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EMR Lawsuit – A Taste Of Things To Come

Posted on July 13, 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.

A central Pennsylvania health system is embroiled in a court fight with Cerner amid allegations that its EMR technology has created serious patient care problems that could have led to serious harm.

PinnacleHealth, a three-hospital system based in Harrisburg, PA, is blaming series of patient care problems on its Siemens health IT technology, which was acquired by Cerner in February 2015. Apparently, PinnacleHealth had used Siemens as a vendor for 20 years, but when it grew dissatisfied with the platform, cut back its relationship with Siemens and signed a contract with Epic.

Last year, Cerner responded to PinnacleHealth’s actions with a breach of contract lawsuit, asserting that the health system hadn’t paid for services since February 2015. The suit claims that Pinnacle now owes Cerner more than $20 million.

PinnacleHealth, in turn, filed a counterclaim earlier this year in Pennsylvania state court, which seeks damages for Cerner’s alleged fraud and breach of contract. In the counterclaim, it cited several instances of problems it contends were caused by the EMR, including a case in which one patient’s blood pressure dropped dramatically after he was allegedly discharged the wrong medications. It also cites an instance in which a doctor was unable to place a pharmacy order for a newborn to receive vitamin K, a standard step taken to protect babies from serious bleeding.

While some experts are positioning this as the first of a growing number of EMR-related safety disputes, I’d argue that there’s other big issues in play which are more important to consider.

First, though it’s possible the Siemens EMR had problems, it’s impossible to know whether that had more to do with the customer’s unique IT set-up or whether there was an actual tech failure.

That being said, it’s also possible that Cerner missed something during its buyout of Siemens, a risk every vendor who acquires a technology company takes. And EMR vendor consolidation is continuing. If the acquiring vendors move too quickly, or have trouble integrating the new technology into their existing fold, will a growing number of clear-cut cases of EMR failure occur?

Also, it’s important to note that PinnacleHealth is currently battling the FTC for permission to merge with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Clearly, it needs to have technology in place which can scale and isn’t burdened by 20 years of legacy adoption if the merger goes forward. Admittedly, Penn State Hershey is a Cerner shop, not Epic, but who knows what Penn State Hershey has in mind for HIT if it does get to close the deal?

Yes, there will be some product liability litigation over alleged EMR failures. And in some cases, particularly given the ongoing M&A activity among vendors, someone will drop the ball and bad things will probably happen.

But the most important thing I see happening here is the death knell for older systems in the wake of industry consolidation. I’d keep an eye on mergers between health systems and acquisitions by EMR vendors. Those are the forces that will dictate what happens in the HIT world going forward.

Appointment Scheduling Site Zocdoc Connects With Epic

Posted on May 25, 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.

In a bid to capture hospital and health system business, appointment scheduling site Zocdoc announced that its customers can now connect the site to their Epic EMRs via an API. The updated Zocdoc platform targets the partners’ joint customers, which include Yale New Haven Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, Inova Health System and Hartford HealthCare. And I’ll admit it – I’m intrigued.

Typically, I don’t write stories about vendors other than the top EMR players. And on the surface, the deal may not appear very interesting. But the truth is, this partnership may turn out to offer a new model for digital health relationships. If nothing else, it’s a shrewd move.

Historically, Zocdoc has focused on connecting medical practices to patients. Physicians list their appointment schedule and biographical data on the site, as well as their specialty. Patients, who join for free, can search the site for doctors, see when their chosen physician’s next available appointment is and reserve a time of their choosing. If patients provide insurance information, they are only shown doctors who take their insurance.

As a patient, I find this to be pretty nifty. Particularly if you manage chronic conditions, it’s great be able to set timely medical appointments without making a bunch of phone calls. There are some glitches (for example, it appears that doctors often don’t get the drug list I entered), but when I report problems, the site’s customer service team does an excellent job of patching things up. So all told, it’s a very useful and consumer-friendly site.

That being said, there are probably limits to how much money Zocdoc can make this way. My guess is that onboarding doctors is somewhat costly, and that the site can’t charge enough to generate a high profit margin. After all, medical practices are not known for their lavish marketing spending.

On the other hand, working with health systems and hospitals solves both the onboarding problem and the margin problem. If a health system or hospital goes with Zocdoc, they’re likely to bring a high volume of physicians to the table, and what’s more, they are likely to train those doctors on the platform. Also, hospitals and health systems have larger marketing budgets than medical practices, and if they see Zocdoc as offering a real competitive advantage, they’ll probably pay more than physicians.

Now, it appears that Zocdoc had already attracted some health systems and hospitals to the table prior to the Epic linkage. But if it wants to be a major player in the enterprise space, connecting the service to Epic matters. Health systems and hospitals are desperate to connect disparate systems, and they’re more likely to do deals with partners that work with their mission-critical EMR.

To be fair, this approach may not stick. While connecting an EMR to Zocdoc’s systems may help health systems and hospitals build patient loyalty, appointment records don’t add anything to the patient’s clinical picture. So we’re not talking about the invention of the light bulb here.

Still, I could see other ancillary service vendors, particularly web-based vendors, following in Zocdoc’s footsteps if they can. As health systems and hospitals work to provide value-based healthcare, they’ll be less and less tolerant of complexity, and an Epic connection may simplify things. All told, Zocdoc’s deal is driven by an idea whose time has come.

NYC Epic Rollout Faces Patient Safety Questions

Posted on March 30, 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.

In the summer of last year, we laid out for you the story of how a municipal hospital system’s Epic EMR installation had gone dramatically south since its inception. We told you how the New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. was struggling to cope with problems arising from its attempt to implement Epic at its 11 hospitals, four long-term care facilities, six diagnostic treatment centers and more than 70 community-based clinics.

At the time of last writing, the project budget had exploded upward from $302 million to $764 million, and the public chain’s CTO, CIO, CIO interim deputy and project head of training had been given the axe. In the unlikely event that you thought things would settle down at that point, we bring you news of further strife and bloodshed.

Apparently, a senior clinical information officer with the chain’s Elmhurst and Queens Hospital Centers has now made allegations that the way the Epic install was proceeding might pose danger to patients. A New York Post article reports that in a letter to colleagues, outgoing HHC official Charles Perry, M.D. compared the EMR implementation process to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.

In his letter, Dr. Perry apparently argued that the project must be delayed. According to the Post, he quoted from a presidential panel report on the disaster: “[For] a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” Another Post article cited anonymous “insider” sources claiming that the system will crash, as the implementation is being rushed, and that the situation could lead to patient harm.

For its part, HHC has minimized the issue. A spokesperson told FierceHealthIT that Perry was associate executive director of the Elmhurst hospital and liason to the Queens Epic project, rather than being CMIO as identified by the Post. (Further intrigue?) Also, the spokesperson told FHIT that “if a patient safety issue is identified, the project will stop until it is addressed.”

Of course, the only people who truly know what’s happening with the HHC Epic implementation are not willing to go public with their allegations, so I’d argue that were obligated to take Perry’s statements with at least a grain of salt. In fact, I’d suggest that most large commercial Epic installations (and other large EHR implementations for that matter) got the scrutiny this public hospital system gets, they’d probably look pretty bad too.

On the other hand, it’s fair to say that HHC seems to crammed enough scandal into the first few years of its Epic rollout for the entire 15-year project. For the sake of the millions of people HHC serves, let’s hope that either there is not much to these critiques — or that HHC slows down enough to do the project justice.

Another Epic Loss: Iasis Upgrades To Cerner

Posted on January 20, 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.

It’s too early to make a definitive claim, but I’m picking up some increasing evidence that Cerner is beginning to win out over Epic as some health systems upgrade. I’m not suggesting that Epic is ready to topple by any means, but it does seem that Cerner’s winning more potential matchups than they were before.

Want an example? Take the recent news that Iasis Healthcare will switch out its McKesson platform for the Cerner  Millenium EMR.  The 17-hospital system will spend $50 million to make the upgrade, which should be complete by March 2018. Most of the spending is ($35M+) is projected to come in fiscal 2016.

As I noted in an earlier post, Epic continues to grow at, well, an Epic pace. Reports suggest that Epic added 1,400 staffers last year, and the company seems likely to keep on pace in 2016. And as I previously noted, Epic software is either being used by or installed at 360 healthcare organizations in 10 countries, and also reported generating $1.8 billion in revenues for 2014.

But as the Iasis deal illustrates, Cerner is picking up some split-decision deals for what look like important reasons. One intriguing reddit post by captainnoob explains why his health system went with Cerner:

We whittled our choice down to 3 applications… McKesson Paragon, Epic, and Cerner. Those 3 were our forerunners as they were fully integrated and had modules to handle (almost) every service our facility provides. Ultimately the decision to go Cerner was based primarily on a combination of user input and cost of ownership.

  • User Input – We did numerous site visits with users from various clinical and managerial areas to talk workflow, ask questions such as how each product dealt with certain challenges we have already faced with McKesson, and view demonstrations in real-world conditions.
  • Cost of Ownership – Not just the cost of the product and implementation, but the cost of maintaining the product over 5-10 years.

I’m not sure why the competitive advantages Cerner has have shown up in higher relief recently. But my guess is that the wins Cerner is capturing have something to do with the psychology of EMR investment.

Going from a severely underpowered system — or none — to Epic involves taking a big leap of faith. How can you rationalize spending dozens or even hundreds of millions (or billions) on Epic? I’d argue that in essence, the ROI on that buy has been essentially unguessable. So the systems that have made a big Epic buy have had to justify their investment by pointing to big, still-intangible benefits like improved population health.

On the other hand, health systems that didn’t do Epic the first time, and have reasonably competent systems on board already, aren’t buying vision or reputation-ware. They aren’t pioneers, but instead, are looking for an economically and technically workable solution. In that circumstance, I know I’d be far more likely to go with a system with a lower total cost of ownership than an expensive Big Blue-style tool.

But these are just my theories. What do you think?  Is the investment tide turning toward Cerner, and why?

NYC Hospitals Face Massive Problems With Epic Install

Posted on August 24, 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.

A municipal hospital system’s Epic EMR install has gone dramatically south over the past two years, with four top officials being forced out and a budget which has more than doubled.

In early 2013, New York City-based Health and Hospitals Corp. announced that it had signed a $302 million EMR contract with Epic. The system said that it planned to implement the Epic EMR at 11 HHC hospitals, four long term care facilities, six diagnostic treatment centers and more than 70 community-based clinics.

The 15-year contract, which was set to be covered by federal funding, was supposed to cover everything from soup to nuts, including software and database licenses, professional services, testing and technical training, software maintenance, and database support and upgrades.

Fast forward to the present, and the project has plunged into crisis. The budget has expanded to $764 million, and HHC’s CTO, CIO, the CIO’s interim deputy and the project’s head of training have been given the axe amidst charges of improper billing. Seven consultants — earning between $150 and $185 an hour — have also been kicked off of the payroll.

With HHC missing so many top leaders, the system has brought in a consulting firm to stabilize the Epic effort. Washington, DC-based Clinovations, which brought in an interim CMIO, CIO and other top managers to HHC, now has a $4 million, 15-month contract to provide project management.

The Epic launch date for the first two hospitals in the network was originally set for November 2014 but has been moved up to April 2016, according to the New York PostHHC leaders say that the full Epic launch should take place in 2018 if all now goes as planned. The final price tag for the system could end up being as high as $1.4 billion, the newspaper reports.

So how did the massive Epic install effort go astray? According to an audit by the city’s Technology Development Corp., the project has been horribly mismanaged. “At one point, there were 14 project managers — but there was no leadership,” the audit report said.

The HHC consultants didn’t help much either, according to an employee who spoke to the Post. The employee said that the consultants racked up travel, hotels and other expenses to train their own employees before they began training HHC staff.

HHC is now telling the public that things will be much better going forward. Spokeswoman Ana Marengo said that the chain has adopted a new oversight and governance structure that will prevent the implementation from falling apart again.”We terminated consultants, appointed new leadership, and adopted new timekeeping tools that will help strengthen the management of this project,” Marengo told the newspaper.

What I’d like to know is just what items in the budget expanded so much that a $300-odd million all-in contract turned into a $1B+ debacle. While nobody in the Post articles has suggested that Epic is at fault in any of this, it seems to me that it’s worth investigating whether the vendor managed to jack up its fees beyond the scope of the initial agreement. For example, if HHC was forced to pay for more Epic support than it had originally expected it wouldn’t come cheap. Then again, maybe the extra costs mostly come from paying for people with Epic experience. Epic has driven up the price of these people by not opening up the Epic certification opportunities.

On the surface, though, this appears to be a high-profile example of a very challenging IT project that went bad in a hurry. And the fact that city politics are part of the mix can’t have been helpful. What happened to HHC could conceivably happen to private health systems, but the massive budget overrun and billing questions have government stamped all over them. Regardless, for New York City patients’ sake I hope HHC gets the implementation right from here on in.