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

Posted on January 19, 2015 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on December 29, 2014 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Health System’s Finances Weighed Down By Epic Investment

Posted on December 26, 2014 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

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 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.

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.