Tag Archives: communications

Electronic medical records:

The Push and the Pull

Increasing safety and efficiency in medicine can only lead to an increase in health care quality, right? Some might not agree, especially when it comes to the implementation of electronic medical records (EMRs). There is a federal effort to ensure all medical records are in digital format by 2014, and supporters of EMR technology laud their effectiveness at minimizing medical errors, keeping records safe, facilitating information portability, and increasing cost-efficiency overall (The HWN Team, 2009; Preidt, 2009). Unfortunately, many are skeptical of the cost, security, and utility of such systems (Brown, 2008; The HWN Team, 2009; Preidt, 2009; Terry, 2009). These concerns (and others) are dramatically slowing the pace of EMR adoption, especially in smaller private practices where cost is a significant issue (Ford, Menachemi, Peterson, & Huerta, 2009).

Does EMR adoption actually increase safety? As Edmund, Ramaiah, and Gulla (2009) point out, a working computer terminal is required in order to read the EMR. If the computer system fails, there is no longer access to the medical record. This could be detrimental in a number of cases, especially when considering emergency medicine. Edmund, Ramaiah, and Gulla also describe how difficult it can be to maintain such a system. With this in mind, it is plain that as the system ages there will be more frequent outages and, therefore, more opportunity for untoward effects. Further, recent research shows how EMRs enforce pay-for-performance schemes that many U.S. physicians resent. McDonald and Roland (2009) demonstrate that physicians in California would rather disenroll patients who are noncompliant when reimbursed under pay-for-performance models enforced by the EMR software. Declining to treat patients who express their personal responsibility and choice in their own medical treatment cannot improve the effectiveness of safety in the care that they receive.

There needs to be a middle ground. Baldwin (2009) offers some great real world examples of how some hospitals and practices use hybrid systems to ensure effectiveness and quality while enjoying the benefits of digital records. According to Baldwin, there are many concerns to account for when considering a move from an all paper charting system to an all digital system. Many times, these concerns cannot be allayed and concessions between the two systems must be made. Brown (2008) suggests providing a solid education to the front-line staff regarding EMR implementation, and hence, obtaining their ‘buy in’ to the process to create a smoother transition to implementation. However, this does not address the safety concerns. Baldwin’s advice to analyze which processes should be computerized allows a solid business approach to EMR implementation, allowing some processes to remain paper-based if it makes sense to do so.


Baldwin, G. (2009). Straddling two worlds. Health Data Management, 17(8), 17-22.

Brown, H. (2008, April). View from the frontline: Does IT make patient care worse? He@lth Information on the Internet, 62(1), 9.

Edmund, L. C. S., Ramaiah, C. K., & Gulla, S. P. (2009, November). Electronic medical records management systems: an overview. Journal of Library & Information Technology, 29(6), 3-12.

Ford, E. W., Menachemi, N., Peterson, L. T., & Huerta, T. R. (2009). Resistance is futile: But it is slowing the pace of EHR adoption nonetheless. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 16, 274-281. doi:10.1197/jamia.M3042

The HWN Team. (2009, March). Electronic medical records: the pros and cons. Health Worldnet. Retrieved from http://healthworldnet.com/HeadsOrTails/electronic-medical-records-the-pros-and-cons/?C=6238

McDonald, R. & Roland, M. (2009, March). Pay for performance in primary care in England and California: Comparison of unintended consequences. Annals of Family Medicine, 7(2), 121-127. doi:10.1370/afm.946

Preidt, R. (2009, December 16). Pros and cons of electronic medical records weighed. Business Week. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/634091.html

Terry, N. P. (2009). Personal health records: Directing more costs and risks to consumers? Drexel Law Review, 1(2), 216-260.

The Patient Perspective: Patient Safety

The Speak Up materials provided by The Joint Commission (2011a, 2011b) do a great service in succinctly illustrating the need to be educated about health care issues. Patients and their families have a unique perspective to understanding their (or, their family member’s) health (Vincent & Coulter, 2002). Although physicians, nurses, and allied health providers are responsible for providing quality care, it remains the domain of the patient to express uncertainty or provide additional information to guide the provider. Ultimately, the patient or surrogate decision-maker must provide consent for treatment and must do so with full understanding. There are times, however, that the scope of treatment is so drastic, emergent, or specialized that the patient may not have the facilities to gain a full understanding of care needing to be rendered (Vincent & Coulter, 2002). This is the exception.

In the case of Josie King (Josie King Foundation, 2002; Niedowski, 2003; Zimmerman, 2004), which I elaborated on last week, Sorrel King, Josie’s mother, was educated about her daughter’s condition and spoke up as The Joint Commission recommends. Unfortunately, this case turned into tragedy not because Sorrel King did wrong but because the nurse disregarded her apprehension. This was tantamount to malpractice and no patient or family member could have prevented this, save for using force to physically prevent the administration of medicine. According to MacDonald (2009), there are nurses that believe “[patients] have no say and that medications are the domain of doctors, leaving the nurse and the patient to trust that the doctors would do the right thing” (p. 29).

Perhaps things were slightly different, however. As MacDonald (2009) explains, patient’s who are knowledgeable of their illness and take an active role in their health care decisions add another layer of safety, especially when considering medication action, reaction, and interaction. Medication prescription errors are numerous within health care, and as in the case of Josie King, improved communication between the physicians, nurses, and Sorrel King might have prevented Josie from being administered the narcotic and instead receiving the fluid she so desparately needed (Vincent & Coulter, 2002).

Health care should be patient-centric as it remains the responsibility of the patient to be educated about the care they receive and to provide consent for that care and treatment to be rendered. An uneducated patient does add risk, but sometimes this is unavoidable. It is in these instances that special care should be taken until a full medical history can be attained.


The Joint Commission. (2011a, March 7). Speak up: Prevent errors in your care [Video podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.jointcommission.org/multimedia/speak-up-prevent-errors-in-your-care-/

The Joint Commission. (2011b, April 5). Speak up: Prevent the spread of infection [Video podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.jointcommission.org/multimedia/speak-up–prevent-the-spread-of-infection/

Josie King Foundation. (2002). About: What happened. Retrieved from http://www.josieking.org/page.cfm?pageID=10

Macdonald, M. (2009). Pilot study: The role of the hospitalized patient in medication administration safety. Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, 6(3), 28-31. Retrieved from http://www.psqh.com/

Niedowski, E. (2003, December 15). From tragedy, a quest for safer care; Cause: After medical mistakes led to her little girl’s death, Sorrel King joined with Johns Hopkins in a campaign to spare other families such anguish. The Sun, pp. 1A. Retrieved from http://teacherweb.com/NY/StBarnabas/Quality/JohnsHopkinsErrors.pdf

Vincent, C. A. & Coulter, A. (2002). Patient safety: what about the patient? Quality & Safety in Health Care, 11(1), 76–80. doi:10.1136/qhc.11.1.76

Zimmerman, R. (2004, May 18). Doctors’ new tool to fight lawsuits: Saying ‘I’m sorry’. Wall Street Journal, pp. A1. Retrieved from http://www.theoma.org/files/wsj%20-%20medical%20error%20-%2005-18-2004.pdf

Hacking Cyberterrorism

Although not particular to cyberterrorism, for this discussion I have chosen hacking as a type, or means, of cyberterrorism. Hacking covers virus loading and denial of service attacks, also. In order to carry out a cyberterrorism attack, it must be based on some sort of hacking. First, however, we must agree on the definitions of hacking and cyberterrorism. US Legal, a website dedicated to providing legal reference, broadly defines hacking as “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access” (Computer hacking law & legal definition, n.d., para 1). Cyberterrorism is, according to Denning (2006):

…[H]ighly damaging computer-based attacks or threats of attack by non-state actors against information systems when conducted to intimidate or coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are political or social. It is the convergence of terrorism with cyberspace, where cyberspace becomes the means of conducting the terrorist act. Rather than committing acts of violence against persons or physical property, the cyberterrorist commits acts of destruction or disruption against digital property. (p. 124)

Arguably, in order to use a computer system to do any of the above, it involves hacking, but without hacking, there can be no cyber- component to cyberterrorism, which leaves mere terrorism. Fortunately, using these definitions, there has never been a cyberterrorism attack ever in history (Brunst, 2008; Conway, 2011). Brunst (2008) goes further using the term terrorism to include the planning (and, even pre-planning) phases of an event. I disagree with this tact in scholarship. Brunst fails to provide the distinction between cybercrime and cyberterrorism. Thinking simply, having a Facebook account in order for ease of communication does not amount to meeting for coffee. Messaging a friend on Facebook and organizing a meeting does not constitute meeting for coffee. The act of two or more persons meeting for coffee is a conventional one, however it was planned. This is the same with terrorism. I argue that, although much planning and radicalization can occur using computer networking (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, general information websites, et al.), any terroristic act that stems from such organization would still be considered conventional terrorism unless the act, itself, is described as being technological in nature (Conway, 2011).

There is potential for a cyber-attack to generate fear, economic impact, and the loss of life. This is why we concentrate on security measures to ensure difficulty in accessing systems without proper credentialing, rapid identification and response to active intrusions and threats, and recovery techniques to identify and repair data, networks, and nodes that were involved. For this reason, networks are designed with human redundancy. Human redundancy, as Clarke (2005) explains, integrates human decision points within a technological operational structure in order to detect, indicate, explain, and correct an error. Additionally, infrastructure, a commonly regarded target by the experts, tends to be resilient by its own nature making cyber-attacks inefficient and ineffectual (Conway, 2011; Lewis, 2002; Wilson, 2005)


Brunst, P. W. (2008). Use of the internet by terrorists: A threat analysis. Responses to Cyber Terrorism, 34(1), 34–60.

Clarke, D. M. (2005). Human redundancy in complex, hazardous systems: A theoretical framework. Safety Science, 43(9), 655-677. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2005.05.003

Computer hacking law & legal definition. (n.d.). US Legal. Retrieved from http://definitions.uslegal.com/c/computer-hacking/

Conway, M. (2011). Against cyberterrorism: Why cyber-based terrorist attacks are unlikely to occur. Communications of the ACM, 54(2), 26-28. doi:10.1145/1897816.1897829

Denning, D. (2006). A view of cyberterrorism five years later. In K. E. Himma (Ed.), Internet security: hacking, counterhacking, and society (pp. 123-139). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Lewis, J. A. (2002, December). Assessing the risks of cyber terrorism, cyber war and other cyber threats. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from http://www.steptoe.com/publications/231a.pdf

Wilson, C. (2005, April 1). Computer attack and cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and policy issues for Congress (CRS Congressional report No. RL32114). Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA444799&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf

Cyberterrorism vs. WMD

Perhaps in an Orwellian society where computers are independant and there is very little human-to-computer interaction could a cyberterrorist cause such an impact as to be equal with a weapon of mass destruction. This is not true, however, regarding the technology of today. According to James Lewis (2002) from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “cyber attacks are less effective and less disruptive than physical attacks. Their only advantage is that they are cheaper and easier to carry out than a physical attack” (p. 2). Studies of the implementation of efforts to reduce the effectiveness of infrastructure during war show a resiliency that is poorly respected. Redundant systems in conjunction with a focused human response provides mitigation to reduce the impact of disruptive efforts on infrastructure (Wilson, 2005). It seems the more important the system, the larger and focalized the response.

The northeast blackout of 2003 provides a decent case study, although the cause was a systems failure and not related to terrorism. According to the article by Minkle (2008), within an hour and a half, 50-million subscribers lost power in eight states and parts of Canada for a few days, yet it only contributed to about 11 deaths within the affected area. While the impact was significant, geographically, it was more or less a nuisance for most people.


Lewis, J. A. (2002, December). Assessing the risks of cyber terrorism, cyber war and other cyber threats. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from http://www.steptoe.com/publications/231a.pdf

Minkle, J. R. (2008, August 13). The 2003 northeast blackout — five years later. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/

Wilson, C. (2005, April 1). Computer attack and cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and policy issues for Congress (CRS Congressional report No. RL32114). Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA444799&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf

Medical Error: The Josie King Story

Josie King’s story (Josie King Foundation, 2002; Niedowski, 2003; Zimmerman, 2004) is heartbreaking, but the events told herein empowered Sorrel King, Josie’s mother, to take on a mission responsible for numerous patient care recommendations that have enhanced the safety of pediatric patients throughout the country. Josie King was only 18 months old when she climbed into a hot bath and suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns which led to her being admitted to Johns Hopkins pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Within 10 days, Josie was released from the PICU and brought to the intermediate floor with all assurances that she was making a remarkable recovery and would be released home in a few days. Josie did not continue her remarkable recovery, however.

According to Sorrel King (Josie King Foundation, 2002), Josie began acting strangely, exhibiting extreme thirst and lethargy, after her central intravenous line had been removed. After much demanding by Sorrel, a medication was administered to Josie to counteract the narcotic analgesia she had been administered. Josie was also allowed to drink, which she did fervently. Josie, again, began recovering quickly. Unfortunately, the next day, a nurse administered methadone, a narcotic, to Josie as Sorrel told her that Josie was not supposed to have any narcotics… that the order had been removed. Josie became limp and the medical team had to rush to her aid. Josie was moved back up to the PICU and placed on life support, but it was fruitless. Josie died two days later and was taken off life support.

The Institute of Medicine (2001) published six dimensions of health care: safety, effectiveness, patient-centered, timeliness, efficiency, and equality. In Josie’s case, the care was not delivered efficiently, effectively, safely, or in a patient- or family-centered fashion. The overuse of narcotics in Josie’s case was certainly not effective or safe. Additionally, withholding fluids and allowing her to become dehydrated was detrimental to her recovery, which was neither safe nor effective. As Josie exhibited extreme thirst, her symptoms were dismissed, which does not follow patient-centeredness. Moreso, when the nurse administered the narcotic to Josie despite the pleadings of her mother, it demonstrated a lack of family-centered care, safety (in that, the order should have been double checked), efficacy (further demonstrating overuse of narcotic analgesia), and efficiency, as medication orders were either unclearly written or removed.

This story is clearly a demonstration that mistakes can happen at even the best of hospitals.


Institute of Medicine. (2001, July). Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Josie King Foundation. (2002). About: What happened. Retrieved from http://www.josieking.org/page.cfm?pageID=10

Niedowski, E. (2003, December 15). From tragedy, a quest for safer care; Cause: After medical mistakes led to her little girl’s death, Sorrel King joined with Johns Hopkins in a campaign to spare other families such anguish. The Sun, pp. 1A. Retrieved from http://teacherweb.com/NY/StBarnabas/Quality/JohnsHopkinsErrors.pdf

Zimmerman, R. (2004, May 18). Doctors’ New Tool To Fight Lawsuits: Saying ‘I’m Sorry’. Wall Street Journal, pp. A1. Retrieved from http://www.theoma.org/files/wsj%20-%20medical%20error%20-%2005-18-2004.pdf

Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned

The primary and causative failure of government, according to the U.S. House report (2006), was that officials did not develop an adequate or accurate situational picture in a timely fashion. This lead to minimal preparation, ineffective evacuation plans, and an slow logistical supply chains for moving needed assets into the area to aid with the response. The second mistake, according to the report, was officials distancing themselves from the failures politically. This sole act (by many in the leadership) served only to protract the response and recovery and confuse the populace. Understandably, however, the politicians certainly wanted to be removed from the situation, as they could have lessened the burden years earlier with use of specific appropriations. Funds designed to mitigate the exposure of the Gulf coast to hurricanes were not spent as intended, if at all.

Looking back on the situation, had each government activated their EOC and staffed it with reputable public safety officials to run the response, the situational picture would have been clearer, especially with the various EOCs communicating together (Walsh et al., 2012). The plan might have coalesced into the use of an area command with resources deployed in task force and strike team convention as needed. Certainly, though, the public message would have been singular, to the point, and helpful to the public (Walsh et al., 2012). This would have lead to an expedited response and coordinated evacuations prior to landfall of Hurricane Katrina, which was said to be “predicted with unprecedented timeliness and accuracy” (U.S. House of Representatives, 2006, ix).


U.S. House of Representatives. (2006). A failure of initiative: Final report of the select bipartisan committee to investigate the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Critical Incident Response Plans

The possibility of a large-scale event threatening the health and safety of a large number of residents in Connecticut is sizable. Emergency response plans (ERPs) need to be in place to address concerns including epidemic/pandemic disease, the intentional or accidental release of a hazardous material, contamination of the food and/or water supply, and other incidents that might threaten the 3.4 million residents and could result in mass casualties. For this reason, the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH; 2005) has developed an ERP to guide the department in the event of a catastrophic threat the lives and safety of the residents of Connecticut. Additionally, the State of Connecticut has developed a State Response Framework, much like the National Response Framework, in order to allow for a modulation of an incident from a local level to a state or federal level (State of Connecticut, Department of Homeland Security, 2010; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008). The ability of an incident response to grow and shrink as an incident dictates follows the natural progression of incidents starting and ending locally, whether involving state or local responses at any time during the response (Walsh et al., 2012).

The ERP (DPH, 2005) that guides the DPH allows for representation in the state EOC while forming a modular incident management team (IMT) to staff the DPH emergency command center. The DPH IMT is designed not only to support the state EOC when activated, but also supports the various local incident commands as a public health and medical service resource. In keeping with the modular aspects of the incident command philosophies and the state and national response framework, the DPS ERP becomes a valuable resource for both initiating a response to a significant threat to the public health and safety and allows for an expert resource when other incidents of magnitude, but not necessarily public health in nature, require or benefit from the availability of public health experts.

One criticism I do have, however, is that the plan (DPH, 2005) does not address the provision of emergency medical services (EMS). For some time, there has been much confusion as to where EMS falls in the realm of emergency service functions. EMS, for many jurisdictions, is a function of the fire department and may fall under the direction of ESF #4, firefighting, especially as many EMTs and paramedics are cross-trained to fight fire. However, ambulances are not firefighting apparatus. As ambulances do transport the ill and injured, perhaps EMS falls to ESF #1, transportation. This is unlikely, though, as the primary need is not the transportation provided but the care rendered. Public health and medical services, ESF #8, seems to me to be the logical category for EMS to fall under, but EMS has an expanded role that also fits ESFs #9, #10 & #13 (search & rescue, oil & hazmat response, and public safety & security, respectively), as well as the aforementioned ESFs #1 and 4. This lack of initial categorization may allow flexibility in the deployment of EMS personnel and equipment, but it could also lead to ineffective deployment strategies resulting in a shortage of EMS in one area and overutilization in another.


State of Connecticut, Department of Homeland Security. (2010, October). State response framework. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/demhs/lib/demhs/telecommunications/ct_state_response_framework_v1_oct_10.pdf

State of Connecticut, Department of Public Health. (2005, September). Public health emergency response plan: Emergency Support Function #8 Public health and medical services. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/ctfluwatch/lib/ctfluwatch/pherp.pdf

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008, January). National response framework. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-core.pdf

Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Emergency Operations Center Leadership

The emergency operations center (EOC) is a decentralized and secure place for senior management officials to maintain operational awareness when confronted with a large scale events or disasters (Walsh et al., 2012). Although these events or disasters may dictate the use of local incident commands at various emergencies throughout an area, the EOC allows an incident management team to direct the overall response effort while maintaining complete situational awareness. This allows for increased interoperability and the availability of resources and a centralized planning and intelligence effort (Walsh et al., 2012). During a multi-state event, a joint field office (JFO) might serve as the primary EOC to support other EOCs that have been activated.

Within the EOC, there are a number of leaders and managers responsible for ensuring an effective response strategy for the emergency that is being faced. One of these leaders is the Area Command Logistics Section Chief (or, “Log Chief”). The Log Chief is responsible for procuring and otherwise acquiring the facilities and personnel to support the response initiative. This includes “resources from off-incident locations […] providing facilities, transportation, supplies, equipment maintenance and fuel, food services, communications and information technology support, and emergency responder medical services, including innoculations” (Walsh et al., 2012, p. 60).

In response to an impending an ice storm in Austin, Texas, in 2003, the city’s EOC was activated 24 hours in advance of the storm. One of the crucial area command members activated was the Log Chief. The Log Chief ensured that redundant communications facilities were available as power outages were interferring with some established communications equipment. The Log Chief also ensured that there was food available for delivery to each small-scale incident as it developed. This was important as the available resources were deployed, there was a lack of available manpower during shift change, so feeding hungry crews was a priority. The Log Chief, on this incident, had many other important functions, but as a responder working in these adverse conditions, it was most important for me to be fed and have solid communications in the event I was to be one of the motorists sliding off the road.


Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Motivation: A Career that I Enjoy

I am lucky to work in a career that I absolutely enjoy. As a paramedic in the emergency medical services (EMS), I am called upon to help those in my community in the worst of circumstances to help them when they feel helpless. There are drawbacks, however. Many people rely on EMS for problems that even they do not view as emergent, and others just plainly abuse the system. Still, I enjoy being the one called upon to help. My primary motivations are my sense of community, my ability to reduce suffering, and my ability to raise the standard of care within the system. Maslow (1943) includes some of the earliest accepted work on motivational theory, and more contemporary work is based on the acceptance, rejection or modification of his theories, so I will focus on Maslow to begin. My needs, according to Maslow, are not as important to motivation. Need fulfillment will not motivate me to perform; however, a lack of fulfillment may prevent me from performing. This is especially true for Maslow’s lower-order needs. Maslow discusses how emergency situations can “obscure the ‘higher’ motivations [and create] a lopsided view of human capacities and human nature” (p. 375), and while my career is focused on responding to emergencies, this may hold true for me. While Maslow’s theory is not wholly accepted motivational schema (Robbins & Judge, 2010), EMS managers, and other public safety managers, would do well to understand this exception to motivational theory.

Many EMS managers, it seems, subscribe to McGregor’s (1957/2000) theory X without understanding the ramifications or the competing theory Y. There is a deep-seated belief that the workforce is lazy and will do anything possible to undermine the operation. This results in micromanagement tactics that seem to promote an unwillingness to promote the goals of the employer. McGregor highlights this and cautions that it a result of poor management technique, not a cause that is easily rectified by the chosen technique.

Other theories, such as goal-setting, equity theory, and expectancy theory, as described in Robbins and Judge (2010), are all lacking in one particular constant: there is no constant in human behavior. There are a number of ways that a single motivational factor might influence a particular person on any particular day. For any theory to always be true in every situation, it would cease to be a theory and become a law. This being said, as managers, we need to measure the importance of certain tasks and focus our efforts on communicating this importance to the workforce. It is the manner of this communication that will tend to fail or succeed, based on both the needs of the manager and the needs of the employee at the moment the message is passed.


Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346

McGregor, D. (2000). The Human Side of Enterprise (Reprinted from Adventure in thought and action: Proceedings of the fifth anniversary convocation of the School of Industrial Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1957, April 9. Cambridge, MA: MIT School of Industrial Management). Reflections, 2(1), 6-14. doi:10.1162/152417300569962

Robbins, S. P. & Judge, T. A. (2010). Motivation concepts. Essentials of organizational behavior (pp. 62-79). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Using Intelligence in ePCR Database Design

The intelligence of a database design begins with the intelligent approach in which the developer focuses on the particular need the database is to fulfill. It is especially important to constrain, or specialize, a database used in health care, else the database can quickly grow beyond the bounds of efficiency. Efficiency can be found directly from table design, and it can be further achieved with business rules and logic. Designing a database for storing patients’ medical records also has some risk of increasing the likelihood of medical errors and statistical incongruities if done improperly; therefore, a qualified database administrator should be consulted (Campbell, 2004; McGlynn, Damberg, Kerr, & Brook, 1998). However, a preliminary needs assessment can be accomplished by asking a few simple questions: Who? What? Where? Why?

Who needs to use the database? For whom is the data useful? By identifying the scope, or domain, of each database user, the developer can gain a sense of which data points are important (McGlynn et al., 1998; Thede, 2002). For instance, in health care, a purely diagnostic database should efficiently offer comparative differential diagnoses to aid a physician in caring for patients; however, a database of this type will not offer much to the administrative arm of the practice. By understanding the relationship between physician diagnosis and billing, relational techniques can serve to ensure greater accuracy in billing procedures.

What data needs to be stored and retrieved? By listing the specific data to be stored, the developer has an opportunity to optimize the storage methods by creating an efficient and normal relational table foundation (Kent, 1983; Sen, 2009). A patient care reporting database, for instance, must be able to store patient identifying information, or demographics. Depending on the specific needs of the practice, demographic data can usually be stored in a single table. Other relational tables could be used to store references between the patient demographic record and pertinent medical information, thereby minimizing duplication (Thede, 2002).

From where does the data need to be accessed? Does this database require authentication for use on a local area network or a complex security policy for wide area network access (Campbell, 2004; McGlynn et al., 1998)? More importantly, however, is portability of the data. If the data is going to be replicated in a large composite database, the data needs to meet the specifications of the repository. This is often achieved by the publication of a template, or a clear set of directives on how data is to be formatted before transmitting data to the repository. An example of this is the Medicare electronic records requirements set forth in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. By accounting for common templates in the design phase, the developer can avoid having to parse data prior to transmitting the data over the network.

Why are we storing the data? Today, it is very common to store data if merely for purposes of recording an interaction, such as a patient contact. However, it is important to understand how the data will be used in the future. Will the data need to be immediately accessible, such as in emergency or critical care areas, or could the data be compiled and batch processed during times of off-peak network load, such as in billing or logistics. Could paper reporting fulfill the immediate need better? If so, should the data on the paper report be entered in a database later? Regarding transcription, it is important to be knowledgeable about the available technology for creating scanned images, portable electronic documents, and the use of optical character recognition in order to properly prepare for the storage of each.

By answering the who, what, where, and why of the database needs assessment, we ultimately answer the question of how to design and implement the database. As an example, in order to design an ambulance run form, we must take into consideration demographics, the history of present illness (or, the reason for the ambulance request), past and pertinent medical history, including, but not limited to: medications, past medical problems and surgeries, and allergies to medications and environment. It is also important to store the assessment, care, and outcome, as well as the disposition of the incident and the destination facility. Additionally, medical standards, such as diagnostic codes, medications, protocols, and algorithms, could be stored in reference tables for preventing redundancy within the data model (Kent, 1983; McGlynn et al., 1988; Sen, 2009, Thede, 2002). Ambulances are mobile; therefore, network access is an important consideration when designing an electronic ambulance patient care reporting database. For this type of database schema, I would recommend using a small, efficient database locally with a mechanism in place to replicate the data to the larger repository when the network is accessible.

Another challenge in creating a database is learning how not to store information. Information is made of of data, but only data should be stored (Collins, 2009). Programming logic can be used to synthesize data into information and, further, into knowledge. Many database designers mistakenly store information, or even knowledge, quickly inflating the size of the database and decreasing its efficiency and normalcy (Kent, 1983; Sen, 2009).

In conclusion, developing an electronic patient care reporting database for a physician practice has some inherent risk if done poorly; however, a knowledgeable member of the office team can highlight the project requirements by performing the needs analysis.


Campbell, R. J. (2004). Database design: What HIM professionals need to know. Perspectives in Health Information Management, 1(6), 1-15. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

Collins, K. (2009). Managing information technology. Exploring Business (pp. 122-130). Retrieved from http://www.web-books.com/

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, P.L.104-191. (1996).

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