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NYC Hospitals Face Massive Problems With Epic Install

Posted on August 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.

A municipal hospital system’s Epic EMR install has gone dramatically south over the past two years, with four top officials being forced out and a budget which has more than doubled.

In early 2013, New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. announced that it had signed a $302 million EMR contract with Epic. The system said that it planned to implement the Epic EMR at 11 HHC hospitals, four long term care facilities, six diagnostic treatment centers and more than 70 community-based clinics.

The 15-year contract, which was set to be covered by federal funding, was supposed to cover everything from soup to nuts, including software and database licenses, professional services, testing and technical training, software maintenance, and database support and upgrades.

Fast forward to the present, and the project has plunged into crisis. The budget has expanded to $764 million, and HHC’s CTO, CIO, the CIO’s interim deputy and the project’s head of training have been given the axe amidst charges of improper billing. Seven consultants — earning between $150 and $185 an hour — have also been kicked off of the payroll.

With HHC missing so many top leaders, the system has brought in a consulting firm to stabilize the Epic effort. Washington, DC-based Clinovations, which brought in an interim CMIO, CIO and other top managers to HHC, now has a $4 million, 15-month contract to provide project management.

The Epic launch date for the first two hospitals in the network was originally set for November 2014 but has been moved up to April 2016, according to the New York PostHHC leaders say that the full Epic launch should take place in 2018 if all now goes as planned. The final price tag for the system could end up being as high as $1.4 billion, the newspaper reports.

So how did the massive Epic install effort go astray? According to an audit by the city’s Technology Development Corp., the project has been horribly mismanaged. “At one point, there were 14 project managers — but there was no leadership,” the audit report said.

The HHC consultants didn’t help much either, according to an employee who spoke to the Post. The employee said that the consultants racked up travel, hotels and other expenses to train their own employees before they began training HHC staff.

HHC is now telling the public that things will be much better going forward. Spokeswoman Ana Marengo said that the chain has adopted a new oversight and governance structure that will prevent the implementation from falling apart again.”We terminated consultants, appointed new leadership, and adopted new timekeeping tools that will help strengthen the management of this project,” Marengo told the newspaper.

What I’d like to know is just what items in the budget expanded so much that a $300-odd million all-in contract turned into a $1B+ debacle. While nobody in the Post articles has suggested that Epic is at fault in any of this, it seems to me that it’s worth investigating whether the vendor managed to jack up its fees beyond the scope of the initial agreement. For example, if HHC was forced to pay for more Epic support than it had originally expected it wouldn’t come cheap. Then again, maybe the extra costs mostly come from paying for people with Epic experience. Epic has driven up the price of these people by not opening up the Epic certification opportunities.

On the surface, though, this appears to be a high-profile example of a very challenging IT project that went bad in a hurry. And the fact that city politics are part of the mix can’t have been helpful. What happened to HHC could conceivably happen to private health systems, but the massive budget overrun and billing questions have government stamped all over them. Regardless, for New York City patients’ sake I hope HHC gets the implementation right from here on in.

Even Without Meaningful Use Dollars, EMRs Still Selling

Posted on June 10, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitals Favor IT Investments Over Cash on Hand

Posted on June 5, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partners Goes With $1.2B Epic Installation

Posted on June 2, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospitals Should Give Smartphones To Sick Patients

Posted on June 1, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: Scribes Have Positive Financial Impact

Posted on May 22, 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.

Many hospitals, and some larger medical practices, have been using scribes to capture medical documentation within EMRs — leaving the provider free to make old-fashioned eye contact with patients.

Using the scribe might sound like a crude workaround to techies, but it’s been a hit with emergency department doctors, who prefer to focus on their brief, critical encounters with patients rather than the hospital’s expensive toy.

While it was clear from the outset that doctors loved having a scribe to support them, there’s been scant evidence that the scribe was anything other than an added cost.

A recent study, however, has concluded that at least from a Case Mix Index standpoint, scribes can have a meaningful impact on a hospital’s revenue.  The study, which evaluated the use of scribes between 2012 and 2014 across a group of hospitals, concluded that the scribes save money and boost patient-doctor communication.

The study, which was designed to capture the impact of medical scribes on a hospital’s CMI, linked Best Practices Inpatient Care Ltd. with Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, Advocate Condell Medical Center and hospitalist-specific medical scribes from ScribeAmerica LLC.

Kicking things off to a good start, ScribeAmerica and Best Practices put scribes through a jointly-developed course that emphasized workflow, productivity and accurate inpatient documentation. The researchers then tallied the results of using trained scribes over a two-year period in the two hospitals.

From 2012 to 2014, researchers found that for both Advocate Condell Medical Center and Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, CMI values climbed after medical scribes came on board.  Advocate Good Shepherd’s CMI grew by .26 and Condell Medical’s CMI rose .28. These are pretty significant numbers given that a CMI growth of 0.1% typically translates to a gain of about $4,500 per patient. In this case, the hospitals gained roughly $12,000 per patient.

These findings make sense when you consider that using scribes seems to have served its purpose, which is to be extenders for providers who’d otherwise be hunched over an EMR screen.

Researchers found that inpatient physicians at the two hospitals studied were able to cut time spent on chart updates by about 10 minutes per patient on average. This profit-building effect is enhanced by the fact that scribes often get discharge summaries prepared immediately, rather than within 72 hours as is often the case in other hospitals.

That being said, it should be noted that the study we’ve summarized here was co-written by the CEO of Best Practices, which clearly invested a lot of time and effort training the scribes for the specific tasks important to the study.

Still, the study does suggest, at minimum, that scribes need not necessarily be written off as an expense, given their capacity for freeing providers for billable clinical activity. Ideally, IT vendors will develop an EMR that doctors actually want to use and don’t need an intermediary to work with effectively.  But until that happy day arrives, scribes seem like they can make a difference.

Four Things You Should Know About Deloitte’s “Evergreen” EHR Program

Posted on February 20, 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.

Recently, consulting giant Deloitte announced a new program, named “Evergreen,” designed to cut down the cost of implementing and operating hospital EHRs. Unfortunately, much of the Evergreen coverage in the health IT trade press was vague or downright wrong, as it suggested that Deloitte was actually going into the EHR business itself. The key point Deloitte sought to make — that it could implement and operate EHRs for 20% to 30% less than hospitals — did come across, but the rest was a bit jumbled.

Having spoken to Mitch Morris, global healthcare leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, I can clarify much of what was confusing about the Evergreen announcement and subsequent coverage.  Here’s some key points I took away from my chat with Morris:

  • Evergreen is a suite of services, not a product:  Though some HIT editors seem to have been confused by this, Evergreen isn’t an EHR offering itself.  It’s a set of EHR implementation and operation services provided by Deloitte Consultants. Evergreen also includes a financing scheme allowing hospitals and health systems to obtain a new EHR by making a series of equal payments to Deloitte over five to seven years. (“It’s like leasing a car,” Morris noted.) This allows hospitals to get into the EHR without making an enormous upfront capital investment over the first 18 months.
  • Evergreen is only offered in tandem with an Epic purchase:  The Evergreen program arose from what Deloitte learned after doing a great deal of work with Epic EHRs, including the famous multi-billion install at Kaiser Permanente and an extensive rollout for large hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives. So at the outset, the program is only available to hospitals that want to go with Epic.  Deloitte is considering other EHR vendors for Evergreen partnership but has made no decisions as to which it might add to the program.
  • Both onshore and offshore services are available through Evergreen:  One might assume that Deloitte is offering lower implementation and operation costs by offshoring all of the work.  Not so, Morris says. While Deloitte does offer services based in India and Ireland, it also taps U.S. operations as needed. Clients can go with offshore labor, onshore labor or a mix of services drawing on both.
  • This is a new application services management offering for Deloitte:  While the consulting giant has been managing Oracle and SAP installations for clients for some time, managing EHR platforms is a new part of its business, Morris notes.

According to Morris, Deloitte expects Evergreen customers to include not only health systems and hospitals that want to switch EHRs system-wide, but also those which have done some acquisitions and want to put all of their facilities on the same platform. “It’s expensive for a health system to maintain two or three brands, but they often can’t afford the upfront capital costs of putting every hospital on the same EHR,” he said. “We smooth out the costs so they can just make a payment every month.”

This could certainly be a big score for Epic, which is likely to scoop up more of the EHR-switching systems if Deloitte helps the systems cope with the costs. And Deloitte is likely to get many takers. Let’s see, though, whether it can actually follow through on the savings it promises. That could change the EHR game as we know it.

CIOs Want More Responsibility — And It’s About Time They Get It

Posted on January 19, 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 life of a healthcare CIO is a tough one. More than ever before, healthcare CIOs walk a fine line between producing great technical results and thinking strategically about how technology serves clinicians. As with their more junior peers, many healthcare CIOs only get noticed when something breaks or goes offline. Worse, healthcare CIOs may get the blame dumped on them when a big project — especially a mission-critical one like an EMR implementation — fails due to problems beyond their control.

But despite the political battles they must fight, and the punishing demands they must meet, healthcare CIOs are largely satisfied with their career paths — as long as they have a shot at getting more responsibility that can help them move their organization’s strategy forward. This, at least, is the conclusion of a new survey by SSi-SEARCH.

SSi-SEARCH surveyed 169 CIOs to learn how they felt about key aspects of their job, according to iHealthBeat.  All told, the researchers found that CIOs are most satisfied with the trajectory of their career, compensation and strategic involvement. (This is a significant change from a couple of years ago, when CIOs told SSi-SEARCH that their pay wasn’t keeping up with the growth in their responsibilities.)

On the other hand, healthcare CIOs were markedly dissatisfied with the resources available to them, and almost half (48%) said that there will need to be changes within the next year. That’s certainly no surprise. As we’ve noted in this space before, not only do healthcare CIOs need to implement or further augment EMRs and handle the switch from ICD-9 to ICD-10, many need to make costly upgrades to or replace their revenue cycle management systems.

Even if their institution can’t increase their budget, healtlhcare CIOs would be somewhat mollified if they got some respect for some of the softer skills they bring to the table.

Forty-five percent of those surveyed said they wanted recognition for improving patient safety, 44 percent said they wanted to be recognized for innovation, and 37 percent wanted CEOs to appreciate their skill at “bringing departments together,”  SSi-SEARCH found.

Not surprisingly, they want to be appreciated for their overall contributions to their institutions as well. While 69 percent of CIOs felt that their work was “critically important” to the strategic mission of their organization, and 29 percent felt they had been “very important,” some of their employers don’t seem to see it. In fact, 23 percent of those CIOs surveyed felt that they hadn’t been recognized at all.

Sadly, though the healthcare CIO’s job has evolved far from bits and bytes to projects and strategies that directly impact outcomes, not every institution is ready to give them credit. But if they have CIOs pigeonholed as tech wizards, they’d better change their tune.

Giving CIOs the latitude, responsibility and budget they need to do a great job is enormously important. If healthcare organizations don’t, they’ll never meet the demands they currently face, much less emerging problems like population health management, big data and mobile health. This is a make-or-break moment in the dance between healthcare organizations and IT, and it’s not a good time for a misstep.

Hospitals Put Off RCM Upgrades Due To #ICD10, #MU Focus

Posted on December 29, 2014 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.

If you look closely at the financial news coming out of the hospital business lately, you’ll hear the anguished screams of revenue cycle managers whose infrastructure just isn’t up to the task of coping with collections in today’s world. Though members of the RCM department — and outside pundits — have done their best to draw attention to this issue, signs suggest that getting better systems put in has been a surprisingly tough sell. This is true despite a fair amount of evidence from recent hospital financial disasters that focusing on an EMR at the expense of revenue cycle management can be quite destructive.

And a new study underscores the point. According to a recent Black Book survey of chief financial officers, revenue cycle upgrades at U.S. hospitals have taken a backseat to meeting the looming October 2015 ICD-10 deadline, as well as capturing Meaningful Use incentives. Meanwhile, progress on upgrades to revenue cycle management platforms has been agonizingly slow.

According to the Black Book survey, two thirds of hospitals contacted by researchers in 2012 said that they plan to replace their existing revenue cycle management platform with a comprehensive solution. But when contacted this year, two-thirds of those hospitals still hadn’t done the upgrade. (One is forced to wonder whether these hospitals were foolish enough to think the upgrade wasn’t important, or simply too overextended to stick with their plans.)

Sadly, despite the risks associated with ignoring the RCM upgrade issue, a lot of small hospitals seem determined to do so. Fifty-one percent of under 250 bed hospitals are planning to delay RCM system improvements until after the ICD-10 deadline passes in 2015, Black Book found.

The CFOs surveyed by Black Book feel they’re running out of time to make RCM upgrades. In fact, 83% of the CFOs from hospitals with less than 250 beds expect their RCM platforms to become obsolete within two years if not replaced or upgraded, as they’re rightfully convinced that most payers will move to value-based reimbursement. And 95% of those worried about obsolescence said that failing to upgrade or replace the platform might cost them their jobs, reports Healthcare Finance News.

Unfortunately for both the hospitals and the CFOs, firing the messenger won’t solve the problem. By the time laggard hospitals make their RCM upgrades, they’re going to have a hard time catching up with the industry.

If they wait that long, it seems unlikely that these hospitals will have time to choose, test and implement RCM platform upgrades, much less implement new systems, much before early 2017, and even that may be an aggressive prediction. They risk going into a downward spiral in which they can’t afford to buy the RCM platform they really need because, well, the current RCM platform stinks. Not only that, the ones that are still engaged in mega dollar EMR implementations may not be able to afford to support those either.

Admittedly, it’s not as though hospitals can blithely ignore ICD-10 or Meaningful Use. But letting the revenue cycle management infrastructure go for so long seems like a recipe for disaster.

Another Health System’s Finances Weighed Down By Epic Investment

Posted on December 26, 2014 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 Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. may intend to be “the high-quality and low-cost provider” in its region, spending $200 million on an EMR purchase has got to make that a bit more, shall we say, challenging.

While health systems nationwide are struggling with issues not of their own making, such as some states’ decision not to expand Medicaid, it appears that Baptist Memorial’s financial troubles have at least some relationship to the size of its 2012 investment in an Epic EMR platform.

Baptist, which let 112 workers go in September, has seen Standard & Poor’s lower its long-term rating on the health system’s bond debt twice since mid-2013.  Through June, the system’s losses totaled $124 million, according to S&P.

Baptist employs 15,000 workers at 14 hospitals located across the mid-south of the US, so the staffing cuts clearly don’t constitute a mass layoffs. What’s more, the layoffs are concentrated corporate services, Baptist reports, suggesting that the chain is being careful not to gut its clinical services infrastructure. In other words, I’m not suggesting that Baptist is completely falling apart, Epic investment or no.

But the health system’s financial health has deteriorated significantly over the past few years. After all, back in 2009, S&P gave Baptist Memorial a long-term ‘AA’ rating, based on its strong liquidity and low debt levels; history of positive excess income and good cash flow; and solid and stable market share in his total surface area, with favorable growth in metropolitan Memphis.

However, at this point Baptist is clearly struggling, so much so that is taking the extraordinary step of cutting the salaries of top executives in the system by 22% to 23%. That includes cutting the salary of health system CEO Jason Little. But this is clearly a symbolic gesture, as executive pay cuts can’t dent multimillion dollar operating revenue shortfalls.

So what will help Baptist improve its financial health? In public statements,  Baptist CEO Little has said that the hospitals’ length of stay has been excessive for the compensation that they get from payers, and that fixing this is his key focus. This problem, of course, is only likely to get worse as value-based reimbursement becomes the rule, so that strategy seems to make sense.

But Baptist is also going to have to live with its IT spending decisions, and it seems obvious that they’ve had long-term repercussions. I don’t think any outsider can say whether Baptist should have bought the Epic system, or how much it should have spent, but the investment has clearly been a strain.