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Managing Health Information to Ensure Patient Safety

Posted on August 17, 2016 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

This post is part of the HIM Series of blog posts. If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) have been a great addition to healthcare organizations and I know many would agree that some tasks have been significantly improved from paper to electronic. Others may still be cautious with EMRs due to the potential patient safety concerns that EMRs bring to light.

The Joint Commission expects healthcare organizations to engage in the latest health information technologies but we must do so safely and appropriately. In 2008, The Joint Commission released Sentinel Event Alert Issue 42 which advised organizations to be mindful of the patient safety risks that can result from “converging technologies”.

The electronic technologies we use to gather patient data could pose potential threats and adverse events. Some of these threats include the use of computerized physician order entry (CPOE), information security, incorrect documentation, and clinical decision support (CDS).  Sentinel Event Alert Issue 54 in 2015 again addressed the safety risks of EMRs and the expectation that healthcare organizations will safely implement health information technology.

Having incorrect data in the EMR poses serious patient safety risks that are preventable which is why The Joint Commission has put this emphasis on safely using the technology. We will not be able to blame patient safety errors on the EMR when questioned by surveyors, especially when they could have been prevented.

Ensuring medical record integrity has always been the objective of HIM departments. HIM professionals’ role in preventing errors and adverse events has been apparent from the start of EMR implementations. HIM professionals should monitor and develop methods to prevent issues in the following areas, to name a few:

Copy and paste

Ensure policies are in place to address copy and paste. Records can contain repeated documentation from day to day which could have been documented in error or is no longer current. Preventing and governing the use of copy and paste will prevent many adverse issues with conflicting or erroneous documentation.

Dictation/Transcription errors

Dictation software tools are becoming more intelligent and many organizations are utilizing front end speech recognition to complete EMR documentation. With traditional transcription, we have seen anomalies remaining in the record due to poor dictation quality and uncorrected errors. With front end speech recognition, providers are expected to review and correct their own dictations which presents similar issues if incorrect documentation is left in the record.

Information Security

The data that is captured in the EMR must be kept secure and available when needed. We must ensure the data remains functional and accessible to the correct users and not accessible by those without the need to know. Cybersecurity breaches are a serious threat to electronic data including those within the EMR and surrounding applications.

Downtime

Organizations must be ready to function if there is a planned or unexpected downtime of systems. Proper planning includes maintaining a master list of forms and order-sets that will be called upon in the case of a downtime to ensure documentation is captured appropriately. Historical information should be maintained in a format that will allow access during a downtime making sure users are able to provide uninterrupted care for patients.

Ongoing EMR maintenance

As we continue to enhance and optimize EMRs, we must take into consideration all of the potential downstream effects of each change and how these changes will affect the integrity of the record. HIM professionals need prior notification of upcoming changes and adequate time to test the new functionality. No changes should be made to an EMR without all of the key stakeholders reviewing and approving the changes downstream implications. The Joint Commission claims, “as health IT adoption becomes more widespread, the potential for health IT-related patient harm may increase.”

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

E-Patient Update: Hospitals Need Virtual Clinicians

Posted on July 20, 2016 I Written By

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

Hospitals have a lot to lose if patients are readmitted not long after discharge. But in most cases, their follow-up care coordination efforts post-discharge are perfunctory at best.

My husband’s experience seems to be typical: a few weeks after his discharge, a nurse called and asked perhaps five or six very broad questions about his status. I doubt such as superficial intervention has ever done much prevent a patient from deteriorating. But this dynamic can be changed. As an active, involved e-patient, I think it’s time to bring artificial intelligence technology into the mix.

In recent times, AI platforms have emerged that may offer a big improvement on the, well, largely nothing hospitals do to prevent patients from deteriorating after they leave the facility. In fact, artificial intelligence technology has evolved to the point where it’s possible to provide a “virtual clinician” which serves as a resource for patients.

One example of this emerging technology comes from AI startup Sense.ly, which has developed a virtual nurse named Molly. According to the company, Molly is designed to offer customized patient monitoring and follow-up care, particularly for patients with chronic diseases. Its customers include the UK’s National Health Service, Kaiser Permanente, San Mateo Medical Center, University of California San Francisco, Microsoft and Allscripts.

Molly, an avatar-based system which was designed to mimic the bedside manner patients crave, can access data to assist with real-time care decisions. It also monitors vital signs – though I imagine this works better with a remote connected device — and tracks patient compliance with meds. Molly even creates custom questionnaires on the fly to assess patients, analyzes those responses for risk, and connects patients directly to real- life clinicians if need be.

While this is admittedly a groundbreaking approach, some independent research already exists to suggest that it works. Back in 2011, Northeastern University researchers found that patients who interacted with virtual nurse Elizabeth were more likely to know their diagnoses and make follow-up appointments with their doctor, ZDNet reports.

And if you’re afraid that using such a tool exposes your facility to big legal risks, well, that’s not necessarily the case, according to veteran healthcare attorney David Harlow.

“The issue is always in the terms of use, and if you frame that properly – and build the logic properly – you should be OK,” Harlow told me. He concedes that if hospitals can be sued for patient care problems generated by EMR failures — which happens now and then — a cause of action could arise from use of virtual clinician. But my sense from talking with him was that there’s nothing inherently more dangerous about deploying an AI nurse than using any other technology as part of care.

Speaking for myself, I can’t wait until hospitals and medical practices deploy a tool like Molly, particularly if the alternative is no support at all. Like those who tested Elizabeth at Northeastern University, I’d find it much easier to exchange information with an infinitely patient, focused and nonjudgmental software entity than a rushed nurse with dozens or hundreds of other patients on their mind.

I realize that I’m probably ahead of the market in my comfort with AI technology. (My mother would have a stroke if you asked her to interact with a virtual human.) But I’d argue that patients like me are in the vanguard, and you want to keep us happy. Besides, you might be pleasantly surprised by the clinical impact such interventions can have. Seems like a win-win.

EMR Lawsuit – A Taste Of Things To Come

Posted on July 13, 2016 I Written By

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

A central Pennsylvania health system is embroiled in a court fight with Cerner amid allegations that its EMR technology has created serious patient care problems that could have led to serious harm.

PinnacleHealth, a three-hospital system based in Harrisburg, PA, is blaming series of patient care problems on its Siemens health IT technology, which was acquired by Cerner in February 2015. Apparently, PinnacleHealth had used Siemens as a vendor for 20 years, but when it grew dissatisfied with the platform, cut back its relationship with Siemens and signed a contract with Epic.

Last year, Cerner responded to PinnacleHealth’s actions with a breach of contract lawsuit, asserting that the health system hadn’t paid for services since February 2015. The suit claims that Pinnacle now owes Cerner more than $20 million.

PinnacleHealth, in turn, filed a counterclaim earlier this year in Pennsylvania state court, which seeks damages for Cerner’s alleged fraud and breach of contract. In the counterclaim, it cited several instances of problems it contends were caused by the EMR, including a case in which one patient’s blood pressure dropped dramatically after he was allegedly discharged the wrong medications. It also cites an instance in which a doctor was unable to place a pharmacy order for a newborn to receive vitamin K, a standard step taken to protect babies from serious bleeding.

While some experts are positioning this as the first of a growing number of EMR-related safety disputes, I’d argue that there’s other big issues in play which are more important to consider.

First, though it’s possible the Siemens EMR had problems, it’s impossible to know whether that had more to do with the customer’s unique IT set-up or whether there was an actual tech failure.

That being said, it’s also possible that Cerner missed something during its buyout of Siemens, a risk every vendor who acquires a technology company takes. And EMR vendor consolidation is continuing. If the acquiring vendors move too quickly, or have trouble integrating the new technology into their existing fold, will a growing number of clear-cut cases of EMR failure occur?

Also, it’s important to note that PinnacleHealth is currently battling the FTC for permission to merge with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Clearly, it needs to have technology in place which can scale and isn’t burdened by 20 years of legacy adoption if the merger goes forward. Admittedly, Penn State Hershey is a Cerner shop, not Epic, but who knows what Penn State Hershey has in mind for HIT if it does get to close the deal?

Yes, there will be some product liability litigation over alleged EMR failures. And in some cases, particularly given the ongoing M&A activity among vendors, someone will drop the ball and bad things will probably happen.

But the most important thing I see happening here is the death knell for older systems in the wake of industry consolidation. I’d keep an eye on mergers between health systems and acquisitions by EMR vendors. Those are the forces that will dictate what happens in the HIT world going forward.

Data Sharing Largely Isn’t Informing Hospital Clinical Decisions

Posted on July 6, 2016 I Written By

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

Some new data released by ONC suggests that while healthcare data is being shared far more frequently between hospitals than in the past, few hospital clinicians use such data regularly as part of providing patient care.

The ONC report, which is based on a supplement to the 2015 edition of an annual survey by the American Hospital Association, concluded that 96% of hospitals had an EHR in place which was federally tested and certified for the Meaningful Use program. That’s an enormous leap from 2009, the year federal economic stimulus law creating the program was signed, when only 12.2% of hospitals had even a basic EHR in place.

Also, hospitals have improved dramatically in their ability to share data with other facilities outside their system, according to an AHA article from February. While just 22% of hospitals shared data with peer facilities in 2011, that number had shot up to 57% in 2014. Also, the share of hospitals exchanging data with ambulatory care providers outside the system climbed from 37% to 60% during the same period.

On the other hand, hospitals are not meeting federal goals for data use, particularly the use of data not created within their institution. While 82% of hospitals shared lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries or medication lists with hospitals or ambulatory care centers outside of their orbit — up from 45% in 2009 — the date isn’t having as much of an impact as it could.

Only 18% of those surveyed by the AHA said that hospital clinicians often used patient information gathered electronically from outside sources. Another 35% reported that clinicians used such information “sometimes,” 20% used it “rarely” and 16% “never” used such data. (The remaining 11% said that they didn’t know how such data was used.)

So what’s holding hospital clinicians back? More than half of AHA respondents (53%) said that the biggest barrier to using interoperable data integrating that data into physician routines. They noted that since shared information usually wasn’t available to clinicians in their EHRs, they had to go out of the regular workflows to review the data.

Another major barrier, cited by 45% of survey respondents, was difficulty integrating exchange information into their EHR. According to the AHA survey, only 4 in 10 hospitals had the ability to integrate data into their EHRs without manual data entry.

Other problems with clinician use of shared data concluded that information was not always available when needed (40%), that it wasn’t presented in a useful format (29%) and that clinicians did not trust the accuracy of the information (11%). Also, 31% of survey respondents said that many recipients of care summaries felt that the data itself was not useful, up from 26% in 2014.

What’s more, some technical problems in sharing data between EHRs seem to have gotten slightly worse between the 2014 and 2015 surveys. For example, 24% of respondents the 2014 survey said that matching or identifying patients was a concern in data exchange. That number jumped to 33% in the 2015 results.

By the way, you might want to check out this related chart, which suggests that paper-based data exchange remains wildly popular. Given the challenges that still exist in sharing such data digitally, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

E-Patient Update: If Hospitals Were Like Airports

Posted on June 6, 2016 I Written By

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

Almost everyone reading this blog has spent some time in an airport. And though not much of it is visible on the surface, airlines do an amazing job of managing people and things seamlessly while you sit reading the New York Times and drinking your latte. People are ushered on and off of flights, baggage is dispatched around the world and airplanes maintained and fueled at a miraculous pace. Although, you probably forget about that when it’s your flight that has delays or issues.

The hospitals many of us work for also do an amazing job of managing people and things, typically in a way that patients never need notice. While the carefully orchestrated dance of care plays out, patients simply eat their meals, sleep, visit with their friends and family and provide whatever bodily fluids are necessary to diagnose them. Meanwhile, multi-million dollar IT systems help see to it that the process works.

In some ways, however, the two industries are quite different in how they work with the people they serve. And in my opinion, the healthcare system would work better if it borrowed from the airlines when it comes to using IT to simplify the customer experience.

Status updates

One thing airlines do well is keep passengers informed about the status of their flight, or the flights of those for whom they might be waiting. Airlines began posting real-time schedules and allowing passengers to preregister for flights from early in the emergence of the commercial Internet.

In more recent times, the airlines have added a mobile dimension to their customer experience, offering small but valuable services like reminder texts and mobile-only information. While being able to check on your flight from your home desktop is great, it’s even better to know what’s up as you head for the airport, and mobile apps make this possible.

Traffic information

Unlike hospitals, airlines post scrolling information on key progress indicators — i.e. arrivals and departures. While you, as a consumer, typically only need to know the status of your own flight, having a comprehensive information source sometimes allows you to better understand delays, orient yourself to time and place and even make a mental note as to which destinations your chosen airline travels.

Such displays don’t disclose any personal information about passengers, but they still offer some value to individuals, if for no other reason than that having this information available helps to put airline staff and consumers on the same page.

Kiosks

These days, many airlines allow passengers to check in for their flights and print tickets without ever speaking to a human clerk. The process not only saves time, but also personal aggravation, as waiting in long airline ticketing queues can be quite tiring.

Checking in at a kiosk also offers passengers additional reassurance that they are indeed booked on the fight of their choice, allows them to confirm their seating choice and in some cases, even add additional flight options.

Transparency is key

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. By exposing what might otherwise have been internal systems to consumers, airlines have substantially improved aspects of their customers’ experience. And they’ve done so without exposing individualized data or subjecting themselves to increased risk of hacking episodes. On the other hand, while health systems and hospitals have dabbled in these areas — for example, by posting ED waiting times on the web — it’s still something of a rarity for them to share live patient information.

Admittedly, hospitals may be leery of giving the patient too much visibility into the process they undergo. After all, their interaction with consumers is a good deal more complex than that of the airline industry, and they don’t have time to explain what they’re doing and why beyond a certain degree.

Still, as a patient who wants to know what the heck is going on with my care, a little transparency would go a long way. If you want patients to be prepared to care for themselves, treat them like adults and include them in what you’re doing.

Appointment Scheduling Site Zocdoc Connects With Epic

Posted on May 25, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Revenue Crunches During EMR Transitions

Posted on May 23, 2016 I Written By

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

Most healthcare leaders know, well before their EMR rollouts, that clinical productivity and billings may fall for a while as the implementation proceeds. That being said, it seems a surprising number are caught off guard by the extent to which payments can be lost or delayed due to technical issues during the transition. This is particularly alarming as more and more hospitals are looking at switching EHR.

Far too often, those responsible for revenue cycle issues live in a silo that doesn’t communicate well with hospital IT leadership, and the results can be devastating financially. For example, consider the case of Maine Medical Center, which took a major loss after it launched its Epic EMR in 2012, due in part to substantial problems with billing for services.

But according to McKesson execs, there’s a few steps health systems and hospitals can take to reduce the impact this transition has in your revenue cycle. Their recommendations include the following:

  • Involve revenue cycle managers in your EMR migration. Doing so can help integrate RCM and EMR technologies successfully.
  • Create a revenue cycle EMR team. The team should include the CFO, revenue cycle leaders from patient access and reimbursement, vendor reps and someone familiar with revenue cycle systems. Once this team is assembled, establish a meeting schedule, team roles and goals for participants. It’s particularly important to designate a project manager for the revenue cycle portion of your EMR rollout.
  • Before the implementation, research how RCM processes will be affected by the by the rollout, particularly how the new EMR will impact claims management workflow, speed of payment and staff workloads. Check out how the implementation will affect processes such as eligibility verification, registration data quality assurance, preauthorization and medical necessity management, pre-claim editing and remittance management.
  • Pay close attention to key performance indicators throughout the transition. These include service-to-payment velocity, Days Not Final Billed, charge trends and denial rates.

The article also recommends bringing on consultants to help with the transition. Being that McKesson is a health IT vendor, I’m not at all surprised that this is the case. But there’s something to the idea nonetheless. Self-serving though such a recommendation may be, it may help to bring in a consultant who has an outside view of these issues and is not blinkered by departmental loyalties.

That being said, over the longer term healthcare leaders need to think about ways to help RCM and IT execs see eye to eye. It’s all well and good to create temporary teams to smooth the transition to EMR use. But my guess is that these teams will dissolve quickly once the worst of the rollout is over. After all, while IT and revenue cycle management departments have common interests, their jobs differ significantly.

The bottom line is that to avoid needless RCM issues, the IT department and revenue cycle leaders need to be aligned in their larger goals. This can be fostered by financial rewards, common performance goals, cultural expectations and more, but regardless of how it happens, these departments need to be interested in working together. However, unless rewards and expectations change, they have little incentive to do so. It’s about time hospital and health system leaders address problem directly.

Are Current Population Health Tools Becoming Outdated?

Posted on May 18, 2016 I Written By

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

These days, virtually all hospitals and health systems are looking at ways to manage population health. Most of their approaches assume that it’s a matter of identifying the right big data tools and crunching the numbers, using the data already in-house. Doing this may be costly and time-consuming, but it can be done using existing databases, integration engines and the appropriate business analytics tools, or so the conventional wisdom holds.

However, at least one health IT leader disagrees. Adrian Zai, MD, clinical director of population informatics at Massachusetts General Hospital, argues that current tools designed to enable population health management can’t do the job effectively. “All of the health IT tools companies call population health today will be irrelevant because the data they look at can only see what goes through hospital, which is far too narrow in scope.”

Zai points out that most healthcare organizations attempt to leverage claims data in doing population health management analyses. But that approach is far from ideal, he told Healthcare IT News. Claims data, he points out, is typically one to two months old, which significantly limits the value healthcare providers can generate from the data. Also, most hospitals’ claims data only covers about 20% to 30% of the area’s population, he notes.

Instead, organizations need to study real-time data drawn from a significantly broader population if they hope to achieve population health management goals, Zai argues. For example, it’s important to look at the Medicaid population, whose members may get most of their care through community health centers. It’s also important to collect data from other consumer touch points. (Zai doesn’t specify which touch points he means, but mobile health and remote patient monitoring data come to mind immediately.)

I think Zai make some excellent points here. In particular, while achieving true real-time analysis is probably well the future for most healthcare organizations, the fresher data you can use the better. Certainly, analyzing archival data has a purpose, but to have a major impact on outcomes, it’s important to foster behavior change in the present.

However, I’d argue that few providers are ready to roll ahead with this approach. After all, to achieve his goals means establishing some new definitions as to what data should be included in population health analysis. And that’s not as simple as it sounds. (For a recent look at how providers look at population health, check out this survey from last summer.)

First, providers need to take a fresh look at how they define the term “population,” and develop a definition that takes in a more comprehensive view of patient data. Certainly, claims data analysis is start, but that by definition is limited to insured patients seen at the hospital. Zai recommends that population health management efforts embrace all patients seen at the hospital, insured or not. In other words, he’s recommending hospitals address the community in which they are physically located, not just the community of patients for whom they have provided care.

Just as importantly, hospitals and health systems need to consider how to collect, incorporate and analyze the exponentially-growing field of digital health data. While some middleware solutions offer to serve as a gateway for such data, it seems likely that providers will still need to do a lot of hands-on work to make use of these data sources.

Finally, providers need to continually improve the algorithms they use to pinpoint problems in a given population, as well as the ways in which they create actionable subsets of the population. For example, it may be appropriate to target patients by disease state today, but other ways of improving outcomes might arise, and providers’ IT solutions need to be flexible enough to evolve with the times.

Over time, the industry will evolve best practices for population health management, and definedthe IT tools best suited to accomplish reasons. And while some existing tools may work, I’d be surprised if most survive the transition.

From Epic Staffer To Epic Consultant

Posted on May 11, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Hospital EMR Prices Ever Fall?

Posted on May 9, 2016 I Written By

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

In most industries, prices fall as supply rises. Basic economics, right? Well, if that’s true, will the price of EMRs fall as the industry matures?  A recent discussion on LinkedIn demonstrates – as you might expect – that there’s a lot of room for debate on the topic.

Davíð Þórisson, an emergency physician at Landspitali University Hospital in Iceland, kicked things off with this question:

Now that the major workflow has been designed in all major EHR systems available it would seem the biggest part of the hospital needs are addressed. Competition should increase as more vendors catch on… prices surely must go down from here?

Nelson Wong, a senior consultant with Fuji Xerox, responded that price increases are all but inevitable when EMR vendors compete with proprietary technology:

The only way out is a vendor neutral EHR providers to integrate all systems with international standard like HL7.

Zac Whitewood-Moores, a clinical data standards specialist who’s helping to implement SNOMED CT in systems across the NHS in England, noted that EMR vendors currently have little incentive to switch to a cheaper, less-customized EMR model:

Vendors appear reluctant to share work from previous deployments and part of this has to be that the commercial model is built on consultancy, not just licensing of the IT product itself.

But Whitewood-Moores also holds out hope that true data interoperability could do the trick:

When there is more use of SNOMED CT and common interoperability models forced by purchasing goverments/health providers…this may bring down costs if customers are not locked in by their data and the costs of migrating large amounts of it.

And Ryan Pena, social media manager at MentorMate and MobCon, argued that innovation might yet reduce health data management costs:

I think the key with EHRs is to ensure the industry continues to innovate on how information is captured. Perhaps secure automation will drive down this cost as we learn ways to transfer health data from medical grade wearables?

On the other hand, other people who commented felt that even some kind of open source reference EMR wouldn’t do the trick. John Shepard, president and co-founder of HIT software vendor Shepard Health, points out that there’s actually surprisingly little pressure on vendors to lower prices, in part because the market is still evolving:

The cost of EHRs has already gone down but also up. For example, you can buy an EHR out of the box at Costco or utilize one of the open source EHRs for free. However, to get a supported enterprise-level EHR (Epic, McKesson, etc.) then the price is very high and I don’t think it will come down anytime soon…[After all,] the cost of the EHR is not preventing sales because there is minimal change in demand based on increase in cost.

Meanwhile Pim Volkert, terminologies coordinator for Nicitz, the National IT Institute for Healthcare in the Netherlands, shared an interesting view of the future. He seems to suggest that paying more for EMRs may actually be justified as they grow more sophisticated:

EHRs will move more and more into the clinical domains. [They] will become a medical device just like an MRI or DaVinci robot. Development, testing of software and liability insurance fees will increase costs.

Obviously, there’s no way to predict exactly where EMR prices will go, but I’m more on the side of the posters suggesting that enterprise EMRs have nowhere to go but up. I hope I’m wrong!