showing people the promise and complexity that order sets can present, both in development and use.

Remember this blog is for discussion and education purposes only - Your mileage may vary. What would you do to make this order set easier or offer more flavors? Do you have any tips or feedback about order set development or maintenance? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Friday, September 11, 2020

How to Untangle a Complex Clinical Workflow

Hi to my fellow #CMIO, #CNIO, #ClinicalInformatics, #Design, #Designthinking, #workflow, and #HealthIT friends,

For today, I thought I'd share an easy trick for untangling even the most complicated clinical workflows. 

Let's say you're asked to help troubleshoot a particularly complicated workflow, where the end-users tell you things like 'It's so complicated, I can't even describe it!', or 'It's very non-linear'. You want to help, but aren't sure where to start. 

Here's my tip : Start by just writing procedures

While many people in the industry commonly write their workflows as 'swimlane' workflow diagrams, I find that these can sometimes quietly have room for error. In the wrong hands, with an untrained eye, it's possible to draw up a swimlane diagram with 'hidden gaps' that are hard-to-spot until you talk through each step in the process, usually with a group of end-users.

Indeed, swimlanes are the usual industry standard for planning or troubleshooting complex workflows, but writing good procedures can be equally as effective, with some added benefits : 

  • Procedures can usually be edited dynamically, on-the-fly, with a group of people (e.g. in a video conference), as an easy way of quickly collecting their understanding of their workflow/process. 
  • Procedures also make it easier to spot missing pieces - If you use my format above, you'll always know when the WHO (stakeholder) is missing, when it's not clear what's a REQUIRED (will) task or an OPTIONAL (may) task, or what exactly the task is. 
  • Procedures can also usually be easily converted into policies or education, for those times when you want a policy to help back up and reinforce your important procedure, or educate it out to the people who need to follow your new workflow/procedure.
  • Procedures are also generally 'naturally lean'. Missing pieces, redundancies, or design problems usually become obvious as you write out the procedure, allowing you to address those questions before you build your new process. 
If you use the procedure outline above, with the optional modifiers - you can even estimate the time it takes to do each task, allowing you to estimate the total time, people, and resources you will need to achieve your desired outcome. This can even be helpful in developing a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return-on-Investment (ROI) for your workflow.

And it's generally easier to stitch procedures together than it is to try to stitch swimlane workflows, which can take some time to move objects around, edit text, and reformat the diagram. 

Finally - For extra clarity, you can even name your procedures exactly what they are, e.g. : 
  • DRAFT - CURRENT STATE - How to cook good food
  • FINAL - CURRENT STATE - How to cook good food
  • DRAFT - FUTURE STATE - How to cook even better food
  • FINAL - FUTURE STATE - How to cook even better food

If you have any tips you'd like to share for documenting or troubleshooting workflows, feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Remember, this blog is for educational and discussion purposes only - Your mileage may vary! Please check with your Clinical Informatics, Legal/Compliance, or Clinical Operational leadership before documenting any of your own workflows. If you have any feedback, tips, or tricks you'd like to share - Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!