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Best of Breed in Patient Engagement?

Posted on June 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.

As I’ve been thinking more about the future of healthcare IT, I wrote that I think the next major healthcare IT product could be a Care Management System. Maybe it will go by a different name, but the functionality that’s described by a care management system is already going into place. Regulations are headed that direction and every organization will need to have a care management system.

At the core of a care management system will be functionality that engages the patient. I use that term in the broadest sense possible and not the fully corrupted meaningful use version of patient engagement. I’m talking about truly engaging the patient in their care in a bi-directional way that includes communication, support, education, social influence, and more.

As I consider the broad possibilities around patient engagement, there are hundreds of companies (possibly thousands) working in this space. Some are working with diabetic patients while others are focused on cardiac issues. Others are using text messages while some startups are leveraging full smart phone applications. A few tie in with the EHR vendors and many don’t. A hospital system is going to need a patient engagement solution that cuts across all of these slices.

With that in mind, it begs the question, “Are we going to implement and manage a cobbled together “best of breed” solution for patient engagement?

If EHR history tells us anything, most hospitals will adopt some point patient engagement solutions and then over time they’ll realize that the best of breed approach to patient engagement has gotten unwieldy and they’ll start looking for an all in one patient engagement solution. In some ways, this has to be the path forward. There’s no all in one patient engagement solution today. So, hospital systems have to choose to either sit on the sideline and wait for the all in one system to arrive (like many did with EHR software) or they have to go best of breed to start while the all in one patient engagement solutions come together.

I’m not sure this path is such a bad thing. It’s good for a health system to understand patient engagement in a smaller way before expanding across the entire system. We’re starting to see more of this happen in hospitals. However, be sure to keep your eye on the long game being one unified patient engagement system.

Moving from the Era of Push to the Era of Pull for Healthcare Data

Posted on June 15, 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.

I thought this image and comment were really interesting in the context of healthcare data. Healthcare data has generally been stuck in the push era. I’m excited to see the discussion expanding to the pull era. It’s a very different world when you can just pull the healthcare data you want when you need it. The above conference is from a medical imaging conference. Are they leading the way with pull data in healthcare?

We’re Entering the 15th Year of Our EHR Implementation

Posted on June 12, 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.

I was recently talking to someone about a major progressive hospital system that’s been using technology and EHR for a long time. This person then told me that it felt like this hospital system was in its 15th year of its EHR implementation.

I’m sure that most hospital organizations can relate to this statement. Each hospital system will replace the number of years with a different number, but I think every hospital probably believes that their EHR implementation is never complete. Certainly you might have a go live event with the initial installation of the software, but that’s far from a fully implemented EHR system.

This concept reminds me of two things we’ve talked about before. The first is a controversial post I did called The Tyranny of “Time” – EHR Efficiency Has a Lifecycle. I put up a chart which I think illustrates an important lesson about the lifecycle of an EHR implementation and many disagreed with the chart. I still stand behind the principle that time has a way of eroding even the best EHR implementation. So, you better have a long term plan to deal with the Tyranny of Time.

The second is a comment from a hospital CIO who made a comment on one of my posts many years ago. In the post I’d commented about how we’d implemented a new practice EHR in about 2 weeks time frame. The doctor was opening his practice in 2 weeks and so we literally crunched in the entire EHR implementation and purchasing process into those 2 weeks so they didn’t have to start on paper charts. The Hospital CIO’s comment on that article was “You lost me at 2 weeks EHR implementation.” Of course, this was an EHR implementation at a solo practice.

Although, even in the case of a small ambulatory practice, the EHR implementation is never done. At hospitals there’s always more that can be done to improve how you use your EHR. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to think that you’re in your XX year of your EHR implementation. As long as you still create milestones so that staff feel the sense of accomplishment in the process.

Even Without Meaningful Use Dollars, EMRs Still Selling

Posted on June 10, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold The Arrival of The Chief Mobile Healthcare Officer

Posted on June 9, 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.

Managing fleets of mobile devices is an increasingly important part of a healthcare IT executive’s job. Not only must IT execs figure out how to provide basic OS and application support – and whether to permit staffers and clinicians to do the job with their own devices – they need to decide when and if they’re ready to begin integrating these devices into their overall lines of service. And to date, there’s still no standard model using mobile devices to further hospital or medical practice goals, so a lot of creativity and guesswork is involved.

But over time, it seems likely that health systems and medical practices will go from tacking mobile services onto their infrastructure to leading their infrastructure with mobile services. Mobile devices won’t just be a bonus – an extra way for clinicians to access EMR data or consumers to check lab results on a portal – but the true edge of the network. Mobile applications will be as much a front door to key applications as laptop and desktop computers are today.

This will require a new breed of healthcare IT executive to emerge: the mobile healthcare IT leader. It’s not that today’s IT leaders aren’t capable of supervising large mobile device deployments and integration projects that will emerge as mHealth matures. But it does seem likely that even the smartest institutional HIT leader won’t be able to keep up with the pace of change underway in the mHealth market today.

After all, new approaches to deploying mHealth are emerging almost daily, from advances in wearables to apps offering increasingly sophisticated ways of tracking patient health to new approaches to care coordination among patients, caregivers and friends. And given how fast the frontier of mHealth is evolving, it’s likely that healthcare organizations will want to develop their own hybrid approaches that suit their unique needs.

This new “chief mobile healthcare officer” position should begin to appear even as you read this article. Just as chief medical information officers began to be appointed as healthcare began to turn on digital information, CMHOs will be put in place to make sense of, and plan a coherent future for, the daily use of mobile technology in delivering care. The CMHO probably won’t be a telephony expert per se  (though health systems may scoop up leaders from the health divisions of say, Qualcomm or Samsung) but they’ll bring a broad understanding of the uses of and potential for mobile healthcare. And the work they do could transform the entire institution they serve.

Hospitals Favor IT Investments Over Cash on Hand

Posted on June 5, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitals Test New Early-Warning Systems

Posted on June 3, 2015 I Written By

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

The following story offers some tidbits on how new technologies, some EMR-based and some offering independent forms of patient monitoring, are popping up in hospitals.  I found the technologies profiled to be quite interesting and I think you will too.

According to a new piece in The Wall Street Journal, U.S. hospitals have begun to test wireless monitoring systems to track the condition of potentially unstable patients, such post-surgical patients or those on narcotic meds that can suppress breathing. The new technology is most popular on med/surg units where patients aren’t generally monitored 24/7 for changes that can prove fatal.

One approach hospitals are adapting is a wireless monitor which is placed under a mattress and tracks patients’ breathing and heart rate. The monitors, which were developed by an Israeli firm called EarlySense, also lets nurses know when patients get out of bed and when to turn them to avoid bed sores. According to the WSJ, EarlySense costs between $80,000 to $200,000 for a 30-bed unit; prices vary depending on how big the hospital is and how many features the product includes.

Academic research is already suggesting that such monitors can make a significant impact on patient care in hospitals. One study appearing in the American Journal of Medicine last year found that use of the wireless monitors was correlated with both shorter stays and a lower rate of code blue events as compared to units that didn’t use the monitors.

Another technology, software known as the Rothman Index, cross-references 26 variables in medical records and uses them to score a patient on a scale from 1 to 100, with lower scores suggesting that the patient needs to be watched more closely or receive immediate help. The software, which costs roughly $150,000 for a 300-bed hospital, places updated scores regularly on a graph. Some 70 hospitals already have the software in use.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center children’s hospital will soon join that number, rolling out a pediatric version of the Rothman Index software in June. UPMC, which has always invested heavily and inventively in new HIT approaches, chose to implement the new software after a research study appearing in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine found that it could effectively supplement staffs’ effort to track kids.

Yet another technology, used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, rates patients’ risk of developing serious problems in real time, by analyzing patterns found in lab results, vital signs and nurses’ assessments gathered from EMRs.

Regardless of how you slice it, it’s clear that hospitals are poised to make big leaps in how they monitor patients on the verge of destabilization. This looks like a very promising set of approaches.

Partners Goes With $1.2B Epic Installation

Posted on June 2, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitals Should Give Smartphones To Sick Patients

Posted on June 1, 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.

As I see it, hospitals have developed a new and rapidly emerging problem when it comes to managing mobile health services. Not only do they face major obstacles in controlling staff use of tablets and smartphones, they’re right in the center of the growing use of these devices for health by consumer. It’s BYOD writ even larger.

Admittedly, most of the consumers who use mobile devices don’t rely that heavily on them to guard and guide their health. The healthiest of consumers may make a lot of use of wearable fitness bands, and a growing subset of consumers may occasionally leverage their phone’s video capabilities to do telemedicine consults, but few consumers base their medical lives around a mobile device.

The chronically-ill patients that do, however, are very important to the future of not only hospitals — which need to keep needless care and readmits to a minimum if they want to meet ACO goals — but also the insurance companies who finance the care.

After all, the more we dig into mHealth, the more it appears that mobile services and software can impact the cost of care for chronic conditions. Even experiments using text messages, the lightest-weight mobile technology available, have been successful at, for example, helping young women lose weight, change their diets, and slash their risk of cardiac problems. Just imagine the impact more-sophisticated technologies offering medication management, care coordination, blood glucose and pulse ox tracking could have on patients needing support.

But there’s a catch here. A long as mHealth services are delivered via the patient’s own device, the odds of successfully rolling out apps or connected health monitoring services are minimal. I’d argue that such mHealth services will only have a major impact on sick patients if the technology and apps are bolted to the hospital or clinic’s IT infrastructure.  And the operating system used by patients, be it Android or iOS, should be the same one the hospital supports among its employees, or maintaining apps, OS upgrades and patches and even firmware upgrades will be a nightmare to maintain.

Given the security and maintenance issues involved in fostering a connection between provider and patient, I’d argue that providers who are serious about advanced mHealth services absolutely must give targeted chronically-ill patients a locked-down, remote controlled smartphone or tablet (probably a smartphone for mobility) and lock out their networks from those trying to use connected apps on a rogue device.

Will this be expensive?  Sure, but it depends on how you look at costs.  For one thing, don’t you think the IT staff costs of managing access by various random devices on your network — or heaven forbid, addressing security holes they may open in your EMR — far exceed even the $700-odd retail price for such devices?

This might be a good time to get ahead of this issue. If you’re forced to play catch up later, it could cost a lot more.

Is Epic Too Big To Fail?

Posted on May 27, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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