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Real-Time Health Systems (RTHS) and Experiential Wayfinding

Posted on May 19, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jody Shaffer from Jibestream.

You have probably heard about Real-Time Health Systems (RTHS). This is a game-changing trend among healthcare providers where the delivery of healthcare is transforming to a more aware and patient-centric system. Providers are leveraging technology to get pertinent information to decision makers as quickly as possible empowering them to make more informed decisions in real-time. Facilities that are amenable to change will remain strong in competitive markets, while those who are reluctant to adapt will fall behind.

As we entered this new era in healthcare, providers are faced with a series of challenges. Smart medical devices are transforming the healthcare dynamic as medical data and information is produced and multiplying at an exponential rate, yet it’s use has not been keeping pace. This data overload has created a significant obstacle for healthcare providers to overcome. There is also intense pressure to create a consumer and patient experience that is dynamic, accessible and engaging.

So the question is, how can healthcare providers quickly process and interpret copious amounts of data into a digestible format for immediate patient consumption while internalizing and translating the same data into operational intelligence?

The answer lies in evolving to a paradigm that is situationally aware and patient-centric in both operations and management. Not only is this pivotal in successfully achieving a RTHS, it ensures that healthcare providers connect, communicate and collaborate more effectively than they have in the past.

When looking to achieve a Real-Time Healthcare System, there are four primary phases that need to be addressed:

Phase 1 – Collecting data

Phase 2 – Processing data

Phase 3 – Translating data into intelligence

Phase 4 – Utilizing/sharing data

The final two phases are essential for healthcare providers to excel in this changing market dynamic and meet increasing patient expectations.

To yield valuable intelligence, data needs to be presented with situational context. Raw data is in itself useful for analytics, but can only be leveraged to create spatial awareness when augmented with location-based data.

Consumers have grown accustomed to the convenience of real-time access to information from mobile devices and apps, and healthcare is no exception. Through a combination of location-aware technologies, hospitals can eliminate some of patient’s biggest frustrations fostering a more positive patient experience across the continuum of care.

Mobile apps, digital maps and interactive kiosks leverage connected technologies to help create a more familiar and engaging environment promoting an effortless and seamless patient experience.

Experiential wayfinding, made available through these technologies, form the foundation for enhancing patient experience, which is paramount to the success of a healthcare organization. Experiential wayfinding reduces the complexity of indoor spaces by anticipating where people are going and what they are looking for. It can be used to direct visitors to a facility and identify parking availability nearest their desired location. Once there, it can be used to guide visitors to destination(s) within a facility using turn-by turn directions making it easy and less stressful to get where they need to go.

An integrated platform can also enable proactive interactions engaging patients before, during, and after hospital visits. The use of mobile messaging to deliver contextual content based on a patient’s location and profile help create a more pleasant and efficient patient experience. Prior to a visitor’s departure to a hospital, the facility’s mobile apps can share information such as appointment delays or traffic delays to take into account on the way there. Mobile messaging also enables facilities to communicate with visitors by sending appointment reminders, context-aware messages, preparation guidelines, post-care instructions, and more. Another application of this can save patients the frustration of intolerable wait-times when a hospital is stretched beyond capacity by sending notifications to offer a change of appointment or alternate appointment location.

Location awareness and spatial context benefit both patients and healthcare providers alike. For clinicians and healthcare teams, this translates to accelerated productivity facilitated through visibility, the streamlining of processes resulting in the elimination of inefficiencies, minimizing staff interruptions, and a balance between resources and demand.

When managed properly, a RTHS enables healthcare providers to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes by leveraging the vast amount of data made available through connected computers, technologies and medical equipment across hospitals, clinics, and patient homes.

By merging the location dimension into healthcare systems, providers are able to bring order to complex data. Through geoenrichment and data visualization, providers can improve patient experiences and outcomes, uncover previously unseen data patterns, realize workflow efficiencies through connected technologies and enrich business insights leading to better more actionable decisions.

Behind the Scenes: Preparing for a RTHS Transition

  • Digitization of Space (converting CAD/DWG map files to SVG)
    Before data can be presented in the context of a map, healthcare providers need to digitize their space. This provides a scalable platform for plotting data to support multiple use cases.
  • Connect core systems and data
    Leveraging technology that offers interoperability allows for seamless integration of core systems and data
  • Connect assets and people
    Create situational awareness by connecting to assets and people
  • Connect maps to data with Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)
    Look for a solution that offer a technology agnostic architecture to calibrate maps Indoor Positioning
  • Implementation
    Make all this available by extending solution to patient and nonpatient hospital workflows

About Jody Shaffer
Jody Shaffer is an experienced marketer with more than 13 years in the software industry. Jody currently leads the marketing department at Jibestream, an award-winning company specializing in indoor mapping and location intelligence solutions. The company’s platform provides developers with the tools to build custom map-enabled applications unlocking the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). Jibestream’s platform can be found implemented in hospitals and health care facilities across north America.

EMRs Can Improve Outcomes For Weekend Hospital Surgeries

Posted on April 7, 2017 I Written By

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

Unfortunately, it’s well documented that people often have worse outcomes when they’re treated in hospitals over the weekend. For example, one recent study from the Association of Academic Physiatrists found that older adults admitted with head trauma over the weekend have a 14 percent increased risk of dying versus those admitted on a weekday.

But if a hospital makes good use of its EMR, these grim stats can be improved, according to a new study published in JAMA Surgery. In the study, researchers found that use of EMRs can significantly improve outcomes for hospital patients who have surgeries over the weekend.

To conduct the study, which was done by Loyola Medicine, a group of researchers identified some EMR characteristics which they felt could overcome the “weekend effect.” The factors they chose included using electronic systems designed to schedule surgeries seamlessly as well as move patients in and out of hospital rooms efficiently.

Their theories were based on existing research suggesting that patients at hospitals with electronic operating room scheduling were 33 percent less likely to experience a weekend effect than hospitals using paper-based scheduling. In addition, studies concluded patients at hospitals with electronic bed-management systems were 35 percent less likely to experience the weekend effect.

To learn more about the weekend effect, researchers analyzed the records provided by the AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Database.  Researchers looked at treatment and outcomes for 2,979 patients admitted to Florida hospitals for appendectomies, acute hernia repairs and gallbladder removals.

The research team found that 32 percent (946) of patients experienced the weekend effect, which they defined as having longer hospital stays than expected. Meanwhile, it concluded that patients at hospitals with high-speed EMR connectivity, EMR in the operating room, electronic operating room scheduling, CPOE systems and electronic bed management did better. (The analysis was conducted with the help of Loyola’s predictive analytics program.)

Their research follows on a 2015 Loyola study, published in Annals of Surgery, which named five factors that reduced the impact of the weekend effect. These included full adoption of electronic medical records, home health programs, pain management programs, increased registered nurse-to-bed ratios and inpatient physical rehabilitation.

Generally speaking, the study results offer good news, as they fulfill some the key hopes hospitals had when installing their EMR in the first place. But I was left wondering whether the study conflated cause and effect. Specifically, I found myself wondering whether hospitals with these various systems boosted their outcomes with technology, or whether hospitals that invested in these technologies could afford to provide better overall care.

It’s also worth noting that several of the improvement factors cited in the 2015 study did not involve technology at all. Even if a hospital has excellent IT systems in place, putting home health, pain management and physical rehabilitation in place – not to mention higher nurse-to-patient ratios – calls for different thinking and a different source of funding.

Still, it’s always good to know that health IT can generate beneficial results, especially high-ticket items like EMRs. Even incremental progress is still progress.

Emergency Department Information Systems Market Fueled By Growing Patient Flow

Posted on March 20, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACOs Not Scaling Well, But Health IT Helps

Posted on March 13, 2017 I Written By

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

ACOs were billed as the next big thing in healthcare, a model which would create economies of scale and tame rising costs of care. In theory, unifying hospitals and doctors into an overarching entity – and creating shared clinical and financial goals – should improve care and boost efficiency.

Of course, creating them doesn’t come cheap. In fact, creating even a modest ACO typically calls for between $1 million and $3 million in capital investment, according to Michael Deegan, MD, who recently developed a course on ACOs for the University of Texas at Dallas. It also takes 18 to 24 months to launch an ACO, Deegan told an interviewer at UT.

But once all of the Ts have been crossed and the Is dotted, ACOs can meet their stated goals, right? Actually, not so much, though health IT can help things along, according to Indranil Bardham, a colleague of Deegan’s at UT Dallas who serves as professor of information systems.

According to an article in HealthcareITNews, Bardhan recently completed a study on ACO performance which concluded that health IT had a measurable impact on their efficiency. The study, which drew on 2013-2015 data from CMS, reviewed the performance of 400 ACOs.

Among the key takeways Bardhan took from his research was that the larger an ACO was, the more likely it was to be inefficient. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which would suggest that bigger is better when it comes to improving efficiency.

On the other hand, health IT use had the effect its champions might hope for, though modest in scope. The study concluded that a 1 percent increase in HIT usage was associated with an 0.5 percent increase in ACO efficiency.

The thing is, these measures represent just a couple of ways to evaluate ACO performance, making it hard to tell just what is working, Bardhan told HIN. “Healthcare, with respect to ACOs, is fascinating because there is not just one single output measure that you are using to compare performance,” he told the magazine’s Bill Siwicki. “…It is difficult to measure the performance of organizations against each other when you have multiple outputs that cannot easily be transformed into a single dollar number.”

This squares with commentary by other ACO researchers, who seem to agree that the whole ACO evaluation process is a bit mysterious. As health policy analyst David Introcaso notes, in a review of ACO-based Medicare Shared Savings Program, CMS isn’t helping either. “While CMS details financial and quality performance results, the agency does not explain, at least publicly, how results, favorable or unfavorable, were achieved.”

Without knowing more about what we should measure, and why – much less what steps helped in achieving their results – it’s too soon to tell what type of health IT should be deployed in ACOs. But looked at more optimistically, once we have a better idea of what ACO success factors are, it seems likely that health IT tools will help execs address them. (For a look at one completely health IT-based ACO concept, see this piece on the Virtual ACO.)

The Challenge of Managing So Many Vendors

Posted on March 8, 2017 I Written By

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

The more I talk to CIOs, the more I realize that CIO at a hospital and health system is as much about vendor management as it is anything else. And quite frankly, those CIOs are tired and overwhelmed by all the vendor management they do. Every CIO I’ve met is looking to decrease the number of vendors they’re working with and not increase it.

In some ways it makes sense. Even if you look at the basic IT commodity items like servers, systems, storage, networking, security, single sign on, etc you’re probably looking at 14-16 vendors for most organizations. This doesn’t include all the higher end clinical systems (including the EHR) and all of the shadow IT systems that have seeped their way into departments thanks to easy to purchase and use cloud solutions.

At the higher end, I’ve heard of some health systems having 300 different systems that they had to manage. It’s a much smaller number at the lower end small, rural hospital, but it’s still a huge task for even them since they outsource almost everything. They usually can’t attract or afford long term staff to the rural hospitals.

Is it any wonder why that hospital CIO told me that “we’ve got what we need”?

I wonder if the real undercurrent of his comment was “I don’t want any more vendors to manage. I have more than enough!”

My guess is that this CIO who has “all the IT he needs” would probably have no problem looking at and implementing new features and functionality from their existing vendor. That’s a huge advantage for existing vendors as they continue to grow a bigger footprint in the hospitals where they have customers. However, are they missing out on a lot of innovations because of this approach?

At the end of the day, a CIO has to be an effective vendor manager. The better they do at this job, the better their organization will perform.

EMR Add-Ons On The Way

Posted on March 3, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleveland Clinic Works To Eliminate Tech Redundancies

Posted on March 1, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCSF Partners With Intel On Deep Learning Analytics For Health

Posted on January 30, 2017 I Written By

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

UC San Francisco’s Center for Digital Health Innovation has agreed to work with Intel to deploy and validate a deep learning analytics platform. The new platform is designed to help clinicians make better treatment decisions, predict patient outcomes and respond quickly in acute situations.

The Center’s existing projects include CareWeb, a team-based collaborative care platform built on Salesforce.com social and mobile communications tech; Tidepool, which is building infrastructure for next-gen smart diabetes management apps; Health eHeart, a clinical trials platform using social media, mobile and realtime sensors to change heart disease treatment; and Trinity, which offers “precision team care” by integrating patient data with evidence and multi-disciplinary data.

These projects seem to be a good fit with Intel’s healthcare efforts, which are aimed at helping providers succeed at distributed care communication across desktop and mobile platforms.

As the two note in their joint press release, creating a deep learning platform for healthcare is extremely challenging, given that the relevant data is complex and stored in multiple incompatible systems. Intel and USCF say the next-generation platform will address these issues, allowing them to integrate not only data collected during clinical care but also inputs from genomic sequencing, monitors, sensors and wearables.

To support all of this activity obviously calls for a lot of computing power. The partners will run deep learning use cases in a distributed fashion based on a CPU-based cluster designed to crunch through very large datasets handily. Intel is rolling out the computing environment on its Xeon processor-based platform, which support data management and the algorithm development lifecycle.

As the deployment moves forward, Intel leaders plan to study how deep learning analytics and machine-driven workflows can optimize clinical care and patient outcomes, and leverage what they learn when they create new platforms for the healthcare industry. Both partners believe that this model will scale for future use case needs, such as larger convolutional neural network models, artificial networks patterned after living organizations and very large multidimensional datasets.

Once implemented, the platform will allow users to conduct advanced analytics on all of this disparate data, using machine learning and deep learning algorithms. And if all performs as expected, clinicians should be able to draw on these advanced capabilities on the fly.

This looks like a productive collaboration. If nothing else, it appears that in this case the technology platform UCSF and Intel are developing may be productized and made available to other providers, which could be very valuable. After all, while individual health systems (such as Geisinger) have the resources to kick off big data analytics projects on their own, it’s possible a standardized platform could make such technology available to smaller players. Let’s see how this goes.

Do Health IT Certificate Of Need Requirements Make Sense?

Posted on January 23, 2017 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Projections For 2017 Hospital IT Spending

Posted on January 4, 2017 I Written By

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

A couple of months ago, HIMSS released some statistics from its survey on US hospitals’ plans for IT investment over the next 12 months. The results contain a couple of data points that I found particularly interesting:

  • While I had expected the most common type of planned spending to be focused on population health or related solutions, HIMSS found that pharmacy was the most active category. In fact, 51% of hospitals were planning to invest in one pharmacy technology, largely to improve tracking of medication dispensing in additional patient care environments. Researchers also found that 6% of hospitals were planning to add carousels or packagers in their pharmacies.
  • Eight percent hospitals said that they plan to invest in EMR components, which I hadn’t anticipated (though it makes sense in retrospect). HIMSS reported that 14% of hospitals at Stage 1-4 of its Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model are investing in pharmacy tech for closed loop med administration, and 17% in auto ID tech. Four percent of Stage 6 hospitals plan to support or expand information exchange capabilities. Meanwhile, 60% of Stage 7 hospitals are investing in hardware infrastructure “for the post-EMR world.”

Other data from the HIMSS report included news of new analytics and telecom plans:

  • Researchers say that recent mergers and acquisitions are triggering new investments around telephony. They found that 12% of hospitals with inpatient revenues between $25 million and $125 million – and 6% of hospitals with more than $500 million in inpatient revenues — are investing in VOIP and telemedicine. FWIW, I’m not sure how mergers and acquisitions would trigger telemedicine rollouts, as they’re already well underway at many hospitals — maybe these deals foster new thinking and innovation?
  • As readers know, hospitals are increasingly spending on analytics solutions to improve care and make use of big data. However (and this surprised me) only 8% of hospitals reported plans to buy at least one analytics technology. My guess is that this number is small because a) hospitals may not have collected their big data assets in easily-analyzed form yet and b) that they’re still hoping to make better use of their legacy analytics tools.

Looking at these stats as a whole, I get the sense that the hospitals surveyed are expecting to play catch-up and shore up their infrastructure next year, rather than sink big dollars into future-looking solutions.

Without a doubt, hospital leaders are likely to invest in game-changing technologies soon such as cutting-edge patient engagement and population health platforms to prepare for the shift to value-based health. It’s inevitable.

But in the meantime it probably makes sense for them to focus on internal cost drivers like pharmacy departments, whose average annual inpatient drug spending shot up by more than 23% between 2013 and 2015. Without stanching that kind of bleeding, hospitals are unlikely to get as much value as they’d like from big-idea investments in the future.