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Hospitals Still Grappling With RCM Tech Infrastructure

Posted on May 18, 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.

While revenue cycle management isn’t the sexiest topic on the block, hospitals need to get it right or they won’t be able to pay their bills. One key element needed to accomplish this goal is a robust tech infrastructure that helps RCM specialists get their job done.

However, it seems that many hospitals are struggling to manage RCM data and pick out the right vendors to support their efforts, according to a report published by Dimensional Insight in collaboration with HIMSS Analytics. To conduct the research, the two organizations reached out to 117 senior-level decision-makers in hospitals and health systems.

According to the survey, more than two-thirds of health systems use more than one vendor for RCM. But that might be a bad idea. The research also found that organizations using more than one RCM vendor seem to face bigger issues with denials than those using only one RCM solution. Regardless, the execs said that denials were the biggest RCM challenge for health systems today.

Pulling together RCM data is a struggle too, respondents said. More than 95% of health systems reported that the way data is collected is a challenge. Also, nearly all respondents said that collecting RCM data from disparate sources is also difficult.

One reason why it’s tough for hospitals to put effective RCM technology in place may be that health information management directors and managers aren’t at the top of the influencer list when it comes to making these decisions.

When asked who the key stakeholders were in RCM. 91.5% said that the CFO was the most important, followed by the head of revenue cycle, who was ranked as important by 62.4% of respondents. Meanwhile, only 48.7% of respondents saw the health IT leaders as key stakeholders in the RCM environment. In other words, it looks like tech leaders aren’t given much clout.

When it came to technical infrastructure for RCM, respondents were all over the map. For example, 34.5% were working with an EMR and 3+ vendors. Another 12.1% used in EMR with one vendor, followed by 11.2% with 3+ vendor solutions, 6.9% using an EMR plus two vendors and 4.3% using two to vendor solutions. Clearly, there’s no single best practice for managing RCM technology in hospitals.

Not only that, some hospitals aren’t doing much to analyze the RCM data they’ve got. According to the survey, 23.9% said that 51 to 75% of the RCM process was automated, which isn’t too bad. However, 36.8% of hospitals reported that less than 25% of the revenue cycle process was driven by analytics. Also, roughly a third of respondents said that collecting data from diverse sources was extremely challenging, which can cripple an analytics initiative.

Taken as a whole, the report data suggests that hospitals need to improve their RCM game dramatically, which includes getting a lot smarter about RCM technology. Unfortunately, it looks like it could be a long time before this happens.

For Hospitals: Tips On Working With An EHR Consulting Firm

Posted on April 19, 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.

Even if you are a very experienced health IT pro, managing your relationship with an EHR consultant in no joke. There’s a lot at stake and only so much time to meet your goals.

Not only that, there are lots of ways a project can go wrong, such as 1) ending up with an EHR platform that’s no more or even less useful than it was before, 2) finding out that your newly updated or optimized EHR doesn’t work correctly or 3) spending a lot more than you expected on the contract.

That being said, you might benefit from the tips on working with consulting firms offered on the ever-insightful HISTalk site. My favorites include the following:

  • Don’t let consultants burn billable hours with your vendor or other consultants without your participation or approval.
  • Remember that the #1 job of consultants is to create fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) that you can survive without them.
  • Don’t be fooled by the sample resumes consulting firms provide during the selection process. In most cases, it is unlikely those will be the resources on your project. Bait and switch is common.
  • Call lots of references. Not the ones they gave you, but others on their “we’ve worked for every health system in the country” logo slide. Find out who is on their A team and get them.
  • Check their quoted number of employees (many firms are 70% temporary staffers). Go to LinkedIn and see how many people actually list them as an employer.
  • Interview the actual consultants who will work with you and ask hard technical questions.
  • Be aware that some firms might try to get you fired so they can put their replacement in as interim leadership and bill for it.

Wow, that’s a dark picture. You have to brace yourself for consulting firms which may be palming off inexperienced people on you, attempting to get you fired, trying to make you completely dependent on them and costing you more money than you planned to spend. It’s not a pretty picture.

On the other hand, few healthcare organizations can do completely without consultants, or the health IT consulting business would exist in the first place. Eventually, you’re probably going to have to bite the bullet and hire outside help. Just be aware of some of the risks associated with choosing the wrong consulting company.

Yes, hiring such a firm can be a bit concerning, but if you spend enough effort on the search you have a good chance of finding the right organization. Bottom line, if you’re skeptical, thorough and willing to go the extra mile research-wise, you can find a consulting firm that will serve your purposes and help you achieve the goals you wouldn’t be able to achieve without their help.

Healthcare Cloud Hosting with Chad Kissinger, Founder of OnRamp

Posted on November 8, 2017 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.

Cloud hosting is a reality in pretty much every healthcare organization. This is particularly true in hospitals that have hundreds of healthcare IT solutions with many of them being hosted in the cloud. While some are hosted in the health IT vendor’s cloud, I’m also seeing more and more hospitals looking to get out of the data center business and moving their various health IT software to a third party data center. I expect this trend will continue and we’ll eventually see hospitals who don’t have any onsite data center.

As the highly regulated healthcare IT world has moved to the cloud, I’ve seen data centers crop up that cater specifically to the needs of healthcare. One of those companies who’s focused on healthcare data center and cloud offerings is OnRamp. I recently sat down to interview Chad Kissinger, Founder of OnRamp, to learn more about their approach to healthcare cloud hosting and what makes healthcare hosting unique. I also talked with Chad about OnRamp’s recent HITRUST certification and what that means for healthcare providers and what OnRamp is doing to ensure security beyond the HITRUST certification. Plus, Chad offered some great insights into where he sees this all heading.

You can watch my full video interview with OnRamp CEO, Chad Kissinger, embedded at the bottom of this blog post, or click on any of the links below to skip to the sections of the interview that interest you most:

Be sure to Subscribe to Healthcare Scene on YouTube and check out all of our Healthcare IT video interviews and content.

Full Disclosure: OnRamp is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Survey Data on the Healthcare IT Job Market

Posted on March 24, 2017 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’ve been working for a number of years with Pivot Point Consulting, a Vaco Company (previously known as Greythorn) on their Health IT Market Report that looks at the Healthcare IT career space. This year they decided to do a trends edition that took this year’s survey results and compared it with historical data from the past three years which added a new layer of insight to the report.

While at the HIMSS conference, I had a chance to sit down with Ben Weber, Managing Partner, Pivot Point Consulting, a Vaco Company, to talk about their Health IT Market Report and the insights that were gleaned from their survey.

You can find my full video interview with Ben Weber at the bottom of this post or click on any of the links below to skip to a specific topic we discussed:

Be sure to download the full 2017 Healthcare IT Market Report: Trends Edition to dive into the responses to all the questions on the survey. Let us know in the comments what survey results stand out to you.

If you’re searching for a healthcare IT job, be sure to check out the jobs that Pivot Point Consulting has posted on Healthcare IT Central.

The Challenge of Managing So Many Vendors

Posted on March 8, 2017 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.

The more I talk to CIOs, the more I realize that CIO at a hospital and health system is as much about vendor management as it is anything else. And quite frankly, those CIOs are tired and overwhelmed by all the vendor management they do. Every CIO I’ve met is looking to decrease the number of vendors they’re working with and not increase it.

In some ways it makes sense. Even if you look at the basic IT commodity items like servers, systems, storage, networking, security, single sign on, etc you’re probably looking at 14-16 vendors for most organizations. This doesn’t include all the higher end clinical systems (including the EHR) and all of the shadow IT systems that have seeped their way into departments thanks to easy to purchase and use cloud solutions.

At the higher end, I’ve heard of some health systems having 300 different systems that they had to manage. It’s a much smaller number at the lower end small, rural hospital, but it’s still a huge task for even them since they outsource almost everything. They usually can’t attract or afford long term staff to the rural hospitals.

Is it any wonder why that hospital CIO told me that “we’ve got what we need”?

I wonder if the real undercurrent of his comment was “I don’t want any more vendors to manage. I have more than enough!”

My guess is that this CIO who has “all the IT he needs” would probably have no problem looking at and implementing new features and functionality from their existing vendor. That’s a huge advantage for existing vendors as they continue to grow a bigger footprint in the hospitals where they have customers. However, are they missing out on a lot of innovations because of this approach?

At the end of the day, a CIO has to be an effective vendor manager. The better they do at this job, the better their organization will perform.

Are We Outgrowing HIM Systems?

Posted on July 15, 2016 I Written By

Erin Head is the Director of Health Information Management (HIM) and Quality for an acute care hospital in Titusville, FL. She is a renowned speaker on a variety of healthcare and social media topics and currently serves as CCHIIM Commissioner for AHIMA. She is heavily involved in many HIM and HIT initiatives such as information governance, health data analytics, and ICD-10 advocacy. She is active on social media on Twitter @ErinHead_HIM and LinkedIn. Subscribe to Erin's latest HIM Scene posts here.

We have changed and adapted to a rapid influx of electronic medical records and data over the last several years and it’s no surprise that some systems have struggled to keep the pace. Electronic medical records (EMRs) are in a state of constant revision to make sure patient care, clinical functionality, and data security measures are keeping up with our needs. It seems there are software application solutions or enhancements to almost every task we do in healthcare and these systems are also constantly evolving.

I don’t know of any healthcare application system or workflow that has remained static year over year and because of this, it is important for us to stay on top of vendors and keep an eye on current and future needs of HIM workflows. Clinical Documentation Improvement (CDI) is one of those areas that has been evolving since it first came on the scene and it is currently undergoing yet another face-lift. We realized there were many revenue opportunities hiding within inpatient clinical documentation and found that we could maximize reimbursement with a little detective work and physician education along with sophisticated software tools. Many are exploring the idea of CDI for outpatient levels of care. This means we will need software applications, interfaces, and expanded CDI workflows to extend these opportunities to outpatient documentation. Have you thought about what you will need from your vendors to adapt or upgrade current systems and how much will need to be budgeted for?

As we work to implement computer assisted coding (CAC) programs, we see opportunities to increase coder and CDI productivity and capture even more quality documentation by using discrete EMR data to our advantage. But are these CAC systems ready to be pushed to the limits to enter unchartered waters? I personally do not have a CAC success story to tell as of yet, but I am exploring the options and hoping that these systems have matured more than when we first explored them a few years ago.

That’s the beauty of technology in healthcare; if a product does not meet your needs, there may be other options already on the market or rapidly developing new technologies on the horizon. A vast amount of data may be held hostage in our systems if we do not maximize our EMRs and applications and set our standards high in a quest for knowledge. We can’t rely 100% on technology to dictate what we do which is why we need to be the visionaries and demand more from our systems in order to accomplish new and exciting things in HIM.

If you’d like to receive future HIM posts by Erin in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

EMR Vendors Slow To Integrate Telemedicine Options

Posted on August 27, 2015 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.

Despite the massive growth in demand for virtual medical services, major EMR vendors are still proving slow to support such options, seemingly ceding the market to more agile telemedicine startups.

Independent telemedicine vendors targeting consumers are growing like weeds. Players like Doctor on Demand, NowClinic, American Well and HealthTap are becoming household names, touted not only in healthcare blogs but on morning TV talk shows. These services, which typically hire physicians as consultants, offer little continuity of care but provide a level of easy access unheard of in other settings.

Part of what’s fueling this growth is that health insurers are finally starting to pay for virtual medical visits. For example, Medicare and nearly every state Medicaid plan also cover at least some telemedicine services. Meanwhile, 29 states require that private payers cover telehealth the same as in-person services.

Hospitals and health systems are also getting on board the telemedicine train. For example, Stanford Healthcare recently rolled out a mobile health app, connected to Apple HealthKit and its Epic EMR, which allows patients to participate in virtual medical appointments through its ClickWell Care clinic. Given how popular virtual doctor visits have become, I’m betting that most next-gen apps created by large providers will offer this option.

EMR vendors, for their part, are adding telemedicine support to their platforms, but they’re not doing much to publicize it. Take Epic, whose EpicCare Ambulatory EMR can be hooked up to a telemedicine module. The EpicCare page on its site mentions that telemedicine functionality is available, but certainly does little to convince buyers to select it. In fact, Epic has offered such options for years, but I never knew that, and lately I spend more time tracking telemedicine than I do any other HIT trend.

As I noted in my latest broadcast on Periscope (follow @ziegerhealth), EMR vendors are arguably the best-positioned tech vendors to offer telemedicine services. After all, EMRs are already integrated into a hospital or clinic’s infrastructure and workflow. And this would make storage and clinical classification of the consults easier, making the content of the videos more valuable. (Admittedly, developing a classification scheme — much less standards — probably isn’t trivial, but that’s a subject for another article.)

What’s more, rather than relying on the rudimentary information supplied by patient self-reports, clinicians could rely on full-bodied medical data stored in that EMR. I could even see next-gen video visit technology which exposes medical data to patients and allows patients to discuss it live with doctors.

But that’s not how things are evolving. Instead, it seems that providers are largely outsourcing telemedicine services, a respectable but far less robust way to get things done. I don’t know if this will end up being the default way they deliver virtual visits, but unless EMR vendors step up, they’ll certainly have to work harder to get a toehold in this market.

I don’t know why so few EMR companies are rolling out their own virtual visit options. To me, it seems like a no-brainer, particularly for smaller ambulatory vendors which still need to differentiate themselves. But if I were an investor in a lagging EMR venture, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d want to know the answer.

Key Big Data Challenges Providers Must Face

Posted on July 17, 2015 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.

Everybody likes to talk about the promise of big data, but managing it is another story. Taming big data will take new strategies and new IT skills, neither of which are a no-brainer, according to new research by the BPI Network.

While BPI Network has identified seven big data pain points, I’d argue that they boil down to just a few key issues:

* Data storage and management:  While providers may prefer to host their massive data stores in-house, this approach is beginning to wear out, at least as the only strategy in town. Over time, hospitals have begun moving to cloud-based solutions, at least in hybrid models offloading some of their data. As they cautiously explore outsourcing some of their data management and storage, meanwhile, they have to make sure that they have security locked down well enough to comply with HIPAA and repel hackers.

Staffing:  Health IT leaders may need to look for a new breed of IT hire, as the skills associated with running datacenters have shifted to the application level rather than data transmission and security levels. And this has changed hiring patterns in many IT shops. When BPI queried IT leaders, 41% said they’d be looking for application development pros, compared with 24% seeking security skills. Ultimately, health IT departments will need staffers with a different mindset than those who maintained datasets over the long term, as these days providers need IT teams that solve emerging problems.

Data and application availability: Health IT execs may finally be comfortable moving at least some of their data into the cloud, probably because they’ve come to believe that their cloud vendor offers good enough security to meet regulatory requirements. But that’s only a part of what they need to consider. Whether their data is based in the cloud or in a data center, health IT departments need to be sure they can offer high data availability, even if a datacenter is destroyed. What’s more, they also need to offer very high availability to EMRs and other clinical data-wrangling apps, something that gets even more complicated if the app is hosted in the cloud.

Now, the reality is that these problems aren’t big issues for every provider just yet. In fact, according to an analysis by KPMG, only 10% of providers are currently using big data to its fullest potential. The 271 healthcare professionals surveyed by KPMG said that there were several major barriers to leveraging big data in their organization, including having unstandardized data in silos (37%), lacking the right technology infrastructure (17%) and failing to have data and analytics experts on board (15%).  Perhaps due to these roadblocks, a full 21% of healthcare respondents had no data analytics initiatives in place yet, though they were at the planning stages.

Still, it’s good to look at the obstacles health IT departments will face when they do take on more advanced data management and analytics efforts. After all, while ensuring high data and app availability, stocking the IT department with the right skillsets and implementing a wise data management strategy aren’t trivial, they’re doable for CIOs that plan ahead. And it’s not as if health leaders have a choice. Going from maintaining an enterprise data warehouse to leveraging health data analytics may be challenging, but it’s critical to make it happen.

Is Epic Too Big To Fail?

Posted on May 27, 2015 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.

While there’s a chance an Epic purchase can endanger a hospital’s financial health, I’ve never heard a whisper of gossip suggesting that Epic is in financial trouble.

In fact, it appears virtually unstoppable. Though Epic is a private company, and doesn’t disclose its financial information, its 2014 revenue was estimated at $1.75 billion, up from $1.19 billion in 2011. And despite the fact that the hospital EMR market is getting saturated, the giant EMR vendor is doing quite nicely with the estimated 15% to 20% of the market it is reported to hold.

Still, what would happen if Epic took a body blow of some kind and stopped being able to support the implementation and operation of its products?  After all, buying an EMR isn’t like picking up, say, a fleet of trucks that the hospital services and maintains. For years — sometimes a decade — after a hospital goes with Epic, that hospital is typically reliant on Epic to help keep the EMR lights on.

Which brings me to my core question: Is Epic too big to fail? Would it create such a disaster in the healthcare market that the U.S. government should step in if Epic ever had a massive problem meeting its commitments?

As little as I like saying so, there’s a strong argument to be made that Epic simply can’t be allowed to stumble, much less crumble.

As of April 2014, Epic reportedly had 297 customers, a number which has undoubtedly grown over the past year. What’s more, 70% of HIMSS Analytics Stage 7 hospitals, i.e. hospitals for which their EMR is absolutely mission critical, use the EpicCare inpatient EMR.

If Epic were to face some financial or operational disaster that prevented it from supporting its hospitals customers, those hospitals would be very compromised. Epic’s customers simply couldn’t leap abruptly to, say, a competing Cerner system, as the transition could take several years.

Depending how far along in their Epic install and launch they were, hospitals might try to limp along with the technology they had in place, switch temporarily to paper records or try to keep their progress going with whatever Epic consultants they could find.

In an effort to recover from the loss of Epic support, hospitals would be forced to bid high for the services of those consultants. Hospitals could have their IT budgets decimated, their credit harmed or even be driven out of business.

In the crazy shuffle that would follow, there’s little doubt that many medical errors would occur, some serious and some fatal. It’s impossible to predict how many errors would arise, of course, but I think it’s easy to argue that the number would be non-trivial.

Given all this, the feds might actually be forced to step in and clean up Epic’s mess if it made one. Mind you, I’m not saying that, say, HHS has such a plan in place, but perhaps it should.

Ultimately, I think the healthcare industry ought to do some self-policing and find some ways to reduce its reliance on a single, frighteningly-powerful vendor. Over time, I believe that will involve gradually shifting away from reliance on existing EMRs to next-gen EMRs built to support value-driven payment and population health analysis. In the mean time, we’d better hope nobody drops a giant rock on Epic’s executive headquarters.

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

Posted on February 20, 2015 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.

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.