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Do Epic Customers Have EMR Stockholm Syndrome?

John’s Note: I guess Anne didn’t see my post about the EMR Stockholm Syndrome. I think she adds to the discussion with this post though.

According to a recent piece appearing  in KevinMD.com,  by next year an astonishing 40 percent the U.S. population will have their medical data stored in an Epic system. Heaven only knows how many billions of dollars of IT capital outlay that represents. What we can safely guess is that not a single customer making up that list failed to make painful sacrifices to bring Epic on board.

Having spent so much and worked so hard to get Epic up and running, you’d expect to hear at least some complaints from hospital C-suites about the ordeal of it all.  And despite its popularity, you’d expect far more hospitals to blanch at the, uh, epic price tag on an Epic install and say “no  thanks.” But instead, you see hospital leader after hospital leader speaking glowingly about Epic and choosing it over competitors time and time again.

As author Paul Levy notes  (himself the former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center), Epic isn’t just expensive. It’s also something of a pain to work with:

*  Epic has  made a policy of not being interoperable with other EMRs, scuttling HIE plans that have become increasingly important to hospital business plans

* Epic decides when system upgrades are needed and changes to the EMR are needed

What Paul doesn’t mention, but is worth considering as well, is that Epic only gets installed if you work with teams of its relatively green staff members, hotshot types in their twenties who may be very smart are definitely on the arrogant side if reports I’ve heard are true.

So, if hospitals are still singing Epic’s praises after all of this stress and expense and letting a vendor dictate important aspects of its development roadmap, is the industry suffering from Stockholm Syndrome (a feeling of bonding with people who have captured you)? As Levy sees it, the answer seems to be yes.  What do you think?

December 12, 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.

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 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently 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.