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ACOs Stuck In Limbo In Trying To Build HIT Infrastructure

Posted on September 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.

Though they try to present themselves differently, ACOs are paper tigers. While they may be bound together by the toughest contracts an army of lawyers can devise, they really aren’t integrated in a meaningful way.

After all, the hospitals and medical groups that make up the ACO still have their own leadership, they don’t generally hold assets in common other than funds to support the ACO’s operations, and they’re definitely not in a great position to integrate technically.

So it comes as no surprise that a recent study has found that ACOs are having a hard time with interoperability and rolling out advanced health IT functions.

The study, a joint effort by Premier and the eHealth Initative, surveyed 62 ACOs. It found that 86% had an EMR, 74% had a disease registry, 58% had a clinical decision support system, and 28% had the ability to build a master patient index.

Adding advanced IT functions is prohibitively difficult for many, researchers said. Of the group, 100% said accessing external data was difficult, 95% said it was too costly, 95% cite the lack of interoperability, 90% cite the lack of funding or return on investment and 88% said integration between various EMRs and other sources of data was a barrier to interoperability.

So what you’ve got here is groups of providers who are expected to deliver efficient, coordinated care or risk financial penalties, but don’t have the ability to track patients moving from provider to provider effectively. This is a recipe for disaster for ACOs, which are having trouble controlling risk even without the added problem of out of synch health IT systems.

By the way, if ACOs hope to make things easier by merging with some of the partners, that may not work either. The FTC — the government’s antitrust watchdog — has begun to take a hard look at many hospital and physician mergers. While hospitals say that they are acquiring their peers to meet care coordination goals, the FTC isn’t buying it, arguing that doctors and hospitals can generally achieve the benefits of coordinated care without a full merger.

This leaves ACOs in a very difficult position. If they risk the FTC’s ire by merging with other providers, but can’t achieve interoperability as separate entities, how are they going to meet the goals they are required to meet by health insurers? (I think there’s little doubt, at this point, that truly successful ACOs will have to find a way to integrate health IT systems smoothly.)  It’s an ugly situation that’s only likely to get uglier.

UPMC Kicks Off Mobility Program

Posted on July 1, 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’re going to look at how physicians use health IT in hospitals, it doesn’t hurt to go to doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a $10 billion collosus with a history of HIT innovation. UPMC spans 21 hospitals and employs more than 3,500 physicians, and it’s smack in the middle of a mobile rollout.

Recently, Intel Health & Life Sciences blogger Ben Wilson reached to three UPMC doctors responsible for substantial health IT work, including Dr. Rasu Shrestha, Vice President of Medical Information for all of UPMC, Dr. Oscar Marroquin, a cardiologist responsible for clinical analytics and new care model initiatives, and Dr. Shivdev Rao, an academic cardiologist.

We don’t have space to recap all of the stuff Wilson captured in his interview, but here’s a few ideas worth taking away from the doctors’ responses:

Healthcare organizations are “data rich and information poor”: UPMC, for its part, has 5.4 petabytes of data on hand, and that store of data is doubling every 18 months. According to Dr. Shrestha, hospitals must find ways to find patterns and condense data in a useful, intelligent, actionable manner, such as figuring out whether there are specific times you must alert clinicians, and determine whether there are specific sensors tracking to specific types of metrics that are important from a HIM perspective.

Mobility has had a positive impact on patient care:  These doctors are enthusiastic about the benefits of mobility.  Dr. Marroquin notes that not only do mobile devices put patient care information at his finger tips and allow for intelligent solutions, it also allows him to share information with patients, making it easier to explain why he’s doing a give test or treatment.

BYOD can work if sensitive information is protected:  UPMC has been supporting varied mobile devices that physicians bring into its facilities, but has struggled with security and access. Dr. Shrestha notes that he and his colleagues have been very careful to evaluate all of the devices and different operating systems, making sure data doesn’t reside on a mobile device without some form of security.

On the self-promotion front, Wilson asks the doctors about a pilot  project (an Intel and Microsoft effort dubbed Convergence) in which clinicians use Surface tablets powered by Windows 8. Given that this is an Intel blog, you won’t be surprised to read that Dr. Shrestha is quite happy with the Surface tablet, particularly the form factor which allows doctors to flip the screen over and actually show patients trends.

Regardless, it’s interesting to hear from doctors who are gradually changing how they practice due to mobile tech. Clearly, UPMC has solved neither its big data problems nor phone/tablet security issues completely, but it seems that its management is deeply engaged in addressing these issues.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how far Convergence gets. Right now, Convergence just involves giving heart doctors at UPMC’s Presbyterian Hospital a couple dozen Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets, but HIT leaders plan to eventually roll out 2,000 of the tablets.

Which Health IT Is Poised For Hospital Growth?

Posted on January 21, 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.

Wondering which hospital applications are likely to be popular in the near future?  According to HIMSS Analytics, contenders include patient portals, clinical data warehousing/mining, and radiology barcoding software are poised for faster uptake in hospitals.

To gather this information, HIMSS Analytics did an analysis of the current market penetration and projected five-year sales trajectory each application considered in its Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM) report.  Researchers found that first-time purchases of these advanced EMR applications should grow dramatically in hospitals across the U.S.

According to Healthcare Informatics, there are good reasons why each of these three technology should be on the upswing in hospitals.  For example, the patient portal market is growing because it’s tied to Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.  Expected growth in sales of clinical data warehousing/mining technology is tied to the need to leverage data held in EMRs, and it’s that that sales increases in and radiology barcoding are probably associated with patient safety initiatives.

Meanwhile, the report also noted that several basic applications which have already saturated the hospital market will be responsible for a high-volume IT replacement sales, including laboratory barcoding, pharmacy management systems and information systems for radiology and laboratorydepartments.

The report from HIMSS seemingly doesn’t take mobile applications and systems into account — I’d argue because they are not yet seen as enterprise-level tools — but I think hospitals will be spending more on mobile technology than anticipate over the next few years, as tablets and smartphones become a permanent part of their infrastructure.  Just how fast that will happen remains to be seen, but it will happen.

The CIO’s Guide to HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging

Posted on January 15, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

Yesterday I wrote a piece on EMR and EHR where I talk about why Secure Text Messaging is Better Than SMS. I think it makes a solid case for why every organization should be using some sort of secure text messaging solution. Plus, I do so without trying to use fear of HIPAA violations to make the case.

However, you can certainly make the case for a secure text messaging solution in healthcare based on HIPAA compliance. In fact, the people at Imprivata have essentially made that case really well in their CIO Guide to HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging. This is well worth a read if you’re in a healthcare organization that could be at risk for insecure texting (yes, that’s every organization).

They break down the path to compliance into 3 steps:

  1. Policy – Establish an organizational policy
  2. Product – Identify and appropriate text messaging solution
  3. Practice – Implement and actively managing the text messaging solution.

Texting is a reality in hospitals today and the best solution isn’t suppression, but enabling users with a secure solution. The checklists in the CIO Guide to HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging provide a great foundation for making sure your organization is enabling your users in a HIPAA compliant manner.

Epic to Epic Conversion

Posted on December 30, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

Gabriel Perna has a great article on Healthcare Informatics discussing an EHR conversion that I hadn’t considered. What happens when a hospital system acquires another hospital system and they both use the Epic EHR? Here’s the challenge as described in the article:

“As we got into it, we realized Epic had done [a conversion from] IC Chart [InteGreat from Med3000] before, they had done Cerner-to-Epic conversions, they had done McKesson-to-Epic conversions. They had done those before, and they do them well. They hadn’t done Epic-to-Epic before. That was the area where they were least experienced in. It was a lot more work to do,” says [Bob] DeGrand, who assumed the position of CIO [of Froedtert Health] in January of 2009, a few months after the West Bend affiliation became official.

As we continue on our path of hospital system consolidation, this is going to become more and more of an issue. As those familiar with Epic know, every Epic installation is unique. I was recently told by someone that even within the all Epic Kaiser there are multiple Epic installations and they have a challenge communicating with each other. Now think about what that means if you’re trying to merged two different Epic installations.

The article also points out that one of the biggest challenges in a merge like this is overlapping patients and ensuring that you merge them properly. Patient identity is a big challenge in any hospital system, but even more important when you’re looking to merge two large hospital systems that have relatively close proximity with similar patient populations.

I’d be interested to hear from other people who might have gone through an Epic to Epic conversion. What challenges did you face? Would you have rather had a Cerner to Epic conversion?

Kaiser Permanente Branch Joins Epic Network

Posted on December 26, 2013 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.

Though it apparently held out for a while, Kaiser Permanente Northern California has signed on to Epic Systems’ Care Everywhere, a network which allows Epic users to share various forms of clinical information, Modern Healthcare reports.

Care Everywhere allows participants to get a wide range of patient data, including real-time access to patient and family medical histories, medications, lab tests, physician notes and previous diagnoses. The Care Everywhere network debuted in California in 2008, and has since grown to a national roster of more than 200 Epic users.

Many of the state’s major healthcare players are involved, including Sutter Health, as well as prominent regional players such as Stanford Hospital and Clinics, USCF Medical Center and UC Davis Health System, according to Modern Healthcare. Kaiser Permanente Southern California also participates in the network.

According to Epic, the Care Everywhere system allows patients to take information with them between institutions whether or not both institutions use the Epic platform. Information can come from another Epic system, a non-Epic EMR that complies with industry standards, or directly from the patient.

But of course, the vendor likes to see Epic-to-Epic transmission best, as it notes on the corporate site: “When an Epic system is on both sides of the exchange, a richer data set is exchanged and additional conductivity options such as cross-organization referral management are available.”

Care Everywhere also comes with Lucy, a freestanding PHR not connected to any facility’s EMR system. According to Epic, Lucy follows patients wherever they receive care, and gathers data into a single source that’s readily accessible to clinicians and patients. Patients can enter health data directly into Lucy or upload Continuity of Care Documents from other facilities.

While connecting 200+ healthcare organizations together is a notable accomplishment, Care Everywhere is not going to end up as the default national HIE matter how hard Epic tries. As long as the vendor behind the HIE (Epic) has a strong incentive to favor one form of data exchange over another, it cuts down the likelihood that you’ll have true interoperability between these players. Still, I’ve got to admit it’s a pretty interesting development. Let’s see what healthcare organizations have to say that try to work with Care Everywhere without owning an Epic system.

P.S. It’ll also be interesting to see whether Epic is actually “best” for ACOs, as a KLAS study of a couple of years ago suggested. More recent data suggests that best-of-breed tools will be necessary to build an ACO, even if your organization has taken the massive Epic plunge.

Cerner Forced To Pay Out Large Settlement To Customer

Posted on December 17, 2013 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.

Cerner has struck a settlement agreement with one of its customers which will force the giant IT vendor to take significant charge against its fourth-quarter earnings.

The client, Trinity Medical Center of Minot, N.D., claimed last year that the patient accounting software sold by Cerner in 2008 was defective and didn’t deliver on the promised business benefits.

In the suit, the medical center asked for $240 million in damages, while Cerner only estimated damages of $4 million.  To settle the matter, the two parties agreed to go into arbitration, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

While the amount of the settlement was not disclosed in court filings, Cerner clearly got its clock cleaned. The vendor issued a statement saying that it “strongly disagreed” with the amount the hospital was awarded.

As a result of the arbitration settlement, Cerner will take a charge of $0.18 to $0.19 per share for the quarter ending Dec. 23, 2013. Clearly, Cerner came out on the wrong side of the deal, and then some. And it’s not used to losing. The vendor’s statement also noted that this settlement was “the only material judgment against Cerner in its 34-year history.”

While both Cerner and Wall Street will get over this matter, it’s still something of a landmark in the IT vendor business. Most of the time, IT vendor contracts have customers so tied up in knots that they can’t even speak about their experiences with the product, much less take the vendor to court for for poor product performance.

ICUs Can Improve Survival, Speed Discharges Using Telehealth

Posted on December 10, 2013 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.

ICUs can boost patient survival rates and speed ICU and hospital discharge rates if they use tele-ICU technologies, a study published  in CHEST Journal concludes, according to a report in iHealthBeat.

The study involved researching the impact of tele-ICU technologies in 56 ICUs that were part of 32 hospitals and 19 health systems, tracking them over a five-year period, according to iHealthBeat. The project, which was led by Craig Lilly, director of UMass Memorial Medical Center’s eICU Program, involved more than 110,000 patients.

The hospitals involved in the study used the Phillips Healthcare eICU technology, a comprehensive set-up which included bidirectional audio and video equipment, population management tools and real-time and retrospective reporting tools.

The study looked at how ICU doctors created treatments based on best practices, and responded to patient alerts and alarms, iHealthBeat notes.

Researchers found that patients who received care in hospitals using telemedicine were 26 percent more likely to survive in the ICU than patients in units that didn’t use tele-ICU technologies. It also found that patients were 16 percent more likely to survive their hospitalization than their counterparts who didn’t receive tele-ICU services.

What’s more, researchers found that patients in ICUs using telemedicine saw 20 percent faster discharges in the ICU and 15 percent faster hospital discharges.

This research strongly suggests that tele-ICU is maturing, and should be taken seriously as part of a hospital’s treatment arsenal.  In fact, your hospital might want to take a look at a new set of best practices created by the New England Healthcare Institute designed to make tele-ICU more scalable and accessible to hospitals.

Ultimately, the ideal is to connect telemedicine — and other remote sources of data — to hospital EMRs, allowing a new level of collaboration between far-flung clinicians. But in the mean time, it seems that tele-ICU can offer great benefits even if it creates a data silo for the time being.

What Can Go Wrong With An Epic Implementation

Posted on December 9, 2013 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.

With Epic owning the lion’s share of new EMR implementations — it has as many in progress or planned as all other major vendors combined — it’s good to stop and look at just what can go wrong with an Epic implementation.

After all, while Epic installations are a fact of life, all of the news they generate isn’t good. In fact, a growing number of stories of botched Epic installs and institutional fallout are beginning to mount.

In an effort to do learn more about Epic’s strengths and weaknesses, researchers at The Advisory Board Company interviewed some of Epic’s most experienced U.S. hospital customers, as well as some of the busiest Epic implementation consultants, writes senior research director Doug Thompson.

As Thompson points out, the problems Advisory Board identified could impact any big EMR install, but with Epic in the lead, it doesn’t hurt to focus on its products specifically.  (By the way, according to the Advisory Board, there were 194 Epic installs in process or contracted for 2012 and 2013; the closest competitor, MEDITECH, had 59 and Cerner came in at 55.)

So what’s behind the stumbling? Thompson names several limitations to Epic’s own approach to implementation, including the following:

* Its young implementation staffers may be enthusiastic, but some lack operational experience in hospitals or medical practices, which means they rely heavily on Epic’s standard methods and tools –and that may not be adequate for some situations.

* Though Epic’s recommended implementation staffing numbers are higher than that of most other EMR vendors, their estimate nonetheless falls short often by 20 percent to 30 percent of the need.

*Epic’s “foundation” (model) installation plan limits customization or extensive configuration until after the EMR has gone live, which can lead to less physician buy-in and end-user cooperation.

To address these concerns, Thompson offers fourteen techniques to help hospitals get the value they want.  Some of my favorites include:

Begin with the end in mind: Make sure your facility has specific, measurable benefits they hope to achieve with your Epic implementation, and prepare to measure and manage progress in that direction.

Governance: Make sure you assign appropriate roles and responsibilities in managing your Epic rollout and ongoing use. While IT will serve as the linchpin of the project, of course, it’s critical to make sure the appropriate operations leaders have a clear sense of how Epic can and should affect their areas of responsibility.

Get outside input on project staffing: While Epic is upfront about the need for extensive staffing in its implementation, as noted its estimates still come in rather low. It’s a good idea to get in objective outside estimate as to how big the project staff really needs to be.

For more information, I highly recommend you read the full Advisory Board brief. But in short, as  the report concludes, it seems that relying too much on Epic’s approach, staff and tools can lead to problems. Surprised?

Can Big Data Do What Vendors Claim?

Posted on December 6, 2013 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.

There’s no doubt about it — the air is ringing with the sounds of vendors promising big things from big data, from population health to clinical support to management of bundled payments. But can they really offer these blessings?  According to enterprise health IT architect Michael Planchart (known to many as @theEHRGuy), there’s a lot of snake oil sales going on.

In his experience, many of the experts on what he calls Big Bad Data either weren’t in healthcare or have never touched healthcare IT until the big data trend hit the industry. And they’re pitching the big data concept to providers that aren’t ready, he says:

  • Most healthcare providers haven’t been collecting data in a consistent way with a sound data governance model.
  • Most hospitals have paper charts that collect data in unstructured and disorganized ways.
  • Most hospitals — he asserts — have spent millions or even billions of dollars on EMRs but have been unable to implement them properly. (And those that have succeeded have done so in “partial and mediocre ways,” he says.)

Given these obstacles,  where is big data going to come from today? Probably not the right place, he writes:

Well, some geniuses from major software vendors thought they could get this data from the HL7 transactions that had been moving back and forth between systems.  Yes, indeed.  They used some sort of “aggregation” software to extract this data out of HL7 v2.x messages.  What a disaster!  Who in their sane mind would think that transactional near real time data could be used as the source for aggregated data?

As Planchart sees it, institutions need quality, pertinent, relevant and accurate data, not coarsely aggregated data from any of the sources hospitals and providers have. Instead of rushing into big data deals, he suggests that CIOs start collecting discrete, relevant and pertinent data within their EMRs, a move which will pay off over the next several years.

In the mean time, my colleague John Lynn suggests, it’s probably best to focus on “skinny data” – a big challenge in itself given how hard it can be to filter out data “noise” — rather than aggregate a bunch of high volume data from all directions.