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The Overdose – When EHRs Go Wrong

Posted on March 30, 2015 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.

We’re getting more and more stories coming out about the impact for bad that an EHR can have in medicine. Most of them have been anecdotal stories like The Old Man and the Doctor Fable and Please Choose One. However, today I came across one that talked about an overdose due to an error in the use of EHR. Here’s a summary of the discovery:

Levitt’s supervising nurse was stumped, too, so they summoned the chief resident in pediatrics, who was on call that night. When the physician arrived in the room, he spoke to and examined the patient, who was anxious, mildly confused, and still complaining of being “numb all over.”

At first, he was perplexed. But then he noticed something that stopped him cold. Six hours earlier, Levitt had given the patient not one Septra pill—a tried-and-true antibiotic used principally for urinary and skin infections — but 38½ of them.

Levitt recalls that moment as the worst of her life. “Wait, look at this Septra dose,” the resident said to her. “This is a huge dose. Oh my God, did you give this dose?”

“Oh my God,” she said. “I did.”

If you read the whole article linked above, you’ll discover that the issue happened when entering the dosage for a drug into the Epic EHR system at UCSF. I’m not here to point fingers since every case is unique and you could argue forever about whether it’s the software’s responsibility to do something or whether the person using the software is responsible for understanding how the software works. I think that’s a discussion that goes nowhere since the right answer is that both can do better.

These types of stories are heartbreaking. They even cause some to question whether we should be going electronic at all. I’m reminded of a time I was considering working at a company that did expert witness testimony for cars. One of their hypothesis was that the computers that are now found in cars will usually save people’s lives. However, in a few cases they’re going to do something wrong and someone is going to lose their life. I think that’s where we’re at with EHR software. It’s not perfect and maybe never will be, but does it save more lives than it kills?

That’s a tough question that some people don’t want to face, but we’re going to face it whether we acknowledge the question or not. Personally, I think the answer to that question is that we do save more lives with an EHR than we damage. In the case above, there were still a lot of humans involved that could have verified and corrected the mistake with the EHR. They didn’t, but they could have done so and likely do with hundreds of other mistakes that occur every day. This human touch is a great counterbalance to the world of technology.

If we expanded the discussion beyond lost lives, it would be a much more challenging and complex discussion to know if EHR makes an organization more or less productive. I believe in the short term, that discussion is up for debate. However, in the long term I’m long on the benefits of EHR when it comes to productivity.

None of this should excuse us from the opportunity to learn important lessons from the story above. We need to be careful about over reliance on data in the EHR (similar to over reliance on a paper chart). We need to make our EHR smarter so that they can warn us of potential problems like the ones above. We need EHR vendors to not let known EHR problems remain unfixed. We need a solid testing plan to avoid as many of these situations as possible from ever happening in the first place.

There’s a lot of work to do still to improve EHR. This story is a tragic one which should remind us all of the important work we’re doing and why we need to work really hard to improve it now.

When Your EHR Goes Down…And It Will

Posted on March 5, 2015 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.

Erin McCann at Healthcare IT News wrote a recent report on a McKesson EHR outage at Rideout Health after an HVAC unit burned out. In the article she also talks about the $1 billion (I love that she added the price tag) Epic EHR outage that occurred in August 2013 at Sutter Health and lasted an entire day. Plus, she mentions the IT network failure at Martin Health System in January 2014 and had their Epic EHR down for 2 days. I’m sure there are many more that were shorter or just weren’t reported by news outlets.

When I think about EHR downtime I’m reminded of the Titanic. You can invest all you want in the “unsinkable” EHR implementation and unexpected downtime will still occur. Yes, much like the Titanic that everyone thought was totally unsinkable, it now lies at the bottom of the ocean as a testament to nature’s ability to sink anything. That includes causing your EHR to go down.

Let’s say your EHR is able to have 99.9% uptime. That would feel pretty good wouldn’t it. Well, that turns out to be 8 hours 45 minutes and 57 seconds over the year. That’s still a full working day of downtime. If you expand to 99.99% downtime, that’s still 52.56 minutes of downtime. At 99.999 (Five Nines as they say in the industry) of downtime is 5.39 minutes of downtime.

The challenge is that with every 9 you add to your reliability and uptime requirements the costs increase exponentially. They don’t increase linearly, but exponentially. Try getting that exponential cost curve approved by your hospital. It’s not going to happen.

Another way to look at this is to consider tech powerhouses like Google. They have some of the highest quality engineers in the world and pay them a lot more than you’re paying your hospital tech staff. Even with all of that investment and expertise, they still go down. So, why would we think that our hospital EHR could do better than Google?

One way many organizations try to get a Google like uptime in their organizations is to use an outside data center. Many of these data centers are able to implement and invest in a lot of areas a hospital could never afford to invest in. Of course, these data centers only provide a few layers of the technology stack. So, they can minimize downtime for some things, but not all.

The real solution is to make sure your organization has a plan for when downtime occurs. Yes, this basically means you assume that your EHR will go down and what will you do? This was my first hand experience. At one point the EHR that I implemented went down. The initial reaction was fear and shock as people asked the question, “What do we do?” However, thanks to a strong leader, she pulled out our previously created plan for when the EHR went down. Having that plan and a strong leader who reminded people of the plan calmed everyone down completely. It still wasn’t fun to have the EMR down, but it was definitely manageable.

What have you done to prepare for EHR downtime? Do you have a plan in place? Have you had the experience of having your EHR down? What was it like? Are you afraid of what will happen in your hospital when your EHR goes down?

Four Things You Should Know About Deloitte’s “Evergreen” EHR Program

Posted on February 20, 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.

Recently, consulting giant Deloitte announced a new program, named “Evergreen,” designed to cut down the cost of implementing and operating hospital EHRs. Unfortunately, much of the Evergreen coverage in the health IT trade press was vague or downright wrong, as it suggested that Deloitte was actually going into the EHR business itself. The key point Deloitte sought to make — that it could implement and operate EHRs for 20% to 30% less than hospitals — did come across, but the rest was a bit jumbled.

Having spoken to Mitch Morris, global healthcare leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, I can clarify much of what was confusing about the Evergreen announcement and subsequent coverage.  Here’s some key points I took away from my chat with Morris:

  • Evergreen is a suite of services, not a product:  Though some HIT editors seem to have been confused by this, Evergreen isn’t an EHR offering itself.  It’s a set of EHR implementation and operation services provided by Deloitte Consultants. Evergreen also includes a financing scheme allowing hospitals and health systems to obtain a new EHR by making a series of equal payments to Deloitte over five to seven years. (“It’s like leasing a car,” Morris noted.) This allows hospitals to get into the EHR without making an enormous upfront capital investment over the first 18 months.
  • Evergreen is only offered in tandem with an Epic purchase:  The Evergreen program arose from what Deloitte learned after doing a great deal of work with Epic EHRs, including the famous multi-billion install at Kaiser Permanente and an extensive rollout for large hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives. So at the outset, the program is only available to hospitals that want to go with Epic.  Deloitte is considering other EHR vendors for Evergreen partnership but has made no decisions as to which it might add to the program.
  • Both onshore and offshore services are available through Evergreen:  One might assume that Deloitte is offering lower implementation and operation costs by offshoring all of the work.  Not so, Morris says. While Deloitte does offer services based in India and Ireland, it also taps U.S. operations as needed. Clients can go with offshore labor, onshore labor or a mix of services drawing on both.
  • This is a new application services management offering for Deloitte:  While the consulting giant has been managing Oracle and SAP installations for clients for some time, managing EHR platforms is a new part of its business, Morris notes.

According to Morris, Deloitte expects Evergreen customers to include not only health systems and hospitals that want to switch EHRs system-wide, but also those which have done some acquisitions and want to put all of their facilities on the same platform. “It’s expensive for a health system to maintain two or three brands, but they often can’t afford the upfront capital costs of putting every hospital on the same EHR,” he said. “We smooth out the costs so they can just make a payment every month.”

This could certainly be a big score for Epic, which is likely to scoop up more of the EHR-switching systems if Deloitte helps the systems cope with the costs. And Deloitte is likely to get many takers. Let’s see, though, whether it can actually follow through on the savings it promises. That could change the EHR game as we know it.

Finding Epic Customers

Posted on January 27, 2015 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.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the Life After Epic blog, go and check it out. I’ve referenced it a few times and should probably do a whole series like they did on the 13 Epic Principles. They’ve also covered interesting topics like Epic and the Non-Compete and an Epic Severance Agreement.

I was particularly interested in the most recent post about how to find Epic customers. Once someone’s non-compete is over with Epic, it’s good to know which hospitals and organizations are available to those with Epic experience. As the owner of Healthcare IT Central, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point you to this list of Epic Jobs. However, depending on where you live or where you’d like to live, it might be helpful to know what hospital organizations have implemented Epic.

In the article linked above, they offer an interesting way to figure this out:

One…comment on a nursing blog said this:
“you can download an app in your iphone “mychart” it will show you the states that have EPIC program”

The MyChart app is available on Android now, and it lists each organization by the state that they serve.

If it’s full time work you want, start your job search with a trip to the app store of your choice.

I like the creative way to find out where Epic is installed. I imagine that not all 100% of Epic users are on MyChart, but thanks to meaningful use I bet it’s pretty close.

IBM and Epic Prep for Multi Billion Dollar DoD EHR Contract

Posted on January 12, 2015 I Written By

In this recent Nextgov article, they talk about what Team IBM/Epic are doing to prepare for the massive bid:

On Wednesday, IBM and Epic raised the bar in their bidding strategy, announcing the formation of an advisory group of leading experts in large, successful EHR integrations to advise the companies on how to manage the overhaul — if they should win the contract, of course.

The advisory group’s creation was included as part of IBM and Epic’s bid package, according to Andy Maner, managing partner for IBM’s federal practice.

In a press briefing at IBM’s Washington, D.C., offices, Maner emphasized the importance of soliciting advice and insight from the group. Members of the advisory board include health care organizations, such as the American Medical Informatics Association, Duke University Health System and School of Medicine, Mercy Health, Sentara Healthcare and the Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Add this new advisory group to the report that Epic and IBM set up a DoD hardened Epic implementation environment and you can see how seriously they’re taking their bid. Here’s a short quote from that report:

Epic President Carl Dvorak explained the early move will also help test the performance of an Epic system on a data center and network that meets Defense Information Systems Agency guidelines for security. An IBM spokesperson told FCW that testing on the Epic system has been ongoing since November 2014.

As we noted in our last article, 2015’s going to be an exciting year for EHR as this $11+ billion EHR contract gets handed out. What do you think of Team IBM/Epic’s chances?

Healthcare Interoperability – Learning From Proprietary PC History

Posted on December 16, 2014 I Written By

Interoperability; Some vendors have the unmitigated gall to try and keep their systems proprietary. When they refuse to make code or training available to others, competition will have difficulty achieving interoperability and customers will not be able to move too far from the vendor and their own profitability is secured. Competition is greatly reduced.  Capitalism at its finest.

A long, long time ago in a land far away, 4 vendors in the minicomputer and PC markets attempted to do just about the same thing. Wang, Data General and Digital Equipment were almost totally proprietary. Interoperability was little more than a dream. Proprietary would secure success.  The fourth company was the leader in the PC world. They also were not able to communicate with competitors and vice versa. For years, IBM compatible meant the difference between success and failure. Why? Try profit. If you control a market and can keep others away, profits remain high.   After a time, as with IBM there will come a time that giving up the proprietary nature of the product will cause an increase in sales and profits.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s IBM’s competitors and some large users complained bitterly about all four company’s proprietary nature. The 3 minicomputer companies “bet the farm” that they could succeed by being proprietary. IBM did the same. The rest is history. One won and three lost.

Epic is in the same boat as those four. Being proprietary is increasing their profitability currently.  As time progresses will Epic decide that the time is right to allow the competition access to their product and code and, like IBM, will they do it at the right time to remain the market leader.  Any bets?

Epic Salary Info

Posted on November 20, 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.

Many of you probably remember that we helped promote an Epic Salary Survey. As promised, they’ve published the results of the survey and we thought that many readers would be interested in the Epic Salary survey results.

The survey had 753 responses. Not bad for an online survey that was promoted across various blogs and social media outlets. Although, as you can imagine, some states are better represented than others. It’s the challenge of having 50 states.

This is my favorite chart from the Epic salary survey results (you can download the full survey results and data by states here):
Average Epic Salary by Job Position

As I look at some of these salaries, I’m reminded of the doctor who said that they shouldn’t be spending time learning their EHR. The hospital CFO then told the doctor, “I’m sorry, but that Epic consultant costs a lot more than you.”

Now I’d like to see one from Meditech and Cerner.

Has Epic Fostered Any Real Healthcare Innovation?

Posted on August 13, 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.

I saw the following tweet and was really struck by the question.

I think we could broaden the question even more and ask if any EHR vendor has really fostered healthcare innovation. I’m sorry to say that I can’t think of any real major innovation from any of the top hospital EHR companies. They all seem very incremental in their process and focused on replicating previous processes in the digital world.

Considering the balance sheets of these companies, that seems to have been a really smart business decision. However, I think it’s missing out on the real opportunity of what technology can do to help healthcare.

I’ve said before that I think that the current EHR crop was possibly the baseline that would be needed to really innovate healthcare. I hope that’s right. Although, I’m scared that these closed EHR systems are going to try and lock in the status quo as opposed to enabling the future healthcare innovation.

Of course, I’ll also round out this conversation with a mention of meaningful use. The past 3-5 years meaningful use has defined the development roadmap for EHR companies. Show me the last press release from an EHR company about some innovation they achieved. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any and that’s because all of the press releases have been about EHR certification and meaningful use. Meaningful use has sucked the innovation opportunity out of EHR software. We’ll see if that changes in a post-meaningful use era.

Why Might Intermountain Have Chosen Cerner Over Epic?

Posted on July 14, 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.

An anonymous person on HIStalk gave some really interesting insights into Intermountain’s decision to go with Cerner instead of Epic.

Re: Intermountain. The short-term choice (three or so years) would have been Epic, but we went with Cerner because of Epic’s dated technology, Cerner’s openness, and the feeling that we would be more of a partner than a customer with Cerner. The partnership is more than words. We’re working closely with Cerner and their horde of sharp, dedicated people on the implementation. We have some pieces they don’t and those are being built into the Cerner system, while some of our own development efforts have been redirected since Cerner already has that functionality. The first rollout is scheduled for December and I think it will go well due to the way the teams are working together. Unverified.

This is the best analysis of Intermountain’s decision to go with Cerner that I’ve seen. As in every billion dollar procurement decision, it’s always got other nuances and pieces that go into the decision making process. However, the above analysis gives us a good place to start.

Let’s look at the main points that are made:

1. Is Epic technology more dated than Cerner?

2. Is Cerner more open than Epic?

3. Will Cerner be more of a partner than Epic would have been?

I’d love to see Judy’s (Epic CEO’s) comments on all of these. I’m sure she’d have a lot to say about each of them. For example, you may remember that Judy described Epic as the most open system she knows. Ask someone who wants to get Epic certified if they’re open. Ask a health IT vendor that wants to work together if Epic is open. Ask even some of their smaller customers who want to do things with Epic if Epic is open. They’d all likely disagree that Epic is the most open system.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on each of these three points. I think it will make for a really lively discussion that will help us get closer to understanding the reality of these assertions.

However, reality aside, I can tell you that the public image of Epic vs Cerner certainly confirms all three of these points. Whether Intermountain indeed used these points as part of their decision process or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they did think this way since there are many in the market that believe and share all of the above three impressions.

Epic’s 13 Principles

Posted on June 17, 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.

I recently came across this blog called “Life After Epic” which has the subtitle, “For the soon-to-be-Ex Epic Employee.” Although, if you look at the blog address it’s FiredFromEpic.blogspot.com. I assume Fired from Epic was the original blog name, but was likely changed for obvious reasons.

I’m sure I’ll reference more articles from this blog in the future, but I was really intrigued by the 13 Epic Principles that the blog’s been covering recently. Epic’s 13 Principles definitely provide some interesting insight into the EHR vendor Epic.

1. Do not go public.
2. Do not be acquired.
3. Expectations = reality.
4. Keep commitments.
5. Be frugal.
6. Have standards. Don’t do deals.
7. Create innovative and helpful products.
8. Have fun with customers.
9. Follow processes. Find root causes. Fix processes.
10. Don’t take on debt for operations, no matter how good the deal.
11. Focus on competency. Do not tolerate mediocrity.
12. Teach philosophy and culture.
13. If you disagree, dissent. Once decided, support.

What do you think of these principles? If you’ve dealt with Epic, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of them in action.