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What If EMR Interoperability Was Mandatory?

For decades, industries have haggled and coded and bargained their way into shared data standards.  Each agreement has made great technical advances possible and grown markets into forms which could hardly have been imagined before.

Traditionally, the idea has been agreeing on interoperable standards is a form of enlightened self-interest.  The equasion “interoperability=larger markets=more pie for everyone” has nearly always managed to take root even in industries as brutally competitive as networking.  Consider where we’d be without 802.11 for WiFi, for example. If WiFi manufacturers had staged a prolonged battle over standards, and the reach of WiFi didn’t blossom everywhere, the Internet as we know it might not exist.

Well, here in EMR vendor land, we’ve somehow passed the exit marked “coopetition” and wandered off into interoperability nowhere land.  Sure, tell me about the CommonWell Alliance, which looks, on the surface, something like industry cooperation, and I’ll retort, “too little, too late.”  And do I even have to say that the idea that Epic supports everybody is something of a laughing matter?

Maybe, after seeing how miserably the EMR vendor industry has failed to come together to share data, it’s time to force the matter.  I read that ONC  honcho Farzad Mostashari has occasionally threatened to do just that, but hasn’t followed through with any proposed regs on the subject.

What if the FCC, the FDA and the ONC (which are now taking comments on a regulatory framework for health IT) decide to look at standards, pick a winner and shove it down the ever-living throat of every uncooperative vendor hoping to create dependency on their way of doing things?  That would include Epic, of course, which today, hears countless hospital CIOs say they had to buy their product because everybody else did.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very, very serious matter; any regs that attempted to force interoperability would impose untold billions in costs on vendors, not to mention their customers. But if interoperability is the real prize we’re ultimately hoping to gain — the big EMR enchilada — is it possible that it’s time to take the risk anyway?  I don’t know, but I certainly wonder.  How about you, readers?

June 5, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 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.

Only Incentives Will Make EHR Interoperability Happen

Today we had a really interesting #HITsm chat about interoperability, data hoarding, and sharing healthcare data. Tomorrow we’ll have a post on EMR and EHR that summarizes some of the key tweets from the chat. Although, there was one theme that really struck home to me during the chat.

The biggest barrier to EHR interoperability and data sharing is incentives.

During the chat multiple people including myself made the observation that the reason EHR vendors don’t share data is that there’s no incentive to share data. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a hospital choose to not go with an EHR because it couldn’t interoperate with another EHR vendor. The incentive isn’t there for the hospital and therefore the EHR vendor.

Think about the EHR interoeprability announcement of CommonWell. While the CEO’s of the five EHR vendors can sit there and say that they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for healthcare, these public company CEOs also have a legal responsibility to do what’s best for the shareholders of their company.

The reality is that CommonWell would have never happened if there wasn’t an incentive for these companies to put CommonWell together. Rather than beat around the bush, these EHR companies came together to stick it to Epic and to give them a strategic advantage over other companies that can’t or won’t share data. You can certainly make an argument for why doing this is good for healthcare as well, but if there was no outside business incentive to CommonWell then the healthcare benefit wouldn’t have been enough.

As one person tweeted during the Twitter chat, If there were money paid for sharing data, all the fear and issues would suddenly disappear and solutions provided.

When thinking about incentivizing EHR interoperability, Farzad Mostashari’s words at The Breakaway Group event at TEDMED come ringing into my ears, “Incentives and money aren’t always the same.” Cash or otherwise, EHR interoperability needs some incentive.

April 26, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus.

Does the Stockholm Syndrome Apply to EMRs?

Paul Levy wrote an interesting post comparing Stockholm Syndrome to EMR software. For those who aren’t familiar with it, here’s a description of Stockholm Syndrome:

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

Paul Levy makes the case for EMRs being similar to the Stockholm Syndrome based on Epic’s decisions to not integrate with other medical record systems and some of the controlling tactics that Epic uses with its customers. They are interesting and it’s amazing what a hospital CIO will put up with from an EMR company like Epic.

I’d take this idea one step further. I’ve recently heard a number of people ask the question, “Is Epic really that good or is it just the best of the worst?” Doesn’t this sound a lot like the Stockholm Syndrome? Basically defending something that really isn’t all that great, just because it was better that the bad treatment they got from other EMR vendors before.

Paul Levy describes the myth that he thinks is why we are where we are today:

It is a widely accepted myth that medicine requires complex, highly specialized information-technology (IT) systems. This myth continues to justify soaring IT costs, burdensome physician workloads, and stagnation in innovation — while doctors become increasingly bound to documentation and communication products that are functionally decades behind those they use in their “civilian” life.

We believe that EHR vendors propagate the myth that health IT is qualitatively different from industrial and consumer products in order to protect their prices and market share and block new entrants. In reality, diverse functionality needn’t reside within single EHR systems, and there’s a clear path toward better, safer, cheaper, and nimbler tools for managing health care’s complex tasks.

The two killer points for me are the “stagnation in innovation” and the “functionally decades behind” comments. Those who argue against these things usually use a few specific cases of advancement and innovation as opposed to the industry as a whole.

I’d suggest that one of the biggest impediments to innovation is the barriers to entry for a startup company. How many hospitals do you know that would buy software from a startup company? It’s pretty rare. Yet, this is where the very best innovation comes from in other industries.

I still think that there will be opportunities for some startup companies to come along and disrupt the current EHR providers. Epic did it to Meditech in many ways, and I’m sure we’ll see another come along and do the same. However, I think the number of people that can do this is limited to a very small group of people thanks to the way healthcare is organized and done in hospitals. This lack of access leads to a lack of innovation.

November 8, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus.