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Making the Case for a Unique Patient Identifier – #MyHealthID

Posted on April 13, 2016 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

Healthcare is a high priority for the US Government and as HIM professionals, we know the importance of keeping our fingers on the pulse of issues facing our nation. We must stay current with proposed regulatory changes and those that address the needs of the US healthcare system as they relate to HIM, privacy and security, and Health IT. One issue our nation has struggled with is secure universal identification for citizens. Social security numbers were not originally meant to be secure identifiers yet they have controversially been used as unique identifiers by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for many years.

In our line of work, we see all of the potential negative implications and the important role that patient identification plays in patient safety, HIPAA compliance, and health record accuracy. When patients are not appropriately identified throughout the continuum of care, many issues arise that can lead to misdiagnosing, incomplete information, unnecessary testing, and fraud to name a few. Duplicates and overlays are far too common due to issues matching patient names and dates of birth versus using a universal secure identifier. Sharing information through health information exchange is nearly impossible when patients are registered in multiple systems with different spellings or misidentification.

The HITECH act of 2009 laid the ground work for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to standardize unique health identifiers among other tasks but we have yet to see any real progress on this subject due to federal budget barriers. In response to this, AHIMA sees this as a critical need and has started a petition to the White House to:

“Remove the federal budget ban that prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from participating in efforts to find a patient identification solution. We support a voluntary patient safety identifier. Accurate patient identification is critical in providing safe care, but the sharing of electronic health information is being compromised because of patient identification issues. Let’s start the conversation and find a solution.”

The campaign is called MyHealthID and looks to have 100,000 signatures on the petition to garner the attention of the US Government. HIM professionals recently took to Washington, DC to visit with Congressmen and Senators from each state to advocate for MyHealthID. The message that “there’s only one you,” hopes to resonate with politicians and make the case that a unique patient identifier is necessary and important to healthcare.

I encourage all healthcare professionals to sign this petition and assist the advocacy efforts toward a unique patient identifier. MyHealthID will not only help with HIM and Health IT initiatives; it will be in the best interest of healthcare consumers nationwide.

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

Hospital EMR Buyer Loyalty May Be Shaky

Posted on February 22, 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.

When it comes to investing in enterprise software, just about any deal can turn sour. If you’re acquiring a mission-critical platform, there’s an even bigger risk involved, and the consequences of failure are typically dire. So any company making such a purchase may feel trapped after the contract is signed and the die has been cast.

One might hope that when hospital and health systems buy an EMR — probably the most expensive and critical software buy they’ll make in a decade — that they feel comfortable with their vendor. Ideally, hospitals should be prepared to switch vendors if they feel the need.

In reality, however, it looks like many hospitals and health systems feel they’re trapped in their relationship with their EMR vendor. A new study by research firm Black Book has concluded that about a solid subset of hospitals feel trapped in their relationship with their EMR vendor. (Given what I hear at professional gatherings, I’m betting that’s on the low side, as their EMR has driven so many hospitals deep into debt.)

Anyway, Black Book compiles an HIT Loyalty Index which assesses the stability of vendors’ customer base and measures those customers’ loyalty. For its current batch of stats, Black Book drew on 2,077 hospital users, asking about their intentions to renew current contracts, recommend their inpatient EMR/HIT vendor to peers and the likelihood of their buying additional products like HIE and RCM tools from their existing vendors.

The results shouldn’t give any great pleasure to HIT vendors. All told, loyalty to inpatient EMR/HIT vendors fell 6%, from 81% to 75% committed clients. While it’s not horrible to have 75% truly happy with your product, this is not a metric you want to see trending downward.

When you combine these numbers with other signs of dissatisfaction, the picture looks worse. Roughly 25% of respondents said that they were only loyal to their vendor because they were forced to follow administrative directives. And as we all know, ladies and gents of the vendor world, you can’t buy love. These 25% of dissatisfied professionals will do their job, but they aren’t going to evangelize for you, nor will they be quick to recommend more of your products.

All is not bleak for EMR vendors, however. Some HIT vendors saw year-to-year growth in hospital client loyalty. Vendors with the biggest loyalty increases included Allscripts, Cerner, CPSI, NTT Data and athenahealth/RazorInsights.

By the way I noted, with a touch of amusement, that mega-costly Epic doesn’t appear on the latter list. Just sayin’.

mHealth Apps May Create Next-Gen Interoperability Problems

Posted on November 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.

According to a recent study by IMS Health, there were 165,000 mHealth apps available on the Google Play and iTunes app stores as of September. Of course, not all of these apps are equally popular — in fact, 40% had been downloaded less than 5,000 times — but that still leaves almost 100,000 apps attracting at least some consumer attention.

On the whole, I’m excited by these statistics. While there’s way too many health apps to consider at present, the spike in apps is a necessary part of the mobile healthcare market’s evolution. Over the next few years, clear leaders will emerge to address key mHealth functions, such as chronic care and medication management, diet and lifestyle support and health data tracking. Apps offering limited interactivity will fall off the map, those connected to biosensors will rise, IMS Health predicts.

That being said, I am concerned about how data is being managed within these apps. With providers already facing huge interoperability issues, the last thing the industry needs is the emergence of a new set of data silos. But unless something happens to guide mHealth app developers, that may be just what happens.

To be fair, health IT leaders aren’t exactly sitting around waiting for commercial app developers to share their data. While products like HealthKit exist to integrate such data, and some institutions are giving it a try, my sense is that mHealth data management isn’t a top priority for healthcare leaders just yet.

No, the talk I’ve overheard in the hallways is more geared to supporting internally-developed apps. For example, seeing to it that a diabetes management app integrates not only a patient’s self-reported blood sugar levels, but also related labs and recommended self-care appointments is enough of a challenge on its own. What’s more, with few doctors actually “prescribing” outside apps as part of their clinical routine, providers have little reason to worry about what commercial app developers do with their data.

But eventually, as top commercial health apps become more robust, the picture will change. Healthcare organizations will have compelling reasons to integrate data from outside apps, particularly if doctors begin viewing them as useful. But if providers and outside app developers aren’t adhering to shared data standards, that may not be possible.

Now, I’m not here to suggest that commercial mHealth developers are ignoring the problem of interoperability with providers. (Besides, with 165,000 apps on the market, I couldn’t say so with any authority, anyway.) I am arguing, however, that it’s already well past time for health IT leaders to begin scoping out the mobile health marketplace, and figuring out what can be done to help with data interoperability. Some sit-downs with top app developers would definitely make sense.

What I do know — as do those reading this blog — is that creating a fresh set of health data silos would be destructive. Creating and managing useful mobile health apps, as well as the data they generate, is likely to be important to next-generation health IT leaders. And avoiding the creation of a fresh set of silos may still be possible. It’s time to tackle this issue before it’s too late.

Interoperability Challenges (VA, DOD, Epic, CommonWell) – Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted on November 16, 2015 I Written By

David is a global digital healthcare leader that is focusing on the next era of healthcare IT.  Most recently David served as the CIO at an academic medical center where he was responsible for all technology related to the three missions of education, research and patient care. David has worked for various healthcare providers ranging from academic medical centers, non-profit, and the for-profit sectors. Subscribe to David's latest CXO Scene posts here.

The state of healthcare in the United States is fairly well known with the US healthcare spend between 17-18% of the GDP. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world for healthcare. America is also one of the few developed nations not to have a universal healthcare scheme, and one of the main barriers is interoperability challenges.

As we have just finished celebrating veteran’s day, one of the challenges in our federal system is interoperability. In order to provide these veterans with proper healthcare, the Veterans Association and the Department of Defense each proposed an update to the way medical records were stored. The proposed system involved purchasing or customizing an existing an EMR software, which would allow doctors to access patient files far more easily.

This would make it easier for veterans to switch doctors without having to worry about taking large amounts of paperwork along with them. It would also allow doctors to give their patients the best care possible without having to worry about red tape and legal hoops they have to jump through. While this makes sense to everyone, a decision has been made to have two separate systems.

We are also having the same discussion in the commercial EMR space recently where representatives from Cerner asked Epic to joing the CommonWell Health Alliance. Based on my experience Epic has done a great job at exchanging data with other Epic customers. At the request of the customer, Epic will work on creating interoperability with other non-Epic systems. The challenge is the need to create a special request for data sharing every time an Epic customer wants to communicate with a non Epic facility.

The House of Representatives have questioned the VA and DOD decisions to create these separate EHR systems. This makes perfect sense since I am also questioning the decision myself. What should have happened in this situation is the VA and DOD should have come together to collaborate on one EHR system. At the same time, the federal government should step in to create a standard for interoperability and mandate that we move towards collaboration.   If you think about the impact that meaningful use had on transforming the healthcare sector’s move towards digital, I believe the government could have the same impact on interoperability if they made it a requirement.

HIM Professional Sing-Along – Let’s Help Doctors Be Doctors Again

Posted on October 28, 2015 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

Last week, someone shared with me this amazing video and I have been singing along all weekend. There is quite a bit of skepticism in the lyrics to “EHR State of Mind” but it’s a clever expression of a physician’s view of the shortcomings of using EMRs. I enjoyed the creativity of this song and the video and I hope that these EMR issues are addressed soon as the frustrations he shared are definitely unintentional.

I have highlighted some of my favorite lines from the song below and wanted to share my interpretation from an HIM viewpoint.

“Notes used to be our story…narrative…but replaced with copy-paste…now a bloated ransom note”

This statement really resonated with me and my experiences over the past several years. I have definitely seen the decline in the quality of documentation since the install of the EMR. It doesn’t matter what vendor product is used, the reality is that the documentation has severely suffered because we’ve shifted the physicians’ attention to other workflow processes and EMR checkboxes. Copy and paste has reared its ugly head in far too many charts and we must stop the madness! HIM professionals have stepped in to assist with this by providing real-time auditing and feedback. Plus, HIM has provided assistance by enhancing documentation tools.

“Just a glorified billing platform with some patient stuff tacked on.”

I have heard similar statements on many different occasions. Some EMRs were structured around automating billing processes but that doesn’t mean they have to lack in clinical functionality. From the HIM perspective, we are accustomed to reimbursement and clinical documentation going hand in hand. Coding and billing processes were in need of an overhaul to make for more timely reimbursement and EMRs promised to do just that. Having the clinical documentation and data built into the same system was revolutionary and very exciting for us but it’s still a work in progress to optimize the clinical documentation.

“Uncle Sam promoted it but gone is the interop.” 

Wow- this is sad but true. I remember when I first heard about EMRs, HITECH, and Meaningful Use. I had dreams of sharing data with anyone involved in a patient’s care regardless of geographic location through an EMR health information exchange. Unfortunately, this hasn’t even been possible within the same zip code and sometimes not even among providers in the same organization. True interoperability is definitely missing from our EMR systems.

And lastly, “Crappy software some vendor made us.”

Out-of-the-box EMRs are not a one size fits all by any means. EMRs must be customized, trained on, and implemented in a fashion that works for each provider and healthcare system. The implementation process is not complete at “go-live”. The optimization (and most likely, re-build) period must continue indefinitely until the EMR workflows and data capture are ideal for all patient care, quality reporting, and billing purposes.

Do we really need a “new chart” or is enough optimization possible to get us where we need to be? We are constantly having discussions, starting committees, releasing updates, running reports, and everything in between with hopes that our enhancements will make the EMR more functional and meaningful. I value the feedback from physicians and other clinicians who are using the system daily because their intentions are to deliver the best patient care. EMR obstacles are unacceptable and must be fixed with the help of skilled EMR specialists, HIM and IT professionals, and workflow experts.

Enjoy the video by Dr. Z.

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

HIM Professionals and the Patient Portal

Posted on October 21, 2015 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

One of the hot topics in healthcare that has been consistently developing and growing over the past few years is the patient portal. Since many different EMRs and portal platforms are used across hospitals and physician offices, each facility is left to develop policies and procedures for what will be released through the portals and how they will be used. There are no specific standards for patient portals, aside from those needed to meet Meaningful Use requirements, which results in different experiences and functionality for end users.

HIM involvement with patient portal implementations has been a little spotty over the years from what I gather from my peers. I heard someone say we “missed the boat” on patient portals. I don’t necessarily agree but I do see inconsistencies in the level of HIM involvement. When it comes to developing policies governing the content that will be released through the portal, HIM professionals are the experts on this initiative. HIM professionals have always been the stewards of the medical record and keeping release of information processes secure and appropriate. There has been a focus on encouraging patients to keep a personal health record long before EMRs and patient portals came to exist. So how could some HIM professionals get left out of the patient portal process?

My first assumption is that patient portals came to exist mostly, although not solely, as a result of Meaningful Use initiatives. If you have had similar experiences to mine, you have witnessed Meaningful Use initiatives typically being handled by IT professionals. As a result, patient portals have fallen under that umbrella from a technology standpoint but I see great opportunities for HIM professionals to be involved to optimize the content shared for the end users. Since the main intent of patient portals is to encourage patients to be engaged in their own care, these portal initiatives have much more benefit beyond attesting to Meaningful Use and should be incorporated into organizational strategic plans for patient engagement.

There has been a lot of discussion around the struggle of increasing patient portal participation. A common factor in patient portal adoption is the lack of patient competencies in using the technology involved. Some patient populations do not frequently use computers, email, or mobile applications which are all a part of the patient portal functionality. To address this at my facility, we created a position within the HIM department to coordinate all patient portal functions including enhancing the user experience by creating frequently asked questions and answers, troubleshooting issues that patients may have when attempting to login, and resetting portal passwords as needed among many other initiatives. Policies were developed to address who can have access to the portal information, how the patients confirm their identity to log in, what is released, and the duration of the availability of the information. We have an interdisciplinary team that contributes to the patient portal process but having the point person reside in the HIM department makes the most sense for governing the entire concept.

One thing to remember is that patient portals do not eliminate the need for traditional release of information processes because we release information to many different requestors for different purposes. The portal does not include every patient document due to the sensitive nature of some results therefore requests for entire charts and abstracts are still necessary in some cases. Patients should participate in the portal for the personal benefit of being proactive in their own healthcare but they should not expect it to replace release of information. I encourage HIM professionals to be involved in the patient portal process in an administrative capacity. The strides made with patient portal optimization are key in optimizing the transition to health information exchange (HIE) concepts which also require heavy HIM involvement.

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

Where’s Interoperability Happening in Healthcare?

Posted on October 19, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

My tweet this morning inspired this post. Interoperability this and interoperability that. We hear all about interoperability everywhere in healthcare. It’s so important that ONC has put together a 10 year plan for healthcare interoperability. We have more interoperability initiatives than we have actual interoperability. I asked one EHR vendor recently about their thoughts on interoperability and which interoperability initiatives they were involved in. They responded that they were taking part in all of them and then they started listing off them all: Common Well, Argonaut, etc etc etc.

With all of this talk about interoperability, you’d think we’d have a wave of success stories. It’s hard for me to believe that with the hundreds of millions of dollars that’s been spent on HIEs and who knows how much money being spent by private organizations, we don’t have a wave of success stories.

You’d think by this point we’d have so many stories of lives saves, costs reduced and care improved that every organization would have to hop on the healthcare interoperability bandwagon. Peer pressure is a real thing. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have so many good interoperability stories that the peer pressure for everyone to take part isn’t reaching a maximum level.

Sadly, I think the opposite is occurring. All of the stories say that healthcare interoperability isn’t happening. These stories provide peer pressure in the opposite direction. “No one is doing it, so why should I start?”

Although, I think the real problem with interoperability was highlighted in this recent press release about the KLAS Keystone Summit. KLAS brought together 12 EHR vendors (we’ll leave a discussion of which EHR vendors were left out for another post) to “independently and transparently measure/assess the status and trajectory of interoperability.”

While it’s great that these EHR vendors have started talking (5 years ago this would have been laughable), it’s disappointing that this meeting where they supposedly “agree” to an interoperability metric then says “The next step is to put a cohesive plan in place to launch and monitor the measurement.”

Excuse me if I’m skeptical, but I feel like I’ve been here before. A bunch of vendors get together and agree to interoperability. The next step is to put together a plan which never happens and never actually reaches reality. I feel like I’m in interoperability groundhog day.

This isn’t a knock on this specific meeting since it seems to be what’s happened at every meeting which has tried to work on interoperability. We have a nice kumbaya moment where all the EHR vendor executives get in a circle, hold hands and say we’re going to work together and then it never happens.

We need to have more stories shared about EHR vendors and healthcare organizations actually sharing data. That’s going to be the only thing that will turn the tide. I don’t even care if it’s really small data sets. Let’s stop talking about interoperability and start doing it.

If you know of places where interoperability is actually occurring, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a note in the comment or on our contact us page.

Thoughts on Leveraging EMRs Effectively

Posted on September 28, 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.

Whenever I scan Twitter for #HIT ideas, I find something neat. For example, consider this intriguing tweet:

I say intriguing not because the formula outlined will surprise anyone, but rather, because it captures some very difficult problems in a concise and impactful manner.

Here’s some thoughts on the issues Portnoy raises:

* Optimization:  Of course, every healthcare IT organization works to optimize every technology it deploys. But doing so with EMRs is one of the most difficult problems it is likely to encounter. Not only do IT leaders need to optimize the EMR platform technically, they may also face external demands placed by ACOs, HIE partners and affiliated providers. And it’s also important to optimize for Meaningful Use functions.

* Workflows:  Building workflows that address the needs of various stakeholders is critical, as pre-designed vendor workflow options may be far from adequate. While implementing an EMR may be an opportunity for a hospital to redesign workflows, or to enshrine existing workflows in the EMR interface and logic, hospital leaders need to take charge of the workflow implementation process. Inefficiencies at this level can be costly and will erode the confidence of clinical teams.

* Revenue capture:  When properly implemented, EMRs can help providers generate more complete documentation for claims reimbursement, which leads to higher collections volume. As time has shown, difficult-to-use EMRs can lead to physician frustration, and in turn, cut-and-paste re-use of existing documentation — which is why carefully-designed workflow is so important. But if they are used appropriately, EMRs can boost revenue painlessly.

* Patient and provider engagement: True, IT needs to take the lead on getting the EMR in place, and must make some important deployment decisions on its own. Still, hospitals will have trouble meeting their goals if patients and providers aren’t invested in its success, and without patient interest in their data I’d argue that meeting long-term population health goals is unlikely. On the flip side, if clinicians and patients are engaged, the feedback they offer can help hospitals shape not only the future of their EMR, but also the rest of their clinical data infrastructure.

If there’s any common theme to all of this, I’d submit, it’s participation. Unlike most efforts corporate IT departments undertake, EMR rollouts are unlikely to work until everyone they touch gets on board. Hospitals can invest in any EMR technology they like, but if providers can’t use the system comfortably to document care, patients don’t log on to access their data, or revenue cycle managers don’t see how it can improve revenue capture, the project is unlikely to offer much ROI.

Learning About Interoperability from Other Industries

Posted on September 21, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In my recent post about DeSavlso suggesting we needed a common interoperability standard, Karl Walter Keirstead offered the following comment:

Finally, someone in government agrees that MU has not had a focus on the right things.

It’s amazing to me, coming from the industrial process control domain where interconnectivity across multiple systems and applications has been routine for 70 years, to see healthcare fussing over interconnectivity.

Their is no need to standardize.

Each set of trading partners the publisher needs to format data for easy posting to a generic data exchanger and the subscriber needs to be able to read data at the data exchanger for easy import to the subscriber environment.

The design criteria are that each partner be allowed to read/write using their own native data element naming conventions (i.e. I post “abc”, you want to be able to read it as “def”, a 2nd subsriber may want to read “abc” as “ghi”.

Of course, a long name is required per publisher data element so that subscribers are able to figure out what they are subscribing to and the other requirement is that a publisher be able to share on a need-to-know basis.

And, yes, since the usual setup will be “pull” instead of “push” each subscriber needs to be able to retain a cursor position at the exchange so they know the last line item they read.

I always learning from other industries and I think the way Karl frames it is really valuable. There are a few challenges that are unique to healthcare. First, we’re talking about 300 different EHR vendors. I guess you could argue that there are even more suppliers in industry for say something like a car or a computer, so they understand integrating with a lot of vendors. However, I think it’s slightly different since all 300 EHR vendors are trying to do more or less the same thing. Still doable, but it does add some different dynamics.

Second, I think that healthcare data is an order of magnitude more complex than much of the data that’s being shared in other industries. I still feel like that’s an excuse as opposed to a real reason for it not to happen. I know this because for years we’ve seen this data being shared at the HIMSS interoperability showcase. It’s more about will than it is about the complexity.

This all reminds me of the time I asked Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic, if she knew the opportunity she was sitting on. She gave me a blank stare and asked what I meant. I then proceeded to tell her that if she opened up Epic to other people she’d effectively create a standard that everyone would adopt. That’s essentially what I think Karl is saying when he says:

Each set of trading partners the publisher needs to format data for easy posting to a generic data exchanger and the subscriber needs to be able to read data at the data exchanger for easy import to the subscriber environment.

Yep. Epic, Meditech, and Cerner could create a standard for EHR interoperability and everyone would start to use it. Good standard. Bad Standard. It wouldn’t matter, their “trading partners” would adapt to whatever they set as the standard.

What’s the Glue Holding EHR Migration and Conversion Projects Together? – Optimize Healthcare Integration Series

Posted on August 13, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Stephane Vigot, President of Caristix, a leading provider of healthcare integration products and services. This post is part of the Optimize Healthcare Integration series.
Stephane Vigot - Caristix
Are you considering migrating from an older EHR to a newer EHR or are you in the process of that conversion? If so, you are well aware of the complexity of this process. There are a lot of reasons that drive the EHR conversion decision, but the primary reason that organizations undertake EHR conversion is simply to improve patient care and safety by providing clinicians and caregivers with the right information at the right time.

It’s easy to think that this is all about the technology. EHR conversion is far more than an IT project. It is a central business issue that needs to be strategically sponsored and backed by upper level management. In our previous post, we addressed the issue of aligning integration goals for business and technology.  In a project of this magnitude, aligning business and technology goals becomes critical. Implementation takes hard work, time, and is very expensive. Effectively dealing with scope, budget & time creep, and change management matched to the stated business goals is the key to success. The complex planning needed is just one part of the story but the actual execution can be extremely problematic.

Since the primary reason for undertaking EHR conversion is to improve patient care and safety, clinical workflow is top-of-mind and coupled to data exchange and flow through your systems. On the IT side, your analysts define the project requirements and your developers build the interfaces based on those requirements. But the team that plays the most critical role is your quality team. Think of them as your project’s glue.

QA has layers of responsibilities. They are the ones that hold the requirements as the project blueprint and make sure that those requirements, driven by the pre-identified business needs, are being met. They also make sure that all defined processes are being followed. Where processes are not followed, QA defines the resulting risks that must be accommodated for in the system. A subset of responsibility for QA is in the final gate-keeping of a project, the testing and validation processes that address the functionality and metrics of a project.

Analysts work to build the interfaces and provide QA with expected workflows. If those workflows are not correctly defined, QA steps in to clarify them and the expected data exchange, and builds test cases to best represent that evolving knowledge. Identifying workflow is often done blindly with little or no existing information. Once the interface is built, those test cases become the basis for testing. QA also plays an important role in maintenance and in contributing to the library of artifacts that contribute to guaranteeing interoperability over time.

Though it is difficult to estimate the actual costs of interfacing due to the variance implicit in such projects, functional and integrated testing is often up to 3x more time consuming than development. It’s important to note that this most likely represents defects in the process. Normally, in traditional software development those numbers are inversed with QA taking about 1/3 of development time. It’s quite common that requirements are not complete by the time the project lands in QA’s lap. New requirements are continually discovered during testing. These are usually considered to be bugs but should have been identified before the development phase started. Another major reason for the lengthy time needed is that all testing is commonly done manually. A 25 minute fix may require hours of testing when done manually.

In technology projects, risk is always present. QA teams continuously work to confine and evaluate risk based on a predefined process and to report those issues. The question continually being asked is: what are the odds that X will be a problem? And how important is that impact if there is a problem? Here the devil is in the details. QA is constantly dancing with that devil. Risk is not an all or nothing kind of thing. If one were to try and eliminate all risk, projects would never be completed. QA adds order and definition to projects but there are always blind alleyways and unknown consequences that cannot be anticipated even with the most well defined requirements. Dealing with the unknown unknowns is a constant for QA teams. The question becomes how much risk can be tolerated to create the cleanest and most efficient exchange of date on an ongoing basis.

If QA is your glue, what are you doing to increase the quality of that glue, to turn that into super glue? What you can do is provide tools that offset the challenges your QA team faces. At the same time, these tools help contain project scope, time & budget creep, and maintain continual alignment with business goals. The right tools should help in the identification of requirements prior to interface development and throughout that process, identify the necessary workflows, and help in the QA process of building test cases. De-identification of PHI should be included so that production data can be used in testing. Tools should automate the testing and validation process and include the capability of running tests repetitively. In addition, these tools should provide easily shared traceability of the entire QA process by providing a central depository for all assets and documentation to provide continuity for the interoperability goals defined for the entire ecosystem.

What is your organization experiencing in your conversion projects? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Caristix, a leading healthcare integration company, is the sponsor of the Optimize Healthcare Integration blog post series.  Check out this free online demo of Caristix Workgroup product which helps you test your interface and speed up HL7 interface development.

About Stéphane Vigot
Stéphane Vigot, President of Caristix, has over 20 years of experience in product management and business development leadership roles in technology and healthcare IT. Formerly with CareFusion and Cardinal Health, his experience spans from major enterprises to startups. Caristix is one of the few companies in the health IT ecosystem that is uniquely focused on integrating, connecting, and exchanging data between systems. He can be reached at stephane.vigot@caristix.com