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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.

Pennsylvania Health Orgs Agree to Joint $1 Billion Network Dev Effort

Posted on December 27, 2017 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.

If the essence of deal-making is putting your money where your mouth is, a new agreement between Pennsylvania healthcare giants fit the description. They’ve certainly bitten off a mouthful.

Health organizations, Penn State Health and Highmark Health, have agreed to make a collective investment of more than $1 billion. That is a pretty big number to swallow, even for two large organizations, though it very well may take even more to develop the kind of network they have in mind.

The two are building out what they describe as a “community-based healthcare network,” which they’re designing to foster collaboration with community doctors and keep care local across its service areas.  Makes sense, though the initial press release doesn’t do much to explain how the two are going to make that happen.

The agreement between Penn State and Highmark includes efforts to support population health, the next step in accepting value-based payment. The investors’ plans include the development of population health management capabilities and the use of analytics to manage chronic conditions. Again, pretty much to be expected these days, though their goals are more likely to actually be met given the money being thrown at the problem.

That being said, one possible aspect of interest to this deal is its inclusion of a regionally-focused academic medical center. Penn State plans to focus its plans around teaching hospital Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, a 548-bed hospital affiliated with more than 1,100 clinicians. In my experience, too few agreements take enough advantage of hospital skills in their zeal to spread their arms around large areas, so involving the Medical Center might offer extra benefits to the agreement.

Highmark Health, for its part, is an ACO which encompasses healthcare business serving almost 50 million consumers cutting across all 50 states.  Clearly, an ACO with national reach has every reason in the world to make this kind of investment.

I don’t know what the demographics of the Penn State market are, but one can assume a few things about them, given the the big bucks the pair are throwing at the deal:

  • That there’s a lot of well-insured consumers in the region, which will help pay for a return on the huge investment the players are making
  • That community doctors are substantially independent, but the two allies are hoping to buy a bunch of practices and solidify their network
  • That prospective participants in the network are lacking the IT tools they need to make value-based schemes work, which is why, in part, the two players need to spend so heavily

I know that ACOs and healthcare systems are already striking deals like this one. If you’re part of a health system hoping to survive the next generation of reimbursement, big budgets are necessary, as are new strategies better adapted to value-based reimbursement.

Still, this is a pretty large deal by just about any measure. If it works out, we might end up with new benchmarks for building better-distributed healthcare networks.

Breaking Bad: Why Poor Patient Identification is Rooted in Integration, Interoperability

Posted on December 20, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Dan Cidon, Chief Technology Officer, NextGate.

The difficulty surrounding accurate patient ID matching is sourced in interoperability and integration.

Coordinated, accountable, patient-centered care is reliant on access to quality patient data. Yet, healthcare continues to be daunted by software applications and IT systems that don’t communicate or share information effectively. Health data, spread across multiple source systems and settings, breeds encumbrances in the reconciliation and de-duplication of patient records, leading to suboptimal outcomes and avoidable costs of care. For organizations held prisoner by their legacy systems, isolation and silo inefficiencies worsen as IT environments become increasingly more complex, and the growth and speed to which health data is generated magnifies.

A panoramic view of individuals across the enterprise is a critical component for value-based care and population health initiatives. Accurately identifying patients, and consistently matching them with their data, is the foundation for informed clinical decision-making, collaborative care, and healthier, happier populations. As such, the industry has seen a number of high-profile initiatives in the last few years attempting to address the issue of poor patient identification.

The premature end of CHIME’s National Patient ID Challenge last month should be a sobering industry reminder that a universal solution may never be within reach. However, the important lesson emanating in the wake of the CHIME challenge is that technology alone will not solve the problem. Ultimately, the real challenge of identity management and piecing together a longitudinal health record has to do with integration and interoperability. More specifically, it revolves around the demographics and associated identifiers dispersed across multiple systems.

Because these systems often have little reason to communicate with one another, and because they store their data through fragmented architecture, an excessive proliferation of identifiers occurs. The result is unreliable demographic information, triggering further harm in data synchronization and integrity.

Clearly, keeping these identifiers and demographics as localized silos of data is an undesirable model for healthcare that will never function properly. While secondary information such as clinical data should remain local, the core identity of a patient and basic demographics including name, gender, date of birth, address and contact information shouldn’t be in the control of any single system. This information must be externalized from these insulated applications to maintain accuracy and consistency across all connected systems within the delivery network.

However, there are long-standing and relatively simple standards in place, such as HL7 PIX/PDQ, that allow systems to feed a central demographic repository and query that repository for data. Every year, for the past eight years, NextGate has participated in the annual IHE North American Connectathon – the healthcare industry’s largest interoperability testing event. Year after year, we see hundreds of other participating vendors demonstrating that with effective standards, it is indeed possible to externalize patient identity.

In the United Kingdom, for example, there has been slow but steady success of the Patient Demographic Service – a relatively similar concept of querying a central repository for demographics and maintaining a global identifier. While implementation of such a national scale service in the U.S. is unlikely in the near-term, the concept of smaller scale regional registries is clearly an achievable goal. And every deployment of our Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) is a confirmation that such systems can work and do provide value.

What is disappointing, is that very few systems in actual practice today will query the EMPI as part of the patient intake process. Many, if not most, of the systems we integrate with will only fulfill half of the bargain, namely they will feed the EMPI with demographic data and identifiers. This is because many systems have already been designed to produce this outbound communication for purposes other than the management of demographic data. When it comes to querying the EMPI for patient identity, this requires a fundamental paradigm shift for many vendors and a modest investment to enhance their software. Rather than solely relying on their limited view of patient identity, they are expected to query an outside source and integrate that data into their local repository.

This isn’t rocket science, and yet there are so few systems in production today that initiate this simple step. Worse yet, we see many healthcare providers resorting to band aids to remedy the deficiency, such as resorting to ineffective screen scraping technology to manually transfer data from the EMPI to their local systems.

With years of health IT standards in place that yield a centralized and uniform way of managing demographic data, the meager pace and progress of vendors to adopt them is troubling. It is indefensible that a modern registration system, for instance, wouldn’t have this querying capability as a default module. Yet, that is what we see in the field time and time again.

In other verticals where banking and manufacturing are leveraging standards-based exchange at a much faster pace, it really begs the question: how can healthcare accelerate this type of adoption? As we prepare for the upcoming IHE Connectathon in January, we place our own challenge to the industry to engage in an open and frank dialogue to identify what the barriers are, and how can vendors be incentivized, so patients can benefit from the free flow of accurate, real-time data from provider to provider.

Ultimately, accurate patient identification is a fundamental component to leveraging IT for the best possible outcomes. Identification of each and every individual in the enterprise helps to ensure better care coordination, informed clinical decision making, and improved quality and safety.

Dan Cidon is CTO and co-founder NextGate, a leader in healthcare identity management, managing nearly 250 million lives for health systems and HIEs in the U.S. and around the globe.

Surescripts Deal Connects EMR Vendors And PBMs To Improve Price Transparency

Posted on November 22, 2017 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.

I’m no expert on the pharmacy business, but from where I sit as a consumer it’s always looked to me as though pharmaceutical pricing is something of a shell game. It makes predicting what your airline ticket will cost seem like child’s play.

Yes, in theory, the airlines engage in demand-oriented pricing, while pharma pricing is based on negotiated prices spread among multiple contracted parties, but in either case end-users such as myself have very little visibility into where these numbers are coming from.  And in my opinion, at least, that’s not good for anyone involved. You can say “blah blah blah skin in the game” all you want, but co-pays are a poor proxy for making informed decisions as a patient as to what benefits you’ll accrue and problems you face when buying a drug.

Apparently, Surescripts hopes to change the rules to some degree. It just announced that it has come together with two other interest groups within the pharmacy supply chain to offer patient-specific benefit and price information to providers at the point of care.

Its partners in the venture include a group of EMR companies, including Cerner, Epic, Practice Fusion and Aprima Medical Software, which it says represent 53% of the U.S. physician base. It’s also working with two pharmacy benefit managers (CVS Health and Express Scripts) which embrace almost two-thirds of US patients.

The new Surescripts effort actually has two parts, a Real-Time Prescription Benefit tool and an expanded version of its Prior Authorization solution.  Used together, and integrated with an EHR, these tools will clarify whether the patient’s health insurance will cover the drug suggested by the provider and offer therapeutic alternatives that might come at a lower price.

If you ask me, this is clever but fails to put pressure on the right parties. You don’t have to be a pharmaceutical industry expert to know that middlemen like PBMs and pharmacies use a number of less-than-visible stratagems jack up drug prices. Patients are forced to just cope with whatever deal these parties strike among themselves.

If you really want to build a network which helps consumers keep prices down, go for some real disclosure. Create a network which gathers and shares price information every time the drug changes hands, up to and including when the patient pays for that drug. This could have a massive effect on drug pricing overall.

Hey, look at what Amazon did just by making costs of shipping low and relatively transparent to end-users. They sucked a lot of the transaction costs out of the process of shipping products, then gave consumers tools allowing them to watch that benefit in action.

Give consumers even one-tenth of that visibility into their pharmacy supply chain, and prices would fall like a hot rock. Gee, I wonder why nobody’s ever tried that. Could it be that pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t want us to know the real costs of making and shipping their product?

CHIME Suspends the $1 Million Dollar National Patient ID Challenge

Posted on November 17, 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.

CHIME just announced that they’ve suspended their National Patient ID Challenge. For those not familiar with the challenge, almost 2 years ago CHIME Announced a $1 million prize for companies to solve the patient identification and matching problem in healthcare. Here’s the description of the challenge from the HeroX website that hosted the challenge:

The CHIME National Patient ID Challenge is a global competition aimed at incentivizing new, early-stage, and experienced innovators to accelerate the creation and adoption of a solution for ensuring 100 percent accuracy in identifying patients in the U.S. Patients want the right treatment and providers want information about the right patient to provide the right treatment. Patients also want to protect their privacy and feel secure that their identity is safe.

And here’s the “Challenge Breakthrough” criteria:

CHIME Healthcare Innovation Trust is looking for the best plan, strategies and methodologies that will accomplish the following:

  • Easily and quickly identify patients
  • Achieve 100% accuracy in patient identification
  • Protect patient privacy
  • Protect patient identity
  • Achieve adoption by the vast majority of patients, providers, insurers, and other stakeholders
  • Scale to handle all patients in the U.S.

When you look at the fine print, it says CHIME (or the Healthcare Innovation Trust that they started to host the challenge) could cancel the challenge at any time without warning or explanation including removing the Prize completely:

5. Changes and Cancellation. Healthcare Innovation Trust reserves the right to make updates and/or make any changes to, or to modify the scope of the Challenge Guidelines and Challenge schedule at any time during the Challenge. Innovators are responsible for regularly reviewing the Challenge site to ensure they are meeting all rules and requirements of and schedule for the Challenge. Healthcare Innovation Trust has the right to cancel the Challenge at any time, without warning or explanation, and to subsequently remove the Prize completely.

It seems that CHIME’s legally allowed to suspend the challenge. However, that doesn’t mean that doesn’t burn the trust of the community that saw them put out the $1 million challenge. The challenge created a lot of fanfare including promotion by ONC on their website, which is a pretty amazing thing to even consider. CHIME invested a lot in this challenge, so it must hurt for them to suspend it.

To be fair, when the challenge was announced I hosted a discussion where I asked the question “Is this even solvable?” At 100% does that mean that no one could ever win the challenge? With that in mind, the challenge always felt a bit like Fool’s Gold to me and I’m sure many others. I thought, “CHIME could always come back and make the case that no one could ever reach 100% and so they’d never have to pay the money.” Those that participated had to feel this as well and they participated anyway.

The shameful part to me is how suspending the competition is leaving those who did participate high and dry. I asked CHIME about this and they said that the Healthcare Innovation Trust is still in touch with the finalists and that they’re encouraging them to participate in the newly created “Patient Identification Task Force.” Plus, the participants received an honorarium.

Participation in a CHIME Task Force and the honorarium seems like a pretty weak consolation prize. In fact, I can’t imagine any of the vendors that participated in the challenge would trust working with CHIME going forward. Maybe some of them will swallow hard and join the task force, but that would be a hard choice after getting burnt like this. It’s possible CHIME is offering them some other things in the background as well.

What’s surprising to me is why CHIME didn’t reach out to the challenge participants and say that none of them were going to win, but that CHIME still wanted to promote their efforts and offerings to provide a solid benefit to those that participated. CHIME could present the lessons learned from the challenge and share all the solutions that were submitted and the details of where they fell short and where they succeeded. At least this type of promotion and exposure would be a nice consolation prize for those who spent a lot of time and money participating in the challenge. Plus, the CIOs could still benefit from something that solved 95% of their problems.

Maybe the new Patient Identification Task Force will do this and I hope they do. CHIME did it for their new Opioid Task Force at the Fall Forum when they featured it on the main stage. How about doing the same for the Patient Identification Challenge participants? I think using the chance to share the lessons learned would be a huge win for CHIME and its members. I imagine it’s hard for CHIME to admit “failure” for something they worked on and promoted so much. However, admitting the failure and sharing what was learned from it would be valuable for everyone involved.

While I expect CHIME has burnt at least some of the challenge participants, the CHIME CIO members probably knew the challenge was unlikely to succeed and won’t be burnt by this decision. Plus, the challenge did help to call national attention to the issue which is a good thing and as they noted will help continue to push forward the national patient identifier efforts in Washington. Maybe now CHIME will do as Andy Aroditis, Founder and CEO of NextGate, suggested in this article where Shaun Sutner first reported on issues with the CHIME National Patient ID Challenge:

Aroditis complained that rather than plunging into a contest, CHIME should have convened existing patient matching vendors, like his company, to collaborate on a project to advance the technology.

“Instead they try to do these gimmicks,” Aroditis said.

I imagine that’s what CHIME would say the Patient Identification Task Force they created will now do. The question is whether CHIME burnt bridges they’ll need to cross to make that task force effective.

The reality is that Patient Identification and Patient Matching is a real problem that’s experienced by every healthcare organization. It’s one that CHIME members feel in their organizations and many of them need better solutions. As Beth Just from Just Associates noted in my discussion when the challenge was announced, $1 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what’s already been invested to solve the problem.

Plus, many healthcare organizations are in denial when it comes to this problem. They may say they have an accuracy of 98%, the reality is very different when a vendor goes in and wakes them up to what’s really happening in their organization. This is not an easy problem to solve and CHIME now understands this more fully. I hope their new task force is successful in addressing the problem since it is an important priority.

Waiting For The Perfect “Standard” Is Not The Answer To Healthcare’s Interoperability Problem

Posted on October 16, 2017 I Written By

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

Have you bought into the “standards will solve healthcare’s interoperability woes” train of thought? Everyone understands that standards are necessary to enable disparate systems to communicate with each other, but as new applications and new uses for data continually appear, healthcare organizations that are waiting for universal standards, are not maximizing the value of their data. More importantly, they will be waiting a long time to realize the full potential of their data.

Healthcare interoperability is not just a matter of transferring data as an entire file from one user to another. Instead, effective exchange of information allows each user to select which elements of a patient’s chart are needed, and then access them in a format that enables analysis of different data sets to provide a holistic picture of the patient’s medical history or clinical trends in a population of patients. Healthcare’s interoperability challenge is further exacerbated by different contextual interpretations of the words within those fields. For instance, how many different ways are there to say heart attack?

The development of the Health Level Seven (HL7®) FHIR®, which stands for Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, represents a significant step forward to interoperability. While the data exchange draft that is being developed and published by HL7 eliminates many of the complexities of earlier HL7 versions and facilitates real-time data exchange via web technology, publication of release 4 – the first normative version of the standard – is not anticipated until October 2018.

As these standards are further developed, the key to universal adoption will be simplicity, according to John Lynn, founder of the HealthcareScene.com. However, he suggests that CIOs stop waiting for “perfect standards” and focus on how they can best achieve interoperability now.

Even with standards that can be implemented in all organizations, the complexity and diversity of the healthcare environment means that it will take time to move everyone to the same standards. This is complicated by the number of legacy systems and patchwork of applications that have been added to healthcare IT systems in an effort to meet quickly changing needs throughout the organization. Shrinking financial resources for capital investment and increasing competition for IT professionals limits a health system’s ability to make the overall changes necessary for interoperability – no matter which standards are adopted.

Some organizations are turning to cloud-based, managed service platforms to perform the integration, aggregation and harmonization that makes data available to all users – regardless of the system or application in which the information was originally collected. This approach solves the financial and human resource challenges by making it possible to budget integration and data management requirements as an operational rather than a capital investment. This strategy also relieves the burden on in-house IT staff by relying on the expertise of professionals who focus on emerging technologies, standards and regulations that enable safe, compliant data exchange.

How are you planning to scale your interoperability and integration efforts?  If you're waiting for standards, why are you waiting?

As a leading provider of healthcare interoperability solutions, Liaison is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. While the conversation about interoperability has been ongoing for many years, ideas, new technology and new strategies discussed and shared by IT professionals will lead to successful healthcare data exchange that will transform healthcare and result in better patient care.

About Gary Palgon
Gary Palgon is vice president of healthcare and life sciences solutions at Liaison Technologies. 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.

AHA Asks Congress To Reduce Health IT Regulations for Medicare Providers

Posted on September 22, 2017 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.

The American Hospital Association has sent a letter to Congress asking members to reduce regulatory burdens for Medicare providers, including mandates affecting a wide range of health IT services.

The letter, which is addressed to the House Ways and Means Health subcommittee, notes that in 2016, CMS and other HHS agencies released 49 rules impacting hospitals and health systems, which make up nearly 24,000 pages of text.

“In addition to the sheer volume, the scope of changes required by the new regulations is beginning to outstrip the field’s ability to absorb them,” says the letter, which was signed by Thomas Nickels, executive vice president of government relations and public policy for the AHA. The letter came with a list of specific changes AHA is proposing.

Proposals of potential interest to health IT leaders include the following. The AHA is asking Congress to:

  • Expand Medicare coverage of telehealth to patients outside of rural areas and expand the types of technology that can be used. It also suggests that CMS should automatically reimburse for Medicare-covered services when delivered via telehealth unless there’s an individual exception.
  • Remove HIPAA barriers to sharing patient medical information with providers that don’t have a direct relationship with that patient, in the interests of improving care coordination and outcomes in a clinically-integrated setting.
  • Cancel Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program, institute a 90-day reporting period for future program years and eliminate the all-or-nothing approach to compliance.
  • Suspend eCQM reporting requirements, given how difficult it is at present to pull outside data into certified EHRs for quality reporting.
  • Remove requirements that hospitals attest that they have bought technology which supports health data interoperability, as well as that they responded quickly and in good faith to requests for exchange with others. At present, hospitals could face penalties for technical issues outside their control.
  • Refocus the ONC to address a narrower scope of issues, largely EMR standards and certification, including testing products to assure health data interoperability.

I am actually somewhat surprised to say that these proposals seem to be largely reasonable. Typically, when they’re developed by trade groups, they tend to be a bit too stacked in favor of that group’s subgroup of concerns. (By the way, I’m not taking a position on the rest of the regulatory ideas the AHA put forth.)

For example, expanding Medicare telehealth coverage seems prudent. Given their age, level of chronic illness and attendant mobility issues, telehealth could potentially do great things for Medicare beneficiaries.

Though it should be done carefully, tweaking HIPAA rules to address the realities of clinical integration could be a good thing. Certainly, no one is suggesting that we ought to throw the rulebook out the window, it probably makes sense to square it with today’s clinical realities.

Also, the idea of torquing down MU 3 makes some sense to me as well, given the uncertainties around the entirety of MU. I don’t know if limiting future reporting to 90-day intervals is wise, but I wouldn’t take it off of the table.

In other words, despite spending much of my career ripping apart trade groups’ legislative proposals, I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the majority of the ones I list above. I hope Congress gives these suggestions some serious consideration.

Interoperability: Is Your Aging Healthcare Integration Engine the Problem?

Posted on September 18, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Gary Palgon, VP Healthcare and Life Sciences Solutions at Liaison Technologies.
There is no shortage of data collected by healthcare organizations that can be used to improve clinical as well as business decisions. Announcements of new technology that collects patient information, clinical outcome data and operational metrics that will make a physician or hospital provide better, more cost-effective care bombard us on a regular basis.

The problem today is not the amount of data available to help us make better decisions; the problem is the inaccessibility of the data. When different users – physicians, allied health professionals, administrators and financial managers – turn to data for decision support, they find themselves limited to their own silos of information. The inability to access and share data across different disciplines within the healthcare organization prevents the user from making a decision based on a holistic view of the patient or operational process.

In a recent article, Alan Portela points out that precision medicine, which requires “the ability to collect real-time data from medical devices at the moment of care,” cannot happen easily without interoperability – the ability to access data across disparate systems and applications. He also points out that interoperability does not exist yet in healthcare.

Why are healthcare IT departments struggling to achieve interoperability?

Although new and improved applications are adopted on a regular basis, healthcare organizations are just now realizing that their integration middleware is no longer able to handle new types of data such as social media, the volume of data and the increasing number of methods to connect on a real-time basis. Their integration platforms also cannot handle the exchange of information from disparate data systems and applications beyond the four walls of hospitals. In fact, hospitals of 500 beds or more average 25 unique data sources with six electronic medical records systems in use. Those numbers will only move up over time, not down.

Integration engines in place throughout healthcare today were designed well before the explosion of the data-collection tools and digital information that exist today. Although updates and additions to integration platforms have enabled some interoperability, the need for complete interoperability is creating a movement to replace integration middleware with cloud-based managed services.

A study by the Aberdeen Group reveals that 76 percent of organizations will be replacing their integration middleware, and 70 percent of those organizations will adopt cloud-based integration solutions in the next three years.

The report also points out that as healthcare organizations move from an on-premises solution to a cloud-based platform, business leaders see migration to the cloud and managed services as a way to better manage operational expenses on a monthly basis versus large, up-front capital investments. An additional benefit is better use of in-house IT staff members who are tasked with mission critical, day-to-day responsibilities and may not be able to focus on continuous improvements to the platform to ensure its ability to handle future needs.

Healthcare has come a long way in the adoption of technology that can collect essential information and put it in the hands of clinical and operational decision makers. Taking that next step to effective, meaningful interoperability is critical.

As a leading provider of healthcare interoperability solutions, Liaison is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. It is only through discussions and information-sharing among Health IT professionals that healthcare will achieve the organizational support for the steps required for interoperability.

Join John Lynn and Liaison for an insightful webinar on October 5, titled: The Future of Interoperability & Integration in Healthcare: How can your organization prepare?

About Gary Palgon
Gary Palgon is vice president of healthcare and life sciences solutions at Liaison Technologies. 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.

Rush Sues Patient Monitoring Vendor, Says System Didn’t Work

Posted on August 25, 2017 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.

Rush University Medical Center has filed suit against one of its health IT vendors, claiming that its patient monitoring system didn’t work as promised and may have put patients in danger.

According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, Rush spent $18 million installing the Infinity Acute Monitoring Solution system from Telford, PA-based Draeger Inc. between 2012 and early 2016.  The Infinity system included bedside monitors, larger data aggregating monitors at central nursing stations, battery-powered portable monitors and M300 wireless patient-worn monitors.

However, despite years of attempting to fix the system, its patient alarms were still unreliable and inaccurate, it contends in the filing, which accuses Draeger of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud.

In the suit, the 664-bed hospital and academic medical center says that the system was dogged by many issues which could have had an impact on patient safety. For example, it says, the portable monitors stopped collecting data when moved to wireless networks and sometimes stole IP addresses from bedside monitors, knocking the bedside monitor off-line leaving the patient unmonitored.

In addition, the system allegedly sent out false alarms for heart arrhythmia patients with pacemakers, distracting clinicians from performing their jobs, and failed monitor apnea until 2015, according to the complaint. Even then, the system wasn’t monitoring some sets of apnea patients accurately, it said. Near the end, the system erased some patient records as well, it contends.

Not only that, Draeger didn’t deliver everything it was supposed to provide, the suit alleges, including wired-to-wireless monitoring and monitoring for desaturation of neonatal patients’ blood oxygen.

As if that weren’t enough, Draeger didn’t respond effectively when Rush executives told it about the problems it was having, according to the suit. “Rather than effectively remediating these problems, Draeger largely, and inaccurately, blamed them on Rush,” it contends.

While Draeger provided a software upgrade for the system, it was extremely difficult to implement, didn’t fix the original issues and created new problems, the suit says.

According to Rush, the Draeger system was supposed to last 10 years. However, because of technical problems it observed, the medical center replaced the system after only five years, spending $30 million on the new software, it says.

Rush is asking the court to make Draeger pay that the $18 million it spent on the system, along with punitive damages and legal fees.

It’s hard to predict the outcome of such a case, particularly given that the system’s performance has to have depended in part on how Rush managed the implementation. Plus, we’re only seeing the allegations made by Rush in the suit and not Draeger’s perspective which could be very different and offer other details. Regardless, it seems likely these proceedings will be watched closely in the industry. Regardless of whether they are at fault or not, no vendor can afford to get a reputation for endangering patient safety, and moreover, no hospital can afford to buy from them if they do.

Is It Time To Put FHIR-Based Development Front And Center?

Posted on August 9, 2017 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.

I like to look at questions other people in the #HIT world wonder about, and see whether I have a different way of looking at the subject, or something to contribute to the discussion. This time I was provoked by one asked by Chad Johnson (@OchoTex), editor of HealthStandards.com and senior marketing manager with Corepoint Health.

In a recent HealthStandards.com article, Chad asks: “What do CIOs need to know about the future of data exchange?” I thought it was an interesting question; after all, everyone in HIT, including CIOs, would like to know the answer!

In his discussion, Chad argues that #FHIR could create significant change in healthcare infrastructure. He notes that if vendors like Cerner or Epic publish a capabilities-based API, providers’ technical, clinical and workflow teams will be able to develop custom solutions that connect to those systems.

As he rightfully points out, today IT departments have to invest a lot of time doing rework. Without an interface like FHIR in place, IT staffers need to develop workflows for one application at a time, rather than creating them once and moving on. That’s just nuts. It’s hard to argue that if FHIR APIs offer uniform data access, everyone wins.

Far be it from me to argue with a good man like @OchoTex. He makes a good point about FHIR, one which can’t be emphasized enough – that FHIR has the potential to make vendor-specific workflow rewrites a thing of the past. Without a doubt, healthcare CIOs need to keep that in mind.

As for me, I have a couple of responses to bring to the table, and some additional questions of my own.

Since I’m an HIT trend analyst rather than actual tech pro, I can’t say whether FHIR APIs can or can’t do what Chat is describing, though I have little doubt that Chad is right about their potential uses.

Still, I’d contend out that since none other than FHIR project director Grahame Grieve has cautioned us about its current limitations, we probably want to temper our enthusiasm a bit. (I know I’ve made this point a few times here, perhaps ad nauseum, but I still think it bears repeating.)

So, given that FHIR hasn’t reached its full potential, it may be that health IT leaders should invest added time on solving other important interoperability problems.

One example that leaps to mind immediately is solving patient matching problems. This is a big deal: After all, If you can’t match patient records accurately across providers, it’s likely to lead to wrong-patient related medical errors.

In fact, according to a study released by AHIMA last year, 72 percent of HIM professional who responded work on mitigating possible patient record duplicates every week. I have no reason to think things have gotten better. We must find an approach that will scale if we want interoperable data to be worth using.

And patient data matching is just one item on a long list of health data interoperability concerns. I’m sure you’re aware of other pressing problems which could undercut the value of sharing patient records. The question is, are we going to address those problems before we began full-scale health data exchange? Or does it make more sense to pave the road to data exchange and address bumps in the road later?