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Even Without Meaningful Use Dollars, EMRs Still Selling

Posted on June 10, 2015 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.

I don’t know about you, readers, but I found the following data to be rather surprising. According to a couple of new market research reports summarized by Healthcare IT News, U.S. providers continue to be eager EMR buyers, despite the decreasing flow of Meaningful Use incentive dollars.

On the surface, it looks like the U.S. EMR market is pretty saturated. In fact, a recent CMS survey found that more than 80% of U.S. doctors have used EMRs, spurred almost entirely by the carrot of incentive payments and coming penalties. CMS had made $30 billion in MU incentive payments as of March 2015. (Whether they truly got what they paid for is another story.)

But according to Kalorama Information, there’s still enough business to support more than 400 vendors. Though the research house expects to see vendor M&A shrink the list, analysts contend that there’s still room for new entrants in the EMR space. (Though they rightfully note that smaller vendors may not have the capital to clear the hurdles to certification, which could be a growth-killer.)

Kalorama found that EMR sales grew 10% between 2012 and 2014, driven by medical groups doing system upgrades and hospitals and physician groups buying new systems, and predicts that the U.S. EMR market will climb to $35.2 billion by 2019. Hospital EMR upgrades should move more quickly than physician practice EMR upgrades, Kalorama suggests.

Another research report suggests that the reason providers are still buying EMRs may be a preference for a different technical model. Eighty-three percent of 5,700 small and solo-practitioner medical practices reported that they are fond of cloud-based EMRs, according to Black Book Rankings.

In fact, practices seem to have fallen in love with Web-based EMRs, with 81% of practices telling Black Book that they were happy with implementation, updates, usability and ability to customize their system, according to the Q2 2015 survey. Only 13% of doctor felt their EMRs met or exceeded expectations in 2012, when cloud-based EMRs were less common.

Now, neither research firm seems to have spelled out how practices and hospitals are going to pay for all of this next-generation EMR hotness, so we might look back at the current wave of investment as the time providers got in over their head again. Even a well-capitalized, profitable health system can be brought to its knees by the cost of a major EMR upgrade, after all.

But particularly if you’re a hospital EMR vendor, it looks like news from the demand front is better than you might have expected.

Hospitals Favor IT Investments Over Cash on Hand

Posted on June 5, 2015 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.

Today I was reading a piece in Healthcare Finance News concluding that now more than ever, hospitals are being judged by financial analysts by the number of days’ cash they had on hand. At the same time, the story noted that hospitals are facing some of the biggest financial stresses they’ve faced in decades, with high patient deductibles and copays leading to drops in collections, switches to risk-based compensation cutting margins and the ever-present need for EMR and other IT investment looming.

When you boil all of this down to the essentials, you’ve got a pitched battle going between the need for current liquidity and the need for future liquidity. While having cash on hand shored up for a rainy day makes analysts like Moody’s happy, failing to spend on the right IT infrastructure undercuts the chances of making it work a few years in the future.

After all, if you don’t have a current revenue cycle management system in place, payments can slip through your hands that could have been collected.  Without spending the right amount in (on the right product, at least) on tools that help manage risk-based contracts, health systems and ACOs can end up losing big money on these contracts.

And even hospitals that aren’t in robust shape are betting their financial future on big EMR investments because they clearly consider it necessary to do so. For example, as I noted in a post earlier this year, Chattanooga, TN-based Erlanger Health System just committed to a 10-year, $100 million deal to put Epic in place despite its only recently having recovered from serious financial challenges.

So the question becomes whether hospitals can risk being cash-poor for now — at least by one measure — in an effort to keep the IT tools they need at hand. Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but industry strategies seem to offer a hint.

The reality seems to be that many health systems and hospitals feel they need to invest in IT upgrades and new technologies whether the traditional metrics fall into line or not. As scary as the regulatory issues (such as the ICD-10 upgrade) and changes in compensation are, health organizations like Erlanger are making the bet that even if it makes them uncomfortable now, having the right IT in place is a must-do.

While I’m no financial genius, my guess is that this means hospitals are going to voluntarily let key metrics like DCOH slip in favor of building for a solid future. I suppose we’ll know in five years or so whether taking such a risk pushed a bunch of hospitals over the cliff.

Partners Goes With $1.2B Epic Installation

Posted on June 2, 2015 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.

After living with varied EMRs across its network for some time, Boston-based Partners HealthCare has decided to take the massive Epic plunge, with plans to spend an estimated $1.2 billion on the new platform. That cost estimate is up from the initial quite conservative spending estimate from 3 years ago of $600M, according to the Boston Globe.

As is always the case with an EMR install of this size, Partners has invested heavily in staff to bring the Epic platform online, hiring 600 new employees and hundreds of consultants to collaborate with Epic on building this install. The new hires and consultants are also tasked with training thousands of clinicians to navigate the opaque Epic UI and use it to manage care.

The move comes at the tail end of about a decade of M&A spending by Partners, whose member hospitals now include Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, McLean Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and the North Shore Hospital.

The idea, of course, is to create a single bullet-proof record for patients that retains information no matter where the patient travels within the sprawling Partners network. Partners can hardly manage the value-based compensation it can expect to work with in the future if it doesn’t have a clear patient-level and population level data on the lives it manages.

Even under ideal circumstances, however, such a large and complex project is likely to create tremendous headaches for both clinical and IT staffers. (One might say that it’s the computing equivalent of Boston’s fabled “Big Dig,” a gigantic 15-year highway project smack in the middle of the city’s commuting corridor which created legendary traffic snarls and cost over $14.6 billion.)

According to a report in Fortune, the Epic integration and rollout project began over the weekend for three of its properties, Brigham & Women’s, Faulkner Hospital and Dana Farber. Partners expects to see more of its hospitals and affiliated physician practices jump on board every few months through 2017 — an extremely rapid pace to keep if other Epic installs are any indication. Ultimately, the Epic install will extend across 10 hospitals and 6,000 doctors, according to the Globe.

Of course, the new efforts aren’t entirely inward-facing. Partners will also leverage Epic to build a new patient portal allowing them to review their own medical information, schedule appointments and more. But with any luck, patients will hear little about the new system going forward, for if they do, it probably means trouble.

Is Epic Too Big To Fail?

Posted on May 27, 2015 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.

While there’s a chance an Epic purchase can endanger a hospital’s financial health, I’ve never heard a whisper of gossip suggesting that Epic is in financial trouble.

In fact, it appears virtually unstoppable. Though Epic is a private company, and doesn’t disclose its financial information, its 2014 revenue was estimated at $1.75 billion, up from $1.19 billion in 2011. And despite the fact that the hospital EMR market is getting saturated, the giant EMR vendor is doing quite nicely with the estimated 15% to 20% of the market it is reported to hold.

Still, what would happen if Epic took a body blow of some kind and stopped being able to support the implementation and operation of its products?  After all, buying an EMR isn’t like picking up, say, a fleet of trucks that the hospital services and maintains. For years — sometimes a decade — after a hospital goes with Epic, that hospital is typically reliant on Epic to help keep the EMR lights on.

Which brings me to my core question: Is Epic too big to fail? Would it create such a disaster in the healthcare market that the U.S. government should step in if Epic ever had a massive problem meeting its commitments?

As little as I like saying so, there’s a strong argument to be made that Epic simply can’t be allowed to stumble, much less crumble.

As of April 2014, Epic reportedly had 297 customers, a number which has undoubtedly grown over the past year. What’s more, 70% of HIMSS Analytics Stage 7 hospitals, i.e. hospitals for which their EMR is absolutely mission critical, use the EpicCare inpatient EMR.

If Epic were to face some financial or operational disaster that prevented it from supporting its hospitals customers, those hospitals would be very compromised. Epic’s customers simply couldn’t leap abruptly to, say, a competing Cerner system, as the transition could take several years.

Depending how far along in their Epic install and launch they were, hospitals might try to limp along with the technology they had in place, switch temporarily to paper records or try to keep their progress going with whatever Epic consultants they could find.

In an effort to recover from the loss of Epic support, hospitals would be forced to bid high for the services of those consultants. Hospitals could have their IT budgets decimated, their credit harmed or even be driven out of business.

In the crazy shuffle that would follow, there’s little doubt that many medical errors would occur, some serious and some fatal. It’s impossible to predict how many errors would arise, of course, but I think it’s easy to argue that the number would be non-trivial.

Given all this, the feds might actually be forced to step in and clean up Epic’s mess if it made one. Mind you, I’m not saying that, say, HHS has such a plan in place, but perhaps it should.

Ultimately, I think the healthcare industry ought to do some self-policing and find some ways to reduce its reliance on a single, frighteningly-powerful vendor. Over time, I believe that will involve gradually shifting away from reliance on existing EMRs to next-gen EMRs built to support value-driven payment and population health analysis. In the mean time, we’d better hope nobody drops a giant rock on Epic’s executive headquarters.

The Hospital With No EMR

Posted on May 20, 2015 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.

This weekend, feeling a bit too ill to wait to see my PCP, I took myself to a community hospital in my neighborhood. For various reasons, I went to a hospital I don’t usually visit, one about 10 miles away from my home.

When I entered the emergency department lobby, nothing seemed amiss.

In fact, the light-filled, pleasantly-constructed waiting room was comfortable and modern, the staff seemed bright and knowledegeable, and the triage nurse saw me promptly.

But I got something of a surprise when I checked in with the triage nurse during my initial assessment. Noting that she had not taken my medication history, I told the nurse that I assumed someone would be entering it into their EMR later.

“We don’t have an EMR,” said the kind and sympathetic triage nurse apologetically. “Everything is still on paper. We might have an EMR in a year or so, but we’re not even sure about that.”

As it later turned out, she was mistaken. The hospital did indeed have an EMR in place, one by MEDITECH, but had put all new upgrades on hold, leaving the clinical staff to do almost all documentation on paper.  Regardless, the staff didn’t have access to the higher capabilities of an EMR, and that’s the message that the triage nurse had gotten. (And no one ever did take my list of medications.)

Now, it’s not necessarily the case that this hospital had no grasp of its data. In fact, to my surprise, the front desk was able to tell me that I had been seen there in 2002, something of which I had no memory.

But it’s hard to imagine that the very long wait I endured, which took place in the attractive lobby of a quiet, prosperous suburban hospital, was not due in part to the hospital’s lack of automation. It should be noted that within the next several months to a year, the chain to which the hospital belonged expects to bring the hospital I visited onto its Epic platform. But again, the staff was stumbling around in the dark, comparatively speaking, the day I visited the ED.

Now, hospitals survived on paper documentation for many years, and there’s no reason to think this one won’t survive for a year or so using paper charts. What’s more, it may very well be that the real problem this hospital faced had to do with patient mix and staffing concerns. I did note that many of the patients coming in seemed to be seeking weekend primary care, for which the hospital may not have been as prepared as it should have been.

That being said, an EMR is not just a clinical tool. Put coldly, it’s an instrument of industrial automation which can keep patients moving through the assessment and discharge process more quickly and effectively.

I’m not saying the facility needs to have a fully-launched marquee EMR just to impress patients like myself. In fact, postponing expanding the Epic EMR for a while may be a great financial decision, and from an IT standpoint, better to roll the Epic system out at a sustainable pace than throw it at an unprepared workforce.

But watching nurses and doctors record details on endless sheets of paper, and struggle to track down paper charts for acutely ill patients, was a harsh reminder of what the industry has left behind.

What If Doctors Owned Part of Hospital EMRs?

Posted on May 19, 2015 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.

After this many years of widespread use, you’d think that physicians would have accepted that EMRs are an inevitable part of practicing medicine — and at least sometimes, a useful tool that helps doctors manage their panel of patients more effectively.  But it seems some hospital administrators have concluded that a significant percentage of doctors loathe EMRs.

I draw this conclusion not from casual conversation with physicians, but from a hospital recruiting advertisement quoted in The New York Times.  The advertisement, which was attempting to attract doctors to a facility in Phoenix, closed its glowing description of state-of-the-art equipment and an attractive location with a single provocative line, all in bold: “No E.M.R.s.”

While EMRs are getting long in the tooth these days, they haven’t won over many doctors. As physician Robert Wachter notes in his NYT piece on the subject, a 2013 RAND survey found physicians most unhappy with EMRs, citing “poor usability, time-consuming data entry, needless alerts and poor work flows.”

I think it’s pretty obvious why EMRs continue to stay user-hostile. While doctors are the end users of  EMRs, hospital IT leaders and other CXOs make the final buying decisions. And he (or she) who writes the check makes the rules.

In theory, it’s strongly in hospital management’s interests to force EMR vendors to clean up their usability act.  After all, not only do hospital leaders want their EMRs used effectively, they want the data to be robust enough to be usable for value-based care delivery. But the truth is that hospital leaders are nowhere near demanding enough of EMR vendors. And because they’re the ones writing the checks, doctors get stuck with the ugly results.

But what if there was a way to involve both doctors and hospitals financially, as partners, in buying EMRs?  Not being the world’s greatest finance wizard, I don’t know how a hospital and a group of physicians could structure a deal that would allow them to jointly own the hospital’s EMR system. And I’m aware, though I don’t know how they would be addressed, that there could be significant legal issues to be resolved if the hospital was a not-for-profit entity.

But at least in theory, if doctors were paying for a percentage of the EMR, they’d have a lot more say as to what level of usability they’d demand, what features were most important to them, and what price they’d be willing to pay for the system. In other words, if doctors had skin in the game, it would put a great deal of pressure on vendors to make EMRs doctors actually liked.

Now, I realize that doctors might have no interest in buying into a technology which has let them down again and again. But there’s a chance that more visionary and tech-friendly physicians might grab the chance to have a substantial say in the EMR-buying process. The idea is worth a look.

Erlanger Health System Takes A Chance On $100M Epic Plunge

Posted on May 11, 2015 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.

The seemingly eternal struggle between EMR giants Cerner and Epic Systems has ended in another win for Epic, which was the final choice of Chattanooga, TN-based Erlanger Health System. The health system’s CEO, Kevin Spiegel, who said that Cerner had been its other finalist, announced last week that Erlanger would spend about $100 million over 10 years for the Epic installation.

Erlanger, a four-facility public hospital system with about 800 total beds, is an academic medical system and serves as a campus of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. The system also partners with UT to operate the UT Erlanger Physicians Group, a 170-member multispecialty practice.

The health system, which fell in financial trouble in 2012, only recently saved itself and positioned itself for the massive Epic investment. It closed out FY 2014 with $618M in total operating revenue and $18M in operating income.

Erlanger’s turnaround is all well and good. But that being said, these numbers suggest that Erlanger is making something of a gamble by agreeing to an approximately $10M a year health IT investment. After all, the health system itself concedes that its return to financial health came in large part due to $20 million in new Medicare and Medicaid funding from CMS, along with new funding from the state’s Public Hospital Supplemental Payment Pool. And politically-obtained funds can disappear with the stroke of a pen.

The risky nature of Erlanger’s investment seems even more apparent when you consider that the system has an aggressive building plan in place, including a new orthopedic center, a $68M expansion of one of its hospitals, a 100,00 square foot children’s & women’s ambulatory center and a new health sciences center. Particularly given that Erlanger just completed its turnaround last year, does it make sense to squeeze in Epic payments alongside of such a large capital investment in infrastructure?

What’s more, the health system has a bond rating to rehabilitate. Faced with financial hardships in 2013, its bond rating was downgraded by Moody’s to a Baa2 and the system’s outlook was rated “negative.” By 2014, Erlanger’s had managed to boost the Moody’s outlook to “stable,” in part due to the influx of state and federal funds obtained by Erlanger execs, but the Baa2 rating on its $148.4 million in bond debt stayed in place.

While I imagine the hospital will realize a return on its Epic spending at some point, it’s hard to see it happening quickly.  In fact, I’d guess that it’ll be years before Erlanger’s Epic install will be mature enough to be evaluated for ROI, given the level of effort it takes to build a mature install.

In the meantime, Erlanger leaders may be left wondering, from time to time at least, whether they really can afford their expensive new EMR.

Four Things You Should Know About Deloitte’s “Evergreen” EHR Program

Posted on February 20, 2015 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.

Recently, consulting giant Deloitte announced a new program, named “Evergreen,” designed to cut down the cost of implementing and operating hospital EHRs. Unfortunately, much of the Evergreen coverage in the health IT trade press was vague or downright wrong, as it suggested that Deloitte was actually going into the EHR business itself. The key point Deloitte sought to make — that it could implement and operate EHRs for 20% to 30% less than hospitals — did come across, but the rest was a bit jumbled.

Having spoken to Mitch Morris, global healthcare leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, I can clarify much of what was confusing about the Evergreen announcement and subsequent coverage.  Here’s some key points I took away from my chat with Morris:

  • Evergreen is a suite of services, not a product:  Though some HIT editors seem to have been confused by this, Evergreen isn’t an EHR offering itself.  It’s a set of EHR implementation and operation services provided by Deloitte Consultants. Evergreen also includes a financing scheme allowing hospitals and health systems to obtain a new EHR by making a series of equal payments to Deloitte over five to seven years. (“It’s like leasing a car,” Morris noted.) This allows hospitals to get into the EHR without making an enormous upfront capital investment over the first 18 months.
  • Evergreen is only offered in tandem with an Epic purchase:  The Evergreen program arose from what Deloitte learned after doing a great deal of work with Epic EHRs, including the famous multi-billion install at Kaiser Permanente and an extensive rollout for large hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives. So at the outset, the program is only available to hospitals that want to go with Epic.  Deloitte is considering other EHR vendors for Evergreen partnership but has made no decisions as to which it might add to the program.
  • Both onshore and offshore services are available through Evergreen:  One might assume that Deloitte is offering lower implementation and operation costs by offshoring all of the work.  Not so, Morris says. While Deloitte does offer services based in India and Ireland, it also taps U.S. operations as needed. Clients can go with offshore labor, onshore labor or a mix of services drawing on both.
  • This is a new application services management offering for Deloitte:  While the consulting giant has been managing Oracle and SAP installations for clients for some time, managing EHR platforms is a new part of its business, Morris notes.

According to Morris, Deloitte expects Evergreen customers to include not only health systems and hospitals that want to switch EHRs system-wide, but also those which have done some acquisitions and want to put all of their facilities on the same platform. “It’s expensive for a health system to maintain two or three brands, but they often can’t afford the upfront capital costs of putting every hospital on the same EHR,” he said. “We smooth out the costs so they can just make a payment every month.”

This could certainly be a big score for Epic, which is likely to scoop up more of the EHR-switching systems if Deloitte helps the systems cope with the costs. And Deloitte is likely to get many takers. Let’s see, though, whether it can actually follow through on the savings it promises. That could change the EHR game as we know it.

Hospitals Put Off RCM Upgrades Due To #ICD10, #MU Focus

Posted on December 29, 2014 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.

If you look closely at the financial news coming out of the hospital business lately, you’ll hear the anguished screams of revenue cycle managers whose infrastructure just isn’t up to the task of coping with collections in today’s world. Though members of the RCM department — and outside pundits — have done their best to draw attention to this issue, signs suggest that getting better systems put in has been a surprisingly tough sell. This is true despite a fair amount of evidence from recent hospital financial disasters that focusing on an EMR at the expense of revenue cycle management can be quite destructive.

And a new study underscores the point. According to a recent Black Book survey of chief financial officers, revenue cycle upgrades at U.S. hospitals have taken a backseat to meeting the looming October 2015 ICD-10 deadline, as well as capturing Meaningful Use incentives. Meanwhile, progress on upgrades to revenue cycle management platforms has been agonizingly slow.

According to the Black Book survey, two thirds of hospitals contacted by researchers in 2012 said that they plan to replace their existing revenue cycle management platform with a comprehensive solution. But when contacted this year, two-thirds of those hospitals still hadn’t done the upgrade. (One is forced to wonder whether these hospitals were foolish enough to think the upgrade wasn’t important, or simply too overextended to stick with their plans.)

Sadly, despite the risks associated with ignoring the RCM upgrade issue, a lot of small hospitals seem determined to do so. Fifty-one percent of under 250 bed hospitals are planning to delay RCM system improvements until after the ICD-10 deadline passes in 2015, Black Book found.

The CFOs surveyed by Black Book feel they’re running out of time to make RCM upgrades. In fact, 83% of the CFOs from hospitals with less than 250 beds expect their RCM platforms to become obsolete within two years if not replaced or upgraded, as they’re rightfully convinced that most payers will move to value-based reimbursement. And 95% of those worried about obsolescence said that failing to upgrade or replace the platform might cost them their jobs, reports Healthcare Finance News.

Unfortunately for both the hospitals and the CFOs, firing the messenger won’t solve the problem. By the time laggard hospitals make their RCM upgrades, they’re going to have a hard time catching up with the industry.

If they wait that long, it seems unlikely that these hospitals will have time to choose, test and implement RCM platform upgrades, much less implement new systems, much before early 2017, and even that may be an aggressive prediction. They risk going into a downward spiral in which they can’t afford to buy the RCM platform they really need because, well, the current RCM platform stinks. Not only that, the ones that are still engaged in mega dollar EMR implementations may not be able to afford to support those either.

Admittedly, it’s not as though hospitals can blithely ignore ICD-10 or Meaningful Use. But letting the revenue cycle management infrastructure go for so long seems like a recipe for disaster.

Another Health System’s Finances Weighed Down By Epic Investment

Posted on December 26, 2014 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.

While Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. may intend to be “the high-quality and low-cost provider” in its region, spending $200 million on an EMR purchase has got to make that a bit more, shall we say, challenging.

While health systems nationwide are struggling with issues not of their own making, such as some states’ decision not to expand Medicaid, it appears that Baptist Memorial’s financial troubles have at least some relationship to the size of its 2012 investment in an Epic EMR platform.

Baptist, which let 112 workers go in September, has seen Standard & Poor’s lower its long-term rating on the health system’s bond debt twice since mid-2013.  Through June, the system’s losses totaled $124 million, according to S&P.

Baptist employs 15,000 workers at 14 hospitals located across the mid-south of the US, so the staffing cuts clearly don’t constitute a mass layoffs. What’s more, the layoffs are concentrated corporate services, Baptist reports, suggesting that the chain is being careful not to gut its clinical services infrastructure. In other words, I’m not suggesting that Baptist is completely falling apart, Epic investment or no.

But the health system’s financial health has deteriorated significantly over the past few years. After all, back in 2009, S&P gave Baptist Memorial a long-term ‘AA’ rating, based on its strong liquidity and low debt levels; history of positive excess income and good cash flow; and solid and stable market share in his total surface area, with favorable growth in metropolitan Memphis.

However, at this point Baptist is clearly struggling, so much so that is taking the extraordinary step of cutting the salaries of top executives in the system by 22% to 23%. That includes cutting the salary of health system CEO Jason Little. But this is clearly a symbolic gesture, as executive pay cuts can’t dent multimillion dollar operating revenue shortfalls.

So what will help Baptist improve its financial health? In public statements,  Baptist CEO Little has said that the hospitals’ length of stay has been excessive for the compensation that they get from payers, and that fixing this is his key focus. This problem, of course, is only likely to get worse as value-based reimbursement becomes the rule, so that strategy seems to make sense.

But Baptist is also going to have to live with its IT spending decisions, and it seems obvious that they’ve had long-term repercussions. I don’t think any outsider can say whether Baptist should have bought the Epic system, or how much it should have spent, but the investment has clearly been a strain.