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AHA urges agencies to speed up EMR choice expansion

In a move that shouldn’t surprise anybody, the American Hospital Association is urging CMS and the ONC to hurry up and finalize new rules which would expand choice for certified EMRs.

The AHA letter argues that its members are on the verge of walking away from Meaningful Use. But if CMS and the ONC speed ahead with with the new proposed rules — which would offer more choice in specific meaningful use requirements they must meet this year — hospitals will be much better equipped to proceed.

Why the rush? Well, for one thing, the letter argues, time is of the essence for hospitals, which have to decide their meaningful use strategy for fiscal 2014. If they must make choices before the new rule is finalized, it could cause them “significant financial and operational harm,” the AHA contends.

Meanwhile, if the agencies don’t push these rules through quickly, “many providers are likely to conclude that they cannot meet meaningful use this year and abandon the program,” wrote Linda Fishman, AHA senior vice president of public policy analysis and development, in a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD.

The letter also takes on other issues. It asks that CMS and ONC clarify the rules implementation, offer more flexibility in the reporting of clinical quality measures, shorten the MU reporting period for 2015 in analyze lessons learned from Stage 2 before finalizing Stage 3′s start date, according to HealthcareITNews.

The AHA’s letter comes at a challenging time for the meaningful use program generally, which has of late attracted broader attention than it has in the past.

Not only are industry groups pressuring ONC, legislators are too. For example, at a recent health IT conference, U.S. Rep Tom Price, MD, R-GA, argued that meaningful use is “maybe not even doing what needs to be done as it relates to patients and physicians.”

In his remarks, Price argued that meaningful use could be improved by keeping the patient front and center, making sure patients know they own their health data and establishing an interoperability standard.  But he suggests that because the MU program roadmap was laid out in the HITECH Act, it’s not as fluid as it should be and doesn’t accommodate such concerns.

The reality, however, is that there is no simple way to get interoperability; right now, we’re lucky if individual EMRs meet providers’ needs.  Despite the demands from other stakeholders, health IT vendors still have a lot more to gain by creating islands rather than interoperable products.

June 23, 2014 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.

Greenway, Epic Systems Linked Together

These days, it doesn’t take a lot of data interoperability to make news.  The following, while a perfectly fine effort, concerns just one practice and one hospital, something which reminds us forcefully of how far we have to go. That being said, the details are worth a look.

Lancaster General Health’s Women & Babies Hospital, which runs an Epic EMR, has connected the Epic system with the Greenway EMR at obstetrics and gynecology practice May-Grant Associates. The two entities can now exchange continuity of care documents and securely share patient data, according to an article in Healthcare IT News.

According to Greenway, which issued a press release touting the development milestone, the architecture of its PrimeSUITE platform simplifies data exchange between disparate EMR systems, using a bidirectional, hub-based exchange built to support industry standards.  To connect the medical practice with the hospital, Epic needed to create a connection to the Greenway EMR which would enable data flow between the two entities.

The new interoperability between systems is expected to help coordinate care for more than 2,500 patients with the ob/gyn practice whose babies are delivered at the women’s hospital, Healthcare IT News reports.

Moreover, May-Grant expects shared data access to deliver financial benefits. According to the release, since the systems were connected May-Grant has seen improved practice management and revenue cycle management processes, especially when hospital patients are assigned to the practice for follow-up care.

“Now we’re able to get all of the details we need to process claims on behalf of those new patients,” said Mona S. Engle, RN, May·Grant practice administrator. “Since we can query the hospital for the information we need to submit with a claim, searching for that information no longer slows us down.”

As Healthcare IT News points out, Greenway is part of the new CommonWell interoperability alliance announced at HIMSS13 a few  months ago, but Epic is not.  So far, CommonWell members haven’t come out with any specific interoperability proposals of their own, so that probably didn’t matter this time around.

But it’s worth wondering whether CommonWell membership will make a difference going forward — and whether Epic’s non-participation will undercut hospitals’ ability to pull off projects like these. So far, the benefits of the Alliance seem distant and vague at best.

July 15, 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.

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.

EMR Issues To Address In 2013

So, we’re coming up on 2013, dragging many of the issues that dogged 2012 right along with us.  My theory is that many of the following are likely to linger through next  year as well, though maybe I’m being too cynical.

Here’s my list of ongoing EMR issues that don’t seem to be going away:

* Usability problems:  While there are scattered efforts to improve the entire EMR usability model, none rules the industry. So as things stand, clinicians generally dislike (or, let’s admit it, in many cases loathe ) enterprise EMRs hospitals have mortgaged their future to buy.

* Interoperability:  With proprietary Epic software ruling a growing percentage of U.S. hospitals, getting true interoperability that fuels HIE growth seems a mere dream at the moment. And even if Epic and it’s “ours is best” philosophy didn’t rule the waves of late, connecting other hospital EMR vendors is at a primitive stage at best.

* Poor compatibility with popular mobile devices:  Far too few vendors offer a mobile-native client for their EMR, instead forcing clinicians to cope with the limitations of Citrix compatibility. This state of affairs is terrible for the growth of mHealth, which I think we can agree is a Bad Thing.

* Extremely high cost for enterprise EMR systems: When you’re talking about enterprise software, you’re generally talking about a large price tag. But am  I the only one who thinks that vendors are padding the heck out of their prices because Meaningful Use has hospitals under the gun?

* Lack of documented ROI and clinical improvement generated by EMRs:  Other than collecting an incentive check, most hospitals don’t seem to know how their EMR will generate money, much less savings or return on investment.  And as for a body of well-documented research demonstrating that EMRs can generate better clinical results, we just aren’t there yet.

What other problems do we face this year that are going to remain tough to fix next year? Are any of these problems on the verge of being solved?

December 10, 2012 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.

Congressmen Want Halt On Meaningful Use Payments

Four congressmen have thrown what could be a monkey wrench into the rollout of Meaningful Use Stage 2 regulations, arguing that Meaningful Use rules are weak and ineffective and that MU incentives have gone awry.

The four have written a letter to HHS head Kathleen Sebelius to recommend that until MU Stage 2 rules require “comprehensive interoperability,” and hospitals can prove they’re capable of exchanging data, the agency shouldn’t hand out incentive payments.

In the letter, the congressmen somewhat spitefully quote the recent piece from The New York Times which suggests that EMRs are raising costs by encouraging upcoding. “Perhaps not surprisingly, your EHR incentive program appears to be doing more harm than good,” the letter says. (Oh, snap!)

What do the congressmen want? A) To see CMS suspend all incentive payments until “universal interoperable standards” are promulgated, B) to require higher level of performance from Meaningful Users (upping percentages of, for example, transfers that need to be done electronically) and C) to see HHS “take steps to eliminate the subsidization of business practices that block the exchange of information between providers.”

Of course, the health IT leaders of the world are aghast. HIMSS, for example, has already issued a statement opposing the incentive payment halt.

But there is a nuanced conversation to be had here. While I admit I’ve ridiculed the tone of the congressional letter a bit, I think there’s some merit in the complaints. Interestingly enough, the most substantial complaint (letter “C”) in the missive is discussed the least in the text.

Let’s think about what John rightly calls “Jabba the Hutt” EMR vendors. What incentive do they have to change their business practices and make their products interoperable if the only threat to their business is academic discussions about Blue Buttons, The Direct Project and 17 flavors of HL7?

No, my friends, while I disliked the nasty, hectoring tone of the letter, I think we should take the authors’ objections seriously. We are at an interoperability crossroads and there’s no immediate end in sight.

October 8, 2012 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.