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Avoiding Revenue Crunches During EMR Transitions

Posted on May 23, 2016 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.

Most healthcare leaders know, well before their EMR rollouts, that clinical productivity and billings may fall for a while as the implementation proceeds. That being said, it seems a surprising number are caught off guard by the extent to which payments can be lost or delayed due to technical issues during the transition. This is particularly alarming as more and more hospitals are looking at switching EHR.

Far too often, those responsible for revenue cycle issues live in a silo that doesn’t communicate well with hospital IT leadership, and the results can be devastating financially. For example, consider the case of Maine Medical Center, which took a major loss after it launched its Epic EMR in 2012, due in part to substantial problems with billing for services.

But according to McKesson execs, there’s a few steps health systems and hospitals can take to reduce the impact this transition has in your revenue cycle. Their recommendations include the following:

  • Involve revenue cycle managers in your EMR migration. Doing so can help integrate RCM and EMR technologies successfully.
  • Create a revenue cycle EMR team. The team should include the CFO, revenue cycle leaders from patient access and reimbursement, vendor reps and someone familiar with revenue cycle systems. Once this team is assembled, establish a meeting schedule, team roles and goals for participants. It’s particularly important to designate a project manager for the revenue cycle portion of your EMR rollout.
  • Before the implementation, research how RCM processes will be affected by the by the rollout, particularly how the new EMR will impact claims management workflow, speed of payment and staff workloads. Check out how the implementation will affect processes such as eligibility verification, registration data quality assurance, preauthorization and medical necessity management, pre-claim editing and remittance management.
  • Pay close attention to key performance indicators throughout the transition. These include service-to-payment velocity, Days Not Final Billed, charge trends and denial rates.

The article also recommends bringing on consultants to help with the transition. Being that McKesson is a health IT vendor, I’m not at all surprised that this is the case. But there’s something to the idea nonetheless. Self-serving though such a recommendation may be, it may help to bring in a consultant who has an outside view of these issues and is not blinkered by departmental loyalties.

That being said, over the longer term healthcare leaders need to think about ways to help RCM and IT execs see eye to eye. It’s all well and good to create temporary teams to smooth the transition to EMR use. But my guess is that these teams will dissolve quickly once the worst of the rollout is over. After all, while IT and revenue cycle management departments have common interests, their jobs differ significantly.

The bottom line is that to avoid needless RCM issues, the IT department and revenue cycle leaders need to be aligned in their larger goals. This can be fostered by financial rewards, common performance goals, cultural expectations and more, but regardless of how it happens, these departments need to be interested in working together. However, unless rewards and expectations change, they have little incentive to do so. It’s about time hospital and health system leaders address problem directly.

EMR Replacement Frenzy Has Major Downsides

Posted on May 16, 2016 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.

Now that they’ve gotten an EMR in shape to collect Meaningful Use payouts, hospitals are examining what those incentive bucks have gotten them. And apparently, many aren’t happy with what they see. In fact, it looks like a substantial number of hospitals are ripping and replacing existing EMRs with yet another massive system.

But if they thought that the latest forklift upgrade would be the charm, many were wrong. A new study by Black Book Research suggests that in the frenzy to replace their current EMR, many hospitals aren’t getting what they thought they were getting. In fact, things seem to be going horribly wrong.

Black Book recently surveyed 1,204 hospital executives and 2,133 user-level IT staffers that had been through at least one large EMR system switch to see if they were happy with the outcome. The results suggest that many of these system switches have been quite a disappointment.

According to researchers, hospitals doing new EMR implementations have encountered a host of troubles, including higher-than-expected costs, layoffs, declining inpatient revenues and frustrated clinicians. In fact, hospitals went in to these upgrades knowing that they would not be back to their pre-EMR implementation patient volumes for at least another five years, but in some cases it seems that they haven’t even been keeping up with that pace.

Fourteen percent of all hospitals that replaced their original EMR since 2011 were losing inpatient revenue at a pace that would not support the total cost of the replacement EMR, Black Book found. And 87% of financially threatened hospitals now regret the executive decision to change systems.

Some metrics differed significantly depending on whether the respondent was an executive or a staff member.

For example, 62% of non-managerial IT staffers reported that there was a significantly negative impact on healthcare delivery directly attributable to an EMR replacement initiative. And 90% of nurses said that the EMR process changes diminished their ability to deliver hands-on care at the same effectiveness level. In a striking contrast, only 5% of hospital leaders felt the impacted care negatively.

Other concerns resonated more with executives and staff-level respondents. Take job security. While 63% of executive-level respondents noted that they, or their peers, felt that their employment was in jeopardy to the EMR replacement process, only 19% of respondents said EMR switches resulted in intermittent or permanent staff layoffs.

Meanwhile, there seemed to be broad agreement regarding interoperability problems. Sixty-six percent of system users told Black Book that interoperability and patient data exchange functions got worse after EMR replacements.

What’s more, hospital leaders often haven’t succeeded in buying the loyalty of clinicians by going with a fashionable vendor. According to Black Book, 78% of nonphysician executives surveyed admitted that they were disappointed by the level of clinician buy-in after the replacement EMR was launched. In fact, 88% of hospitals with replacement EMRs weren’t aware of gaining any competitive advantage in attracting doctors with their new system.

Now, we all know that once a tactic such as EMR replacement reaches a tipping point, it gains momentum of its own. So even if they read this story, my guess is that hospital executives planning an EMR switch will assume their rollout will beat the odds. But if it doesn’t, they can’t say they weren’t warned!

Mayo Clinic’s Shift To Epic Eats Up Most of IT Budget

Posted on May 6, 2016 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.

Mayo Clinic has announced that it will spend about $1 billion to complete its migration from Cerner and GE to Epic. While Mayo hasn’t disclosed they’re spending on software, industry watchers are estimating the agreement will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, with the rest of the $1 billion seemingly going to integration and development costs.

The Clinic said in 2014 that it would invest $1.5 billion in IT infrastructure over multiple years, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Then last year, it announced that it would replace Cerner and GE systems with an Epic EMR. Now, its execs say that it will spend more than $1 billion on the transition over five years.

Given what other health system spend on Epic installations, the $1 billion estimate sounds sadly realistic. Facing up to these costs is certainly smarter than lowballing its budget. Nobody wants to be in the position New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. has gotten into. The municipal system’s original $302 million budget expanded to $764 million just a couple of years into its Epic install, and overall expenses could hit $1.4 billion.

On the other hand, the shift to Epic is eating up two thirds of the Mayo’s $1.5 billion IT allowance for the next few years. And that’s a pretty considerable risk. After all, the Clinic must have spent a great deal on its Cerner and GE contracts. While the prior investments weren’t entirely sunk costs, as existing systems must have collected a fair amount of data and had some impact on patient care, neither product could have come cheaply.

Given that the Epic deal seems poised to suck the IT budget dry, I find myself wondering what Mayo is giving up:

  • Many health systems have put off investing in up-to-date revenue cycle management solutions, largely to focus on Meaningful Use compliance and ICD-10 preparation. Will Mayo be forced to limp along with a substandard solution?
  • Big data analytics and population health tech will be critical to surviving in ACOs and value-based payment schemes. Will the Epic deal block Mayo from investing?
  • Digital health innovation will become a central focus for health systems in the near future. Will Mayo’s focus on the EMR transition rob it of the resources to compete in this realm?

To be fair, Mayo’s Epic investment obviously wasn’t made in a vacuum. With the EMR vendor capturing a huge share of the hospital EMR market, its IT leaders and C-suite execs clearly had many colleagues with whom they could discuss the system’s performance and potential benefits.

But I’m still left wondering whether any single software solution, provided by a single vendor, offers such benefits that it’s worth starving other important projects to adopt it. I guess that’s not just the argument against Epic, but against the massive investment required to buy any enterprise EMR. But given the extreme commitment required to adopt Epic, this becomes a life-and-death decision for the Mayo, which already saw a drop in earnings last year.

Ultimately, there’s no getting past that enterprise EMR buys may be necessary. But if your Epic investment pretty much ties up your cash, let’s hope something better doesn’t come along anytime soon. That will be one serious case of buyer’s regret.

Thoughts on Leveraging EMRs Effectively

Posted on September 28, 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.

Whenever I scan Twitter for #HIT ideas, I find something neat. For example, consider this intriguing tweet:

I say intriguing not because the formula outlined will surprise anyone, but rather, because it captures some very difficult problems in a concise and impactful manner.

Here’s some thoughts on the issues Portnoy raises:

* Optimization:  Of course, every healthcare IT organization works to optimize every technology it deploys. But doing so with EMRs is one of the most difficult problems it is likely to encounter. Not only do IT leaders need to optimize the EMR platform technically, they may also face external demands placed by ACOs, HIE partners and affiliated providers. And it’s also important to optimize for Meaningful Use functions.

* Workflows:  Building workflows that address the needs of various stakeholders is critical, as pre-designed vendor workflow options may be far from adequate. While implementing an EMR may be an opportunity for a hospital to redesign workflows, or to enshrine existing workflows in the EMR interface and logic, hospital leaders need to take charge of the workflow implementation process. Inefficiencies at this level can be costly and will erode the confidence of clinical teams.

* Revenue capture:  When properly implemented, EMRs can help providers generate more complete documentation for claims reimbursement, which leads to higher collections volume. As time has shown, difficult-to-use EMRs can lead to physician frustration, and in turn, cut-and-paste re-use of existing documentation — which is why carefully-designed workflow is so important. But if they are used appropriately, EMRs can boost revenue painlessly.

* Patient and provider engagement: True, IT needs to take the lead on getting the EMR in place, and must make some important deployment decisions on its own. Still, hospitals will have trouble meeting their goals if patients and providers aren’t invested in its success, and without patient interest in their data I’d argue that meeting long-term population health goals is unlikely. On the flip side, if clinicians and patients are engaged, the feedback they offer can help hospitals shape not only the future of their EMR, but also the rest of their clinical data infrastructure.

If there’s any common theme to all of this, I’d submit, it’s participation. Unlike most efforts corporate IT departments undertake, EMR rollouts are unlikely to work until everyone they touch gets on board. Hospitals can invest in any EMR technology they like, but if providers can’t use the system comfortably to document care, patients don’t log on to access their data, or revenue cycle managers don’t see how it can improve revenue capture, the project is unlikely to offer much ROI.

Video: Florida Hospital Throws Dance Party To Celebrate EMR

Posted on January 3, 2013 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.

It’s always nice when people are excited by your EMR launch. Seldom will you see more excitement over an EMR, though, than the dance party they threw at St. Augustine, FL-based Flagler Hospital.

In the extremely cute video below, nurses, pharmacy techs, transporters, supply chain staff, educators, IT specialists, phlebotomists, lab techs, housekeepers and the engineering crew show off their dance skills to Stereo MC’s “Connected,” all to celebrate the launch of Flagler’s Allscripts EMR. (I particularly liked the section where dancing medical records folks held up charts, each with one letter on them, spelling out “Good-Bye Paper” — then dropped them.) So get down with Stereo MC and get connected with Flagler — you’ll get more than one giggle out of it. 🙂