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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!

Appointment Scheduling Site Zocdoc Connects With Epic

Posted on May 25, 2016 I Written By

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

In a bid to capture hospital and health system business, appointment scheduling site Zocdoc announced that its customers can now connect the site to their Epic EMRs via an API. The updated Zocdoc platform targets the partners’ joint customers, which include Yale New Haven Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, Inova Health System and Hartford HealthCare. And I’ll admit it – I’m intrigued.

Typically, I don’t write stories about vendors other than the top EMR players. And on the surface, the deal may not appear very interesting. But the truth is, this partnership may turn out to offer a new model for digital health relationships. If nothing else, it’s a shrewd move.

Historically, Zocdoc has focused on connecting medical practices to patients. Physicians list their appointment schedule and biographical data on the site, as well as their specialty. Patients, who join for free, can search the site for doctors, see when their chosen physician’s next available appointment is and reserve a time of their choosing. If patients provide insurance information, they are only shown doctors who take their insurance.

As a patient, I find this to be pretty nifty. Particularly if you manage chronic conditions, it’s great be able to set timely medical appointments without making a bunch of phone calls. There are some glitches (for example, it appears that doctors often don’t get the drug list I entered), but when I report problems, the site’s customer service team does an excellent job of patching things up. So all told, it’s a very useful and consumer-friendly site.

That being said, there are probably limits to how much money Zocdoc can make this way. My guess is that onboarding doctors is somewhat costly, and that the site can’t charge enough to generate a high profit margin. After all, medical practices are not known for their lavish marketing spending.

On the other hand, working with health systems and hospitals solves both the onboarding problem and the margin problem. If a health system or hospital goes with Zocdoc, they’re likely to bring a high volume of physicians to the table, and what’s more, they are likely to train those doctors on the platform. Also, hospitals and health systems have larger marketing budgets than medical practices, and if they see Zocdoc as offering a real competitive advantage, they’ll probably pay more than physicians.

Now, it appears that Zocdoc had already attracted some health systems and hospitals to the table prior to the Epic linkage. But if it wants to be a major player in the enterprise space, connecting the service to Epic matters. Health systems and hospitals are desperate to connect disparate systems, and they’re more likely to do deals with partners that work with their mission-critical EMR.

To be fair, this approach may not stick. While connecting an EMR to Zocdoc’s systems may help health systems and hospitals build patient loyalty, appointment records don’t add anything to the patient’s clinical picture. So we’re not talking about the invention of the light bulb here.

Still, I could see other ancillary service vendors, particularly web-based vendors, following in Zocdoc’s footsteps if they can. As health systems and hospitals work to provide value-based healthcare, they’ll be less and less tolerant of complexity, and an Epic connection may simplify things. All told, Zocdoc’s deal is driven by an idea whose time has come.

From Epic Staffer To Epic Consultant

Posted on May 11, 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.

Since many readers may have considered such a move, I was interested to read an interview with a woman who had transitioned from an Epic-based staff position at hospital to a consulting gig. Here are some of the steps she took, which offer food for thought for those who might want to follow in her footsteps.

Prior to going into Epic consulting, Pam (no last name given) had worked full time as a Clindoc/Stork analyst, specializing in Reporting Workbench and Radar dashboards. The hospital where she worked with deploying Epic for the first time as their EMR solution, a three-year project spanning 14 hospitals in her health system. Prior to that, Pam had worked in both IT and in the ICU as an RN.

Before she agreed to take the consulting position, which requires her to travel to the northeast once a week, Pam weighed the effect all the required travel would have on her spouse and family, as well as her elderly parents and in-laws.

She also bore her financial situation in mind. While she knew she could earn more as an Epic consultant than she could as a staff member, she also wouldn’t have access to company benefits such as retirement plans, health insurance, and paid sick days and vacation time. (Now that she’s consulting, Pam works with a financial analyst to create a personal retirement plan.)

To market herself as a consultant, Pam began by updating a resume to reflect the most current experience, including, obviously, her Epic experience. She researched Epic consulting firms in sent her resume to those that seemed appropriate. She also pulled together her personal and professional references, getting their permission to be contacted by firms interested in learning more about her. Then she worked with recruiters and consulting firms to capture her desired position.

One cautionary note from her story: Despite her experience level, as well as her having obtained in additional Epic proficiency and badge, she didn’t get a job immediately. In fact, it took her seven months to find an opportunity that fit her skills, a period she calls “long and difficult.” But she tells the interviewer that all the effort was worth it.

A few comments from the peanut gallery: While Pam has done well, the ending of the story — that she ended up waiting nearly a year to get her Epic job — came as a surprise to me. Yes, we are not in the absolute heyday of Epic consulting, as we were a few years ago, I would’ve assumed that an experienced professional with both clinical and IT background would’ve been snapped up much more quickly.

After all, while most hospitals may have made their big initial EMR outlay, maintaining those bad boys is an ongoing issue, and last I heard few have the resources to do so without outside help. Not only that, I doubt Epic has begun to hand out certifications like fortune cookies.

So why would there be a glut of Epic consultants, if there is in fact one? All I can think is that 1) the prevalence of Epic installations has led to more trained people being available, and 2) that hospitals have figured out how to maintain their Epic systems without as much outside help as they once had.

Either way, there may be a warning in this otherwise upbeat story. If you are thinking about hanging out your shingle as a Epic consultant, you may want to check out demand before you do. You may also want to spend some time searching through the Epic and other Healthcare IT jobs on Healthcare IT Central.

Mayo Clinic’s Shift To Epic Eats Up Most of IT Budget

Posted on May 6, 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.

Mayo Clinic has announced that it will spend about $1 billion to complete its migration from Cerner and GE to Epic. While Mayo hasn’t disclosed they’re spending on software, industry watchers are estimating the agreement will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, with the rest of the $1 billion seemingly going to integration and development costs.

The Clinic said in 2014 that it would invest $1.5 billion in IT infrastructure over multiple years, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Then last year, it announced that it would replace Cerner and GE systems with an Epic EMR. Now, its execs say that it will spend more than $1 billion on the transition over five years.

Given what other health system spend on Epic installations, the $1 billion estimate sounds sadly realistic. Facing up to these costs is certainly smarter than lowballing its budget. Nobody wants to be in the position New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. has gotten into. The municipal system’s original $302 million budget expanded to $764 million just a couple of years into its Epic install, and overall expenses could hit $1.4 billion.

On the other hand, the shift to Epic is eating up two thirds of the Mayo’s $1.5 billion IT allowance for the next few years. And that’s a pretty considerable risk. After all, the Clinic must have spent a great deal on its Cerner and GE contracts. While the prior investments weren’t entirely sunk costs, as existing systems must have collected a fair amount of data and had some impact on patient care, neither product could have come cheaply.

Given that the Epic deal seems poised to suck the IT budget dry, I find myself wondering what Mayo is giving up:

  • Many health systems have put off investing in up-to-date revenue cycle management solutions, largely to focus on Meaningful Use compliance and ICD-10 preparation. Will Mayo be forced to limp along with a substandard solution?
  • Big data analytics and population health tech will be critical to surviving in ACOs and value-based payment schemes. Will the Epic deal block Mayo from investing?
  • Digital health innovation will become a central focus for health systems in the near future. Will Mayo’s focus on the EMR transition rob it of the resources to compete in this realm?

To be fair, Mayo’s Epic investment obviously wasn’t made in a vacuum. With the EMR vendor capturing a huge share of the hospital EMR market, its IT leaders and C-suite execs clearly had many colleagues with whom they could discuss the system’s performance and potential benefits.

But I’m still left wondering whether any single software solution, provided by a single vendor, offers such benefits that it’s worth starving other important projects to adopt it. I guess that’s not just the argument against Epic, but against the massive investment required to buy any enterprise EMR. But given the extreme commitment required to adopt Epic, this becomes a life-and-death decision for the Mayo, which already saw a drop in earnings last year.

Ultimately, there’s no getting past that enterprise EMR buys may be necessary. But if your Epic investment pretty much ties up your cash, let’s hope something better doesn’t come along anytime soon. That will be one serious case of buyer’s regret.

Telemedicine A Growing Priority For Hospitals

Posted on April 29, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EHR Ratings – GomerBlog Style

Posted on April 8, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

GE Healthcare Is Still In The Game

Posted on March 14, 2016 I Written By

David is a global digital healthcare leader that is focusing on the next era of healthcare IT.  Most recently David served as the CIO at an academic medical center where he was responsible for all technology related to the three missions of education, research and patient care. David has worked for various healthcare providers ranging from academic medical centers, non-profit, and the for-profit sectors. Subscribe to David's latest CXO Scene posts here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on February 12, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

EMR Usability A Pressing Issue

Posted on January 29, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the criteria for the rankings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on January 28, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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