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The Truth about AI in Healthcare

Posted on June 18, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Gary Palgon, VP Healthcare and Life Sciences Solutions at Liaison Technologies.

Those who watched the television show, “The Good Doctor,” in its first season got to see how a young autistic surgeon who has savant syndrome faced challenges in his everyday life as he learns to connect with people in his world. His extraordinary medical skill and intuition not only saves patients’ lives but also creates bridges with co-workers.

During each show, there is at least one scene in which the young doctor “visualizes” the inner workings of the patient’s body – evaluating and analyzing the cause of the medical condition.

Although all physicians can describe what happens to cause illness, the speed, detail and clarity of the young surgeon’s ability to gather information, predict reactions to treatments and identify the protocol that will produce the best outcome greatly surpasses his colleagues’ abilities.

Yes, this is a television show, but artificial intelligence promises the same capabilities that will disrupt all of our preconceived notions about healthcare on both the clinical and the operational sides of the industry.

Doctors rely on their medical training as well as their personal experience with hundreds of patients, but AI can allow clinicians to tap into the experience of hundreds of doctors’ experiences with thousands of patients. Even if physicians had personal experience with thousands of patients, the human mind can’t process all of the data effectively.

How can AI improve patient outcomes as well as the bottom line?

We’re already seeing the initial benefits of AI in many areas of the hospital. A report by Accenture identifies the top three uses of AI in healthcare as robot-assisted surgery, virtual nursing assistants and administrative workflow assistance. These three AI applications alone represent a potential estimated annual benefit of $78 billion for the healthcare industry by 2026.

The benefits of AI include improved precision in surgery, decreased length of stay, reduction in unnecessary hospital visits through remote assessment of patient conditions, and time-saving capabilities such as voice-to-text transcription. According to Accenture, these improvements represent a work time savings of 17 percent for physicians and 51 percent for registered nurses – at a critical time when there is no end in sight for the shortages of both nurses and doctors.

In a recent webinar discussing the role of AI in healthcare, John Lynn, founder of HealthcareScene.com, described other ways that AI can improve diagnosis, treatment and patient safety. These areas include dosage error detection, treatment plan design, determination of medication adherence, medical imaging, tailored prescription medicine and automated documentation.

One of the challenges to fully leveraging the insights and capabilities of AI is the volume of information accumulated in electronic medical records that is unstructured data. Translating this information into a format that can be used by clinical providers as well as financial and administrative staff to optimize treatment plans as well as workflows is possible with natural language processing – a branch of AI that enables technology to interpret speech and text and determine which information is critical.

The most often cited fear about a reliance on AI in healthcare is the opportunity to make mistakes. Of course, humans make mistakes as well. We must remember that AI’s ability to tap into a much wider pool of information to make decisions or recommend options will result in a more deeply-informed decision – if the data is good.

The proliferation of legacy systems, continually added applications and multiple EMRs in a health system increases the risk of data that cannot be accessed or cannot be shared in real-time to aid clinicians or an AI-supported program. Ensuring that data is aggregated into a central location, harmonized, transformed into a usable format and cleaned to provide high quality data is necessary to support reliable AI performance.

While AI might be able to handle the data aggregation and harmonization tasks in the future, we are not there yet. This is not, however, a reason to delay the use of AI in hospitals and other organizations across the healthcare spectrum.

Healthcare organizations can partner with companies that specialize in the aggregation of data from disparate sources to make the information available to all users. Increasing access to data throughout the organization is beneficial to health systems – even before they implement AI tools.

Although making data available to all of the organization’s providers, staff and vendors as needed may seem onerous, it is possible to do so without adding to the hospital’s IT staff burden or the capital improvement budget. The complexities of translating structured and unstructured data, multiple formats and a myriad of data sources can be balanced with data security concerns with the use of a team that focuses on these issues each day.

While most AI capabilities in use today are algorithms that reflect current best practices or research that are programmed by healthcare providers or researchers, this will change. In the future, AI will expand beyond algorithms, and the technology will be able to learn and make new connections among a wider set of data points than today’s more narrowly focused algorithms.

Whether or not your organization is implementing AI, considering AI or just watching its development, I encourage everyone to start by evaluating the data that will be used to “run” AI tools. Taking steps now to ensure clean, easy-to-access data will not only benefit clinical and operational tasks now but will also position the organization to more quickly adopt AI.

About Gary Palgon
Gary Palgon is vice president of healthcare and life sciences solutions at Liaison Technologies, a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. In this role, Gary leverages more than two decades of product management, sales, and marketing experience to develop and expand Liaison’s data-inspired solutions for the healthcare and life sciences verticals. Gary’s unique blend of expertise bridges the gap between the technical and business aspects of healthcare, data security, and electronic commerce. As a respected thought leader in the healthcare IT industry, Gary has had numerous articles published, is a frequent speaker at conferences, and often serves as a knowledgeable resource for analysts and journalists. Gary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Florida.

Improving Data Outcomes: Just What The Doctor Ordered

Posted on May 8, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Dave Corbin, CEO of HULFT.

Health care has a data problem. Vast quantities are generated but inefficiencies around sharing, retrieval, and integration have acute repercussions in an environment of squeezed budgets and growing patient demands.

The sensitive nature of much of the data being processed is a core issue. Confidential patient information has traditionally encouraged a ‘closed door’ approach to data management and an unease over hyper-accessibility to this information.

Compounding the challenge is the sheer scale and scope of the typical health care environment and myriad of departmental layers. The mix of new and legacy IT systems used for everything from billing records to patient tracking often means deep silos and poor data connections, the accumulative effect of which undermines decision-making. As delays become commonplace, this ongoing battle to coordinate disparate information manifests itself in many different ways in a busy hospital.

Optimizing bed occupancies – a data issue?

One example involves managing bed occupancy, a complex task which needs multiple players to be in the loop when it comes to the latest on a patient’s admission or discharge status. Anecdotal evidence points to a process often informed manually via feedback with competing information. Nurses at the end of their shift may report that a patient is about to be discharged, unaware that a doctor has since requested more tests to be carried out for that patient. As everyone is left waiting for the results from the laboratory, the planned changeover of beds is delayed with many knock-on effects, increasing congestion and costs and frustrating staff and patients in equal measure.

How data is managed becomes a critical factor in tackling the variations that creep into critical processes and resource utilization. In the example above, harnessing predictive modelling and data mining to forecast the number of patient discharges so that the number of beds available for the coming weeks can be estimated more accurately will no doubt become an increasingly mainstream option for the sector.

Predictive analytics is great and all, but first….

Before any of this can happen, health care organizations need a solid foundation of accessible and visible data which is centralized, intuitive, and easy to manage.

Providing a holistic approach to data transfer and integration, data logistics can help deliver security, compliance, and seamless connectivity speeding up the processing of large volumes of sensitive material such as electronic health records – the kind of data that simply cannot be lost. These can ensure the reliable and secure exchange of intelligence with outside health care vendors and partners.

For data outcomes, we’re calling for a new breed of data logistics that’s intuitive and easy to use. Monitoring interfaces which enable anyone with permission to access the network to see what integrations and transfers are running in real time with no requirement for programming or coding are the kind of intervention which opens the data management to a far wider section of an organization.

Collecting data across a network of multiple transfer and integration activities and putting it in a place where people can use, manage and manipulate becomes central to breaking down the barriers that have long compromised efficiencies in the health care sector.

HULFT works with health care organizations of all sizes to establish a strong back-end data infrastructure that make front-end advances possible. Learn how one medical technology pioneer used HULFT to drive operational efficiencies and improve quality assurance in this case study.

Dave Corbin is CEO of HULFT, a comprehensive data logistics platform that allows IT to find, secure, transform and move information at scale. HULFT is a proud sponsor of Health IT Expo, a practical innovation conference organized by Healthcare Scene.  Find out more at hulftinc.com

TigerConnect Successfully Rebrands in Just 9 Months

Posted on April 16, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Rebranding is not easy. Rebranding a well-established company that has become synonymous with a form of healthcare communication is even harder. Executing that rebrand in just 9 months while simultaneously preparing for healthcare’s biggest event – the annual HIMSS conference – is a near impossible task. Yet that’s what the team at TigerText, now TigerConnect, pulled off earlier this year.

At HIMSS18, TigerText became TigerConnect. Along with the new name came a new logo – albeit one with a clear homage to their company’s past. The new logo features a cleaner font style and a clever graphic element. If you look closely you will see that the graphic is four interlocking C’s which represent the company’s goal – Connected, Clinical, Communications, and Collaboration. The four colors are meant to represent the four different members of the care team: Doctors, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, and Patients.

“The old brand was really about texting and compliance,” explained Kelli Castellano, Chief Marketing Officer for TigerConnect. “Not only was the word ‘text’ front and center, but our old brand also had a text box with a lock symbol as the main graphic. You couldn’t get more literal than that. When we first started, we were focused on being the best secure texting and compliance solution in the market. We sold to healthcare compliance officers and to CIOs. The TigerText brand personified that focus and it really served us well.”

But then in 2016, the company launched a new clinical workflow solution called TigerFlow.

“When we showed TigerFlow to prospects it was well received,” Castellano continued. “But people would leave the meeting wondering why their texting company was talking to them about clinical workflow. Worse, many clinicians were confused on being invited to a meeting with TigerText – a company they viewed as a technology infrastructure provider.”

By early 2017, after a few months of research and introspection, the team realized that the company name and brand was holding them back. It was simply too much to ask their target audience, which now included clinical decision makers like CMOs, CMIOs and CNOs, to see the company as anything more than a texting platform.

Castellano and the rest of the Marketing Team knew that rebranding the company would be risky. After all, hundreds of thousands of users click the TigerText logo each day on their phones to communicate securely with their peers. “TigerTexting” had even become a verb used by their customers to describe the act of sending messages through their system.

To gain buy-in and build internal momentum for a rebrand, Castellano asked her team to “do the research” and gather feedback from stakeholders including: customers, board advisors, partners and staff. They found there was consensus for changing the TigerText name.

After three months of work, Castellano and her team, with the support of Co-Founder and CEO, Brad Brooks, officially began the rebranding initiative.

It was now the end of spring 2017 and Castellano set an ambitious goal of launching the new brand at HIMSS18 – only 9 months away. “It was definitely an audacious goal,” admitted Castellano. “But we all knew that it just had to get done. Our Sales Team needed it. Our company needed it. We just had to move forward.”

Castellano allocated half of her ten person team to work on the rebrand while the other half worked on HIMSS18 pre-show marketing and building up their sales funnel. Everything came together and on March 6th the new brand was revealed.

CEO Brooks explained the new name this way: “Our new name – TigerConnect – allows us to clearly articulate the true value our solutions deliver. We connect care teams, existing data systems, and ultimately healthcare communities across a centralized and highly scalable clinical messaging platform. It is this real-time connection to data and people that dramatically improves the way healthcare organizations communicate to drive better results. We wanted that value to be reflected in our name and brand icon which are 4 interlocking C’s that represent Connected Clinical Communication and Collaboration.”

According to Castellano the reaction internally has been overwhelmingly positive. “We gave our staff a preview of the new brand in January. Everyone was very proud and happy with the new name. It was fresh and new, yet it still had a nod to our heritage and roots. Everyone felt that the new brand would allow us to better position the company and elevate the conversations we were having.”

“The reaction at HIMSS was also very positive,” noted Brooks. “The name change gave us the opportunity to talk about our story. We talked about where we had been and where we were going. It was really a lightbulb moment for visitors to the booth. We got a lot of ‘Aha…that makes sense’ comments.”

Having led three rebranding initiatives at three different companies, I applaud Castellano and her team for achieving their goal in such a short time frame. To do it on top of preparing for HIMSS is simply incredible.

It will be interesting to track the growth of TigerConnect in the years to come to see if the rebrand helps the company reach its desired financial results.

Putting into Practice Today’s Innovative Technologies that Enable Healthcare Disruption

Posted on March 28, 2018 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.

As we went around the #HIMSS18 annual conference in Las Vegas, we were in search of practical innovations that hospitals and health systems could implement today. We found that in spades when we visited the Lenovo Health booth and had a chance to sit down with experts from Lenovo Health, Wyatt Yelverton and Andy Nieto.

Today’s healthcare demands organizations look for innovations and efficiencies that will help them thrive in a value based healthcare world. In the following video interview with Wyatt Yelverton and Andy Nieto from Lenovo Health, I talk with them about a wide variety of subjects and technology including: AR/VR, telehealth, and smart assistants. Along with seeing the technology, we talk about how health IT professionals can get buy in for these technologies and the impact these technologies will have on their organization.

If you’re interested in some of these practical IT innovations, you’ll enjoy this interview with two Lenovo Health experts.

What are you doing in your organization around these technologies? Are you using AR/VR, Telemedicine, or smart assistants? What have you done to get buy in from your organization to implement these technologies? If you haven’t implemented them, what’s holding you back? We look forward to hearing your thoughts on social media and in the comments.

Disclosure: Lenovo Health is a sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Shared Use Smartphones in Healthcare: Apple Losing Market Share to Healthcare Specific Devices

Posted on March 14, 2018 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.

Just before HIMSS took over my healthcare IT world, KLAS published a report on clinical mobility that I found extremely interesting. In fact, the report shaped a number of meetings I did at HIMSS. If you’re a provider or payer you can access the report for free here. However, I got permission to share a few images from the report that showed some trends worth considering when it comes to clinical mobility.

The first image is trends in shared-use smartphones in healthcare organizations.

This chart is quite fascinating as you see a big shift away from Apple devices and a big increase in the healthcare specific mobile devices like Zebra and Spectralink. Granted, Apple still has a good size market share and is still being considered by many. However, it seems that many are realizing that the Apple devices aren’t worth the premium you pay for them.

At HIMSS, I had a chance to talk with both Zebra and Spectralink and I was impressed by their efforts to make a healthcare specific mobile device. These were extremely robust devices and so it’s no wonder to me that they’re seeing good adoption in healthcare.

I’ll be continuing to watch this space to see how it evolves.

Another chart from the clinical mobility report that caught my eye was this list of most desired capabilities:

There’s no surprise that secure messaging was so high. I was a little surprised that video connections was so low. Shows you how far we have to go. Secure messaging does seem to be the gateway drug to mobile clinical devices, but I’m most excited by the other smart notifications that are going to be available. When meeting with Voalte at HIMSS I was impressed by one of their user’s observations that managing alert fatigue was easier with a unified platform. That made a lot of sense to me and it is a challenge that every healthcare organization faces.

What stands out for you in the above charts? What’s your experience with clinical mobility? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.

#HIMSS18 Preview with David Chou

Posted on February 28, 2018 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 subscribe to the full Healthcare Scene email list, then you probably know that for the past month we’ve been prepping for the massive HIMSS Annual Conference happening next week in Las Vegas. It’s a great place for the healthcare IT community to come together and hear what’s happening in the industry and connect with vendors. If you’re planning to go, please come and say hi at one of the Healthcare Scene Meetups at #HIMSS18.

It’s always fun to sit down before HIMSS and talk about what we expect to see at the show and what we expect not to see at the show. Then, we can go back after and see if we were right and talk about any things that surprised us. With that in mind, David Chou, Vice President and Chief Information and Digital Officer at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, and I decided it would be the perfect topic for this week’s CXO Scene podcast.

If you’re going to HIMSS18, then you’ll really enjoy the video below, but even if you won’t be making the trek to Vegas, we cover a lot of topics that you might want to consider exploring in your organization if you’re not doing so already. Plus, we offer a few tips in how to make the most of HIMSS.

If you can’t make it to HIMSS or want to experience a healthcare IT focused event that’s much more intimate, take a minute to check out Health IT Expo. Health IT Expo is a conference focused on practical innovations in healthcare IT.

See everyone next week at HIMSS in Las Vegas!

Recent Acquisitions are Changing the Healthcare Software Landscape

Posted on February 26, 2018 I Written By

For the past twenty years, I have been working with healthcare organizations to implement technologies and improve business processes. During that time, I have had the opportunity to lead major transformation initiatives including implementation of EHR and ERP systems as well as design and build of shared service centers. I have worked with many of the largest healthcare providers in the United States as well as many academic and children's hospitals. In this blog, I will be discussing my experiences and ideas and encourage everyone to share your own as well in the comments.

Customers of many software solution have been nervously watching their solutions change hands, leading to increased concerns about the future of those products. Most recently, Allscripts surprised the industry first with the acquisition of Mckesson’s software solutions and now with the purchase of Practice Fusion. Last year, Hyland purchased the Perceptive and Brainware software products from Kofax, and now has purchased Mckesson OneContent from Allscripts. What do these changes mean for the industry and how should owners of these products react to their critical solutions changing hands?

Mergers and acquisitions are nothing new to the software industry. Epic, with its policy of developing entirely in-house and not acquiring other solutions, is the exception, not the rule. For most software companies, acquiring mature solutions to expand into a new market or to acquire customers is a standard method of growth. However, the recent rapid-fire acquisitions in the EHR and document imaging spaces have surprised many customers of those products.

McKesson announced the sunset of their Horizon clinical products years ago, positioning Paragon as its replacement. Yet that is only one of their package of solutions which includes OneContent for document imaging, STAR for billing, Relay Health for claims, Pathways for ERP, and others, many of which are all in use together at some hospitals. When Mckesson sold out its products to Allscripts, many questions came up about the future of those products.

When that deal was done, Allscripts gave the first hint of the product future by announcing that Mckesson Paragon would be their solution for smaller hospitals. That suggested the focus would be on Allscripts, not Paragon, as their go-forward solution. Now with the sale of OneContent to Hyland, Allscripts appears to be divesting itself of some of the Mckesson solutions. Others may soon follow.

Perceptive software was sold to Lexmark many years ago, which in turn acquired Kofax and then the solution was sold to its largest competitor, Hyland. Hyland, which is the developer of the Onbase product, now has purchased OneContent, and now has the customers of three large providers of document imaging solutions all under one roof.

How long will it make sense for them to continue to enhance three different competing solutions? While support may last for many years, there will be limitations to what they will enhance in these older solutions to avoid dividing up R&D resources and creating market confusion.

Allscripts now has a large number of older Mckesson solutions that it will have to evaluate and determine their future. While Practice Fusion may serve as a solution for smaller clinics who would not be candidates for Allscripts, Mckesson’s Paragon product is a direct competitor to Allscripts. Other solutions such as Pathways may simply not be worth further investment and may be outside of Allscript’s core mission.

Hospitals that currently have any solutions whose future is in doubt should start to evaluate their options and consider what is in their long-term interest. Each vendor will likely offer attractive paths to transition to their preferred solution, and it may be best to take advantage of those options early to give sufficient time to make the change.

Change is never easy. The employees of these organizations are going through significant change as are the users of these solutions. However, healthcare technology leaders should always be looking ahead to what’s next and be prepared for change – for change is the only thing that we are guaranteed.

The 4 P’s of Innovation in Health Science

Posted on January 31, 2018 I Written By

Sunny is a serial entrepreneur on a mission to improve quality of care through data science. Sunny’s last venture docBeat, a healthcare care coordination platform, was successfully acquired by Vocera communications. Sunny has an impressive track record of Strategy, Business Development, Innovation and Execution in the Healthcare, Casino Entertainment, Retail and Gaming verticals. Sunny is the Co-Chair for the Las Vegas Chapter of Akshaya Patra foundation (www.foodforeducation.org) since 2010.

You’ll never meet anyone that loves health data science more than Prashant Natarajan. He literally wrote the book on the subject (Check out Demystifying Big Data and Machine Learning for Healthcare to see why I mean literally). He recently gave a presentation on the 4 P’s of Innovation in Health Science which included this slide:

Sadly, I couldn’t find a recording of his presentation. However, this slide puts health data science in perspective. Prashant boiled it down to 4 simple points. The problem is that too many healthcare organizations are unable to really execute all 4 P’s in their health science innovation efforts.

No doubt each of these 4 P’s is challenging, but the most challenging one I see today is the first P: People.

I’m not sure all of the ways that Prashant addresses the people problem, but it’s somewhat ironic that people is the biggest problem with health science innovation. I see the challenge as two fold. First, finding people who have the health science mindset are hard to find. Competition for people with these skills is fierce and many of them don’t want to get into healthcare which is complex, regulated, and often behind.

The second major health science challenge revolves around the people who collect, aggregate, and enter the data. It’s easy for a front line person to not care about the downstream effects of them entering poor quality data. Not to mention being consistent in what you enter and how you enter it.

It’s somewhat apart of human nature for us to jimmy rig a solution to the problem we face. Those workaround solutions wreaked havoc downstream in your data science efforts. I recently heard the example of a hospital always choosing Mongolian for some setting because it was a setting that would never be used otherwise. The culture of the hospital just knew this is what to do. Once the data scientists started looking at the data they wondered why this Mongolian population kept coming up in their results. Every healthcare organization has their “mongolian” workaround that causes havoc on data science.

What do you think of these 4 Ps of Innovation in Health Science? Is there something missing? Do you see one of these as more important than another?

An EHR Vendor’s Efforts to Address Physician Burnout with Corinne Proctor Boudreau from MEDITECH

Posted on January 24, 2018 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.

Physician burnout is a major problem in healthcare. While there are a lot of things that are contributing to physician burnout, many like to point to the EHR as a major reason why so many physicians are getting burnt out. So, while the EHR can’t completely solve physician burnout, a well designed EHR can help to alleviate some of the stress a physician experiences.

With this idea in mind, we jumped at the chance to sit down with Corinne Proctor Boudreau, Senior Manager, Physician Experience at MEDITECH, to learn about what MEDITECH is hearing from their customers about physician burnout and what they’ve been doing and plan to do to alleviate this challenging problem.

Check out our full physician burnout interview with Corinne Proctor Boudreau embedded below or on YouTube.

You can find all of Healthcare Scene’s interviews on the Healthcare Scene YouTube channel. Also, at the start of the video, I mentioned our new conference, Health IT Expo happening at the end of May in New Orleans. We hope you’ll all be able to join us in New Orleans to learn about practical innovations that can benefit your organization.

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.