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

Posted on June 19, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VA (Veteran’s Administration) Chooses Cerner EHR

Posted on June 5, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VA Press Release on Selection of Cerner EHR:

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

Secretary Shulkin’s full statement is below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have not come to this decision on EHR lightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCHealth Adds Claims Data To Population Health Dataset

Posted on April 24, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Database Linked With Hospital EMR To Encourage Drug Monitoring

Posted on March 31, 2017 I Written By

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

According to state officials, Colorado occupies the unenviable position of second worst in the US for prescription drug misuse, with more than 255,000 Coloradans misusing prescribed medications.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergency Department Information Systems Market Fueled By Growing Patient Flow

Posted on March 20, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMR Add-Ons On The Way

Posted on March 3, 2017 I Written By

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

A new study backed by speech recognition software vendor Nuance Communications has concluded that many healthcare leaders are planning to add new technologies to supplement their EMRs, Popular add-ons cited by the study include (naturally) speech recognition, mobility options and computer-assisted physician documentation tools. While the results are partially a pitch for Nuance, of course, they also highlight the tension between spending on clinical improvement and satisfaction and boosting the bottom line with better documentation tech.

The study, which was conducted by HIMSS Analytics, was designed to look at ways to optimize EMRs and opportunities to improve care at hospitals and health systems. Conducted between August 17 and September 6 of last year, it draws on 167 respondents from 142 different healthcare organizations. Forty percent of respondents hold C-suite titles, and an additional 40% were in IT leadership. (It would be interesting to see how the two groups’ perceptions vary, but the study summary doesn’t provide that information.)

According to HIMSS, 83% of respondents reported having confidence that their organization would eventually realize their full potential, particularly improving care coordination and outcomes.

To this end, 75% of respondents said they’d boosted their EMR efforts with training and support resources, while two-thirds have increased staff in at least one IT area since implementing their system. Respondents apparently didn’t say how much they’d increased their budget, if at all, to meet these needs – and you have to wonder how these organizations are paying for these efforts, and how much. But the report didn’t provide such information.

To increase clinician satisfaction with EMR use, 82% of respondents said providing clinician training and education, 75% are enhancing existing technology and tools and 68% adopting new technology and tools. To read between the lines once again, it’s worth noting that hospitals and health systems seem to be putting a stronger emphasis on training than new tech, which somewhat contradicts the study’s conclusions. Still, EMR add-ons clearly matter.

Meanwhile, about one-quarter of survey respondents said that they planned to introduce EMR-enhancing tools at the point of care, primarily to improve documentation and boost physician satisfaction. Those included mobility tools (44%), computer-assisted physician documentation (38%) and speech recognition (25%). These numbers seem a bit lower than I would have expected, particularly the mobile stat. I’m betting that establishing mobile security is still a tough nut to crack for most.

While increasing clinician satisfaction and improving care outcomes is important, boosting financial performance clearly matters too, and respondents said that improving documentation was central to doing so. Fifty-four percent said that better documentation would reduce the number of denied claims they face, 52% expect to improve performance under bundled payments, 38% predicted reduced readmissions and 38% thought documentation improvements would better physician time management and improve patient flow.

Again, I doubt that C-suite execs and IT leaders will pay equal attention to tools which improve their finances and those which meet “softer” goals – and financial goals have to take priority. But these stats do suggest that hospitals and health systems are giving EMR add-ons some attention. It will be interesting to see if they’re willing to invest in EMR enhancements — rather than burrowing deeper into their existing EMR tech — over the next year or two.

Cleveland Clinic Works To Eliminate Tech Redundancies

Posted on March 1, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Children’s Benefits From the Carequality and CommonWell Agreement

Posted on February 3, 2017 I Written By

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

Recently two of the bigger players working on health data interoperability – Carequality and the CommonWell Health Alliance – agreed to share data with each other. The two, which were fierce competitors, agreed that CommonWell would share data with any Carequality participant, and that Carequality users would be able to use the CommonWell record locator service.

That is all well and good, but at first I wasn’t sure if it would pan out. Being the cranky skeptic that I am, I assumed it would take quite a while for the two to get their act together, and that we’d hear little more of their agreement for a year or two.

But apparently, I was wrong. In fact, a story by Scott Mace of HealthLeaders suggests that Boston Children’s Hospital and its physicians are likely to benefit right away. According to the story, the hospital and its affiliated Pediatric Physicians Organization at Children’s Hospital (PPOC) will be able to swap data nicely despite their using different EMRs.

According to Mace, Boston Children’s runs a Cerner EMR, as well as an Epic installation to manage its revenue cycle. Meanwhile, PPOC is going live with Epic across its 80 practices and 400 providers. On the surface, the mix doesn’t sound too promising.

To add even more challenges to the mix, Boston Children’s also expects an exponential jump in the number of patients it will be caring for via its Medicaid ACO, the article notes.

Without some form of data sharing compatibility, the hospital and practice would have faced huge challenges, but now it has an option. Boston Children’s is joining CommonWell, and PPOC is joining Carequality, solving a problem the two have struggled with for a long time, Mace writes.

Previously, the story notes, the hospital tried unsuccessfully to work with a local HIE, the Mass Health Information HIway. According to hospital CIO Dan Nigrin, MD, who spoke with Mace, providers using Mass Health were usually asked to push patient data to their peers via Direct protocol, rather than pull data from other providers when they needed it.

Under the new regime, however, providers will have much more extensive access to data. Also, the two entities will face fewer data-sharing hassles, such as establishing point-to-point or bilateral exchange agreements with other providers, PPOC CIO Nael Hafez told HealthLeaders.

Even this step upwards does not perfect interoperability make. According to Micky Tripathi, president and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, providers leveraging the CommonWell/Carequality data will probably customize their experience. He contends that even those who are big fans of the joint network may add, for example, additional record locator services such as one provided by Surescripts. But it does seem that Boston Children’s and PPOC are, well, pretty psyched to get started with data sharing as is.

Now, back to me as Queen Grump again. I have to admit that Mace paints a pretty attractive picture here, and I wish Boston Children’s and PPOC much success. But my guess is that there will still be plenty of difficult issues to work out before they have even the basic interoperability they’re after. Regardless, some hope of data sharing is better than none at all. Let’s just hope this new data sharing agreement between CommonWell and Carequality lives up to its billing.

Health IT Preserves Idaho Hospital’s Independence

Posted on February 1, 2017 I Written By

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

Most of the time, when I write about hospital IT adoption, I end up explaining why a well-capitalized organization is going into the red to implement its EMR. But I recently found a story in RevCycle Intelligence in which a struggling hospital actually seems to have benefitted financially from investing in IT infrastructure. According to the story, a 14-bed critical access hospital in Idaho recently managed to stave off a forced merger or even closure by rolling out an updated EMR and current revenue cycle management technology.

Only a few years ago, Arco, Idaho-based Lost Rivers Medical Center was facing serious financial hurdles, and its technology was very outdated. In particular, it was using an EMR from 1993, which was proving so inflexible that the claims stayed in accounts receivable for an average of 108 days. “We didn’t have wifi,” CEO Brad Huerta told the site. “We didn’t have fiber. We literally had copper wires for our phone system…we had an EMR in a technical sense, but nobody was using it. It was a proverbial paperweight.”

Not only was the cost of paying for upgrades daunting, the hospital’s location was as well. Arco is a “frontier” location, making it hard to recruit IT staffers to implement and maintain infrastructure, staff and servers, the story notes. Though “fiercely independent,” as Huerta put it, it was getting hard for Lost Rivers to succeed without merging with a larger organization.

That being said, Huerta and his team decided to stick it out. They feared diluting their impact, or losing the ability to offer services like trauma care and tele-pharmacy, if they were to merge with a bigger organization.

Instead of conceding defeat, Huerta decided to focus on improving the hospital’s revenue cycle performance, which would call for installing an up-to-date EMR and more advanced medical billing tools. After the hospital finished putting in fiber in its area, Lost Rivers invested in athenahealth’s cloud-based EMR and medical billing tools.

Once the hospital put its new systems in place, it was able to turn things around on the revenue cycle front. Total cash flow climbed rapidly, and days in accounts receivable fell from 108 to 52 days.

According to Huerta, part of the reason the hospital was able to make such significant improvements was that the new systems improved workflow. In the past, he told RevCycle Intelligence, providers and staff often failed to code services correctly or bill patients appropriately, which led to financial losses.

Now, doctors chart on laptops, tablets or even phones while at the patients’ bedside. Not only did this improve coding accuracy, it cut down on the amount of time doctors spend in administrative work, giving them time to generate revenue by seeing additional patients.

What’s more, the new system has given Lost Rivers access to some of the advantages of merging with other facilities without having to actually do so. According to the story, the system now connects the critical access hospital with larger health systems, as the athenahealth system captures rule changes made by the other organization and effectively shares the improvements with Lost Rivers. This means the coding proposed by the system gradually gets more accurate, without forcing Lost Rivers to spend big bucks on coding training, Huertas said.

While the story doesn’t say so specifically, I’m sure that Lost Rivers is spending a lot on its spiffy new EMR and billing tech, which must have been painful at least at first. But it’s always good to see the gamble pay off.

Do Health IT Certificate Of Need Requirements Make Sense?

Posted on January 23, 2017 I Written By

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

The other day, I read an interesting piece about the University of Vermont Medical Center’s plans to create an integrated EMR connecting its four network hospitals. The article noted that unlike its peers in some other states, UVMC was required to file a Certificate of Need (CON) application with the state before it proceeds with the work.  And that struck me as deserving some analysis.

According to a story appearing in Healthcare Informatics,  UVMC plans to invest an initial $112.4 million in the project, which includes an upgrade to informatics, billing and scheduling systems used by UVMC and network facilities Central Vermont Medical Center, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital and Elizabethtown Community Hospital. The total costs of implementing and operating the integrated system should hit $151.6 million over the first six years. (For all of you vendor-watchers, UVMC is an Epic shop.)

In its CON application, UVMC noted that some of the systems maintained by network hospitals are 20 years old and in dire need of replacement. It also asserted that if the four hospitals made upgrades independently rather than in concert, it would cost $200 million and still leave the facilities without a connection to each other.

Given the broad outline provided in the article, these numbers seem reasonable, perhaps even modest given what execs are trying to accomplish. And that would be all most hospital executives would need to win the approval of their board and steam ahead with the project, particularly if they were gunning for value-based contracts.

But clearly, this doesn’t necessarily mean that such investments aren’t risky, or don’t stand a chance of triggering a financial meltdown. For example, there’s countless examples of health systems which have faced major financial problems (like this and this),  operational problems (particularly in this case) or have been forced to make difficult tradeoffs (such as this). And their health IT decisions can have a major impact on the rest of the marketplace, which sometimes bears the indirect costs of any mistakes they make.

Given these concerns, I think there’s an argument to be made for requiring hospitals to get CONs for major health IT investments. If there’s any case to be made for CON programs make any sense, I can’t see why it doesn’t apply here. After all, the idea behind them is to look at the big picture rather than incremental successes of one organization. If investment in, say, MRIs can increase costs needlessly, the big bucks dropped on health IT systems certainly could.

Part of the reason I sympathize with these requirements is I believe that healthcare IS fundamentally different than any other industry, and that as a public good, should face oversight that other industries do not. Simply put, healthcare costs are everybody’s costs, and that’s unique.

What’s more, I’m all too familiar with the bubble in which hospital execs and board members often live. Because they are compelled to generate the maximum profit (or excess) they can, there’s little room for analyzing how such investments impact their communities over the long term. Yes, the trend toward ACOs and population health may mitigate this effect to some degree, but probably not enough.

Of course, there’s lots of arguments against CONs, and ultimately against government intervention in the marketplace generally. If nothing else, it’s obvious that CON board members aren’t necessarily impartial arbiters of truth. (I once knew a consultant who pushed CONs through for a healthcare chain, who said that whichever competitor presented the last – not the best — statistics to the room almost always won.)

Regardless, I’d be interested in studying the results of health IT CON requirements in five or ten years and see if they had any measurable impact on healthcare competition and costs.  We’d learn a lot about health IT market dynamics, don’t you think?