Health System Pays Docs To Use Cerner EHR

Posted on November 7, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Typically, we cover US-based stories in this blog, but the following is just too intriguing to miss. According to a Vancouver newspaper, an area hospital system agreed to pay physicians a daily fee to use its unpopular Cerner EHR, positioning the payments as compensation for unpaid overtime spent learning the system.

The Times Colonist is reporting that local hospital system Island Health has offered on-call physicians at its Nanaimo Regional General Hospital $260 a day, and emergency department physicians up to $780 a day, to use its unpopular Cerner system.

The newspaper cites a memo from hospital chief medical officer and executive vice president Dr. Jeremy Etherington, which says that the payment was in recognition of “the extra burden the new electronic health record has placed on many physicians during the rollout phase” of the new EHR.

In 2013, Island Health (which is based in British Columbia, Canada) signed a 10 year, $50 million deal with Cerner to implement its platform across its three hospitals. More recently, in March of this year, Island Health’s three facilities went live on the Cerner platform.

Within weeks, physicians at Nanaimo Regional Hospital were flooding executives with complaints about the new platform, which they claimed we randomly lost, buried or changed orders for drugs and diagnostic tests. Some physicians at the hospital reverted to using pen and paper to complete orders.

Not long after, physicians signed a petition asking the health system to stop further implementation, citing safety and workability concerns, but executives still moved forward with the rollout.

Neither the newspaper article nor other reports could identify how many physicians accepted the offer from Island Health. Also, the health systems management hasn’t shared how it picked doctors who were eligible for the payout, and what criteria it used to determine the size of the higher emergency department physician payouts. However, according to a Nanaimo physician and medical staff member quoted by Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review quotes, execs structured the payments to reflect the unpaid overtime doctors put in to learn the system.

As for the claims that the Cerner system was causing clinical problems and even perhaps endangering patients, that issue is still seemingly unresolved. In late July, British Columbia Minister of Health Terry Lake apparently ordered a review of the Cerner system, but results of that review do not appear to be available just yet.

It’s not clear whether the payments bought Island Health enough goodwill to mollify the bad feelings of doctors who didn’t receive one of these payments, nor whether those who are being paid will stay bought. And that’s the real question here. Call the payments a publicity stunt, an attempt at fairness or cynical political strategy, they may not be enough to get physicians onto the system if they are convinced it doesn’t work. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.