I am a miracle made up of particles and in this existence I'll stay persistent and I'll make a difference and I will have lived it - Medicine for the People

CERT in the news

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Today I was alerted to a fair bit of news - my project is being highlighted by ChainOnline - a Clinician-Consumer Health Advisory Information Network (presented by the Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics). When I read the following paragraph I got so excited because this is me! I'm one of the "CERT researchers" evaluating the alerts, working with providers and rating EMR systems.
“It’s been shown that even if you deliver an important safety warning, doctors often ignore it, partly because the sheer number of alerts can be overwhelming, and partly because many of them are not really relevant,” says Bates. To address these issues, the CERT researchers are evaluating the appropriateness of overriding alerts and working with providers to understand the reasons and patterns behind high override rates. They also are evaluating several of the major commercial EMR systems and rating them according to their effectiveness at delivering relevant warnings, all in the hope of making those systems safer. (my italics)
It's nice to read about how what I'm working on is already making a meaningful difference.
Here is a link to the article (first in a series on CERT) and here is a collection of links to CERT in news elsewhere! Check it out.

Computerized Physician Order Entry & Healthcare

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Here is a fantastic link to a brief, concise explanation by +Margaret Rouse  of CPOE and why it is important to our healthcare system in terms of reducing errors and saving massive amounts on healthcare costs. There is also a link within the text to an article on HITECH - the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act which was created by President Obama to encourage widespread implementation of EHRs by healthcare providers.
Both of these topics are extremely relevant not only to what I do at work every day but to every one of us who has ever stepped foot into a doctor's office, emergency room, or medical clinic. We all stand to benefit when the ultimate goal is to deliver a better, more cost-efficient system of healthcare across America. As a (hopeful) future doctor, I think it's exciting to be making a contribution to this kind of research! 

Shout out - Meg's Got Seoul

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I just wanted to take a little break from medical-school related posts to talk about one of my best friends and what she's doing with her life (hint: not getting ready to take the MCAT, lucky girl). Meg was the very first friend I made at Boston University. We met as I was checking in for orientation and we stayed in the same dorm room that weekend and have been besties ever since. About the time I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, Meg realized she wanted to make a change too and decided to take a teaching ESL class. Shortly after she quit her job and moved to Korea to teach English in Seoul. She started a blog and writes entertaining, funny, and hilarious posts about her experiences teaching, exploring, and living in a country where she doesn't know the language. We both graduated from BU with a B.S. in Journalism and it's so crazy to think about how far we've both come from then. Here's the link to her blog - check it out and let her know what you think!
Meg's Got Seoul

Up to my ears in electronic health record research!

Friday, March 15, 2013

For those of you who don't know, I work for Partners Healthcare doing research on electronic health record systems (EHRs). Information systems in the medical field is a pretty hot topic right now and I'm lucky that I get to work with some amazing people on such a cutting-edge project.
The study that I'm involved with is focused on medication alerts in EHR systems that physicians use in hospitals or private practices. When a doctor is prescribing a medication for a patient, the EHR will look through the patient information and generate alerts about potential drug interactions or allergies that could cause harm. The physician is then prompted to review their order and can cancel or switch medications if needed. Ideally, this would avoid a lot of nasty cases where patients are prescribed something that they're allergic to or that would interact with a drug they're already taking. In reality, it doesn't work quite as well as that.
Last month I went to an informatics seminar that included the shocking statistic that roughly 10% of hospital deaths are due to adverse drug events. That's literally 1 out of every 10 patients dying because of a drug they were given. Most of these are unavoidable (ex. the patient had never had the drug before so there was no history of allergy or bad reaction) but some of these are a result of a resident or attending making a mistake. The problem is that the systems aren't alerting physicians in an effective manner so most of the alerts are either ignored or never noticed. We're hoping to fix that.
It's a big project to take on and so far it's been exciting and I've learned a lot but it's also keeping me really busy so I haven't had much time to write. Hopefully I'll be able to write a more in-depth post soon about the project but for now, here's a picture of the very official nameplate outside my little cube where I work.

Namplate for Research Assistant at Partner's

So you're doing a postbaccalaureate...what is that?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It’s kind of funny; a lot of people have no idea what I’m talking about when I say I’m doing a post-bac. It seems to be one of those things that everyone has heard about but is fuzzy on the details and since I have first-hand experience I’m always happy to explain how it works.
Basically a post-baccalaureate is a non-degree seeking program that prepares you for graduate school. Because I was a journalism major I didn’t have to take any science classes in undergrad which left me at a huge disadvantage when I decided I wanted to go to med school. All schools require that you’ve had a year, or two semesters each, of Physics, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Biology and I had taken none of these.
Several schools in Boston have post-bac type programs but I ended up choosing the Health Careers Program (HCP) offered through the Extension School at Harvard. The qualifications are pretty simple; you must have a bachelor’s degree and you can’t have taken any of the classes in the curriculum previously. If you don’t fit the requirements (i.e. have already taken biology or chemistry in undergrad) you still have the option of enrolling in classes individually.
The perks of being a program participant are that you get an official "Diploma in Premedical Studies" when you finish and you can apply for a sponsorship letter from Harvard. They are pretty strict about sponsorship and I unfortunately didn’t qualify for this cycle because I hadn’t taken all of my classes yet (I’m currently taking Physics). If I don't get into school on this try though I’ll be able to apply for sponsorship next time around. Hopefully I won't have to but it’s nice to know I’ll have the option!
Part of why I chose Harvard Extension is because it gives you the opportunity to take classes with actual Harvard professors at a very reasonable cost. Tuition is about $1,200 per four-credit class ($10,000 total if you take all of the required classes) whereas a post-bac at Tufts or BU cost upwards of $27K. Summer classes are slightly more expensive because they are eight credits instead of four and they're technically offered through Harvard College.
The only downside to the HCP is that the quality of the classes varies. I loved my summer chemistry class (even though 8 hours of chemistry a day was like being waterboarded) because our professor was so fantastic, class materials were well organized and the TFs were incredibly helpful. But my biology class was less than ideal – the lectures were confusing, we never really knew what we were being tested on and the TFs didn't offer a lot of aid. I actually love the subject though so I took Biochemistry just for fun and it ended up being my favorite class.
The bottom line: not every class will wow you but I’ve had some great teachers and would definitely recommend the program if you’re looking to finish up some requirements for medical school, vet school, dental school, or any science-related degree program. If you want more information regarding the HCP check out this link or email the program director, Dr. William Fixsen: fixsen@fas.harvard.edu. If you have any questions for me or want to know more about my experience please feel free to post a comment!


Monday, March 4, 2013

I want to be a doctor one day. I say this with a conviction I never used to feel about anything until I decided I wanted to go to medical school. I graduated from Boston University May 2010 with a B.S. in Print Journalism and a hazy plan to take the LSAT and apply to law school in a year or so because honestly, what else can you do with a print journalism degree? Instead I found myself enrolling in a post-baccalaureate health careers program the next summer and am now preparing to take the MCAT. It’s been a crazy adventure so far and it’s not even close to being over. I’ve had to take out extra student loans and then deal with the stress of needing to find a job when I didn’t have enough money to pay rent. I became an author on my first scientific research paper and was told that I “thought like a scientist” for the first time in my life. I volunteered at a hospital and for a grassroots humanitarian organization. I learned a year of chemistry in eight weeks and had to drop out of physics one semester because I couldn’t handle three classes and 40 hours of work a week. There are times when I feel like I’m not smart enough or it’s too difficult or I don’t have what it takes but when thoughts like that darken my mind I am reminded that “failure is not fatal…it’s the courage to continue that counts” (Winston Churchill). So whether you’re a med school hopeful, a current med student, a doctor, or just a curious reader, I invite you to come along on my journey from the newsroom to the operating room.