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EMRs Now A Patient Draw At Hospitals

In the past, the mere fact that a hospital had adopted an EMR wasn’t news in and of itself — at least not to a hospital’s current and potential patients. After all, hospitals didn’t let everyone know when they upgraded its network or added backup storage facilities, right?

These days, however, EMR adoption has become a consumer attraction, enough so that hospitals announce their go-live with press releases and public spectacle.

One example comes from Colorado Springs, CO-based Memorial Hospital, which is part of the University of Colorado Health system. Memorial, which launched its EMR this past weekend, spent $30 million on an Epic system.

The launch comes complete with a portal, My Health Connection, allowing  patients to access their medical records, request appointments online, communicate with doctors via secure e-mail and receive test results. The portal is also intended to make it easier for doctors throughout the UCHealth system to access patient records.

The Memorial press release announcing this milestone lumps the Epic implementation in with a laundry list of accomplishments aimed at selling consumers on the facility, including the hiring of 30 physicians, Chest Pain Center Accreditation with PCI and Primary Stroke Center Certification.

As this announcement points up, an EMR launch is seen as a consumer marketing win, not just another project completion by the IT department. Of course, that’s the case partly because the launch comes with the release of a portal offering convenient data access and appointment scheduling. But I’d argue that EMRs have grown sexy enough in consumers’ minds that the mere use of one has some cachet by itself.

Now, this marketing strategy can backfire if the EMR launch goes poorly. For example, I’m sure the C-suite execs at Sutter Health were dismayed when the nurses’ union there went public with safety concerns about the Epic EMR implemented across the system.

For the most part, though, I think we’ll see hospitals bragging about their new EMR if it offers any advantage to consumers. EMRs have become a prominent enough part of medical care that implementing one wins the institution some brownie points.

November 5, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Hospital Partnerships May Help With EMR Costs

Nearly three quarters of hospitals surveyed in a recent study by health IT vendor Anthelio plan to find partnerships while retaining ultimate ownership of their facility. And among the to-do list items more than half need to pull off is implementing their EMR.

The survey, which was conducted between August and September 2013, used an e-mail questionnaire which was sent out to community-based hospitals and health systems with up to 500 beds, according to a report in Health Data Management magazine. The researchers received responses from 135 community hospital executive representing 123 community-based hospitals.

Seventy-four percent of respondents were looking for partnerships that didn’t involve giving up their independence, while only 9 percent were considering consolidation with a hospital system. That’s a huge dip from last year, in which 41 percent were willing to consider consolidation.

Of the group, only 40 percent have completed and are operating EMRs. Most of the remaining 60 percent have bought an EMR, but have only partially implemented it. It seems very likely that those who haven’t finished their implementation are hoping to leverage their partners’ IT resources to get the job done more quickly and effectively.

Of course, there are other expensive items on hospital executives’ plates, including the transition to ICD-10. Researchers found that 39 percent of respondents have spent or anticipate spending less than $100,000 on the ICD-10 transition, 40 percent will spend $100,000 to $499,000, 13 percent will spend $500,000 to $999,000 and 9 percent will spend more than one million, Health Data Management said.

Take these two forces alone, and it’s clear why hospitals are willing to give up some of their independence in exchange for financial and operational support from a partner. Toss in the need to have a decent bargaining position in a post-ACO world, and the idea of partnering up looks even more attractive.

Still, it’s a risky strategy. To be honest, I’m skeptical that a partnership can deliver these benefits the way executives would hope. In fact, my guess is that a partnership or merger would make an EMR implementation more difficult to coordinate, not less. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what actually happens.

October 29, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Embattled Hospital Relies On Epic To Help Acquisition

Here’s an interesting legal battle which puts a health system’s Epic EMR center stage.  Idaho-based St. Luke’s Health System, which is facing an antitrust challenge by a competing hospital, is responding to that challenge, in part, by citing the benefits of having an Epic system in place.

St. Luke’s was hit with an antitrust complaint lodged by Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, which claims that the system’s acquisition of Saltzer Medical Group of Nampa, Idaho will allow it to control nearly 80 percent of that market. The antitrust case, which involves both the FTC and the state of Idaho, is now before the U S District Court, reports EHR Intelligence.

During the proceedings last week, discussion focused on St. Luke’s decision to implement an Epic EMR, a move which reportedly cost $200 million. The install won’t be complete until 2017, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Though there’s a long road to walk before the Epic system will be complete, executives are already touting its benefits, with St. Luke’s CMIO testifying that Epic will allow patients to become engaged with their care, leading to better outcomes.

More importantly, for the purpose of the court  proceedings, adoption and implementation of the Epic system will eventually serve as the backbone of a St. Luke’s affiliate program under which independent doctors can use the system while paying only 15 percent of the costs, EHR Intelligence notes.

Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, for its part, argues that St. Luke’s reliance on the EMR is largely smoke and mirrors. In its joint pre-trial memorandum, the facility dismisses the claims regarding Epic’s benefits for Salzer as “speculative” and not a sufficient step to justify the acquisition. The memorandum also notes that Salzer already has its own EMR in place, making the purported benefits of substituting Epic even more tenuous.

So, what to make of this?  If nothing else, regardless of whether Epic contributes to the potential for this acquisition, the throwing down of the Epic gauntlet in court point to the prestige the vendor has achieved. Apparently, St. Luke’s feels that citing the availability of a system that won’t be fully implemented for five whole years is a workable defense given Epic’s high profile.

I find myself wondering whether a defense based on having another of the so-called “big 5″ EMRs would even be considered. Given Epic’s dominant position in the industry, it’s possible that it’s the only vendor whose name would do the trick.

October 28, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Health Exchanges Pose Added Stress For Hospital IT Departments

There’s no doubt that hospital IT departments have their hands full already, what with Meaningful Use and ICD-10 hovering over them like a huge black cloud. But as one Information Week story reminds us, there’s another big project in the wings which could add even more to their plate.

The IW story, which offers intelligence from the American Hospital Association and several consultants, notes that the coming of health exchanges and the accompanying Medicaid expansion in some states will have a substantial effect on hospital IT departments.

For one thing, the story reports, with a flood of newly insured Americans arriving at the door, hospitals will need to enhance their revenue cycle management systems, as the number of health plans with which they do business should rise meaningfully.

Hospitals will need to deal with the fact that some patients who buy insurance on the exchanges will have high deductibles and copayments, in some cases as high as $5,000 or $6,000. Given these deductibles, it will be crucial for hospitals to determine what kind of coverage patients have. Many hospitals will end up upgrading their RCM systems to better interface with managed care plans.

Unfortunately, even that won’t assure payment. As the IW story points out, even a direct connection to the insurance company in question may not do the job, as eligibility information from health plans is often 30 – 90 days out of date. “So if patients miss two premium payments and are no longer covered — but the data says they are covered, and the hospital proceeds accordingly — the bill never gets paid,” according to Thad Glavin, senior director of the Advisory Board’s RCM division, who spoke with the magazine.

Still, hospitals will need more and better connections with health plans even if the information they get in return is questionable. Sure, despite the risks that come with the change in insurance under the Affordable Care Act, I wager that hospitals’ steely focus on Meaningful Use and ICD–10 will leave RCM projects shortchanged at first. But as the high-deductible bills keep building up, hospitals will squeeze in new RCM system development. I give it six months to twelve months, max.

September 30, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

EMRs Can Reduce ED Visits, Hospitalizations For Diabetics

Using EMRs is associated with a drop in ED visits and hospitalizations among diabetics, according to a study covered in iHealthBeat.

The research, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved analyzing all of the 169,711 records for patients enrolled in Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s diabetes registry.

Researchers drew on data collected between 2004 and 2009. During this period, in 2005, KP began to stagger EMR implementations across the region’s 45 outpatient facilities, iHealthBeat reports.

The study found that EMR implementations were associated with the following results, according to iHealthBeat:

  • 10.50% decline in hospitalizations for preventable, ambulatory-care sensitive conditions, or about 7.08 fewer hospitalizations per 1,000 patients annually;
  • 6.14% decline in non-elective hospital admissions, or about 10.92 fewer admissions per 1,000 patients annually;
  • 5.54% decline in ED visits, from an expected 519.12 per 1,000 patients to 490.32 annually; and
  • 5.21% decline in hospital admissions, from an expected 251.6 per 1,000 patients to 238.5 annually

That being said, EMR implementation had no effect in certain areas. The number of physician office visits per year held steady at six; the frequency of times patients saw diabetic exacerbations remained level; and how often patients developed cardiovascular diseases remained the same, iHealthBeat noted.

The researchers concluded that these results represented not only an improvement in diabetes care, but also “the cumulative effect of EHRs across many different pathways and conditions.

This study is one of a growing body of evidence that effective EMR  use can reduce readmissions and improve outcomes.  For example, a recent study appearing in BMJ Quality & Safety recently concluded that EMRs can help reduce hospital readmissions of high-risk heart failure patients.

In that case, researchers used EMR-based software to sort high-risk from low-risk heart failure patients, using 29 clinical, social and behavioral factors within 24 hours of admission for heart failure. Using this tool, researchers were able to cut readmissions rates for the 1,700 adult inpatients study from 26.2 percent to 21.2 percent.

September 16, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Ohio HIE Hits 101-Hospital Mark

This is a very busy time for HIE builders.  In recent months several states have either announced that they’d completed their preparations for a broad-based HIE or reached a new milestone in HIE participation.

For example, earlier this month the state of Wisconsin announced that it is gearing up to kick off a statewide HIE network that would embrace hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other care facilities, powered by HIE technology vendor Medicity.

According to Health Affairs, this is part of a larger trend. A recent piece in the journal noted that health data exchanges between hospitals and other healthcare providers have climbed 41 percent between 2008 and 2012.

The latest in state HIE news comes from Ohio, where the state’s HIE has just announced that it had signed two hospitals, 25 bed Harrison Community Hospital in Cadiz as well as 91-bed Wilson Memorial Hospital in Sidney, reports Healthcare IT News.  With the new additions, Ohio’s CliniSync HIE now boasts 101 of the state’s hospitals.

CliniSync, which is run by the nonprofit Ohio Health Information Partnership, is based on Medicity technology as well.  With these new members, and the momentum it has underway, CliniSync might well be one of the largest public HIEs in the U.S. by 2014, Healthcare IT News reports.

According to Healthcare IT News, CliniSync makes it possible for physicians, hospitals, nurses and others who do patient care to share patient data electronically. What’s really neat, if true, is that CliniSync will allow doctors and hospitals with varied EMRs to share data. Previously, the HIE members could only share data regionally or within their own systems.

September 12, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

KLAS: Epic Losing Ground To Cerner

At this point in the EMR buying cycle, one would figure that the market for new hospital EMR purchases is pretty saturated, especially among larger hospitals with the capital to invest in big health IT projects. But according to a recent blog entry from KLAS, that’s not exactly the case.

In his blog item, KLAS researcher Colin Buckley notes that his firm has been watching clinical IT vendor wins and losses at 200+ bed hospitals for 10 years.  During that period — and especially post- Meaningful Use — KLAS has seen a growing number of new hospital EMR contracts.

By this point, after lots of EMR buying, and some switching out technology for second and third-choice EMRs, one might think that over-200-bed hospitals had settled on a platform that they could live with through Meaningful  Use Stage 3. Actually, not quite, Buckley says.

In fact, KLAS data shows that there are more hospitals running legacy EMRs, homegrown EMRs or no EMR at all than those who have bought a currently-marketed solution sometime in the past four years. And it’s likely these hospitals will be choosing a new EMR from the current vendor marketplace within the new few years, KLAS projects.

As sales increase in the 200+ bed hospital segment, market forces are shifting to favor new vendors. What’s particularly noteworthy about this is that the research firm has seen the ratio of Epic-to-Cerner wins shrink from 5-to-1 in 2010 to 2-to-1 in 2012.

According to KLAS, the hospitals that are likely to be out buying new EMRs look different than those which have already bought and implemented the EMR they’ll use for the next several years. “They are smaller and more cost conscious than the large hospital IDNs that have given Epic a lion’s share of wins year after year,” Buckley writes.

With Cerner and Epic busy eating each other’s lunch, Allscripts, MEDITECH, McKesson and Siemens are moving ahead as quickly as possible to roll out integrated ancillary and ambulatory solutions, Buckley notes. In other words, the competition for both ambulatory and hospital EMRs is far from played out.

Despite all of this activity, we are clearly in a late stage of the EMR market as a whole, or as my colleague John Lynn puts it, “the Golden Age of EHR adoption is over.” But if KLAS is right, there’s still some very healthy bucks to be made selling to laggard mid-sized hospitals. Let’s see if vendors used to serving hospital giants can adapt in time.

September 6, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Patient’s Take On Making Hospital IT Patient-Friendly

Today I was talking with my mother about her experiences with hospitals and IT. My mother, you should know, is so computer averse that she won’t send or receive e-mails — she leaves that to Dad.  But despite her fear of home computing, she’s got some interesting opinions about how hospitals should use health IT to involve patients in the care process:

* If possible, she suggests, hospitals should assess a patient’s “electronic IQ” to see how comfortable they are with using technology. I liked this because it could apply not only to in-hospital info sharing but also the patient’s ability to participate in remote monitoring or other mHealth modalities.

*Give patients access to a schedule (via an app on a tablet, perhaps) which tells them when various tests, procedures and clinician visits are likely to happen. This not only calms the patient, it helps keep the family in synch with the patient’s routine, she notes.

* Display results of key tests — or if clinicians are concerned that patients won’t understand them, at least register when the results have been received, so  patients know their care process is progressing. She’d be happy with a note that said: “Dr. X will be in to discuss the results of your CT scan shortly.”

* Allow the patient and their family/caregivers to make notes within the system of what they want to discuss with clinicians.  Otherwise, as she rightly points out, they’re likely to forget what they wanted to say when the nurse or doctor swoops into the room with their own agenda.

Actually, my mother’s vision is already largely in place in at least one facility. As I reported last year, the Mayo Clinic has already begun a program using content- and app-loaded iPads to move the patient through their inpatient stay. Not only does the Mayo implementation do everything on my mother’s wish list, it also allows patients to report on pain levels and exchange messages with doctors.

Let’s hope more hospitals find a way to use IT to make the care process more transparent for patients. While it calls for a not-inconsiderable investment in time and resources, it seems like an excellent way to keep patients engaged in their care.

September 4, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Critical Access, Small Hospitals Lagging In Meaningful Use

Many critical access hospitals and other smaller hospitals are falling behind on Meaningful Use and may be at risk for being slapped with Medicare reimbursement penalties in 2015, according to a study reported in Health Data Management.

The study, which appeared in the journal Health Affairs, was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and the American Hospital Association.  Its bottom line conclusion was that smaller and rural hospitals were less likely than other hospitals to have met Stage 1 criteria, and that very few had all of the IT systems in place needed to reach Stage 2, HDM reports.

The researchers noted that between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of hospitals with at least 200 beds getting Meaningful Use almost doubled, but that those with less than 100 beds had a lower rate of Meaningful Use compliance. Meanwhile, the proportion of critical access hospitals that received a Meaningful Use payment in 2012 fell slightly from the previous year.

The study also concluded that teaching hospitals had a higher rate of Meaningful Use compliance than non-teaching hospitals, and that a small percentage of government-owned and non-profit hospitals received MU incentive payments compared with for-profit facilities.

According to Health Data Management, the study isolated three challenges faced by critical access and smaller hospitals:

* Low patient volume complicates long-range planning and limits ability to maintain adequate cash flow,

* The hospitals may not be able to offer competitive salaries for skilled information technology professionals, and

* Smaller hospitals may have difficulty finding a suitable I.T. vendor.

It’s not lost on the ONC that these hospitals face significant disadvantages in getting their Meaningful Use program rolling. About a year ago, the agency rolled out a campaign intended to get 1,000 critical access and small rural hospitals meaningfully using certified EMR technology by the end of 2014. To get things rolling, ONC is spending up to $30 million for Regional Extension Centers targeting these facilities.

But as I see it, funding more REC activity is far from enough. The plain fact is that mounting a Meaningful Use program is time consuming and expensive, so much so that some smaller hospitals simply make it happen without help. Maybe the time has come for the feds to offer grants outright to hospitals struggling with these challenges.

August 14, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

EMR Involved In Virus Exposure At Hospital

Over the past several months, nurses have been campaigning to get more training on the EMRs rolling out where they work.  Without such training, and involvement in the rollout, they’re put at a disadvantage that could lead to patient harm, nurse leaders say.

For example, in June nurses at Massillon, OH-based Affinity Medical Center wrote a letter to the facility’s chief nursing officer questioning the safety of the center’s new Cerner EMR. The hospital’s 250-odd direct care nurses, and the national nursing union National Nurses Organizing Committee, noted that execs had neither increased nurse staffing nor decreased the number of elective procedures scheduled to be performed as the rollout proceeded.

Now, an incident has taken place which should lend more credence to nurses’ claims that they’re not woven into the process of using EMRs enough. Dialysis patients at Boston Medical Center were exposed to hepatitis B earlier this year when nurses with an outside contractor didn’t get adequate access to the hospital’s EMR system, reports EHR Intelligence.

The medical center contracts with an outside company called DaVita to run its dialysis unit. According to EHR Intelligence, two DaVita nurses exposed patients to hepatitis B by using equipment used by an infected patient.

This might be written off as an unfortunate but routine accident, but in this case, the error was preventable. The nurses never got training on how to use the hospital’s EMR system, and were given read-only access to critical records to support patient care.

If the nurses had had adequate access to the EMR, or had been through an EMR orientation, they would have known that an infected patient had used the dialysis equipment, EHR Intelligence notes. Instead, the nurses failed to sterilize the infected equipment, which then exposed thirteen patients to the illness. Five patients had to be specially treated and isolated to prevent further spread of the disease, the site said.

I wish this incident was a fluke, but the truth is, it almost certainly isn’t. Evidence is beginning to pile up that nurses aren’t getting a firm enough grounding in how their hospital’s EMR works before they’re sent off to use it. It’s time for hospital CIOs to take this issue seriously, before their patients end  up dead or injured due to preventable EMR workflow issues.

August 5, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.