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ONC’s New Leadership Emphasizes Shifting Priorities in Media Briefing

July 11, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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EHR usability and interoperability have become the central focus for the federal HIT agency

During a briefing with members of the industry press today, top officials at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) discussed the core priorities of the agency, signaling a change in focus for the health IT branch of the federal government.

The July 11 call with health IT trade press, both in person and via telephone, included recently-appointed National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, M.D., John Fleming, M.D., deputy assistant secretary for health technology reform, and Genevieve Morris, principal deputy national coordinator for Health IT. All three top senior officials at ONC are appointees of President Trump, though Morris has worked with the federal agency in the past on various projects.

Rucker, formerly the vice president and chief medical officer at Siemens Healthcare, handled most of the responsibilities of the 90-minute call in what was his first open briefing with the trade press since taking the job this spring. The National Coordinator opened by reaffirming what Fleming had said during a keynote at a recent event—the agency’s two core priorities will largely be around electronic health record (EHR) usability and interoperability.

In prior administrations, ONC had various roles, from encouraging EHR adoption to assisting with health information exchange (HIE) infrastructure to helping with the meaningful use program, but late in the Obama administration, those priorities started to shift. And then when Tom Price, M.D., was confirmed as Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary under Trump, federal health IT officials mainly became focused on making sure that EHRs help physicians rather than burden them—a sentiment that was a big point of emphasis in today’s briefing.

Indeed, while interoperability has been a major focus for ONC in past years, improving the usability of health IT systems is now also right up there. Rucker noted that the two laws that have been passed by Congress—MACRA (the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) and the 21st Century Cures Act—together “define the ONC mission.” He said, “We have spent a lot of money on these systems and there is a widespread dissatisfaction with the level of interoperability. [Now], we are trying to use the tools that we as a country have purchased to help us with value-based purchasing and quality reporting.”

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Speaking further about reducing the burden, Rucker said that the agency is looking at documentation requirements for physicians as well as the whole quality framework around value-based purchasing, and other regulations related to how systems are architected. “For a lot of practices, this has become a challenge in that we have to think about what the win is for them. The expense that [comes with] complying with the quality measures [compared with] the innate value [gained] needs to be analyzed at some point,” he said.

Rucker added that he has personally been working on EHRs for a long time and that many people assumed that usability was something that should have been figured out in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s. “Now it’s 2017, so I won’t make any more predictions since my prior ones have not been very successful,” he said jokingly. He added that in a broader sense, there is a feeling in Congress that EHRs can be harnessed. “They are right now about documentation and billing, but every other industry uses its enterprise computer software to do automation to become more efficient. We are the only business to use computers to become less efficient.”

To this end, Rucker also noted that the hiring of Fleming—for a position that has never existed before in the government—signals that there is now someone in a key leadership role who stands for the many issues that small and independent practices have with technology. Fleming, a former Navy physician who then opened his own private independent practice in the 1980s, noted that when his practice got its first EHR it all started out smoothly, but over time the practice started to have the same issues that have plagued other doctors around the U.S. “You hear complaints that doctors are so focused on the different administrative requirements in healthcare today. It reminds me of when commercial aircrafts became so complex and pilots had an overload of managing those systems. But that has become more streamlined now,” he said.

Both Rucker and Fleming said that it has come directly from Secretary Price that more attention be paid to reducing the burden that health IT puts on providers. Noted Fleming, “EHRs have become symbolic with physician burden, but by no means is it the entire cause. A physician, in an independent practice, is the CEO and must manage that practice, he or she must see the patients, and now with EHRs, he or she must be the data input person, too. We get reports from doctors that they spend two to three hours a day creating documentation.”

Interoperability and Cures

Meanwhile, another core priority of ONC will be to work on a number of provisions as outlined in the bipartisan Cures Act passed late last year. Rucker said that the top takeaways from this law are that Congress wants more explicit definitions of interoperability, open APIs (application program interfaces), and that it wants to prohibit information blocking.

When asked if the agency will have sufficient budget and resources to carry out these responsibilities, Rucker said, “We think we do have the resources and time to do these tasks. Some of these things we are not legally able to work on until Congress handles certain aspects of the budget, and some of it is [the work of] other agencies like the GAO [Government Accountability Office].” But he did add that ONC will begin hosting a series of meetings later this month with the aim to establish a trusted framework and common agreement for health data exchange, as outlined in Cures. Morris added that the common agreement should be out for the public later this year or early in 2018.

Regarding interoperability, Rucker noted that it happens in pockets of the country today, and the sharing of lab results and images works well for the most part, but he pondered if the business model as it is today could extend beyond these few areas, and if there is enough of a business incentive for a patient’s problems list to be up-to-date and meaningful for all doctors to see, for example. “On the enterprise side with hundreds of providers, these problem lists are all over the place, and they go from screen to screen to screen. There is no business model to clean that up,” Rucker said. He added that ONC’s Interoperability Roadmap is a “solid path” but said there is no ETA for when some of those data sharing challenges will indeed be solved. “A lot of this is about more than just standards; it’s about business relationships,” he said.

Overall, when asked about the future vision of ONC and its role in the industry, Rucker said that philosophically speaking, ideally all of these regulations wouldn’t be needed, since that would mean many of the problems that exist today would be solved. To this point, he was asked when the meaningful use program will wind down, to which he responded that there is no date and that much of what’s to be decided is in conjunction with CMS. He did say that the focus is “not on finding more things to apply the meaningful use methodology to.” But for now, he said, for the next few years, it will be about making sure that EHRs are working so that physicians are not data clerks, but rather they can get value from the data that’s in the systems.

Fleming added that the changing reimbursement system is also a driver for much of this change. “Rather than pay for service, we need to pay for quality and outcomes. This is where CMS is putting effort and resources into, and this goes back to last administration—to their credit—in evaluating these [payment] models so people have the same incentives.” He noted, “The hope is that as we advance into better reimbursement and care models, some of these fee-for-service issues, documentation issues and usability issues begin to resolve themselves.”

 

During a briefing with members of the industry press today, top officials at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) discussed the core priorities of the agency, signaling a change in focus for the health IT branch of the federal government.

The July 11 call with health IT trade press, both in person and via telephone, included recently-appointed National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, M.D., John Fleming, M.D., deputy assistant secretary for health technology reform, and Genevieve Morris, principal deputy national coordinator for Health IT. All three top senior officials at ONC are appointees of President Trump, though Morris has worked with the federal agency in the past on various projects.

Rucker, formerly the vice president and chief medical officer at Siemens Healthcare, handled most of the responsibilities of the 90-minute call in what was his first open briefing with the trade press since taking the job this spring. The National Coordinator opened by reaffirming what Fleming had said during a keynote at a recent event—the agency’s two core priorities will largely be around electronic health record (EHR) usability and interoperability.

In prior administrations, ONC had various roles, from encouraging EHR adoption to assisting with health information exchange (HIE) infrastructure to helping with the meaningful use program, but late in the Obama administration, those priorities started to shift. And then when Tom Price, M.D., was confirmed as Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary under Trump, federal health IT officials mainly became focused on making sure that EHRs help physicians rather than burden them—a sentiment that was a big point of emphasis in today’s briefing.

Indeed, while interoperability has been a major focus for ONC in past years, improving the usability of health IT systems is now also right up there. Rucker noted that the two laws that have been passed by Congress—MACRA (the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) and the 21st Century Cures Act—together “define the ONC mission.” He said, “We have spent a lot of money on these systems and there is a widespread dissatisfaction with the level of interoperability. [Now], we are trying to use the tools that we as a country have purchased to help us with value-based purchasing and quality reporting.”

Speaking further about reducing the burden, Rucker said that the agency is looking at documentation requirements for physicians as well as the whole quality framework around value-based purchasing, and other regulations related to how systems are architected. “For a lot of practices, this has become a challenge in that we have to think about what the win is for them. The expense that [comes with] complying with the quality measures [compared with] the innate value [gained] needs to be analyzed at some point,” he said.

Rucker added that he has personally been working on EHRs for a long time and that many people assumed that usability was something that should have been figured out in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s. “Now it’s 2017, so I won’t make any more predictions since my prior ones have not been very successful,” he said jokingly. He added that in a broader sense, there is a feeling in Congress that EHRs can be harnessed. “They are right now about documentation and billing, but every other industry uses its enterprise computer software to do automation to become more efficient. We are the only business to use computers to become less efficient.”

To this end, Rucker also noted that the hiring of Fleming—for a position that has never existed before in the government—signals that there is now someone in a key leadership role who stands for the many issues that small and independent practices have with technology. Fleming, a former Navy physician who then opened his own private independent practice in the 1980s, noted that when his practice got its first EHR it all started out smoothly, but over time the practice started to have the same issues that have plagued other doctors around the U.S. “You hear complaints that doctors are so focused on the different administrative requirements in healthcare today. It reminds me of when commercial aircrafts became so complex and pilots had an overload of managing those systems. But that has become more streamlined now,” he said.

Both Rucker and Fleming said that it has come directly from Secretary Price that more attention be paid to reducing the burden that health IT puts on providers. Noted Fleming, “EHRs have become symbolic with physician burden, but by no means is it the entire cause. A physician, in an independent practice, is the CEO and must manage that practice, he or she must see the patients, and now with EHRs, he or she must be the data input person, too. We get reports from doctors that they spend two to three hours a day creating documentation.”

Interoperability and Cures

Meanwhile, another core priority of ONC will be to work on a number of provisions as outlined in the bipartisan Cures Act passed late last year. Rucker said that the top takeaways from this law are that Congress wants more explicit definitions of interoperability, open APIs (application program interfaces), and that it wants to prohibit information blocking.

When asked if the agency will have sufficient budget and resources to carry out these responsibilities, Rucker said, “We think we do have the resources and time to do these tasks. Some of these things we are not legally able to work on until Congress handles certain aspects of the budget, and some of it is [the work of] other agencies like the GAO [Government Accountability Office].” But he did add that ONC will begin hosting a series of meetings later this month with the aim to establish a trusted framework and common agreement for health data exchange, as outlined in Cures. Morris added that the common agreement should be out for the public later this year or early in 2018.

Regarding interoperability, Rucker noted that it happens in pockets of the country today, and the sharing of lab results and images works well for the most part, but he pondered if the business model as it is today could extend beyond these few areas, and if there is enough of a business incentive for a patient’s problems list to be up-to-date and meaningful for all doctors to see, for example. “On the enterprise side with hundreds of providers, these problem lists are all over the place, and they go from screen to screen to screen. There is no business model to clean that up,” Rucker said. He added that ONC’s Interoperability Roadmap is a “solid path” but said there is no ETA for when some of those data sharing challenges will indeed be solved. “A lot of this is about more than just standards; it’s about business relationships,” he said.

Overall, when asked about the future vision of ONC and its role in the industry, Rucker said that philosophically speaking, ideally all of these regulations wouldn’t be needed, since that would mean many of the problems that exist today would be solved. To this point, he was asked when the meaningful use program will wind down, to which he responded that there is no date and that much of what’s to be decided is in conjunction with CMS. He did say that the focus is “not on finding more things to apply the meaningful use methodology to.” But for now, he said, for the next few years, it will be about making sure that EHRs are working so that physicians are not data clerks, but rather they can get value from the data that’s in the systems.

Fleming added that the changing reimbursement system is also a driver for much of this change. “Rather than pay for service, we need to pay for quality and outcomes. This is where CMS is putting effort and resources into, and this goes back to last administration—to their credit—in evaluating these [payment] models so people have the same incentives.” He noted, “The hope is that as we advance into better reimbursement and care models, some of these fee-for-service issues, documentation issues and usability issues begin to resolve themselves.”

 

 

 

 


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How BI Tools Are Helping Jefferson Health Battle the Opioid Crisis

September 21, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Helping clinical leaders identify prescribing patterns across the health system

Making health system changes to address the opioid crisis is challenging if you don’t have actionable data about prescribing patterns. With guidance from their chief medical officer, the business intelligence team at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia took advantage of the recent enterprise EHR implementation to create dashboards highlighting potential prescribing issues. Internal EHR development teams have already made changes to address the issues they found.

In a recent interview, Cara Martino, enterprise business intelligence manager at 14-hospital Jefferson Health, said that Jefferson was one of the first health systems to implement its Epic EHR and Qlik Sense at the same time. Many organizations that go live on Epic use Crystal Reporting, she said. “It was the combination of the two that allowed us to do this project,” she added. Before going live on Epic and using this new BI tool, Jefferson clinicians used a bunch of disparate systems for ambulatory, inpatient and emergency department physicians. “We weren’t able to aggregate the data,” she recalled.

Jefferson departments had tried to look at opioid prescribing previously, but “they were trying to manually abstract opioid data from the system, compile it in Excel, and try to see trending across the continuum of care, but they really weren’t able to do that very well,” Martino said. “Once we went live with Epic, we were able to standardize the work flow of entering the opioid order and prescription, and Qlik Sense allowed us to look at it from that enterprise view and to slice and dice the data a bunch of different ways.”

In response to the opioid epidemic in the Philadelphia area, Jefferson has created an opioid task force. In January 2018, Edmund Pribitkin, M.D., Jefferson’s chief medical officer, came to the BI team because he saw they didn’t really have good data to share. “We were bringing physicians and pharmacists together in a room to think through what we can change to address the opioid crisis,” Martino said, “but they didn't’ have baseline data to understand where we are going wrong.”

Pribitkin asked the BI team to develop a high-level dashboard with five key metrics to share at the clinical chair department level: 

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• Prescriptions by provider and service;

• Number of orders with over 100 pills;

• Prescriptions written for more than 7 days, 5 days and 3 days;

• Patients with two or more opioid prescriptions within 30 days; and

• Morphine-equivalent daily doses over 50.

The metric around patients with two or more prescriptions within 30 days had been difficult to see when data was being entered in a lot of different ordering systems, but is much easier now because everyone is ordering through Epic.

Within a month, the BI team had a prototype created. In the dashboard, you can pick a patient with the most scripts, and below it populates the different providers who are prescribing for them. “Sometimes you pick someone on the higher end and only one person is prescribing to them. Usually it is a chronic pain clinician, and it is probably appropriate,” Martino said. “But then you pick someone who has six different providers providing them opiates. They may have no idea about each other. Now we get to have that conversation about what we can do in the EHR to notify them at the time of ordering that the patient already has something prescribed. Also, our quality department can notify these six providers via e-mail. They might ask whether we should refer this patient to a chronic pain physician. If they really need this much pain medication, are we treating them the right way?”

Showing clinical leaders a trending graph such as prescription orders of 7 days or more can have an impact on ordering trends and EHR recommendations. Martino, who is a nurse herself, described an example of how her team worked with clinician informaticists who build EHR workflow tools to make some key changes.

They saw in the data that there were examples of doctors were prescribing six opioids to the same patient within two minutes. On further examination, they found that clinicians were entering orders incorrectly and quickly canceling them. But the e-prescription interface with the pharmacy system wasn’t necessarily canceling the incorrect orders, and the patients could have six prescriptions waiting for them at the pharmacy.

“Our first step was to get a message out to providers to let them know if you are prescribing and sending to an outside pharmacy, you need to pick up the phone and talk to the pharmacy about a change in an order and make sure they know which is the correct one,” Martino said. They also worked on the pharmacy interface to generate those canceled order messages, so that if something is ordered and then canceled within 30 seconds, it alerts the pharmacy not to prepare it.

The BI team saw another EHR change that they thought might make a big difference in prescribing patterns. In the EHR quick buttons, duration of the prescription defaulted to 10 days. The quick button on order days had choices of 7, 10, 15 or 30. “We knew those were too high,” she said. “We wanted 3, 5 or 7.”

They worked with an emergency department doctor who was also an informaticist to pilot that change in the ED. “In the first month, we saw a drop from 32 scripts over 7 days to just two,” Martino said. The following month they saw a reduction of more than 65 percent in prescriptions of more than 7 days. “The best part is no one complained or said they were looking for the 10 button and it wasn’t there,” she added. Now that change is being rolled out enterprise-wide.

Although there are some other requests from clinicians for data about opioid prescribing, Martino said the BI team’s current goal is to help more clinicians gain insights into the data that already exists. “It is really hard to go from an institution that was not data-rich and had disparate systems and manually collected data to one that has one EHR and a robust BI tool that allows us to slice data in a million different ways,” Martino said. “We are trying to get the clinicians comfortable with the tools. There is so much we can do, but we have to get the data to the right people and educate them about how we are pulling it out of the EHR. It is easy for this not be a priority for clinicians because they are so invested in taking care of their patients. It is our job as informaticists to go to their meetings and talk about changes we can make. It is also important for us to have clinicians on our team and to be able to offer that informaticist viewpoint.”

 

 


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Survey: Physicians Sour on Value-Based Care Metrics, EHRs

September 19, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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They new research has several key findings related to value-based care, health IT and burnout

More than 50 percent of U.S. physicians who receive value-based care compensation said they do not believe that the metrics the reimbursement is tied to improve the quality of care or reduce costs, according to a new survey.

The research comes from The Physicians Foundation, an organization seeking to advance the work of practicing physicians and helps them facilitate the delivery of healthcare to patients. The Foundation’s 2018 survey of U.S. physicians, administered by Merritt Hawkins and inclusive of responses from almost 9,000 physicians across the country, reveals the impact of several factors driving physicians to reassess their careers.

Specifically, the new survey underscores the overall impact of excessive regulatory/insurer requirements, loss of clinical autonomy and challenges with electronic health record (EHR) design/interoperability on physician attitudes toward their medical practice environment and overall dissatisfaction—all of which have led to professional burnout.

The research revealed several key findings, including that value-based compensation is directly connected to the overall dissatisfaction problem, which is tied to metrics such as EHR use, cost controls and readmission rates, etc. Forty-seven percent (compared to 43 percent in the 2016 survey) of physicians have their compensation tied to quality/value, but when physicians were asked if they believe that value-based payments are likely to improve quality of care and reduce costs, 57 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that this is the case, while only 18 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that it is.

As one responding physician put it: “We are no longer in the business of healthcare delivery, we are in the business of ‘measures’ delivery.” More than 13 percent of physicians are not sure if they are paid on value.

What’s more, the research found that 88 percent of physicians have reported that some, many or all of their patients are affected by social determinants. Conditions such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and addictions all pose a serious impediment to their health, well-being and eventual health outcomes. Only one percent of physicians reported that none of their patients had such conditions.

Additional notable findings from the research included:

  • 18.5 percent of physicians now practice some form of telemedicine
  • 80 percent of physicians report being at full capacity or being overextended
  • 40 percent of physicians plan to either retire in the next one to three years or cut back on hours—up from 36 percent in 2016
  • 32 percent of physicians do not see Medicaid patients or limit the number they see, while 22 percent of physicians do not see Medicare patients or limit the number they see
  • 46 percent of physicians indicate relations between physicians and hospitals are somewhat or mostly negative

Coupled altogether, 78 percent of physicians said they have experienced burnout in their medical practices, according to the survey’s findings. And the results show that one of the chief culprits contributing to physician burnout is indeed the frustration physicians feel with the inefficiency of EHRs.

“The perceptions of thousands of physicians in The Physicians Foundation’s latest survey reflect front-line observations of our healthcare system and its impact on all of us, and it’s sobering,” Gary Price, M.D., president of the Foundation, said in a statement. “Their responses provide important insights into many critical issues. The career plans and practice pattern trends revealed in this survey—some of which are a result of burnoutwill likely have a significant effect on our physician workforce, and ultimately, everyone’s access to care.”

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Brigham Health’s 3-Pronged Approach to Reducing EHR’s Contribution to Burnout

September 18, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Focus is on individualized training, reducing unnecessary clicks, voice recognition tools

Research studies have found that “burnout” is nearly twice as prevalent among physicians as among people in other professions.  Physician surveys have found that 30 to 60 percent report symptoms of burnout, which can threaten patient safety and physician health. With EHR documentation ranked high among aspects of their work physicians are dissatisfied with, Brigham Health in Boston has taken a three-pronged approach to reducing the pain.

Brigham Health, which is the parent organization that includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital and the Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization, rolled out its implementation of Epic in 2015. In a Sept. 18 presentation that was part of the Harvard Clinical Informatics Lecture Series, Brigham Chief Information Officer Adam Landman, M.D., said the organization’s initial EHR physician training was eight hours of classroom training on where to find things in the EHR instead of focusing on workflows and how to use the EHR to support it.  “Our experience was not the best,” Landman admitted.  They followed up with tip sheets, a help desk and a swat team to do service calls, but providers only rated those interventions as somewhat helpful, so Brigham informaticists re-doubled their efforts to:

• Improve the EHR;

• Provide one-on-one training in the clinical setting; and

• Offer voice recognition software and training.

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Landman said IT teams at Brigham feel a sense of urgency about reducing the burden of EHR documentation. “Burnout is an epidemic, and the EHR is a component of this,” he said, adding that the changes are not just a one-year cycle but must involve continual iterative improvements. “We need to be more aggressive about making changes,” he said.

He described some efforts to reduce notifications and remove clicks from the medication refill process. They also removed a hard stop when discontinuing a medication. Those three changes alone reduced the number of clicks per month by 950,000 across the health system.

They also worked to reduce clinical decision support alerts with very low acceptance rates by turning them off. Three alerts with very low acceptance rates were turned off. “If we thought they were important, we would fine tune them to increase the acceptance rate,” Landman stressed. “That is part of clinical decision support lifecycle management. But we will continue to iterate to reduce the number of unnecessary clicks.”

A year and a half ago, Brigham also created a one-to-one support program, in which an expert trainer would meet the physicians in their practice and help them with their work flow. A pilot project involved four specialties, including general surgery. Each session was 90 minutes to two hours long, and providers were offered one or more follow-up sessions, as well as optional training on speech recognition. After seeing some negative feedback on their initial classroom training, the one-to-one sessions were met with a very positive response. Almost 95 percent said it was valuable, and 95 percent said they thought their efficiency with the EHR would improve following the training. Based on that early success, the training effort is now being rolled out to much larger groups of physicians at Brigham and across the Partners HealthCare network.

In another attempt to improve documentation turnaround time, Brigham has made voice recognition tools and training available to physicians. They made two-hour training sessions mandatory for those interested in adoption, with additional personalization sessions also available. Informaticists partnered with departments to build department-specific order sets. (Brigham also started offering 15-minute e-learning sessions for residents.) More than 90 percent of surveyed physicians said the training met expectations, and 70 percent said they would be willing to have additional training, Landman said. Currently 5,000 physicians across Partners are trained to use voice recognition tools with the EHR.

Landman also cited a study that compared U.S. and international use of Epic that saw a huge disparity in length of documentation notes. The U.S.-based users’ notes were nearly four times longer on average than those of their international counterparts. Epic users overseas tend not to complain about the burden of documentation, he noted. This has to do with how the provider notes are used in billing, he said, adding that CMS is working on proposals to change billing requirements that may alleviate some of the documentation burden for physicians.

In closing, Landman urged informatics colleagues to think about working on EHR optimization research and studying the impact of policy and technology changes. “New technology tools can seem fun and exciting, but for physicians who see up to 100 patients per day, they can be quite overwhelming,” he said. “We don’t want physicians spending half their time doing administrative work.”

 

 

 

 

 


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