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5 Pieces of Advice When Checking Out Epic or Cerner

Posted on September 29, 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.

Elise Ames and Vince Ciotti has an interesting follow up post on Health System CIO that looks at Epic versus Cerner in the hospital EHR (or HIS if you prefer) market. The reality is pretty simple. Epic or Cerner are both going to be around for a long time to come. Although, I really enjoyed the 5 pieces of advice they offer at the end of the post for those buying a new car EHR (LIS):

  1. Owner’s manual —it’s sitting right there in the glove box. For an HIS, check out the user manuals – they’re all on-line today. And unlike RFP feature checklist responses, they contain the truth…
  2. Chat with the mechanics — they know what works well, and what breaks the most. For an HIS, ask to meet your implementation project manager before signing, and ask about their staff and (non?) experience…
  3. Take a test drive in the model you’re buying, and on the roads you’ll be travelling. For an HIS, make unchaperoned site visits and phone calls to client hospitals of your size and using your apps…
  4. Check out the warranty — what’s covered versus what’s not? With an HIS, ask for a boilerplate contract and request changes while you still have some competitive pressure…
  5. Negotiate price — don’t tell the Chevy dealer he won, then ask for a discount. Tell him you may buy a Ford unless he gives you a deal… After all, no one pays list price for a mega-buck HIS, do they?

I’ve heard of many of these suggestions before. However, the first one was one I hadn’t heard before. It’s a great idea and is the beauty of the internet. I’m also surprised by those that don’t do “unchaperoned” visits to current users of an EHR. Yes, it’s one thing to go to a reference site for an EHR. That’s a good thing as well, but you’ll get more value visiting one that isn’t a reference site per se.

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.

Antitrust In The Brave New EMR World

Posted on September 18, 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.

Late last month, former Brigham and Women’s Hospital CEO Paul Levy made waves in the health IT world when he accused Epic of conspiring with Boston healthcare system Partners HealthCare.

In a post on his wryly-named Not Running a Hospital blog, Levy argues that Epic’s relationship with Partners raises antitrust concerns:

Here’s how it works.  Partners enters into a contract with Epic for the construction of an EHR for its facilities.  The two organizations go to the Partners-affiliated, but independent, medical practice groups and tell them that they have to install the Epic EHR–even if the EHR they have had for years is perfectly adequate for their purposes.  If a doctor’s practice asks why they can’t keep their old system, Epic makes clear that interoperability between its system and the practice’s legacy system is not feasible.  Meanwhile, to clinch the conversion, Partners also informs the local practices that failure to install the Epic system will foreclose those practices from participating in the favorable insurance contracting relationships it enjoys.  It is in this manner that the Epic-Partners actions box out the competition in this market.

In his article, Levy calls on Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and attorneys general of other states for that matter, to be on the lookout for similar deals between Epic and health systems elsewhere.

Interestingly, in other cases health systems accused of seeking excessive market power have used their Epic investment as a defense. For example, when its 2012 acquisition of Nampa, ID-based Saltzer Medical Group was challenged by the FTC, Boise health system St. Luke’s cited its $200M Epic system as a mitigating factor. Its lawyers asserted that St. Luke’s investment in effort was proof that the health system would be able to improve the region’s healthcare by better care coordination.

But the argument didn’t fly with the FTC, which didn’t believe that tying employed doctors to an EMR was needed to generate regional healthcare efficiencies. “Shared access to electronic medical records that St. Luke’s cited as a central benefit of the transaction can be achieved without an employment relationship or merger,” said Deborah Feinstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition at a speech given last year.

In my opinion, both Levy and Feinstein make excellent points. If Levy is right, it can easily be argued that Partners and Epic are engaging in questionable behavior, as it troubles at least this non-lawyer to see doctors strongarmed into using any particular EMR. And given that St. Luke’s was in the process of building a program to coordinate with unaffiliated physicians, it does seem that crying “we have Epic!” doesn’t address the problem.

But these are just bullet points. Overall, my sense is that neither state attorneys general nor the FTC and DoJ are sure how EMRs impact a health system’s market power, nor what constitutes anticompetitive behavior on the part of a vendor. I don’t know whether regulators don’t see EMR issues as a priority or are simply biding their time, but from my standpoint they are more than ripe for attack. What do you think?

Another Giant In Play: 3M Looking At “Strategic Alternatives” For HIS Unit

Posted on September 14, 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.

Given the staggering number of EMR launches that took place in the wake of the Meaningful Use kickoff, mergers, sell-offs and business failures were quite predictable. Despite the feds’ doling out $30B in incentive dollars, even that wasn’t enough to keep hundreds of EMR entrants afloat.

It hasn’t been as clear what would happen to large vendors with HIT interests, given that they had enough capital to ride more than one wave of provider adoption. The field has just begun to shake out, with only a small handful of major transactions taking place. Recent plays by large tech players include Cerner’s $1.3B acquisition of Siemens Health Services, which included the Soarian EMR. There’s also ADP’s sale of EMR solution AdvancedMD to Marlin Equity Partners after previously acquiring e-MDs. Not to mention Greenway and Vitera Healthcare Solutions joining forces and Pri-Med acquiring Amazing Charts.

Another major move was announced this April at HIMSS 15, when GE Healthcare announced that it was phasing out its Centricity Enterprise product. According to news reports, the Enterprise product only generated 5% of the Healthcare division’s EMR revenue. I could keep going, but you get the point.

Now, 3M has joined the fray, announcing this week that it was “exploring strategic alternatives” for its HIS business, including spinning off or selling the unit.  (It’s also considering keeping its HIS business on board and investing in its future.)  The company, which has signed Goldman, Sachs & Co. as strategic advisor and investment banker, says that it will probably announce what direction it will head in by the end of the first quarter of next year.

On the surface, 3M Health Information Systems looks like a very solid business. The HIS unit, which is focused on computer-assisted coding, clinical documentation improvement, performance monitoring, quality outcomes reporting and terminology management, reportedly works with more than 5,000 hospitals, plus government and commercial payers. According to 3M, the HIS business generated trailing 12-month revenues of about $730M, and has sustained 10%+ compounded annual growth for 10 years.

That being said, it’s hard to say what the fallout from the ICD-10 switchover will be, and it’s not unreasonable for 3M to consider whether it wants to compete in the post-switchover world. After all, while the HIS unit seems to be quite healthy, it’s certainly faces stiff competition from several directions, including EMRs with integrated billing and coding technology. Also, the company may be saddled with outdated legacy infrastructure, which makes it hard to keep up in this new era of revenue cycle management.

By the end of the first quarter of 2016, 3M will have had a chance to see how its customers are faring post-ICD-10, and how its customers needs are shifting. 3M will also find out whether other HIS players with (presumably) newer technology in place are interested in doing a rollup with its business.

Truthfully, if 3M doesn’t think it can benefit from investing in the HIS unit, I’m not sure who else would benefit from doing so. In fact, I’d argue that 3M is undermining its chances at a deal by waffling over whether it plans to invest or divest; as I see it, this implies that the HIS unit will be on life support without a major cash infusion, which is not something I’d find attractive as an investor.  If nothing else I’d want to buy the unit at a firesale price! But I guess we’ll have to wait until March 2016 to see what happens.

EMR Vendors Slow To Integrate Telemedicine Options

Posted on August 27, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Despite the massive growth in demand for virtual medical services, major EMR vendors are still proving slow to support such options, seemingly ceding the market to more agile telemedicine startups.

Independent telemedicine vendors targeting consumers are growing like weeds. Players like Doctor on Demand, NowClinic, American Well and HealthTap are becoming household names, touted not only in healthcare blogs but on morning TV talk shows. These services, which typically hire physicians as consultants, offer little continuity of care but provide a level of easy access unheard of in other settings.

Part of what’s fueling this growth is that health insurers are finally starting to pay for virtual medical visits. For example, Medicare and nearly every state Medicaid plan also cover at least some telemedicine services. Meanwhile, 29 states require that private payers cover telehealth the same as in-person services.

Hospitals and health systems are also getting on board the telemedicine train. For example, Stanford Healthcare recently rolled out a mobile health app, connected to Apple HealthKit and its Epic EMR, which allows patients to participate in virtual medical appointments through its ClickWell Care clinic. Given how popular virtual doctor visits have become, I’m betting that most next-gen apps created by large providers will offer this option.

EMR vendors, for their part, are adding telemedicine support to their platforms, but they’re not doing much to publicize it. Take Epic, whose EpicCare Ambulatory EMR can be hooked up to a telemedicine module. The EpicCare page on its site mentions that telemedicine functionality is available, but certainly does little to convince buyers to select it. In fact, Epic has offered such options for years, but I never knew that, and lately I spend more time tracking telemedicine than I do any other HIT trend.

As I noted in my latest broadcast on Periscope (follow @ziegerhealth), EMR vendors are arguably the best-positioned tech vendors to offer telemedicine services. After all, EMRs are already integrated into a hospital or clinic’s infrastructure and workflow. And this would make storage and clinical classification of the consults easier, making the content of the videos more valuable. (Admittedly, developing a classification scheme — much less standards — probably isn’t trivial, but that’s a subject for another article.)

What’s more, rather than relying on the rudimentary information supplied by patient self-reports, clinicians could rely on full-bodied medical data stored in that EMR. I could even see next-gen video visit technology which exposes medical data to patients and allows patients to discuss it live with doctors.

But that’s not how things are evolving. Instead, it seems that providers are largely outsourcing telemedicine services, a respectable but far less robust way to get things done. I don’t know if this will end up being the default way they deliver virtual visits, but unless EMR vendors step up, they’ll certainly have to work harder to get a toehold in this market.

I don’t know why so few EMR companies are rolling out their own virtual visit options. To me, it seems like a no-brainer, particularly for smaller ambulatory vendors which still need to differentiate themselves. But if I were an investor in a lagging EMR venture, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d want to know the answer.

EMRs Must Support Hospital Outcomes Reporting

Posted on August 25, 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.

Should a hospital be paid if it doesn’t make its outcomes statistics public? Pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs says “no.” Jacobs, who chairs the Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Database workforce, recently told CNN that he believes reimbursement should be tied to whether a hospital shares data transparently. “We believe in the right of patients and families to know these outcomes,” said Jacobs, who is with the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute in St. Petersburg, FL.

Jacobs’ views might be on the extreme side of the industry spectrum, but they’re growing more common. In today’s healthcare industry, which pushes patients to be smart shoppers, hospitals are coming under increasing pressure to share some form of outcomes data with the public.

I’ve argued elsewhere that in most cases, most hospital report cards and ratings are unlikely to help your average consumer, as they don’t offer much context how the data was compiled and why those criteria mattered. But this problem should be righting itself. Given that most hospitals have spent millions on EMR technology, you’d think that they’d finally be ready to produce say, risk-adjusted mortality, error rates and readmissions data patients can actually use.

Today, EMRs are focused on collecting and managing clinical data, not providing context on that data, but this can be changed. Hospitals can leverage EMRs to create fair, risk-adjusted outcomes reports, at least if they have modules that filter for key data points and connect them with non-EMR-based criteria such as a physician’s experience and training.

While this kind of functionality isn’t at the top of hospitals’ must-buy list, they’re likely to end up demanding that EMRs offer such options in the future. I foresee a time when outcomes reporting will be a standard feature of EMRs, even if that means mashing up clinical data with outside sources. EMRs will need to interpret and process information sources ranging from credentialing databases and claims to physician CVs alongside acuity modifiers.

I know that what I’m suggesting isn’t trivial. Mixing non-clinical data with clinical records would require not only new EMR technology, but systems for classifying non-clinical data in a machine-readable and parseable format. Creating a classification scheme for this outside data is no joke, and at first there will probably be intermittent scandals when EMR-generated outcomes reports don’t tell the real story.

Still, in a world that increasingly demands quality data from providers, it’s hard to argue that you can share data with everyone but the patients you’re treating. Patients deserve decision support too.

It’s more than time for hospitals to stop hiding behind arguments that interpreting outcomes data is too hard for consumers and start providing accurate outcomes data. With a multi-million-dollar tool under their roof designed to record every time a doctor sneezes, analyzing their performance doesn’t take magic powers, though it may shake things up among the medical staff.  Bottom line, there’s less excuse than ever not to be transparent with outcomes. And if that takes adding new functionality to EMRs, well, it’s time to do that.

NYC Hospitals Face Massive Problems With Epic Install

Posted on August 24, 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.

A municipal hospital system’s Epic EMR install has gone dramatically south over the past two years, with four top officials being forced out and a budget which has more than doubled.

In early 2013, New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. announced that it had signed a $302 million EMR contract with Epic. The system said that it planned to implement the Epic EMR at 11 HHC hospitals, four long term care facilities, six diagnostic treatment centers and more than 70 community-based clinics.

The 15-year contract, which was set to be covered by federal funding, was supposed to cover everything from soup to nuts, including software and database licenses, professional services, testing and technical training, software maintenance, and database support and upgrades.

Fast forward to the present, and the project has plunged into crisis. The budget has expanded to $764 million, and HHC’s CTO, CIO, the CIO’s interim deputy and the project’s head of training have been given the axe amidst charges of improper billing. Seven consultants — earning between $150 and $185 an hour — have also been kicked off of the payroll.

With HHC missing so many top leaders, the system has brought in a consulting firm to stabilize the Epic effort. Washington, DC-based Clinovations, which brought in an interim CMIO, CIO and other top managers to HHC, now has a $4 million, 15-month contract to provide project management.

The Epic launch date for the first two hospitals in the network was originally set for November 2014 but has been moved up to April 2016, according to the New York PostHHC leaders say that the full Epic launch should take place in 2018 if all now goes as planned. The final price tag for the system could end up being as high as $1.4 billion, the newspaper reports.

So how did the massive Epic install effort go astray? According to an audit by the city’s Technology Development Corp., the project has been horribly mismanaged. “At one point, there were 14 project managers — but there was no leadership,” the audit report said.

The HHC consultants didn’t help much either, according to an employee who spoke to the Post. The employee said that the consultants racked up travel, hotels and other expenses to train their own employees before they began training HHC staff.

HHC is now telling the public that things will be much better going forward. Spokeswoman Ana Marengo said that the chain has adopted a new oversight and governance structure that will prevent the implementation from falling apart again.”We terminated consultants, appointed new leadership, and adopted new timekeeping tools that will help strengthen the management of this project,” Marengo told the newspaper.

What I’d like to know is just what items in the budget expanded so much that a $300-odd million all-in contract turned into a $1B+ debacle. While nobody in the Post articles has suggested that Epic is at fault in any of this, it seems to me that it’s worth investigating whether the vendor managed to jack up its fees beyond the scope of the initial agreement. For example, if HHC was forced to pay for more Epic support than it had originally expected it wouldn’t come cheap. Then again, maybe the extra costs mostly come from paying for people with Epic experience. Epic has driven up the price of these people by not opening up the Epic certification opportunities.

On the surface, though, this appears to be a high-profile example of a very challenging IT project that went bad in a hurry. And the fact that city politics are part of the mix can’t have been helpful. What happened to HHC could conceivably happen to private health systems, but the massive budget overrun and billing questions have government stamped all over them. Regardless, for New York City patients’ sake I hope HHC gets the implementation right from here on in.

Reddit Users Comment on Epic Losing the DoD EHR Contract to Cerner

Posted on August 17, 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.

The reactions to Epic losing the DoD EHR contract to Cerner have been all over the place. Most of them create some simplified view of why Epic beat out Cerner. I personally think that Leidos vs IBM had a lot more to do with the DoD’s decision than Epic vs Cerner. Either way, HIStalk reported that the protest period for the DoD EHR bid has expired and so Cerner is the big EHR winner. Mr. H said that rumors have been that Cerner’s bid was $1 billion less than Epic and Allscripts and so that’s why there was no protest.

Personally, I’ve been most fascinated by the reactions to Cerner beating out Epic in this reddit thread that includes a number of current and former Epic employees. The person who started the thread conveyed many people’s reaction to the selection of Cerner over Epic:

RIP my contracting plans for the next 2+ years 🙁

No doubt, Cerner consultants are celebrating in the opposite direction along with the 30+ other partners that won the bid with Leidos, Cerner, and Accenture. I previously wrote about how many people will be required in the $4 billion DoD EHR contract.

Here are some of the other interesting reactions in the reddit thread linked above:

I don’t think this is that bad for Epic.
* The government contract likely would have significantly shifted the focus of R&D efforts for the next few years towards features that may not be in the best interest of other Epic customers.
* When the project invariably runs into issues: overbudget, overtime, stability, training, response time, upgrades, etc. Cerner will be on the hook and take the hits in the media. Much of this implementation will be handled by outside consultants so coordination will be a huge challenge for any company.

Reminds me of the post I wrote about a year ago suggesting that losing the DoD bid might be the best thing for Epic.

Some source claim the contract would have been worth $9 billion overall. Just to put that in perspective… For an Epic employee making $200k a year, $9bn would pay your salary for 45 THOUSAND years. For 5,000 employees each making $200k a year, $9bn would pay their salaries for nine years.

(Yes, I know its not that simple… just trying to put $9 billion dollars in some kind of perspective).

Point is, yes, gaining or loosing a contract for that kind of money is a very big deal for ANY company, and impacts the future of that company in a significant way.

I don’t think most of us can comprehend a billion dollars. I know I can’t. However, I agree with the point that losing the DoD EHR contract is a big deal for any company. Even with this other clarification about how much money the EHR vendor will get from the contract:

I saw estimates that the contract would be worth $9 billion over 18 years, and that Cerner was likely to get only 10-20% of it (with most of the money going to Leidos). That means Cerner is getting $50-$100 million per year. This is obviously substantial, but it’s not as impressive as the $9 billion sounds.

I’ll be interested to see if those estimates are accurate. Plus, we’ll see how much the project cost balloons over time.

This Epic employee offered an interesting concern over Epic losing the DoD contract:

As a current Epic employee, I’m more than a little concerned about how much of the current building projects and massive hiring was made under the hope/assumption that we would be awarded this contract. I think this represents a much bigger deal for Epic than what you try to wave off.

Another user offered this comment on why Epic might have lost the deal:

What everyone needs to consider is that Epic is currently working on the build for United States Coast Guard (USCG). 1.The USCG falls under the DoD in terms of rules of engagement to include use of CHCS and PGUI (USCG didn’t transition to ALHTA). 2. The Epic build is consider by most involved on this project as an Epic failure! 3. DoD know about this Epic failure and of course the decision to to choose Epic is based upon this build failure. 4. After five years of this USCG contract Epic is still trying to understand military processes.

However, I think this was the feeling for many and why many are still in shock that Cerner won the contract over Epic:

Wow, I thought Epic had that contract locked up.

Just like I’ve done with ICD-10, I chose not to try and predict what the government will do. So, I wasn’t personally surprised by the DoD picking Cerner over Epic. However, now that Cerner is chosen, I’m interested to see how this affects both companies. The last comment about Epic’s USCG implementation illustrates how challenging working with the government can be. Cerner will definitely be spending time developing some unique software and technology to meet the DoD’s unique needs.

Would Cerner DoD Loss Seal Its Fate As An Also-Ran?

Posted on July 29, 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.

Update: Cerner has been announced as the winner of the DoD EHR Contract.

As everyone knows, Epic has attained a near-unbeatable place in the race for U.S. hospital market share. By one important criterion, Meaningful Use attestations, Epic has the lead hands down, with about 186,000 attestations as of March 2015 compared with 120,331 attestations on Cerner systems.

That being said, Cerner is hardly an insignificant force in the hospital EMR marketplace. It’s a multibillion-dollar powerhouse which still holds a strong #2 position and, if a casual survey of Web and social media commentary is to be believed, has done far less to alienate its customers with high-handed tactics. And while Cerner systems are far from cheap, you don’t regularly see headlines citing a Cerner investment as pivotal in a hospital’s credit rating taking a pratfall. Also, Cerner has the most contracts with MU-eligible hospitals, holding contracts with about 20% of them.

Nonetheless, there’s an event looming which could tip the scales substantially further in Epic’s direction. As many readers know, Epic is part of a team competing for the Department of Defense’s $11B Healthcare Management Systems Modernization contract (Word on the street is that we could hear the winner of the DoD EHR bid this week). I’d argue that if Epic wins this deal, it might have the leverage to push Cerner’s head under water once and for all.  Cerner, too, is fighting for the deal, but if it wins that probably won’t be enough to close the gap with Epic, as it’s harder to play catch up than to zoom ahead in a space you already control.

Now my colleague John argues that winning the DoD contract might actually be bad for Epic. As he sees it, losing the DoD deal wouldn’t do much damage to its reputation, as most hospital leaders would understand that military healthcare bears little resemblance to commercial healthcare delivery. In fact, he contends that if Epic wins the contract, it could be bad for its customers, as the Verona, Wisc.-based giant may be forced to divert significant resources away from hospital projects. His reasoning makes sense.

But losing the DoD contract would almost certainly have a negative impact on Cerner. While Epic might not suffer much of an image loss if it loses the contest, Cerner might. After all, it doesn’t have quite the marquee list of customers that Epic does (such as the Cleveland Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Hospital). And if Cerner’s rep suffers, look out. As a surgeon writing for investor site Seeking Alpha notes, the comparatively low cost of switching TO Cerner can just as easily be used as a reason to switch AWAY FROM Cerner.

What’s more, while Cerner’s acquisition of Siemens’ health IT business — adding the Soarian product to its stable — is likely to help the company differentiate itself further going forward, but that’s going to take a while.  If Cerner loses the DoD bid, the financial and PR hit could dampen the impact of the acquisition.

Net-net, I doubt that Cerner is going to lie down and play dead under any circumstances, nor should it. Epic may have a substantial advantage but there’s certainly room for Cerner to keep trucking. Still, if Cerner loses the DoD bid it could have a big impact on its business. Now is the time for Cerner to reassure current and potential customers that it’s not planning to scale back if Epic wins.

Why Not “Meaningful Interoperability” For EMR Vendors?

Posted on July 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.

At this point, arguably, Meaningful Use has done virtually all of the work that it was designed to do. But as we all know, vendors are behind the curve. If they aren’t forced to guarantee interoperability — or at least meet a standard that satisfies most interconnectivity demands — they’re simply not going to bother.

While there’s obviously a certification process in place for EMR vendors which requires them to meet certain standards, interoperability seemingly didn’t make the cut. And while there’s many ways vendors could have shown they’re on board, none have done anything that really unifies the industry.

PR-driven efforts like the CommonWell Alliance don’t impress me much, as I’m skeptical that they’ll get anywhere. And the only example I can think of where a vendor  is doing something to improve interoperability, Epic’s Care Everywhere, is intended only to connect between Epic implementations. It’s not exactly an efficient solution.

A case in point: One of own my Epic-based providers logged on to Care Everywhere a couple of weeks ago to request my chart from another institution, but as of yet, no chart has arrived. That’s not exactly an effective way to coordinate care! (Of course, Epic in particular only recently dropped its fees for clinical data sharing, which weren’t exactly care coordination-friendly either.)

Increasingly, I’ve begun to think that the next stage of EMR maturation will come from some kind of “Meaningful Interoperability” incentive paid to vendors who really go the extra mile. Yes, this is iffy financially, but I believe it has to be done. As time and experience have shown, EMR vendors have approximately zero compelling reasons to foster universal interoperability, and perhaps a zillion to keep their systems closed.

Of course, the problem with rewarding interoperability is to decide which standards would be the accepted ones. Mandating interoperability would also force regulators to decide whether variations from the core standard were acceptable, and how to define what “acceptable” interoperability was. None of this is trivial.

The feds would also have to decide how to phase in vendor interoperability requirements, a process which would have to run on its own tracks, as provider Meaningful Use concerns itself with entirely different issues. And while ONC might be the first choice that comes to mind in supervising this process, it’s possible a separate entity would be better given the differences in what needs to be accomplished here.

I realize that some readers might believe that I’m dreaming if I believe this will ever happen. After all, given the many billions spent coaxing (or hammering) providers to comply with Meaningful Use, the Congress may prefer to lean on the stick rather than the carrot. Also, vendors aren’t dependent on CMS, whose involvement made it important for providers to get on board. And it may seem more sensible to rejigger certification programs — but if that worked they’d have done it already.

But regardless of how it goes down, the federal government is likely to take action at some point on this issue. The ongoing lack of interoperability between EMRs has become a sore spot with at least some members of Congress, for good reasons. After all, the lack of free and easy sharing of clinical data has arguably limited the return on the $30B spent on Meaningful Use. But throwing the book at vendors isn’t going to cut it, in my view. As reluctant as Congressional leaders may be to throw more money at the problem, it may be the only way to convince recalcitrant EMR vendors to invest significant development resources in creating interoperable systems.