Free Hospital EMR and EHR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to Hospital EMR and EHR for FREE!

What’s the Future of Health Information “Disposal”?

Posted on July 30, 2015 I Written By

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

While at the HIM Summit, Deborah Green from AHIMA talked about the information lifecycle in healthcare. She showed a number of representations and flow charts of how information is collected and used in healthcare. Although, the part of the chart that intrigued me the most was the “disposal” element at the end. In fact, it prompted me to tweet the following:


As you look back at history disposal of paper charts was pretty straightforward. Most of the charts were organized by year and so you could have a 6 year retention policy. You’d collect all the charts that were older than 6 years and then either shred the old charts or move them to a more long term storage facility.

This concept gets much murkier in the world of EHR and digital charts. In fact, I talked with Deborah after her talk and asked if they’ve ever seen an EHR vendor which had a feature that would allow them to digitally “dispose” of an electronic chart. I’ve talked to hundreds of EHR vendors and I’ve never seen such a feature.

As a tech guy, I’ll admit that I wouldn’t want to be the programmer responsible for writing the code that “disposes” of an electronic chart. EHR software has been coded to never delete anything. At a maximum it might mark a record as inactive or essentially hide a record, but very few things in an EHR are ever really deleted. The concept of deletion is scary and has lots of consequences. Plus, what happens if your algorithm to delete old charts goes wrong and deletes the wrong information? You can fix that with some great backups, but I can imagine a lot of scenarios where even the backup could fail.

Technical challenges of an EHR delete feature aside, what does the future of digital chart “disposal” look like? What should digital chart disposal look like? Do we “shred” digital charts? Do we “shred” part of them? Do we keep them forever?

The reality is that the decision of what to do with the electronic chart is also dependent on the culture of the hospital. Research organizations want to keep all of the data forever and never ever delete anything. That old data might be a benefit to their research. Rural organizations often want to keep their data as long as possible as well. The idea of deleting their friends and neighbors data is foreign to them. In a larger urban area many organizations want to dispose of the chart as soon as the retention requirements are met. Having the old chart is a liability to them. Not having the chart helps remove that liability from their organization. Those are a few, but EHR vendors are going to have to deal with the wide variety of requirements.

If you think of the bigger picture, what’s the consequence if we shred something that could benefit the patient later? Will we need all of the historical patient information in order to provide a patient the best care possible?

These are challenging issues and I don’t think EHR vendors have really tackled them. This is largely because most organizations haven’t had an EHR long enough that they’re ready to start purging digital charts. However, that day is fast approaching. It will be interesting to see the wide variety of requests that organizations make when it comes to disposing of digital charts. It will also be interesting to see how EHR vendors implement these requests.

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

Posted on July 29, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Not “Meaningful Interoperability” For EMR Vendors?

Posted on July 28, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Big Data Challenges Providers Must Face

Posted on July 17, 2015 I Written By

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

Everybody likes to talk about the promise of big data, but managing it is another story. Taming big data will take new strategies and new IT skills, neither of which are a no-brainer, according to new research by the BPI Network.

While BPI Network has identified seven big data pain points, I’d argue that they boil down to just a few key issues:

* Data storage and management:  While providers may prefer to host their massive data stores in-house, this approach is beginning to wear out, at least as the only strategy in town. Over time, hospitals have begun moving to cloud-based solutions, at least in hybrid models offloading some of their data. As they cautiously explore outsourcing some of their data management and storage, meanwhile, they have to make sure that they have security locked down well enough to comply with HIPAA and repel hackers.

Staffing:  Health IT leaders may need to look for a new breed of IT hire, as the skills associated with running datacenters have shifted to the application level rather than data transmission and security levels. And this has changed hiring patterns in many IT shops. When BPI queried IT leaders, 41% said they’d be looking for application development pros, compared with 24% seeking security skills. Ultimately, health IT departments will need staffers with a different mindset than those who maintained datasets over the long term, as these days providers need IT teams that solve emerging problems.

Data and application availability: Health IT execs may finally be comfortable moving at least some of their data into the cloud, probably because they’ve come to believe that their cloud vendor offers good enough security to meet regulatory requirements. But that’s only a part of what they need to consider. Whether their data is based in the cloud or in a data center, health IT departments need to be sure they can offer high data availability, even if a datacenter is destroyed. What’s more, they also need to offer very high availability to EMRs and other clinical data-wrangling apps, something that gets even more complicated if the app is hosted in the cloud.

Now, the reality is that these problems aren’t big issues for every provider just yet. In fact, according to an analysis by KPMG, only 10% of providers are currently using big data to its fullest potential. The 271 healthcare professionals surveyed by KPMG said that there were several major barriers to leveraging big data in their organization, including having unstandardized data in silos (37%), lacking the right technology infrastructure (17%) and failing to have data and analytics experts on board (15%).  Perhaps due to these roadblocks, a full 21% of healthcare respondents had no data analytics initiatives in place yet, though they were at the planning stages.

Still, it’s good to look at the obstacles health IT departments will face when they do take on more advanced data management and analytics efforts. After all, while ensuring high data and app availability, stocking the IT department with the right skillsets and implementing a wise data management strategy aren’t trivial, they’re doable for CIOs that plan ahead. And it’s not as if health leaders have a choice. Going from maintaining an enterprise data warehouse to leveraging health data analytics may be challenging, but it’s critical to make it happen.

Why Should You Invest in Health Information Governance?

Posted on July 14, 2015 I Written By

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

Hospitals are becoming large data centers of health information. In some ways, they’ve always been the storage facility of health information, but how we store, transfer, access, and share health information is dramatically changing in our new digital world. Plus, the volume of information we collect and store is expanding dramatically. This is why health information governance is becoming an extremely important topic in every hospital.

In order to better understand what’s happening with health Information Governance, I sat down with Rita Bowen, Senior Vice President of HIM and Privacy Officer at HealthPort, to talk about the topic. We shot these videos as one long video, but then chopped them up into shorter versions so you could more easily watch the ones that interest you most. You can find 2 of the videos below and 3 more over on EMR and HIPAA.

Who Should Manage Information Governance at Healthcare Organizations?

Why Invest in Health Information Governance?

8 Biggest Epic Price Tags in 2015

Posted on July 3, 2015 I Written By

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

Akanksha Jayanthi from Becker’s Hospital Review has aggregated a list of Epic purchases in 2015. The article does make the disclaimer that some hospitals and health systems have not yet disclosed the price of their Epic purchase. So, there are likely more Epic purchases. However, the Becker’s list gives you some insight into how much it costs to purchase Epic.

  • Partners HealthCare: $1.2 billion
  • Lehigh Valley Health Network: $200 million
  • Mayo Clinic: “Hundreds of millions”
  • Lahey Hospital & Medical Center: $160 million
  • Lifespan: $100 million
  • Erlanger Health System: $97 million
  • Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare: $54 million
  • Saint Francis Medical Center: $43 million

This list isn’t surprising for me. In fact, the most surprising part is that Epic would sell a $43 million implementation. That would have previously been unheard of from Epic. However, we’ve seen Epic moving slowly down the chain. I’m not sure if that’s because the top of the chain has dried up or something else, but Epic has definitely been doing smaller implementations which they wouldn’t have considered before.

What should also be noted is that many of these numbers are estimates. With projects of this size, it’s really easy for the cost of the EHR implementation to balloon out of control. In fact, the Partners HealthCare Epic implementation at the top of the list is a great example. It was originally estimated at $600 million and you can see that estimate has doubled.

When you look at these numbers, is it any surprise that investors want to take down Epic? I’d like to see a list of the Epic renewal prices. Can you imagine what the Epic renewal for Kaiser’s $9 billion Epic EHR implementation will be? That’s where the opportunity lies for someone wanting to disrupt Epic.

Patient Financial Clearance: Ensuring a Successful Revenue Model in Emergency Medicine

Posted on July 2, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jordan Levitt serves as a Managing Partner and Founder for PayorLogic.
Jordan Levitt
In emergency medicine, most providers know this to be true: medical triage and rendering healthcare services is often the easy part. Financial clearance and obtaining payment is the challenge. This is particularly relevant in light of the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) that ensures public access to emergency department (ED) services regardless of one’s ability to pay.

Even with the influx of patients who now have insurance through Medicaid expansion, EDs are still up against many challenges in terms of collecting payments from urgent care encounters. Emergency patients are frequently transient and difficult to manage. And beyond the traditional self-pay patient population, a growing number of emergency patients are now insured under high deductible health plans (HDHPs). Patients themselves are increasingly responsible for a larger portion of the bill.

The burden is on emergency medicine practice administrators and their billing companies to complete the financial clearance process as early as possible—ideally immediately following medical triage and during the urgent care encounter.  The biggest hurdle is obtaining correct and accurate information to financially clear patients within the emergency setting.

Common Hurdles to Overcome
First, IT systems used during emergency transport and within the ED are commonly fragmented—even within a singular hospital system. Second, emergency encounters must focus first on medical triage and urgent care. Financial clearance is an afterthought. Patient access staff members in the ED often do not have ample time to complete financial clearance before patients are treated—and even released. Third, many organizations experience high turnover in the ED registration area, making it difficult to ensure compliance and consistency.

This article summarizes how one emergency medicine billing company works with its clients to provide financial clearance for emergency encounters—even for patients that present as self-pay.

How it works at ATD Resources, Inc.
As a full-service billing company that serves five emergency departments with a combined 140,000 visits per year, ATD Resources, Inc. knows the financial pressures of increasing patient payment responsibility and non-payment risk all too well. Amy Propp, CPC, CEDC, director of operations at ATD Resources, LLC, sent approximately $1 million to a collections agency each month before revamping her financial clearance process. Furthermore, nearly 50% of ATD’s 180,000 patient statements were returned due to invalid addresses.

To improve revenue capture, ATD focused on obtaining the right information the first time around as close to near-time as possible. This required partnering with a front-end financial clearance solution that integrated with each hospital’s information systems so emergency medicine patient access staff had access to real-time demographics and payment information. A three-step workflow was designed.

Step One:
Verify patients’ social security numbers, addresses, and other demographic information within the emergency department as quickly as possible: upon registration and immediately following clinical triage.

Step Two:
Generate an immediate report of all patients labeled as self-pay/no insurance and use Payor Logic’s financial clearance application to check whether these patients have any billable insurance or other payment sources. For example, in 2014, ATD identified 16% of patients as self-pay for their clients. However, after verification, 35% of these individuals were actually eligible for Medicaid.

Step Three:
For patients with no verifiable or billable coverage, ATD staff members use Federal Poverty Level status information to qualify patients for a discount or charity care—immediately communicating findings back to the emergency medicine group.

Step Four:
Finally, ATD works with Payor Logic to predict likelihood of payment. By calculating a propensity-to-pay score, ATD (on behalf of their clients) focus on patients with the highest likelihood of paying the bill. ATD can identify patients with a history of non-payment, adjust the debt, and quickly forward these accounts to collections.

Thanks to its new financial clearance process, ATD has captured more than $800,000 in revenue over 12 months for its emergency medicine clients. In addition, its returned mail volume was cut by more than 10%.

The Road Ahead
Given the increase in patient financial responsibility, emergency providers and their billing companies must find creative ways to expedite the clearance and collection process.  This critical step is becoming increasingly essential as a new era of self-pay patients are emerging amidst declining pre-acute care reimbursements within emergency services and emergency medicine.

About Jordan Levitt:
Jordan Levitt serves as a Managing Partner and Founder for PayorLogic, a healthcare technology company for self-pay accounts management, insurance verification and financial clearance within emergency services, emergency medicine, laboratory, medical imaging, durable medical, and hospitals. Jordan can be reached at: jordanl@payorlogic.com.

Interoperability Becoming Important To Consumers

Posted on June 26, 2015 I Written By

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

The other day, I was talking with my mother about her recent primary care visit — and she was pretty po’d. “I can’t understand why my cardiologist didn’t just send the information to my family doctor,” she said. “Can’t they do that online these days? Why isn’t my doctor part of it?”

Now, to understand why this matters you need to know that my mother, who’s extremely bright, is nonetheless such a technophobe that she literally won’t touch my father’s desktop PC. She’s never opened a brower and has sent perhaps two or three e-mails in her life. She doesn’t even know how to use the text function on her basic “dumb” phone.

But she understands what interoperability is — even if the term would be foreign — and has little patience for care providers that don’t have it in place.

If this was just about my 74-year-old mom, who’s never really cared for technology generally, it would just be a blip. But research suggests that she’s far from alone.

In fact, a study recently released by the Society for Participatory Medicine and conducted by ORC International suggests that most U.S. residents are in my mother’s camp. Nearly 75% of Americans surveyed by SPM said that it was very important that critical health information be shared between hospitals, doctors and other providers.

What’s more, respondents expect these transfers to be free. Eighty seven percent were dead-set against any fees being charged to either providers or patients for health data transfers. That flies in the face of current business practices, in which doctors may pay between $5,000 to $50,000 to connect with laboratories, HIEs or government, sometimes also paying fees each time they send or receive data.

There’s many things to think about here, but a couple stand out in my mind.

For one thing, providers should definitely be on notice that consumers have lost patience with cumbersome paper record transfers in the digital era. If my mom is demanding frictionless data sharing, then I can only imagine what Millenials are thinking. Doctors and hospitals may actually gain a marketing advantage by advertising how connected they are!

One other important issue to consider is that interoperability, arguably a fevered dream for many providers today, may eventually become the standard of care. You don’t want to be the hospital that stands out as having set patients adrift without adequate data sharing, and I’d argue that the day is coming sooner rather than later when that will mean electronic data sharing.

Admittedly, some consumers may remain exercised only as long as health data sharing is discussed on Good Morning America. But others have got it in their head that they deserve to have their doctors on the same page, with no hassles, and I can’t say the blame them. As we all know, it’s about time.

Bosch’s Telemedicine Shutdown Suggests New Models Are Needed

Posted on June 25, 2015 I Written By

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

While many new telehealth plays are rapidly gaining ground, the previous generation may be outliving its usefulness. That may be the message one can take from one giant German conglomerate’s decision to shut down its U.S. telemedicine division.

Robert Bosch GmbH recently announced that it would shut down its U.S. telehealth unit, Robert Bosch Healthcare Systems, which makes business-to-business telemedicine systems. Its offerings include patient interfaces, software and platforms.

You may never have heard of this healthcare company, nor of its massive corporate parent Robert Bosch GmbH, but it’s part of a very large conglomerate with virtually infinite resources.

As it turns out, Bosch is a massive firm which competes with market leaders like GE and Siemens. Robert Bosch GmbH, which has existed since 1886, has more than 350 subsidiaries across about 60 countries and employs about 306,000 people. (I could share more, but I’m sure you get the idea.)

While the failure of one company’s telemedicine strategy doesn’t necessarily mean death for all similar plays, it does suggest that the nimble smaller firms may have more of an advantage than it appears.

Bosch Healthcare was actually way ahead of the market with its offerings, which included remote monitoring tools such as a touch-screen device for home use after hospital discharge and a family of mHealth tools aimed at chronic care management.But they appear to have been held back by proprietary technologies in a market that demands cheap and easy.

Ultimately, the end came when the parent company wasn’t happy with how the telehealth division was performing financially, and decided to cut and run. A statement from the company said that Bosch plans to shift its medical focus to sensor technologies to support improved diagnostics.

It’s hardly surprising that a company Bosch’s size would fail to keep up with the marketplace, given its size. No matter how smart the division’s 125 employees were, they were probably saddled with big company politics which prevented them from making big changes. Not to mention low priced tablets appeared and created a low cost competitor.

The question is, will other large players follow Bosch’s lead? It will be worth noting whether other large companies cede the telehealth market to small and emerging entrants as well. It’s not a no-brainer that this will happen; after all, there’s billions to be made here. But they may actually be wise enough to know when they’re ill-equipped to proceed.

I’ll be particularly interested to see what strategies existing health IT players adopt toward telehealth. It’s unclear how they’ll react to rising consumer and professional interest in telehealth technology, but whatever they do it will probably be worth analyzing.

That being said, with smaller companies out there breaking new ground with next-gen telemedicine apps and tools, they’re probably going to be in the unusual position of playing catch up. And in this case, slow and steady may not win the race.

Lessons To Consider When Weathering M&A Transitions

Posted on June 24, 2015 I Written By

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

These days, the need for sophisticated IT infrastructure and the shift to risk-bearing insurance contracts are increasingly favoring large, muscular players. Not surprisingly, healthcare industry M&A is reaching a new peak.  Just about any substantial healthcare organization is facing the question of whether to acquire outside players and bulk up, merge with a bigger healthcare player or risk going it alone.

Particularly if you’re doing the acquiring, however, achieving critical mass is just the first in a long, difficult series of steps necessary to success. Health systems, in particular, face difficult management challenges when they try to integrate all of the moving parts necessary to survive as a next-gen organization.

A new study commissioned by West Monroe Partners, however, may shed some light on how to think about M&A integration issues. The study, which focuses on mid-market deals (between $300M and $2B) looks at post-merger integration across several industries, but I’d argue that its lessons still make sense for hospitals. Their tips for managing post-merger transitions include the following:

  • Start planning early:  West Monroe researchers found that companies which considered integration strategies as they began targeting and negotiating with merger partners were more successful in integration. Specifically, these companies were able to integrate more deeply than firms that didn’t began planning till pre-merger preparations were already under way.
  • Pay close attention to cultures: Here’s an eye-opening stat: more than half of companies surveyed by researchers said that merger value was lost due to lack of attention to differences in corporate cultures. Clearly, giving lip service to this issue but failing to address it intelligently can be costly.
  • Poor change management impacts future dealmaking:  In a clear case of “sadder but wiser,” a whopping 94% of survey respondents said that they would place more emphasis on change management next time they managed post-merger integration efforts. The study doesn’t spell out why but it seems likely that their past efforts blew up on them. Given that many health systems won’t stop at one deal in this climate, this is an important point.
  • Communicating change well is essential: About three-quarters of mid-market execs said that communicating change to their staff was one of the hardest parts of integration, and 62% said that communicating to outsiders was a major challenge. Many seem unhappy with the results of the past efforts, as 57% said this was a key area for improvement.

Some of these suggestions may be discouraging for hospital leaders. After all, required and important changes like the ICD-10 transition and ongoing EMR changes may already have staffers near burnout, and they may react badly to coping with added cultural changes.

That being said, the survey results also suggest that many of the integration challenges healthcare organizations face can be headed off somewhat by smart planning.  At least there’s something execs can do to cushion the blow.