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Telemedicine A Growing Priority For Hospitals

Posted on April 29, 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.

Telemedicine programs are not new to hospitals. In fact, tele-stroke and tele-ICU programs have gained significant ground over the past several years, and other subspecialties, such as tele-psychiatry, seem likely to grow in popularity.

In coming years, telemedicine will go from being a one-off strategy to an integral part of hospital care delivery, if a new survey is any indication. Government and private insurers are gradually agreeing to pay for telemedicine services, knocking down the biggest obstacle to rolling out such programs. And while integrating telemedicine services with EMRs poses major challenges, hospital leaders seem determined to address them.

Virtually all of the hospitals responding to the survey, which was conducted by telemedicine vendor ReachHealth, told researchers that they were busy planning and preparing for telemedicine programs. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents, which also included some medical practices, said that rolling out telemedicine programs was one of their top priorities, and another 44% said that it was a high priority. Health systems averaged 5.51 telemedicine service lines, up almost 20% from last year.

I was interested to note that 96% of respondents were planning to roll out telemedicine because they felt it would improve patient outcomes. I’m not aware that there’s any substantial body of evidence demonstrating that telemedicine can have this effect, but clearly this is a widespread belief.

Also, it was a bit surprising to read that “improving financial returns” was a very low priority for providers when developing telemedicine programs. On the other hand, as researchers point out, hospitals and practices to see improved patient satisfaction as a driver of ROI. Apparently, execs responding to this survey are convinced that telemedicine to have a substantial effect on satisfaction and outcomes, though to date, only 55% said telemedicine was improving outcomes and 44% felt it was boosting patient satisfaction.

Researchers also found that providers that dedicate more resources to telemedicine are seeing more success than those that don’t. Specifically, hospitals and clinics that have a 100% dedicated telemedicine program manager in place were doing better with their initiatives.

In fact, two thirds of respondents with a dedicated program manager in place ranked their efforts to be “highly successful,” while only 46% of programs without a dedicated program manager met that description. (The programs were most successful when a VP or director was put in charge of telemedicine efforts, but only slightly more than when a CEO or coordinator was in charge.)

That being said, it seems that the highest barriers to telemedicine success are technical. The respondents complained that the lack of common EMR in hub and spoke hospitals, and the lack of integration between telemedicine and their current EMR, were still standing in their way. Many were also concerned about the lack of native telemedicine capabilities in their EMR.

Despite all of the obstacles to creating a flourishing telemedicine program, hospitals and clinics have continued to make progress. In fact, 36% have had a tele-stroke program in place for more than three years, 23% tele-radiology for three years plus, and 22 percent have had neurology and psychiatry telemedicine programs for three years or more. ReachHealth researchers note that service lines requiring access to specialists are growing more rapidly than other service lines, but contend that this is likely to shift given pending shortages of primary care physicians.

Admittedly, any survey published by telemedicine vendor is likely to be biased. Still, I thought these statistics were worth discussing. Do they track with what you’re seeing out there? And do you think EMR vendors will do more to support telemedicine anytime soon?

CPOE Alerts Still Vex Doctors

Posted on April 20, 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.

A new study by Castlight Health has found that while nearly all hospitals have implemented CPOE systems, those systems are far from perfect. And that may be because too many clinicians find system alerts to be a distracting annoyance.

The research, based on an analysis of data collected by The Leapfrog Group, found that 96% of hospitals reported use of a CPOE system, up from 33% in 2010 in a scant 2% in 2001.  This data is drawn from the 2015 Leapfrog Hospital Survey of 1,750 U.S. hospitals.

But while the high adoption rate might be good news, it comes with bad news as well. The Castlight analysis found that even where hospitals had CPOE systems in place, 39% of possibly harmful drug orders and 13% of potentially fatal orders weren’t flagged by the system in place.

The most common errors that didn’t get flagged included when clinicians prescribed the wrong meds for the patient’s condition, or the wrong dose or meds entirely inappropriate for kidney function, and the failure to display a reminder to test drug levels after issuing medication.

These errors are occurring despite the fact that many of the hospitals studied by Leapfrog (64%) met its CPOE standard. To do so, the hospitals had to alert physicians about a minimum of 50% of common, serious prescribing errors. Also, physicians had to order at least 75% of inpatient medication orders through a CPOE system.

So if the CPOE system is being used actively, and performing as it should in most cases, why would nearly 40 percent of potentially harmful drug errors slip by? The answer may be that fairly or not, CPOE alerting is still seen as a hindrance rather than a help by many physicians.

While I don’t have hard statistical evidence to this effect, the anecdotes doctors share suggest that some click through alerts as quickly as possible. One physician blogger shared that he was quite frustrated by the alert generated when he wanted to prescribe 81mg baby aspirin tablets, which patients can buy over the counter. I understand his frustration (and even what seems like wounded pride).  And if it took several clicks to dismiss the related prompts, I’m sure it was indeed annoying.

On the other hand, as my colleague John Lynn rightfully notes, doctors aren’t going to blog or tweet about the time the CPOE system alert saved them from making a major prescribing error. So there is a bias to comments and blog postings since they only cover the negative side of CPOE and not the positive side. Perhaps the doctors who are working with these alerts successfully are simply going about their business and feel no need to vent. (Please note: I’m not suggesting that those who do vent are out of line in some way.)

Still, it seems quite clear that there’s considerable work to do in improving the workflow around physician alerting. If hospitals with CPOE in place are still seeing this level of potentially harmful or fatal prescribing, after many years to adapt to alerts, they need to do more to accommodate physicians.

P.S. They might want to start with a look at how Montefiore Medical Center succeeded with its CPOE rollout.

EHR Ratings – GomerBlog Style

Posted on April 8, 2016 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.

I first saw this tweet without the image and wondered what the GomerBlog had done for April Fool’s day. I also wondered how I’d missed it on that day. Turns out that the above image and the corresponding blog post on the GomberBlog was definitely not on April Fool’s day, but on March 26th. Although, some might say that the GomerBlog celebrates April Fool’s all year round. For those not familiar with it, they’re basically the Onion of healthcare.

I had to laugh at the ratings they posted. The should have added another column to the chart “Vendor’s Take” and had them all say “Fantastic!” as well.

Dean Sittig is right in his tweet though that this chart isn’t far from the truth. Things that are close to the truth make for the best humor. However, if you’re a doctor or nurse using an EHR, it’s likely getting less and less funny.

Also, for those searching for EHR ratings, good luck. There are so many reasons that EHR ratings are a challenge to do. I’d be careful trusting any rating system out there.

NYC Epic Rollout Faces Patient Safety Questions

Posted on March 30, 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.

In the summer of last year, we laid out for you the story of how a municipal hospital system’s Epic EMR installation had gone dramatically south since its inception. We told you how the New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. was struggling to cope with problems arising from its attempt to implement Epic at its 11 hospitals, four long-term care facilities, six diagnostic treatment centers and more than 70 community-based clinics.

At the time of last writing, the project budget had exploded upward from $302 million to $764 million, and the public chain’s CTO, CIO, CIO interim deputy and project head of training had been given the axe. In the unlikely event that you thought things would settle down at that point, we bring you news of further strife and bloodshed.

Apparently, a senior clinical information officer with the chain’s Elmhurst and Queens Hospital Centers has now made allegations that the way the Epic install was proceeding might pose danger to patients. A New York Post article reports that in a letter to colleagues, outgoing HHC official Charles Perry, M.D. compared the EMR implementation process to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.

In his letter, Dr. Perry apparently argued that the project must be delayed. According to the Post, he quoted from a presidential panel report on the disaster: “[For] a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” Another Post article cited anonymous “insider” sources claiming that the system will crash, as the implementation is being rushed, and that the situation could lead to patient harm.

For its part, HHC has minimized the issue. A spokesperson told FierceHealthIT that Perry was associate executive director of the Elmhurst hospital and liason to the Queens Epic project, rather than being CMIO as identified by the Post. (Further intrigue?) Also, the spokesperson told FHIT that “if a patient safety issue is identified, the project will stop until it is addressed.”

Of course, the only people who truly know what’s happening with the HHC Epic implementation are not willing to go public with their allegations, so I’d argue that were obligated to take Perry’s statements with at least a grain of salt. In fact, I’d suggest that most large commercial Epic installations (and other large EHR implementations for that matter) got the scrutiny this public hospital system gets, they’d probably look pretty bad too.

On the other hand, it’s fair to say that HHC seems to crammed enough scandal into the first few years of its Epic rollout for the entire 15-year project. For the sake of the millions of people HHC serves, let’s hope that either there is not much to these critiques — or that HHC slows down enough to do the project justice.

GE Healthcare Is Still In The Game

Posted on March 14, 2016 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.

Below is the recent press release from GE Healthcare.  Their EMR will be used in the Rio 2016 Olympics which is a great win for GE.  The product has come a long way and they are making some great strides.  The challenge is where will the product fall in a healthcare EMR ecosystem that is predominately Epic and Cerner.   Personally I know of a few organizations that are evaluating a transition away from the GE Centricity platform due to either a merger with a bigger healthcare system that already has an enterprise EMR or they had a bad experience with Centricity and are moving on.  It will be interesting to see in the next 2-3 years how many EMR vendors we will have left.  I will definitely keep an eye on GE to see whether the recent win with the Olympic games will help create positive momentum in 2016.

LAS VEGAS–GE Healthcare announced today the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has selected the company’s Centricity Practice Solution as the official electronic medical record (EMR) to be used by the medical teams of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. This marks the first time that all athletes and spectators at the Olympic Games will have their health interactions managed by an electronic medical record. The announcement was made at the 2016 Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Las Vegas.

Centricity Practice Solution will be used for managing data related to injuries and illness for athletes competing in the games as well as spectators, officials, athlete family members and coaches who require medical assistance throughout the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. For the competitors, the data managed during the Games will be used to help drive optimal, individualized care to help athletes compete at a world-class level.

“The Olympic Games is about providing the best possible service to athletes,” said Dr. Richard Budgett, Medical and Scientific Director for the IOC. “The gold medal of medical services is something that is integrated and comprehensive: a total package. Adding access to an electronic medical record is key to our drive towards the prevention of injury. Without a proper medical, longitudinal record, it’s difficult for us to do surveillance and see what injuries are most common in certain sports. This would impact our ability to prevent and measure our effectiveness. The EMR is going to be a cornerstone for our medical services going forward.”

Centricity Practice Solution will be available in English and Portuguese and will provide access to next generation workflows, analytics and data to potentially help optimize athlete performance. The information will be analyzed to spot patterns and provide insights for future Games planning. Additionally, medical teams will be able to access diagnostic images and reports from within the EMR to assist in providing world-class care quickly and efficiently. GE’s EMR will be accessible at any of the multiple medical posts throughout the Games and at the central Polyclinic in the Olympic Village where more complex care is delivered.

“By selecting Centricity Practice Solutions EMR, the IOC is extending the clinical care and data management capabilities pioneered by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), which has used GE’s EMR platform for the past two Olympic Games in London and Sochi,” said Jon Zimmerman, General Manager, GE Centricity Business Solutions. “Incorporating an EMR platform into the healthcare services will enable medical staff at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games access to real time data, analytics and health information to help their athletes perform at peak capabilities.”

If you’d like to receive future health care C-Level executive posts by David in your inbox, you can subscribe to future Health Care CXO 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’.

A Look at MEDITECH’s Place in the EHR Marketplace and Where They’re Headed

Posted on February 12, 2016 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.

Healthcare Scene was lucky to sit down with Helen Waters, VP at MEDITECH, to talk about the EHR market and MEDITECH’s place in that market. Plus, we dive into the culture and history of MEDITECH and how it’s changed. We also explore MEDITECH’s plans around innovation, integration, and value along with MEDITECH’s efforts to deploy cloud and mobile solutions. Finally, we had to talk about healthcare interoperability. We hope you’ll enjoy this wide ranging interview with Helen Waters:

After the formal interview we did above, we allow people watching live to be able to ask questions and even hop on camera to offer their insights or ask questions of Helen in what we call the “after party.” In this “after party” discussion we talk to Helen about her thoughts on the changing healthcare reimbursement landscape and what MEDITECH is doing to prepare for it. We also talk about integrating telemedicine into MEDITECH. I also ask Helen about MEDITECH’s views on EHR APIs. Check out the second half of our interview below:

We hope you’ll enjoy this look into EHR vendor, MEDITECH.

EMR Usability A Pressing Issue

Posted on January 29, 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.

A few months ago, in a move that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, the AMA and MedStar Health made an interesting play. The physicians’ group and the health system released a joint framework designed to rank EMR usability, as well as using the framework to rank the usability of a number of widely-implemented systems.

What makes these scores interesting is not that they’re just another set of rankings — those are pretty much everywhere — but that the researchers focused on EMR usability. As any clinician will tell you (and many have told me) despite years of evolution, EMRs are still a pain in the butt to use. And clearly, market forces are doing little to change this. Looking at where widely-used systems rate on usability is a refreshing look at a neglected issue.

To score the EMRs, researchers dug into EMR vendor testing reports from ONC. This makes sense. After all, though the agency doesn’t use this data for certification, the ONC does require EMR vendors to report on user-centered design processes they used for eight capabilities.

And while the ONC doesn’t base EMR certifications on usability, my gut feeling is that the data source is pretty reliable. I would tend to believe that given they’re talking to a certifying authority, vendors are less like to fudge these reports than any they’d prepare for potential customers.

According to the partners, Allscripts and McKesson were the highest-scoring EMR vendors, gaining 15 out of 15 points. eClinicalWorks was the lowest-scoring EMR, getting only 5 of 15 possible points. In-betweeners included Cerner and MEDITECH, which got 13 points each, and Epic, which got 9 points.

And here’s the criteria for the rankings:

  • User Centered Design Process:  EMRs were rated on whether they had a user-centered design process, how many participants took part (15+ was best) and whether test participants had a clinical background.
  • Summative Testing Methodology: These ratings focused on how detailed the use cases relied upon by the testing were and whether usability measures focused on appropriate factors (effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction).
  • Summative Testing Results:  These measures focused on whether success rates for first-time users were 80% or more, and on how substantive descriptions of areas for improvement were.

Given the spotty results across the population of EMRs tested, it seems clear that usability hasn’t been a core concern of most vendors. (Yes, I know, some of you are saying, “Boy howdy, we knew that already!”)

Perhaps more importantly, though, it can be inferred that usability hasn’t been a priority for the health systems and practices investing in these products. After all, some of the so-so ratings, such as that for the Epic product, come from companies that have been in the market forever and have had the time to iterate a mature, usable product. If health systems were demanding that EMRs be easy to use, the scores would probably be higher.

Frankly, I can’t for the life of me understand why an organization would invest hundreds of millions of dollars (or even a billion) dollars in an EMR without being sure that clinicians can actually use it. After all, a good EMR experience can be very attractive to potential recruits as well as current clinicians. In fact, a study from early last year found that 79% of RNs see the hospital’s EMR as a one of the top 3 considerations in choosing where to work.

Maybe it’s an artifact of a prior era. In the past, perhaps the health systems investing in less-usable EMRs were just making the best of a shoddy situation. But I don’t think that excuse plays anymore. I believe more providers need to adopt frameworks like this one, and apply them rigorously.

Look, I know that EMR investment is a complex dance. And obviously, notions of usability will continue to evolve as EMRs involve — so perhaps it can’t be the top priority for every buyer. But it’s more than time for health organizations to take usability seriously.

Is An Epic Investment Bad For Health Leaders’ Job Stability?

Posted on January 28, 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.

For quite some time now, the buzz has been that at least one EMR vendor was a safe bet for everyone involved. “No one ever got fired for choosing Epic” has begun to seem as obvious a sentiment as “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM” in hospital C-suites. And certainly, in previous times that was probably true.

But it’s beginning to look as though at least in some cases, Epic has not been as safe a choice as health execs had hoped. In fact, while it’s not exactly a fully-fledged trend, it’s worth noting that Epic-related costs and technical issues have led to job losses for hospital CIOs, as well as other operational leaders, in recent times.

Perhaps the most recent example of Epic-related job attrition took place earlier this month, when the chief information officer and chief operating officer of Denver Health Medical Center. According to the Denver Post, the two executives left their posts in the wake of major disagreements over the medical center’s big investment in an Epic EMR.

The Denver Post story reports that former Denver Health CIO Gregory Veltri was on the outs with CEO Arthur Gonzalez from the outset where Epic was concerned. Apparently, Veltri argued from the get-go that the Epic install costs — which he estimated could hit $300 million when the $70 million cost of dumping the center’s current EMR contract and doubling of its IT staff were computed — stood a chance of bankrupting the hospital. (Gonzalez, for his part, claims that the Epic installation is under budget at $170 million, and says that the system should go live in April.)

In another example of Epic-related turnover, the chief information officer at Maine Medical Center in Portland seems to have left his job at least in part due to the financial impact of the hospital’s $160 million Epic investment. Admittedly, the departure of CIO Barry Blumenfeld may also have been related to technical problems with the rollout which slowed hospital collections. This took place back in 2013, but it still seems noteworthy.

The spring of 2013 also saw the departure of Sheila Sanders, the chief information officer for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in the midst of the medical center’s struggles to implement its own Epic system. While Wake Forest Baptist had spent a comparatively modest $13.3 million on direct Epic costs during its second quarter of fiscal 2012-13, the medical center had been socked by delays in revenue resulting to Epic rollout problems, including issues with billing, coding and collections.

Wake Forest Baptist reported taking an $8 million hit that quarter due to “business-cycle disruptions (that) have had a greater-than-anticipated impact on volumes and productivity.” It also reported $26.6 million in lost margin due to reduced volume during go-live and post go-live Epic optimization.

Of course, a botched rollout can mean job insecurity no matter what EMR the hospital has chosen. For example, in May of 2014, Athens Regional Medical Center President and CEO James Thaw was apparently pressured out of office when the facility’s Cerner rollout went poorly. (After weeks of Cerner problems, the hospital’s staff voted 270-0 that they had “no confidence” in the hospital’s leadership. Gulp!) Somehow, Senior Vice President and CIO Gretchen Tegethoff kept her job, but my bet is that it was a close-run thing.

And to be fair, this is obviously a small, selected set of anecdotes about questionable Epic rollouts. They don’t prove that Epic is a CIO job killer or an ineffective EMR. But these stories do highlight the fact that while Epic investments might yield good things, rolling Epic out requires nerves of steel and flawless execution.

Athenahealth Amps Up Drive To Build Inpatient EMR

Posted on January 26, 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.

EMR vendor athenahealth has been driving forward for a while now to build a new hospital inpatient system and fight for the big-ticket customers in acute care. Given the intense competition for the acute care EMR dollar, I’m skeptical that athenahealth can wedge its way into the game. But so far, it looks like the vendor is going about things the right way.

athenahealth already offers the athenaOne suite, which includes an ambulatory EMR, revenue cycle management and patient engagement tools. But it seems the ambitious execs there have also decided to participate in the bare-knuckled fight for hospital bucks being duked out between Cerner, Epic, MEDITECH, McKesson and Allscripts. Considering the billions at stake, these acute care giants won’t be gentle. But as the following details suggest, athenahealth may just have enough going for it to slip into place.

Last year, athenahealth got the ball rolling when it struck a co-development deal with Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to create a new inpatient system. The two organizations agreed to kick off the development work at Beth Israel’s 58-bed hospital, which is located in the nearby suburb of Needham, Mass.  The deal makes particular sense given that athena corporate is located in another Boston suburb, Watertown.

To supplement its development efforts, athenahealth also picked up small-hospital EMR vendor RazorInsights and Beth Israel’s home-built webOMR EMR. athena has replaced the RazorInsights EMR with a rebuilt version of its ambulatory athenaClinicals EMR, and integrated it with the RI hospital information system, plus several ancillary systems. This hybrid system is being sold to the small-hospital market.

athenahealth has begun converting webOMR into athenaNet in partnership with the small Needham branch of Beth Israel, working with clinicians and technical staffers to better understand the inpatient care environment.

That agreement alone might have gotten the job done, but athena didn’t stop there. Last week, the vendor announced that it would be partnering with the University of Toledo Medical Center to further speed the development of its inpatient EMR. The agreement clearly builds on the vendor’s prior relationship with the University of Toledo Physicians, which picked up the athenaOne suite in late 2014.

The deal with UTMC will do more than give athenahealth another testbed and development site. This agreement with the health system, which is dumping its McKesson Horizon system by 2018, gives athenahealth a real-life win in a substantial setting. What’s more, given that the medical center is being given the chance to build things to its liking, the new acute-care EMR is unlikely to cost as much over the long-term as, say, Epic support and maintenance.

I must admit that I still see athenahealth’s plans as fairly risky. While it has significant resources, the vendor can’t match those of its big competitors. What’s more, it could lose a great deal if it endangers its strong legacy base of ambulatory users. But if any of the established ambulatory HIT firms have a shot at the bigger deals, this one does. I’m eager to see how this turns out.