In my Dec. 10, 2013 post "44% of hospitals reported to HHS that they can delete the contents of their EHR audit logs whenever they'd like" ( I observed that the "money quote" of the Modern Healthcare article that prompted the post, "Feds eye crackdown on cut-and-paste EHR fraud" by Joe Carlson was not the issue of EHR cut-and-paste features and billing fraud, but EHRs and audit trail alteration.

Dr. Stephen R. Levinson, an E/M compliance and healthcare quality expert among other areas of expertise (see, wrote me with the following regarding the issue I glossed over in favor of the audit trail concerns, namely, EHR cloning.

Reproduced with Dr. Levinson's permission:

This long-recognized and high-profile problem [EHR cut and paste, copy forward, etc. - ed.] covers only one of the several mechanisms EHRs provide to create CLONED Documentation.

Other non-compliant short-cuts include documentation by exception (auto-entry of extensive negative history reviews and normal comprehensive examinations), use of restricted pick list words and phrases, and "translation."

Translation is my own terminology for taking actively entered "yes" or "no" responses in medical history (and "normal" or "abnormal" findings in physical exam) and using pre-loaded software to convert (i.e., translate) the response to a long pseudo dictation paragraph. For example, check a box for lungs being "normal" may automatically appear in a paragraph as "lungs clear to percussion and auscultation; respiratory effort is normal on inspiration and expiration with normal excursions of the diaphragm; there are no rales or rhonchi, and no wheezes are present."

This extended statement will appear identically in patient after patient and visit after visit, regardless of whether this level exam was performed. Further, the likelihood of every patient having completely normal lungs is non-existent.  [This is one mechanism by which reams of "legible gibberish" are produced even with modest hospital stays, e.g., see my Feb. 27, 2011 post "Two Weeks, Two Reams" at - ed.]

Finally, although cloned documentation is egregious, there are four other equally egregious non-compliant documentation and coding features, common to most EHRs, that are being totally ignored by OIG. These 4 features are:

1) non-compliant coding engines (including failure to consider medical necessity of the level of care)

2) Replacing narrative documentation of differential diagnoses with billing codes (ICD-9) and billing semantics

3) Failure to document the qualitative components of E/M coding, while addressing only quantitative components (e.g., when patient has a positive response to review of systems question on chest pain, compliance (and quality care) requires further investigation and documentation of further details; most current systems either lack ability to document these details or fail to guide and require physicians to document them)

4) Failure to incorporate consideration of "medical necessity" (indicated in E/M coding as the "nature of the presenting problems") into care, documentation, and coding

As evidenced by these explanations, common commercial EHRs in use today were either designed by amateurs or by crooks, with the gatekeepers turning a blind eye towards abuses since at least 2007 (per commenter and EHR compliance expert Dr. Reed Gelzer who, at, indicated ONC and OIG knew of these issues since a 2007 report he contributed to).

The gatekeepers have turned a blind eye, that is, until now when they've finally opened one eye very slightly, like a ten-day-old puppy, as the abuses become more widely known.

Young puppy begins to open its eyes.

-- SS

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