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Health System Pays Docs To Use Cerner EHR

Posted on November 7, 2016 I Written By

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

Typically, we cover US-based stories in this blog, but the following is just too intriguing to miss. According to a Vancouver newspaper, an area hospital system agreed to pay physicians a daily fee to use its unpopular Cerner EHR, positioning the payments as compensation for unpaid overtime spent learning the system.

The Times Colonist is reporting that local hospital system Island Health has offered on-call physicians at its Nanaimo Regional General Hospital $260 a day, and emergency department physicians up to $780 a day, to use its unpopular Cerner system.

The newspaper cites a memo from hospital chief medical officer and executive vice president Dr. Jeremy Etherington, which says that the payment was in recognition of “the extra burden the new electronic health record has placed on many physicians during the rollout phase” of the new EHR.

In 2013, Island Health (which is based in British Columbia, Canada) signed a 10 year, $50 million deal with Cerner to implement its platform across its three hospitals. More recently, in March of this year, Island Health’s three facilities went live on the Cerner platform.

Within weeks, physicians at Nanaimo Regional Hospital were flooding executives with complaints about the new platform, which they claimed we randomly lost, buried or changed orders for drugs and diagnostic tests. Some physicians at the hospital reverted to using pen and paper to complete orders.

Not long after, physicians signed a petition asking the health system to stop further implementation, citing safety and workability concerns, but executives still moved forward with the rollout.

Neither the newspaper article nor other reports could identify how many physicians accepted the offer from Island Health. Also, the health systems management hasn’t shared how it picked doctors who were eligible for the payout, and what criteria it used to determine the size of the higher emergency department physician payouts. However, according to a Nanaimo physician and medical staff member quoted by Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review quotes, execs structured the payments to reflect the unpaid overtime doctors put in to learn the system.

As for the claims that the Cerner system was causing clinical problems and even perhaps endangering patients, that issue is still seemingly unresolved. In late July, British Columbia Minister of Health Terry Lake apparently ordered a review of the Cerner system, but results of that review do not appear to be available just yet.

It’s not clear whether the payments bought Island Health enough goodwill to mollify the bad feelings of doctors who didn’t receive one of these payments, nor whether those who are being paid will stay bought. And that’s the real question here. Call the payments a publicity stunt, an attempt at fairness or cynical political strategy, they may not be enough to get physicians onto the system if they are convinced it doesn’t work. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Access To Electronic Health Data Saves Money In Emergency Department

Posted on October 24, 2016 I Written By

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

A new research study has found that emergency department patients benefit from having their electronic health records available when they’re being treated. Researchers found that when health information was available electronically, the patient’s care was speeded up, and that it also generated substantial cost savings.

Researchers with the University of Michigan School of Public Health reviewed the emergency department summaries from 4,451 adult and pediatric ED visits for about one year, examining how different forms of health data accessibility affected patients.

In 80% of the cases, the emergency department had to have all or part of the patient’s medical records faxed to the hospital where they were being treated. In the other 20% of the cases, however, where the ED staff had access to a patient’s complete electronic health record, they were seen much more quickly and treatment was often more efficient.

Specifically, the researchers found that when information requests from outside organizations were returned electronically instead of by fax, doctors saw that information an hour faster, which cut a patient’s time in the ED by almost 53 minutes.

This, in turn, seems to have reduced physicians’ use of MRIs, x-rays and CT scans by 1.6% to 2.5%, as well as lowering the likelihood of hospital admission by 2.4%. The researchers also found that average cost for care were $1,187 lower when information was delivered electronically.

An interesting side note to the study is that when information was made available electronically on patients, it was supplied through Epic’s Care Everywhere platform, which is reportedly used in about 20% of healthcare systems nationwide. Apparently, the University of Michigan Health System (which hosted the study) doesn’t belong to an HIE.

While I’m not saying that there’s anything untoward about this, I wasn’t surprised to find principal author Jordan Everson, a doctoral candidate in health services at the school, is a former Epic employee. He would know better than most how Epic’s health data sharing technology works.

From direct experience, I can state that Care Everywhere isn’t necessarily used or even understood by employees of some major health systems in my geographic location, and perhaps not configured right even when health systems attempt to use it. This continues to frustrate leaders at Epic, who emphasize time and again that this platform exists, and that is used quite actively by many of its customers.

But the implications of the study go well beyond the information sharing tools U-M Health System uses. The more important takeaway from the study is that this is quantitative evidence that having electronic data immediately available makes clinical and financial sense (at least from the patient perspective). If that premise was ever in question, this study does a lot to support it. Clearly, making it quick and easy for ED doctors to get up to speed makes a concrete difference in patient care.

Cerner Tops List Of Hospital Vendors For Medicare EHR Incentive Program

Posted on September 28, 2016 I Written By

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

Research from the ONC concludes that Cerner systems are in use by the most hospitals using certified technology to participate in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program. It’s interesting to note that this list includes players that rarely appear on overall lists of top hospital EHR vendors, though admittedly, there’s no one way to measure market dominance that produces consistent results every time.

According to ONC statistics, there were 175 vendors supplying certified health IT to 4,474 nonfederal acute-care hospitals participating in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program. Ninety-five percent of these vendors have 2014 certified technology.

The report notes that six of these vendors (Cerner, Meditech, Epic, Evident, Medhost and McKesson) provide 2014 certified technology 92% of hospitals using the technology. When you throw in athenahealth, Prognosis and QuadraMed, bringing the list to 10 vendors, you’ve got a group that supplies 2014 technology to 98% of eligible hospitals.

According to the data, the vendors at the top fall in as follows. Cerner tops the list of total hospitals using its certified health IT, with 1,029 hospitals;  Meditech was next with 953 hospitals; Epic came in third with 869 hospitals; CPSI’s Evident (formerly Healthland) was fourth with 637 hospitals; McKesson fifth with 462 hospitals; and Medhost sixth with 359 hospitals.

As is usually the case with any attempt to look at market share, the data comes with its own quirks. For example, when looking at ONC’s data as of July 2016 on ambulatory healthcare providers choice of certified technology, Epic was way ahead of the pack with 83,674 users. Allscripts came in at a distant second with 33,123 users. Cerner came in sixth with 15,100 ambulatory users. In other words, vendors one might class as “enterprise” focused are doing well among clinicians. (See more data along these lines in a Medscape survey I summarized previously.)

Then consider data from HIMSS Analytics, which concludes that Epic has 40% of the hospital health IT market, followed by Cerner at a distant second with 13%, Allscripts at 10%, Meditech at 7% and eClinicalWorks at 5% and NextGen with 4%. Why the big difference in numbers? It seems that HIMSS Analytics includes the size of the hospital in its calculations versus the ONC data above which talks about the number of hospitals.

No doubt the buying patterns vary when you look at the number of beds a hospital has. For example, according to research done last year by peer60, CPSI and eClinicalWorks held the biggest share of the market among facilities with less than 100 beds, MEDITECH, McKesson and Siemens dominated the mid-sized hospital categories, and as the number of beds rises from 250 to 1000+ plus, Cerner and Epic emerge as the top players.

The truth is, market share numbers are interesting, and not just to the vendors who hope to emerge on top. Everyone loves a good horse race, after all. But it’s good to take these numbers with a large dose of context, or they mean very little.

Study: Hospital EMR Rollouts Didn’t Cause Patient Harm

Posted on September 14, 2016 I Written By

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

Rolling out a hospital EMR can be very disruptive. The predictable problems that can arise – from the need to cut back on ambulatory patient visits to the staff learning curve to unplanned outages – are bad enough. And of course, when the implementation hits a major snag, things can get much worse.

Just to pull one name out of a hat, consider the experience of the Vancouver Island Health Authority in British Columbia, Canada. One of the hospitals managed by the Authority, which is embroiled in a $174 million Cerner implementation, had to move physicians in its emergency department back to pen and paper in July. Physicians had complained that the system was changing medication orders and physician instructions.

But fortunately, this experience is definitely the exception rather than the rule, according to a study appearing in The BMJ. In fact, such rollouts typically don’t cause adverse events or needless deaths, nor do they seem to boost hospital readmissions, according to the journal.

The study, which was led by a research team from Harvard, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, looked at the association between EHR implementation and short-term inpatient mortality, adverse safety events or readmissions among Medicare enrollees getting care at 17 U.S. hospitals. The hospitals selected for the study had rolled out or replaced their EHRs in a “big bang”-style, single-day go-live in 2011 and 2012.

To get a sense of how selected hospitals performed, the team studied patients admitted to the studied facilities 90 days before and 90 days after EHR implementation. The researchers also gathered similar data from a control group of all admissions during the same period by hospitals in the same referral region. For selected hospitals, they analyzed data on 28,235 patients admitted 90 days before the implementation, and 26,453 admitted 90 days after the EHR cutover. (The control size was 284,632 admissions before and 276,513 after.)

Apparently, researchers were expecting to see patient care problems arise. Their assumption was that in the wake of the go-live, the hospitals would see a short increase in mortality, readmissions and adverse safety events. One of the reasons they expected to see this bump in problems is that some negative problems related to time and season, such as the “weekend effect” and the “July effect,” are well documented in existing research. Surely the big changes engendered by an EHR cutover would have an impact as well, they reasoned.

But that’s not what they found. In fact, the researchers wrote, “there was no evidence of a significant or consistent negative association between EHR implementation and short-term mortality, readmissions, or adverse events.”

I was as surprised as the researchers to learn that EHR rollouts studied didn’t cause patient harm or health instability. Considering the immense impact an EHR can have on clinical workflow, it seems strange to read that no new problems arose. That being said, hospitals in this group may have been doing upgrades – which have to be less challenging than going digital for the first time – and were adopting at a time when some best practices had emerged.

Regardless, given the immense challenges posed by hospital EHR rollouts, it’s good to read about a few that went well.  We all need some good news!

Is It a Hot or Cold Hospital EHR Buying Market? – Response

Posted on August 15, 2016 I Written By

For the past twenty years, I been working with healthcare organizations to implement technologies and improve business processes for nearly twenty years. During that time, I have had the opportunity to lead major transformation initiatives including implementation of EHR and ERP systems as well as design and build of shared service centers. I have worked with many of the largest healthcare providers in the United States as well as many academic and children's hospitals. In this blog I will be discussing my experiences and ideas and encourage everyone to share your own as well in the comments.

This article is in response to John Lynn’s recent posting, Is It a Hot or Cold Hospital EHR Buying Market?

In his recent posting, John Lynn asked the question “Is it a Hot or Cold Hospital EHR Buying Market?”. In it he highlights a recent KLAS report that over 490 hospitals, a staggering 10% of the entire market, were involved in an EHR decision in 2015. After reading his posting, I wanted to take a moment to share my observations.

2015 was indeed an amazing year for EHR sales, partly driven by the pending sunset date of Mckesson Horizon forcing many customers to switch EHR solutions. Some of those customers are going to Paragon, but many more purchased or are evaluating other solutions. During a recent trip to Epic University, I was surprised to find that nearly half of the attendees of the classes were hospitals switching from Mckesson Horizon to Epic – and all had just recently completed their purchases (late 2015/early 2016) and were facing the same live dates of late 2017/early 2018.

Hospitals who have purchased and implemented Epic or Cerner are very unlikely to make a change. Regardless of which solution is preferred, the investment in these solutions and the level of effort required to switch from one to another is so high, that it would take a significant triggering event for a hospital to make that change. Therefore it is likely that customers on these solutions will not be making a change in the near future.

However, KLAS reports that nearly 40% of MEDITECH customers would change EMR’s if they could, and that Paragon customers also report unrest. Therefore in addition to the shrinking number of those that have not implemented a viable EHR solution, the possibility that there will be a wave of customers switching from one of these solutions to Epic or Cerner remains a consideration. There is also the question of how the recent spin-off of Mckesson’s software division will impact the future of Paragon. If Paragon were discontinued or sold, it could lead to another explosion of EHR decisions. If instead there was a significant investment in the solution, it could become a more viable alternative as customers look to switch from one EHR to another.

I suspect that 2016 will be another strong year from EHR sales in general and for Epic and Cerner in particular. Beyond that, much will depend on the strength of the other solutions and which ones break out into the top tier. Regardless, the recent explosion of EHR sales and the rush to replace Horizon will in many cases lead to minimized installs – where the bare minimum work was completed and there is significant opportunity to improve business processes, implement new modules, and roll out advanced functionality within those solutions. As a result I believe that within a few years, the market will be more stabilized with fewer customers switching solutions, and instead focusing on maximizing what they have.

Unless another player comes in and disrupts the marketplace or a significant shift in the industry creates a reason to make a change yet again…

If you’d like to receive future posts by Brian in your inbox, you can subscribe to future Healthcare Optimization Scene posts here. Be sure to also read the archive of previous Healthcare Optimization Scene posts.

Hospitals Using Market-Leading EHR Have Higher HIE Use

Posted on July 29, 2016 I Written By

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

A new study concludes that hospital engagement with HIEs is tied with the level of dominance their EHR vendor has in their marketplace. The study, which appeared in Health Affairs, looked at national data from 2012 and 2013 to look at how vendor dominance related to hospitals’ HIE involvement level. And their analysis suggests that the more market power a given vendor has, the more it may stifle hospitals’ HIE participation.

As researchers note, federal policymakers have expressed concern that some EHR vendors may be hampering the free flow of data between providers, in part by making cross-vendor HIE implementation difficult. To address this concern, the study looked at hospitals’ behavior in differently-structured EHR marketplaces.

Researchers concluded that hospitals using the EHR which dominated their marketplace engaged in an average of 45% more HIE activities than facilities using non-dominant vendors. On the other hand, in markets where the leading vendor was less dominant, controlling 20% of the market, hospitals using the dominant vendor engaged in 59% more HIE activities than hospitals using a different vendor.

Meanwhile, if the dominant EHR vendor controlled 80% of the market, hospitals using the leading vendor engaged in only 25% more HIE activities than those using a different vendor. In other words, high levels of local market dominance by a single vendor seemed to be associated with relatively low levels of HIE involvement.

According to the study’s authors, the data suggests that to promote cross-vendor HIE use, policymakers may need to take local market competition between EHR vendors into consideration. And though they don’t say this directly, they also seem to imply that both high vendor dominance and low vendor dominance can both slow HIE engagement, and that moderate dominance may foster such participation.

While this is interesting stuff, it may be moot. What the study doesn’t address is that the entire HIE model comes with handicaps that go beyond what it takes to integrate disparate EHR systems. Even if two hospital systems in a market are using, say, Cerner systems, how does it benefit them to work on sharing data that will help their rival deliver better care? I’ve heard this question asked by hospital financial types, and while it’s a brutal sentiment, it gets to something important.

Nonetheless, I’d argue that studying the dynamics of how EHR vendors compete is quite worthwhile. When a single vendor dominates a marketplace, it has to have an impact on everyone in that market’s healthcare system, including patients. Understanding just what that impact is makes a great deal of sense.

EMR Lawsuit – A Taste Of Things To Come

Posted on July 13, 2016 I Written By

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

A central Pennsylvania health system is embroiled in a court fight with Cerner amid allegations that its EMR technology has created serious patient care problems that could have led to serious harm.

PinnacleHealth, a three-hospital system based in Harrisburg, PA, is blaming series of patient care problems on its Siemens health IT technology, which was acquired by Cerner in February 2015. Apparently, PinnacleHealth had used Siemens as a vendor for 20 years, but when it grew dissatisfied with the platform, cut back its relationship with Siemens and signed a contract with Epic.

Last year, Cerner responded to PinnacleHealth’s actions with a breach of contract lawsuit, asserting that the health system hadn’t paid for services since February 2015. The suit claims that Pinnacle now owes Cerner more than $20 million.

PinnacleHealth, in turn, filed a counterclaim earlier this year in Pennsylvania state court, which seeks damages for Cerner’s alleged fraud and breach of contract. In the counterclaim, it cited several instances of problems it contends were caused by the EMR, including a case in which one patient’s blood pressure dropped dramatically after he was allegedly discharged the wrong medications. It also cites an instance in which a doctor was unable to place a pharmacy order for a newborn to receive vitamin K, a standard step taken to protect babies from serious bleeding.

While some experts are positioning this as the first of a growing number of EMR-related safety disputes, I’d argue that there’s other big issues in play which are more important to consider.

First, though it’s possible the Siemens EMR had problems, it’s impossible to know whether that had more to do with the customer’s unique IT set-up or whether there was an actual tech failure.

That being said, it’s also possible that Cerner missed something during its buyout of Siemens, a risk every vendor who acquires a technology company takes. And EMR vendor consolidation is continuing. If the acquiring vendors move too quickly, or have trouble integrating the new technology into their existing fold, will a growing number of clear-cut cases of EMR failure occur?

Also, it’s important to note that PinnacleHealth is currently battling the FTC for permission to merge with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Clearly, it needs to have technology in place which can scale and isn’t burdened by 20 years of legacy adoption if the merger goes forward. Admittedly, Penn State Hershey is a Cerner shop, not Epic, but who knows what Penn State Hershey has in mind for HIT if it does get to close the deal?

Yes, there will be some product liability litigation over alleged EMR failures. And in some cases, particularly given the ongoing M&A activity among vendors, someone will drop the ball and bad things will probably happen.

But the most important thing I see happening here is the death knell for older systems in the wake of industry consolidation. I’d keep an eye on mergers between health systems and acquisitions by EMR vendors. Those are the forces that will dictate what happens in the HIT world going forward.

The Rise of the “EHR Value” Equation at Hospitals

Posted on July 1, 2016 I Written By

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

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how it will be impossible for ambulatory EHR vendors like athenahealth and eCW to break into the acute care market. For those following along at home, both companies have announced that they’re building out their EHR software for the acute care market. These are big bets by both companies, but I think many people don’t realize the advantage these companies will have going into the very expensive hospital EHR market.

Companies like eCW and athenahealth will be able to come into a hospital with a native cloud platform that will let them offer some really aggressive pricing. When you’re paying $50+ million for an EHR (or $9+ billion for some), there’s a lot of wiggle room for a new entrant to enter the fray at a much lower cost point. That lower cost point will totally change the EHR value equation for hospitals. In fact, these cloud based hospital EHR will likely be able to compete effectively against a legacy EHRs upgrade costs alone.

Don’t believe this is possible? Take a look at the story about Delta Regional Hospital returning to MEDITECH. Why did they do it? Thomas Moore, vice president and CFO at Delta said, “We were looking for a system with a lower cost of ownership without sacrificing quality.” Moore later added this comment, “MEDITECH is a company that truly understands the meaning of value.”

During the wild west phase of EHR where the industry was propped up by $36 billion in stimulus money, everyone had the perfect rationale for spending hundreds of millions (and even billions) on EHR software. As we return to a more rational market we’re going to see hospital CIOs starting to place a much larger emphasis on EHR value. Showing that value is going to be hard for some of the larger EHR vendors who’ve charged hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars to their customers. Plus, it will be hard for them to lower their price.

In one online thread I participate on, a bunch of people were bashing Delta Regional Hospital’s decision to go back to MEDITECH. However, a former CIO offered this great insight:

Ya gotta spend time in a Meditech shop. It’s not flashy, but from a value perspective (and it does a lot more than just EHR), it’s hard to beat.

The same is going to be true with acute care EHR from eCW and athenahealth, but they’ll have some of the sexy factor as well. In the acute care EHR world I believe we’re just entering the new world of EHR value. Those who can tell the story of the value they’ve created for customers are going to win. Plus, we’re going to see a fierce battle from new entrants who are going to try and undercut the market. Think about how the EHR value equation changes when you can charge even $75 million instead of $100 million. That’s a game changer.

Hospital Accused Of Firing Nurse For EMR Safety Complaints

Posted on June 29, 2016 I Written By

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

The former chief nursing officer of a California hospital is suing her former employer, alleging she was “forced out” of her position after questioning the safety of a little-known EMR donated by a major financial backer of the facility.

The suit filed by nurse Autumn AndRa also names Dan Smith, whose company donated the Harmoni software now used by Sebastopol, CA-based Sonoma West Medical Center. AndRa is claiming that Smith, who has contributed millions in donations and loans to the hospital, has used the hospital as a test bed for his company’s defective system. Smith is president of the medical center’s board of directors.

In an interview with a local newspaper, AndRa said that the Harmoni system has had major problems since the day it went live. Among other issues, the EMR was doing a poor job tracking and updating medications and was “intermingling” medical information between patients, her suit contends. According to AndRa, she went to hospital CEO Ray Hino a week before her dismissal and told him that the system was not safe. (Hino told the newspaper that Harmoni was fine and that no patients had been harmed by the system.)

E-Health Records International Inc., which makes the cloud-based system, primarily serves hospitals outside the U.S., including facilities in the Congo, Jamaica, India and the Philippines. Smith, whose first software development success came when he sold a construction management system to Intuit, serves as the company’s CEO, as well as chairman of telemedicine firm Offsite Care Resources.

Other than that, he seems to have little documented experience as an HIT developer. His other major business venture seems to have been operating a French restaurant with his wife, which he closed after being unable to get back $5.8 million he loaned the hospital.

Regardless of whether AndRa prevails in her suit, I think it’s safe to say that she came out on the wrong end of some questionable political maneuvering by hospital leaders, perhaps including Smith himself. When a hospital is forgiven a large loan, and then fires an executive who raises safety questions about the EMR developed by the lender, eyebrows should be raised.

Epic Install Triggers Loss At MD Anderson

Posted on May 31, 2016 I Written By

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

Surprising pretty much no one, another healthcare organization has attributed adverse financial outcomes largely to its Epic installation. In this case, the complaining party is the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which attributes its recent shortfall to both EMR costs and lower revenues. The news follows a long series of cost overruns, losses and budget crises by other healthcare providers implementing Epic of late.

According to Becker’s Hospital CFO, MD Anderson reported adjusted income of $122.9 million during that period a 56.6% drop over the seven-month period ending March 31. During that period, the cancer center’s wages and salaries climbed, and Epic-related consulting costs were climbed as well. This follows a $9.9 million operating loss for the first quarter of the 2016 fiscal year, which the University of Texas attributed to higher-than-expected EMR expenses.

MD Anderson announced its choice of Epic in spring 2013, and went live on the system in March of this year as anticipated. The cancer center’s rollout was guided by Epic veteran Chris Belmont, the center’s CIO, who implemented Epic across 10 hospitals and more than three dozen clinics for New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System.

The organization didn’t announce what it was spending on the Epic install, but we all know it doesn’t come cheap. However, one would think the University of Texas health system could afford the investment. According to EHR Intelligence, the Texas health system ranks in the 99th percentile for net patient revenue in the US, with total revenue topping $5.58 billion.

And UT leaders seem to have been prepared for the bump, reporting that they’d planned for a material impact to revenues and expenses as a result of the Epic implementation. The system didn’t announce any staff cuts, hiring freezes or other budget-trimming moves resulting from these financial issues.

Having said all this, however, no organization wants to see its income drop. So what actually happened?

For example, when the UT system reports that a drop in patient revenues contributed to the drop in income, what does that mean? Does this refer to scheduled drops in patient volume, planned for ahead of time, or problems billing for services? I’d be interested to know if the center managed to keep on top of revenue cycle management during the transition.

Another question I have is what caused the unanticipated expenses. Did they come from contract disputes with Epic? Unexpected technical problems? Markups on consulting services? Or did the organization have to pour money into the project to meet its go-live deadline? There’s a lot of ways to generate costs, and I’d love to get some granular information on what happened.

Also, I wonder what steps UT leaders will take to avoid unexpected expenses in the future. While it may have learned some lessons from the problems it’s had so far, there’s no guarantee that it won’t face of the costly problems going forward.

If, perchance, and the system has figured out how to stay in the black with its Epic investment, it could sell that secret to cover its IT expenses for years. I’m betting other systems would pay good money for that information!