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AHA Asks Congress To Reduce Health IT Regulations for Medicare Providers

Posted on September 22, 2017 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 American Hospital Association has sent a letter to Congress asking members to reduce regulatory burdens for Medicare providers, including mandates affecting a wide range of health IT services.

The letter, which is addressed to the House Ways and Means Health subcommittee, notes that in 2016, CMS and other HHS agencies released 49 rules impacting hospitals and health systems, which make up nearly 24,000 pages of text.

“In addition to the sheer volume, the scope of changes required by the new regulations is beginning to outstrip the field’s ability to absorb them,” says the letter, which was signed by Thomas Nickels, executive vice president of government relations and public policy for the AHA. The letter came with a list of specific changes AHA is proposing.

Proposals of potential interest to health IT leaders include the following. The AHA is asking Congress to:

  • Expand Medicare coverage of telehealth to patients outside of rural areas and expand the types of technology that can be used. It also suggests that CMS should automatically reimburse for Medicare-covered services when delivered via telehealth unless there’s an individual exception.
  • Remove HIPAA barriers to sharing patient medical information with providers that don’t have a direct relationship with that patient, in the interests of improving care coordination and outcomes in a clinically-integrated setting.
  • Cancel Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program, institute a 90-day reporting period for future program years and eliminate the all-or-nothing approach to compliance.
  • Suspend eCQM reporting requirements, given how difficult it is at present to pull outside data into certified EHRs for quality reporting.
  • Remove requirements that hospitals attest that they have bought technology which supports health data interoperability, as well as that they responded quickly and in good faith to requests for exchange with others. At present, hospitals could face penalties for technical issues outside their control.
  • Refocus the ONC to address a narrower scope of issues, largely EMR standards and certification, including testing products to assure health data interoperability.

I am actually somewhat surprised to say that these proposals seem to be largely reasonable. Typically, when they’re developed by trade groups, they tend to be a bit too stacked in favor of that group’s subgroup of concerns. (By the way, I’m not taking a position on the rest of the regulatory ideas the AHA put forth.)

For example, expanding Medicare telehealth coverage seems prudent. Given their age, level of chronic illness and attendant mobility issues, telehealth could potentially do great things for Medicare beneficiaries.

Though it should be done carefully, tweaking HIPAA rules to address the realities of clinical integration could be a good thing. Certainly, no one is suggesting that we ought to throw the rulebook out the window, it probably makes sense to square it with today’s clinical realities.

Also, the idea of torquing down MU 3 makes some sense to me as well, given the uncertainties around the entirety of MU. I don’t know if limiting future reporting to 90-day intervals is wise, but I wouldn’t take it off of the table.

In other words, despite spending much of my career ripping apart trade groups’ legislative proposals, I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the majority of the ones I list above. I hope Congress gives these suggestions some serious consideration.

Rush Sues Patient Monitoring Vendor, Says System Didn’t Work

Posted on August 25, 2017 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.

Rush University Medical Center has filed suit against one of its health IT vendors, claiming that its patient monitoring system didn’t work as promised and may have put patients in danger.

According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, Rush spent $18 million installing the Infinity Acute Monitoring Solution system from Telford, PA-based Draeger Inc. between 2012 and early 2016.  The Infinity system included bedside monitors, larger data aggregating monitors at central nursing stations, battery-powered portable monitors and M300 wireless patient-worn monitors.

However, despite years of attempting to fix the system, its patient alarms were still unreliable and inaccurate, it contends in the filing, which accuses Draeger of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud.

In the suit, the 664-bed hospital and academic medical center says that the system was dogged by many issues which could have had an impact on patient safety. For example, it says, the portable monitors stopped collecting data when moved to wireless networks and sometimes stole IP addresses from bedside monitors, knocking the bedside monitor off-line leaving the patient unmonitored.

In addition, the system allegedly sent out false alarms for heart arrhythmia patients with pacemakers, distracting clinicians from performing their jobs, and failed monitor apnea until 2015, according to the complaint. Even then, the system wasn’t monitoring some sets of apnea patients accurately, it said. Near the end, the system erased some patient records as well, it contends.

Not only that, Draeger didn’t deliver everything it was supposed to provide, the suit alleges, including wired-to-wireless monitoring and monitoring for desaturation of neonatal patients’ blood oxygen.

As if that weren’t enough, Draeger didn’t respond effectively when Rush executives told it about the problems it was having, according to the suit. “Rather than effectively remediating these problems, Draeger largely, and inaccurately, blamed them on Rush,” it contends.

While Draeger provided a software upgrade for the system, it was extremely difficult to implement, didn’t fix the original issues and created new problems, the suit says.

According to Rush, the Draeger system was supposed to last 10 years. However, because of technical problems it observed, the medical center replaced the system after only five years, spending $30 million on the new software, it says.

Rush is asking the court to make Draeger pay that the $18 million it spent on the system, along with punitive damages and legal fees.

It’s hard to predict the outcome of such a case, particularly given that the system’s performance has to have depended in part on how Rush managed the implementation. Plus, we’re only seeing the allegations made by Rush in the suit and not Draeger’s perspective which could be very different and offer other details. Regardless, it seems likely these proceedings will be watched closely in the industry. Regardless of whether they are at fault or not, no vendor can afford to get a reputation for endangering patient safety, and moreover, no hospital can afford to buy from them if they do.

Is Allscripts An Also-Ran In The Hospital EMR Business?

Posted on August 18, 2017 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.

It all began with a question, as many classic tales do. Someone writing for the HIStalk.com website  – I think it was ever-anonymous, eponymous  leader Mr. HISTalk – asked readers to answer the question “Who will benefit most from the proposed acquisition of McKesson EIS by Allscripts?”

The survey results were themselves worth a read:

* Approximately 29% voted for “McKesson customers”
* About 27% voted for “Allscripts customers”
* 8.4% voted for “McKesson shareholders”
* Roughly 23% voted for “Allscripts shareholders”
* About 13% voted for “Allscripts competitors”

Two things about these responses interested me. One is that almost a third of respondents seem to think McKesson will make the bigger score after being acquired by Allscripts. The other is that a not-inconsiderable 13% of the site’s well-informed readers think the deal will help Allscripts’ competitors. If these readers are right, perhaps Allscripts should rethink the deal.

I was even more engaged by the analysis that followed, which the writer took a close look at the dynamics of the hospital EMR market and commented on how Allscripts fit in. The results weren’t surprising, but again, if I were running Allscripts I’d take the following discussion seriously.

After working with data supplied by Blain Newton, EVP of HIMSS Analytics, the writer drew some firm conclusions. Here are some of the observations he shared:

  • While McKesson has twice as many hospitals as Allscripts, most of these hospitals have less than 150 beds, which means that the acquisition may offer less benefit, he suggests.
  • In addition to having only 3% of hospitals overall, Allscripts controls only 6% of the 250+ bed hospital market, which probably doesn’t position it for success. In contrast, he notes, Epic controls 20% of this market and Meditech 19%.
  • His sense is that while hospitals typically want a full suite of products when they work with Epic, Cerner or Meditech, Allscripts customers may be more prone to buying just a few key systems.
  • Ultimately, he argues, Cerner, Epic and Meditech have a commanding lead in this market, for reasons which include that the three are well ahead when it comes to the overall number of hospital served.
  • Given his premise, he believes that Epic is at the top of the pyramid, as it has almost double the number of hospitals with 500+ beds that Cerner does.

To cap off his analysis, Mr. HISTalk concludes that market forces make it unlikely that a dark horse will squeeze out one of the top hospital EMR vendors: “Everybody else is eating their dust and likely to lose business due to hospital consolidation and a shift toward the most successful vendors as much as all of us who – for our own reasons – wish that weren’t the case.”

It would take a separate analysis to predict whether the top three hospital EMR vendors are likely to win out over each other, but Epic seems to hold the most cards. Last year, I wrote a piece suggesting that Cerner was edging up on Epic, but I’m not sure whether or not my logic still holds. Epic may indeed be King of the (HIT) Universe for the foreseeable future.

Is It Time To Put FHIR-Based Development Front And Center?

Posted on August 9, 2017 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 like to look at questions other people in the #HIT world wonder about, and see whether I have a different way of looking at the subject, or something to contribute to the discussion. This time I was provoked by one asked by Chad Johnson (@OchoTex), editor of HealthStandards.com and senior marketing manager with Corepoint Health.

In a recent HealthStandards.com article, Chad asks: “What do CIOs need to know about the future of data exchange?” I thought it was an interesting question; after all, everyone in HIT, including CIOs, would like to know the answer!

In his discussion, Chad argues that #FHIR could create significant change in healthcare infrastructure. He notes that if vendors like Cerner or Epic publish a capabilities-based API, providers’ technical, clinical and workflow teams will be able to develop custom solutions that connect to those systems.

As he rightfully points out, today IT departments have to invest a lot of time doing rework. Without an interface like FHIR in place, IT staffers need to develop workflows for one application at a time, rather than creating them once and moving on. That’s just nuts. It’s hard to argue that if FHIR APIs offer uniform data access, everyone wins.

Far be it from me to argue with a good man like @OchoTex. He makes a good point about FHIR, one which can’t be emphasized enough – that FHIR has the potential to make vendor-specific workflow rewrites a thing of the past. Without a doubt, healthcare CIOs need to keep that in mind.

As for me, I have a couple of responses to bring to the table, and some additional questions of my own.

Since I’m an HIT trend analyst rather than actual tech pro, I can’t say whether FHIR APIs can or can’t do what Chat is describing, though I have little doubt that Chad is right about their potential uses.

Still, I’d contend out that since none other than FHIR project director Grahame Grieve has cautioned us about its current limitations, we probably want to temper our enthusiasm a bit. (I know I’ve made this point a few times here, perhaps ad nauseum, but I still think it bears repeating.)

So, given that FHIR hasn’t reached its full potential, it may be that health IT leaders should invest added time on solving other important interoperability problems.

One example that leaps to mind immediately is solving patient matching problems. This is a big deal: After all, If you can’t match patient records accurately across providers, it’s likely to lead to wrong-patient related medical errors.

In fact, according to a study released by AHIMA last year, 72 percent of HIM professional who responded work on mitigating possible patient record duplicates every week. I have no reason to think things have gotten better. We must find an approach that will scale if we want interoperable data to be worth using.

And patient data matching is just one item on a long list of health data interoperability concerns. I’m sure you’re aware of other pressing problems which could undercut the value of sharing patient records. The question is, are we going to address those problems before we began full-scale health data exchange? Or does it make more sense to pave the road to data exchange and address bumps in the road later?

We Can’t Afford To Be Vague About Population Health Challenges

Posted on June 19, 2017 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 looked over a recent press release from Black Book Research touting its conclusions on the role of EMR vendors in the population health technology market. Buried in the release were some observations by Alan Hutchison, vice president of Connect & Population Health at Epic.

As part of the text, the release observes that “the shift from quantity-based healthcare to quality-based patient-centric care is clearly the impetus” for population health technology demand. This sets up some thoughts from Hutchison.

The Epic exec’s quote rambles a bit, but in summary, he argues that existing systems are geared to tracking units of care under fee-for-service reimbursement schemes, which makes them dinosaurs.

And what’s the solution to this problem? Why, health systems need to invest in new (Epic) technology geared to tracking patients across their path of care. “Single-solution systems and systems built through acquisition [are] less able to effectively understand the total cost of care and where the greatest opportunities are to reduce variation, improve outcomes and lower costs,” Hutchison says.

Yes, I know that press releases generally summarize things in broad terms, but these words are particularly self-serving and empty, mashing together hot air and jargon into an unappetizing patty. Not only that, I see a little bit too much of stating as fact things which are clearly up for grabs.

Let’s break some of these issues down, shall we?

  • First, I call shenanigans on the notion that the shift to “value-based care” means that providers will deliver quality care over quantity. If nothing else, the shifts in our system can’t be described so easily. Yeah, I know, don’t expect much from a press release, but words matter.
  • Second, though I’m not surprised Hutchison made the argument, I challenge the notion that you must invest in entirely new systems to manage population health.
  • Also, nobody is mentioning that while buying a new system to manage pop health data may be cleaner in some respects, it could make it more difficult to integrate existing data. Having to do that undercuts the value of the new system, and may even overshadow those benefits.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of reading low-calorie vendor quotes about the misty future of population health technology, particularly when a vendor rep claims to have The Answer.  And I’m done with seeing clichéd generalizations about value-based care pass for insight.

Actually, I get a lot more out of analyses that break down what we *don’t* know about the future of population health management.

I want to know what hasn’t worked in transitioning to value-based reimbursement. I hope to see stories describing how health systems identified their care management weaknesses. And I definitely want to find out what worries senior executives about supporting necessary changes to their care delivery models.

It’s time to admit that we don’t yet know how this population health management thing is going to work and abandon the use of terminally vague generalizations. After all, once we do, we can focus on the answering our toughest questions — and that’s when we’ll begin to make real progress.

VA (Veteran’s Administration) Chooses Cerner EHR

Posted on June 5, 2017 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.

Some really big news just dropped from the VA Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, that the VA has selected Cerner as their EHR replacement to VistA. You can see the full press release at the bottom of this email which outlines the VA Secretary’s reasoning for going with Cerner and the expedited process.

Without getting too much into the details of government procurement, the VA secretary has decided to use a “Determination and Findings” or “D&F” that allows him to avoid the government requirement for a full and open EHR selection and instead be able to solicit the EHR from Cerner directly. I’m pretty sure this will have many of the VistA and even the Epic people up in arms. We may even see some lawsuits out of it, but I don’t expect they’ll go anywhere. Of course, I think most of the VistA people knew this was coming ever since the VA secretary said they’d be pursuing a commercial EHR.

I think most people in the industry thought that the VA would and should go with Cerner for their EHR once the DoD chose Cerner and has since started implementing the Cerner Millennium EHR in what is now known as MHS GENESIS. The only naysayers suggested that the VA might choose Epic over Cerner just because they wanted to be different. That always seemed like a bit of a stretch to me, but it is government and so you can never know what to expect.

You can read the full press release below, but the reasons for choosing Cerner are pretty clear. The release does say that the VA will have its own instance of Cerner. So, they’ll still have to build interoperability between the DoD implementation of Cerner and the VA implementation of Cerner. This isn’t really a surprise when you think about their unique needs and the size of their implementations. Watch for the Cerner interoperability chart to go through the roof once they start sharing records between the DoD and VA.

I also found it interesting to note that the VA has a lot of community partners who are on other EHR platforms. We’ll see how interoperability goes for them. I expect they’ll likely use the standard interoperability options that are out there today.

The VA Secretary did note the concern of many VistA users when he said that “In many ways VA is well ahead of DoD in clinical IT innovations and we will not discard our past work. And our work will help DoD in turn.” I know many VistA fans who suggested that Cerner and Epic were way behing VistA in many areas and so moving to either commercial EHR would be a frustrating thing for many VA VistA users. We’ll see how well the VA Secretary can incorporate their current IT innovation into Cerner. I expect this will be an extremely hard challenge.

Not being an expert on government procurement, I’m interested to know how the VA will handle the rest of the procurement process. If you remember, the DoD’s massive EHR contract was really led by Leidos and not Cerner. Of the $9 billion contract, there were estimates that Cerner would only see $50-100 million per year of the $9 billion. The VA announcement only talks about a contract with Cerner for their EHR. Will they have to do an open bid process for all the services that Leidos and their rainbow of other partners are providing the Cerner DoD implementation?

Those are some initial high level views on this big announcement. What do you think of the announcement? Any other details I missed? Any other questions you have about it?

VA Press Release on Selection of Cerner EHR:

Today U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin announced his decision on the next-generation Electronic Health Record (EHR) system for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at a news briefing at VA headquarters in Washington.

Secretary Shulkin’s full statement is below.

I am here today to announce my decision on the future of the VA’s Electronic Health Record system, otherwise known as EHR.

I wanted to say at the outset that from the day he selected me for this position, the President made clear that we’re going to do things differently for our Veterans, to include in the area of EHR.

I had said previously that I would be making a decision on our EHR by July 1st, and I am honoring that commitment today.

The health and safety of our Veterans is one of our highest national priorities.

Having a Veteran’s complete and accurate health record in a single common EHR system is critical to that care, and to improving patient safety.

Let me say at the outset that I am extremely proud of VA’s longstanding history in IT innovation and in leading the country in advancing the use of EHRs.

  • It was a group of courageous VA clinicians that began this groundbreaking work in the basements of VA’s in the 1970’s that led to the system that we have today, known as the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA.
  • It has been this system that led to the incredible achievements made by VA clinicians and researchers and resulted in VA’s ability to perform as well or better than the private sector in patient safety and quality of care.

That said, our current VistA system is in need of major modernization to keep pace with the improvements in health information technology and cybersecurity, and software development is not a core competency of VA.

I said recently to Congress that I was committed to getting VA out of the software business, that I didn’t see remaining in that business as benefitting Veterans.  And, because of that, we’re making a decision to move towards a commercial off-the-shelf product.

I have not come to this decision on EHR lightly.

I have reviewed numerous studies, reports and commissions, on this topic, including the recent commission on care report.

  • I’ve spent time talking with clinicians, and I use our legacy VistA system myself as a current practicing VA physician.
  • We have consulted with Chief Information Officers from around the country, and I’ve met personally with CEO’s from leading health systems to get their own thoughts on the best next-generation EHR for VA.
  • We’ve studied reports from management consulting companies and from the GAO and the IG on VA’s IT systems.
  • I can count no fewer than 7 Blue Ribbon Commissions, and a large number of congressional hearings that have called for VA to modernize its approach to IT.

At VA, we know where almost all of our Veteran patients is going to come from — from the DoD, and for this reason, Congress has been urging the VA and DoD for at least 17 years — from all the way back in 2000 — to work more closely on EHR issues.

To date, VA and DoD have not adopted the same EHR system. Instead, VA and DoD have worked together for many years to advance EHR interoperability between their many separate applications — at the cost of several hundred millions of dollars — in an attempt to create a consistent and accurate view of individual medical record information.

While we have established interoperability between VA and DOD for key aspects of the health record, seamless care is fundamentally constrained by ever-changing information sharing standards, separate chains of command, complex governance, separate implementation schedules that must be coordinated to accommodate those changes from separate program offices that have separate funding appropriations, and a host of related complexities requiring constant lifecycle maintenance.

And the bottom line is we still don’t have the ability to trade information seamlessly for our Veteran patients and seamlessly execute a share plan of acre with smooth handoffs.

Without improved and consistently implemented national interoperability standards, VA and DoD will continue to face significant challenges if the Departments remain on two different systems.

For these reasons, I have decided that VA will adopt the same EHR system as DoD, now known as MHS GENESIS, which at its core consists of Cerner Millennium.

VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the Departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems.

It’s time to move forward, and as Secretary I was not willing to put this decision off any longer.  When DoD went through this acquisition process in 2014 it took far too long.  The entire EHR acquisition process, starting from requirements generation until contract award, took approximately 26 months.

We simply can’t afford to wait that long when it comes to the health of our Veterans.

Because of the urgency and the critical nature of this decision, I have decided that there is a public interest exception to the requirement for full and open competition in this technology acquisition.

Accordingly, under my authority as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I have signed what is known as a “Determination and Findings,” or D&F, that is a special form of written approval by an authorized official that is required by statute or regulation as a prerequisite to taking certain contract actions.

The D&F notes that there is a public interest exception to the requirement for full and open competition, and determines that the VA may issue a solicitation directly to Cerner Corporation for the acquisition of the EHR system currently being deployed by DoD, for deployment and transition across the VA enterprise in a manner that meets VA needs, and which will enable seamless healthcare to Veterans and qualified beneficiaries.

Additionally we have looked at the need for VA to adopt significant cybersecurity enhancements, and we intend to leverage the architecture, tools and processes that have already been put in place to protect DoD data, to include both physical and virtual separation from commercial clients.

This D&F action is only done in particular circumstances when the public interest demands it, and that’s clearly the case here.  Once again, for the reasons of the health and protection of our Veterans, I have decided that we can’t wait years, as DoD did in its EHR acquisition process, to get our next generation EHR in place.

Let me say what lies ahead, as this is just the beginning of the process.

  • VA has unique needs and many of those are different from the DoD.
  • For this reason, VA will not simply be adopting the identical EHR that DoD uses, but we intend to be on a similar Cerner platform.
  • VA clinicians will be very involved in how this process moves forward and in the implementation of the system.
  • In many ways VA is well ahead of DoD in clinical IT innovations and we will not discard our past work.  And our work will help DoD in turn.
  • Furthermore VA must obtain interoperability with DoD but also with our academic affiliates and community partners, many of whom are on different IT platforms.
  • Therefore we are embarking on creating something that has not been done before — that is an integrated product that, while utilizing the DoD platform, will require a meaningful integration with other vendors to create a system that serves Veterans in the best possible way.
  • This is going to take the cooperation and involvement of many companies and thought leaders, and can serve as a model for the federal government and all of healthcare.

Once again, I want to thank the President for his incredible commitment to helping our Veterans and his support for our team here at the VA as we undertake this important work.

This is an exciting new phase for VA, DOD, and for the country.  Our mission is too important not to get this right and we will.

UCHealth Adds Claims Data To Population Health Dataset

Posted on April 24, 2017 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 Colorado-based health system is implementing a new big data strategy which incorporates not only data from clinics, hospitals and pharmacies, but also a broad base of payer claim data.

UCHealth, which is based in Aurora, includes a network of seven hospitals and more than 100 clinics, caring collectively for more than 1.2 million unique patients in 2016. Its facilities include the University of Colorado Hospital, the principal teaching hospital for the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Leaders at UCHealth are working to improve their population health efforts by integrating data from seven state insurers, including Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna, Colorado Access, Colorado Choice Health Plans, Colorado Medicaid, Rocky Mountain Health Plans and United Healthcare.

The health system already has an Epic EMR in place across the system which, as readers might expect, offers a comprehensive view of all patient treatment taking place at the system’s clinics and hospitals.

That being said, the Epic database suffers from the same limitations as any other locally-based EMR. As UCHealth notes, its existing EMR data doesn’t track whether a patient changes insurers, ages into Medicare, changes doctors or moves out of the region.

To close the gaps in its EMR data, UCHealth is using technology from software vendor Stratus, which offers a healthcare data intelligence application. According to the vendor, UCHealth will use Stratus technology to support its accountable care organizations as well as its provider clinical integration strategy.

While health system execs expect to benefit from integrating payer claims data, the effort doesn’t satisfy every item on their wish list. One major challenge they’re facing is that while Epic data is available to all the instant it’s added, the payer data is not. In fact, it can take as much as 90 days before the payer data is available to UCHealth.

That being said, UCHealth’s leaders expect to be able to do a great deal with the new dataset. For example, by using Stratus, physicians may be able to figure out why a patient is visiting emergency departments more than might be expected.

Rather than guessing, the physicians will be able to request the diagnoses associated with those visits. If the doctor concludes that their conditions can be treated in one of the system’s primary care clinics, he or she can reach out to these patients and explain how clinic-based care can keep them in better health.

And of course, the health system will conduct other increasingly standard population health efforts, including spotting health trends across their community and better understanding each patient’s medical needs.

Over the next several months, 36 of UCHealth’s primary care clinics will begin using the Stratus tool. While the system hasn’t announced a formal pilot test of how Stratus works out in a production setting, rolling this technology out to just 36 doctors is clearly a modest start. But if it works, look for other health systems to scoop up claims data too!

Database Linked With Hospital EMR To Encourage Drug Monitoring

Posted on March 31, 2017 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 state officials, Colorado occupies the unenviable position of second worst in the US for prescription drug misuse, with more than 255,000 Coloradans misusing prescribed medications.

One way the state is fighting back is by running the Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program which, like comparable efforts in other states, tracks prescriptions for controlled medications. Every regular business day, the state’s pharmacists upload prescription data for medications listed in Schedules II through V.

While this effort may have value, many physicians haven’t been using the database, largely because it can be difficult to access. In fact, historically physicians have been using the system only about 30 percent of the time when prescribing controlled substances, according to a story appearing in HealthLeaders Media.

As things stand, it can take physicians up to three minutes to access the data, given that they have to sign out of their EMR, visit the PDMP site, log in using separate credentials, click through to the right page, enter patient information and sort through possible matches before they got to the patient’s aggregated prescription history. Given the ugliness of this workflow, it’s no surprise that clinicians aren’t searching out PDMP data, especially if they don’t regard a patient as being at a high risk for drug abuse or diversion.

But perhaps taking some needless steps out of the process can make a difference, a theory which one of the state’s hospitals is testing. Colorado officials are hoping a new pilot program linking the PDMP database to an EMR will foster higher use of the data by physicians. The pilot, funded by a federal grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, connects the drug database directly to the University of Colorado Hospital’s Epic EMR.

The project began with a year-long building out phase, during which IT leaders created a gateway connecting the PDMP database and the Epic installation. Several months ago, the team followed up with a launch at the school of medicine’s emergency medicine department. Eventually, the PDMP database will be available in five EDs which have a combined total of 270,000 visits per year, HealthLeaders notes.

Under the pilot program, physicians can access the drug database with a single click, directly from within the Epic EMR system. Once the PDMP database was made available, the pilot brought physicians on board gradually, moving from evaluating their baseline use, giving clinicians raw data, giving them data using a risk-stratification tool and eventually requiring that they use the tool.

Researchers guiding the pilot are evaluating whether providers use the PDMP more and whether it has an impact on high-risk patients. Researchers will also analyze what happened to patients a year before, during and a year after their ED visits, using de-identified patient data.

It’s worth pointing out that people outside of Colorado are well aware of the PDMP access issue. In fact, the ONC has been paying fairly close attention to the problem of making PDMP data more accessible. That being said, the agency notes that integrating PDMPs with other health IT systems won’t come easily, given that no uniform standards exist for linking prescription drug data with health IT systems. ONC staffers have apparently been working to develop a standard approach for delivering PDMP data to EMRs, pharmacy systems and health information exchanges.

However, at present it looks like custom integration will be necessary. Perhaps pilots like this one will lead by example.

Emergency Department Information Systems Market Fueled By Growing Patient Flow

Posted on March 20, 2017 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 research report has concluded that the size of the emergency department information systems market is expanding, driven by increasing patient flows. This dovetails with a report focused on 2016 data which also sees EDIS upgrades underway, though it points out that some hospital buyers don’t have the management support or a large enough budget to support the upgrade.

The more recent report, by Transparency Market Research, notes that ED traffic is being boosted by increases in the geriatric population, an increasing rate of accidents and overall population growth. In part to cope with this increase in patient flow, emergency departments are beginning to choose specialized, best-of-breed EDISs rather than less-differentiated electronic medical records systems, Transparency concludes.

Its analysis is supported by Black Book Research, whose 2016 report found that 69% of hospitals upgrading their existing EDIS are moving from enterprise EMR emergency models to freestanding platforms. Meanwhile, growing spending on healthcare and healthcare infrastructure is making the funds available to purchase EDIS platforms.

These factors are helping to fuel the emergence of robust EDIS market growth, according to Black Book. Its 2016 research, predicted that 35% of hospitals over 150 beds would replace their EDIS that year. Spurred by this spending, the US EDIS market should hit $420M, Black Book projects.

The most-popular EDIS features identified by Black Book include ease of use, reporting improvements, interoperability, physician productivity improvements, diagnosis enhancements and patient satisfaction, its research concluded.

All that being said, not all hospital leaders are well-informed about EDIS implementation and usability, which is holding growth back in some sectors. Also, high costs pose a barrier to adoption of these systems, according to Transparency.

Not only that, some hospital leaders don’t feel that it’s necessary to invest in an EDIS in addition to their enterprise EMR,. Black Book found. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the 2016 study said that they were moderately or highly dissatisfied with their current EDIS, but 90% of the dissatisfied said they were being forced to rely on generic hospital-wide EMRs.

While all of this is interesting, it’s worth noting that EDIS investment is far from the biggest concern for hospital IT departments. According to a HIMSS survey on 2017 hospitals’ IT plans, top investment priorities include pharmacy technologies and EMR components.

Still, it appears that considering EDIS enhancements may be worth the trouble. For example, seventy-six percent of Black Book respondents implementing a replacement EDIS in Q2 2014 to Q1 2015 saw improved customer service outcomes attributed to the platform.

Also, 44% of hospitals over 200 beds implementing a replacement EDIS over the same period said that it reduced visit costs between 4% and 12%, the research firm found.

Cleveland Clinic Works To Eliminate Tech Redundancies

Posted on March 1, 2017 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 Cleveland Clinic has relied on its EMR for quite some time. In fact, it adopted Epic in the 1990s, long before most healthcare organizations were ready to make a bet on EMRs. Today, decades later, the Epic EMR is the “central data hub” for the medical center and is central to both its clinical and operational efforts, according to William Morris, MD, the Clinic’s associate chief information officer.

But Morris, who spoke about the Clinic’s health IT with Health Data Management, also knows its limitations. In an interview with the magazine’s Greg Slabodkin, he notes that while the EMR may be necessary, it isn’t sufficient. The Epic EMR is “just a digital repository,” he told Slabodkin. “Ultimately, it’s what you do with the technology in your ecosystem.”

These days, IT leaders at the Clinic are working to streamline the layers of additional technology which have accreted on top of the EMR over the years. “As an early adopter of Epic, we have accumulated quite a bit of what I’ll call technical debt,” said Doug Smith, interim chief information officer. “What I mean by that is multiple enhancements, bolt-ons, or revisions to the core application. We have to unburden ourselves of that.”

It’s not that Clinic leaders are unhappy with their EMR. In fact, they’re finding ways to tap its power to improve care. For example, to better leverage its EMR data, the Cleveland Clinic has developed data-driven “risk scores” designed to let doctors know if patients need intervention. The models, developed by the Clinic’s Quantitative Health Sciences group, offer outcome risk calculators for several conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

(By the way, if predictive analytics interest you, you might want to check out our coverage of such efforts at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, which is developing a platform to predict which patients might develop congestive heart failure and care for patients already diagnosed with the condition more effectively. I’ve also taken a look at a related product being developed by Google’s DeepMind, an app named Streams which will ping clinicians if a patient needs extra attention.)

Ultimately, though, the organization hopes to simplify its larger health IT infrastructure substantially, to the point where 85% of the HIT functionality comes from the core Epic system. This includes keeping a wary eye on Epic upgrades, and implementing new features selectively. “When you take an upgrade in Epic, they are always turning on more features and functions,” Smith notes. “Most are optional.”

Not only will such improvements streamline IT operations, they will make clinicians more efficient, Smith says. “They are adopting standard workflows that also exist in many other organizations—and, we’re more efficient in supporting it because we don’t take as long to validate or support an upgrade.”

As an aside, I’m interested to read that Epic is tossing more features at Cleveland Clinic than it cares to adopt. I wonder if those are what engineers think customers want, or what they’re demanding today?