Merged Health Systems Face Major EHR Integration Issues

Posted on January 2, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Pity the IT departments of Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. When the two health systems complete their merger, IT leaders face a lengthy integration process cutting across systems from three different EHR vendors or a forklift upgrade of at least one.

It’s tough enough to integrate different instances of systems from the same vendor, which, despite the common origin are often configured in significantly different ways. In this case, the task is exponentially more difficult. According to Fierce Healthcare, when the two organizations come together, they’ll have to integrate Aurora’s Epic EHR with the Cerner and Allscripts systems used by Advocate.

As part of his research, the reporter asked an Aurora spokesperson whether health systems attempt to pull together three platforms into a single EHR. Of course, as we know, that is unlikely to ever happen. While full interoperability is obviously an elusive thing, getting some decent data flow between two affiliated organizations is probably far more realistic.

Instead, depending on what happens, the new CIO might or might not decide to migrate all three EHRs onto one from a single vendor. While this could turn out to be a hellish job, it certainly is the ideal situation if you can afford to get there. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option. Especially as health system mergers and acquisitions get bigger and bigger.

To me, however, the big question around all of this is how much the two organizations would spend to bring the same platforms to everyone. As we know, acquiring and rolling out Epic for even one health system is fiendishly expensive, to the point where some have been forced to report losses or have had ratings on the bond reduced.

My guess is that the leaders of the two organizations are counting often-cited merger benefits such as organizational synergies, improved efficiency and staff attrition to meet the cost of health IT investments like these. If this academic studies prove this will work, please feel free to slap me with a dead fish, but as for now I doubt it will happen.

No, to me this offers an object lesson in how mergers in the health IT-centered world can be more costly, take longer to achieve, and possibly have a negative impact on patient care if things aren’t done right (which often seems to be the case).

Given the other pressures health systems face, I doubt these new expenses will hold them back from striking merger deals. Generally speaking, most health systems face little choice but to partner and merge as they can. But there’s no point minimizing how much complexity and expense EHRs bring to such agreements today.