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Interoperability Problems Undercut Conclusions of CHIME Most Wired Survey

Posted on November 13, 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.

Most of you have probably already seen the topline results from CHIME’s  “Healthcare’s Most Wired: National Trends 2018” study, which was released last month.

Some of the more interesting numbers coming out of the survey, at least for me, included the following:

  • Just 60% of responding physicians could access a hospital network’s virtual patient visit technology from outside its network, which kinda defeats the purpose of decentralizing care delivery.
  • The number of clinical alerts sent from a surveillance system integrated with an EHR topped out at 58% (alerts to critical care units), with 35% of respondents reporting that they had no surveillance system in place. This seems like quite a lost opportunity.
  • Virtually all (94%) participating organizations said that their organization’s EHR could consume discrete data, and 64% said they could incorporate CCDs and CCRs from physician-office EHRs as discrete data.

What really stands out for me, though, is that if CHIME’s overall analysis is correct, many aspects of our data analytics and patient engagement progress still hang in the balance.

Perhaps by design, the hospital industry comes out looking like it’s doing well in most of the technology strategy areas that it has questions about in the survey, but leaves out some important areas of weakness.

Specifically, in the introduction to its survey report, the group lists “integration and interoperability” as one of two groups of foundational technologies that must be in place before population health management/value-based care,  patient engagement and telehealth programs can proceed.

If that’s true, and it probably is, it throws up a red flag, which is probably why the report glossed over the fact that overall interoperability between hospitals is still very much in question. (If nothing else, it’s high time the hospitals adjust their interoperability expectations.) While it did cite numbers regarding what can be done with CCDs, it didn’t address the much bigger problems the industry faces in sharing data more fluidly.

Look, I don’t mean to be too literal here. Even if CHIME didn’t say so specifically, hospitals and health systems can make some progress on population health, patient engagement, and telehealth strategies even if they’re forced to stick to using their own internal data. Failing to establish fluid health data sharing between facility A and facility B may lead to less-than-ideal results, but it doesn’t stop either of them from marching towards goals like PHM or value-based care individually.

On the other hand, there certainly is an extent to which a lack of interoperability drags down the quality of our results. Perhaps the data sets we have are good enough even if they’re incomplete, but I think we’ve already got a pretty good sense that no amount of CCD exchange will get the results we ultimately hope to see. In other words, I’m suggesting that we take the CHIME survey’s data points in context.

Hospitals Sharing More Patient Data Than Ever, But Is It Having An Impact On Patient Care?

Posted on November 1, 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.

Brace yourself for more happy talk in a positive interoperability spin, folks. Even if they aren’t exchanging as much health data as they might have hoped, hospitals are sharing more patient health data than they ever have before, according to a new report from the ONC.

The ONC, which recently analyzed 2017 data from the American Hospital Association’s Information Technology Supplement Survey, concluded that 93% of non-federal acute care hospitals have upgraded to the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria or plan to upgrade. These criteria include new technical capabilities that support health data interoperability.

Today, most hospitals (88%) can send patient summary of care records electronically, and receive them from outside sources (74%), ONC’s analysis concluded. In addition, last year the volume of hospitals reporting that they could query and integrate patient health data significantly increased.

Not only that, the volume of hospitals engaged in four key interoperability activities (electronically sending, receiving, finding and integrating health data) climbed 41% over 2016. On the downside, however, only four in 10 hospitals reported being able to find patient health information, send, receive and integrate patient summary of care records from outside sources into their data.

According to ONC, hospitals that work across these four key interoperability domains tend to be more sophisticated than their peers who don’t.

In fact, in 2017 83% of hospitals able to send, receive, find, and integrate outside health information also had health information electronic available at the point of care. This is a 20% higher level than hospitals engaging in just three domains, and a whopping seven times higher than hospitals that don’t engage in any domain.

Without a doubt, on its face this is good news. What’s not to like? Hospitals seem to be stepping up the interoperability game, and this can only be good for patients over time.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to measure just how important it is in the near term. Yes, it seems like hospitals are getting more nimble, more motivated and more organized when it comes to data sharing, but it’s not clear what impact this may be having on patient care processes and outcomes.

Over time, most interoperability measures I’ve seen have focused more on receipt and transmission of patient health data far more than integration of that data into EHRs. I’d argue that it’s time to move beyond measuring back and forth of data and put more impact on how often physicians use that data in their work.

There’s certainly a compelling case to be made that health data interoperability matters. I’ve never disputed that. But I think it’s time we measure success a bit more stringently. In other words, if ONC can’t define the clinical benefits of health data exchange clearly, in terms that matter to physicians, it’s time to make it happen.

Report Champions API Use To Improve Interoperability

Posted on September 26, 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.

A new research report has taken the not-so-radical position that greater use of APIs to extract and share health data could dramatically improve interoperability. It doesn’t account for the massive business obstacles that still prevent this from happening, though.

The report, which was released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, notes that both the federal government and the private sector are both favoring the development of APIs for health data sharing.

It notes that while the federal government is working to expand the use of open APIs for health data exchange, the private sector has focused on refining existing standards in developing new applications that enhance EHR capabilities.

EHR vendors, for their part, have begun to allow third-party application developers to access to systems using APIs, with some also offering supports such as testing tools and documentation.

While these efforts are worthwhile, it will take more to wrest the most benefit from API-based data sharing, the report suggests. Its recommendations for doing so include:

  • Making all relevant data available via these APIs, not just CCDs
  • Seeing to it that information already coded in health data system stays in that form during data exchange (rather than being transformed into less digestible formats such as PDFs)
  • Standardizing data elements in the health record by using existing terminologies and developing new ones where codes don’t exist
  • Offering access to a patient’s full health record across their lifetime, and holding it in all relevant systems so patients with chronic illnesses and care providers have complete histories of their condition(s)

Of course, some of these steps would be easier to implement than others. For example, while providing a longitudinal patient record would be a great thing, there are major barriers to doing so, including but not limited to inter-provider politics and competition for market share.

Another issue is the need to pick appropriate standards and convince all parties involved to use them. Even a forerunner like FHIR is not yet universally accepted, nor is it completely mature.

The truth is that no matter how you slice it, interoperability efforts have hit the wall. While hospitals, payers, and clinicians pretty much know what needs to happen, their interests don’t converge enough to make interoperability practical as of yet.

While I’m all for organizations like the Pew folks taking a shot at figuring interoperability out, I don’t think we’re likely to get anywhere until we find a way to synchronize everyone’s interests. And good luck with that.

Hospitals That Share Patients Don’t Share Patient Data

Posted on August 7, 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.

If anyone in healthcare needs to catch up on your records, it’s another provider who is treating mutual patients. In this day and age, there’s no good reason why clinicians at one hospital should be guessing what the other would get (or not get as the case is far too often).

Over the last few years, we’ve certainly seen signs of data sharing progress. For example, in early August the marriage between health data sharing networks CommonWell and Carequality was consummated, with providers using Cerner and Greenway Health going live with their connections.

Still, health data exchange is far more difficult than it should be. Despite many years of trying, hospitals still don’t share data with each other routinely, even when they’re treating the same patient.

To learn more about this issue, researchers surveyed pairs of hospitals likely to share patients across the United States. The teams chose pairs which referred the largest volume of patients to each other in a given hospital referral region.

After reaching out to many facilities, the researchers ended up with 63 pairs of hospitals. Researchers then asked them how likely they were to share patient health information with nearby institutions with whom they share patients.

The results, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, suggest that while virtually all of the hospitals they studied could be classified as routinely sharing data by federal definitions, that didn’t tell the whole story.

For one thing, while 97% of respondents met the federal guidelines, only 63% shared data routinely with hospitals with the highest shared patient (HSP) volume.

In fact, 23% of respondents reported that information sharing with their HSP hospital was worse than with other hospitals, and 48% said there was no difference. Just 17% said they enjoyed better sharing of patient health data with their HSP volume hospital.

It’s not clear how to fix the problem highlighted in the JAMIA study. While HIEs have been lumbering along for well more than a decade, only a few regional players seem to have developed a trusted relationship with the providers in their area.

The techniques HIEs use to foster such loyalty, which include high-touch methods such as personal check-ins with end users, don’t seem to work as well for some HIE they do for others. Not only that, HIE funding models still vary, which can have a meaningful impact on how successful they’ll be overall.

Regardless, it would be churlish to gloss over the fact that almost two-thirds of hospitals are getting the right data to their peers. I don’t know about you, but this seems like a hopeful development.

Is EMR Use Unfair To Patients?

Posted on April 24, 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.

As we all know, clinicians have good reasons to be aggravated with their EMRs. While the list of grievances is long — and legitimate — perhaps the biggest complaint is loss of control. I have to say that I sympathize; if someone forced me to adopt awkward digital tools to do my work I would go nuts.

We seldom discuss, however, the possibility that these systems impose an unfair burden on patients as well. But that’s the argument one physician makes in a recent op-ed for the American Council on Science and Health.

The author, Jamie Wells, MD, calls the use of EMRs “an ethical disaster,” and suggests that forced implementation of EMRs may violate the basic tenets of bioethics.

Some of the arguments Dr. Wells makes apply exclusively to physicians. For one thing, she contends that penalizing doctors who don’t adapt successfully to EMR use is unfair. She also suggests that EMRs create needless challenges that can erode physicians’ ability to deliver quality care, add significant time to a physician’s workday and force doctors to participate in related continuing education whether or not they want to do so.

Unlike many essays critiquing this topic, Wells also contends that patients are harmed by EMR use.

For example, Wells argues that since patients are never asked whether they want physicians to use EMRs, they never get the chance to consider the risks and benefits associated with EHR data use in developing care plans. Also, they are never given a chance to weigh in on whether they are comfortable having less face time with their physicians, she notes.

In addition, she says that since EMRs prompt physicians to ask questions not relevant to that patient’s care, adding extra steps to the process, they create unfair delays in a patient’s getting relief from pain and suffering.

What’s more, she argues that since EMR systems typically aren’t interoperable, they create inconveniences which can ultimately interfere with the patient’s ability to choose a provider.

Folks, you don’t have to convince me that EMR implementations can unfairly rattle patients and caregivers. As I noted in a previous essay, my mother recently went to a terrifying experience when the hospital where my brother was being cared for went through an EMR implementation during the crucial point in his care. She was rightfully concerned that staff might be more concerned with adapting to the EMR and somewhat less focused on her extremely fragile son’s care.

As I noted in the linked article above. I believe that health executives should spend more time considering potentially negative effects of their health IT initiatives on patients. Maybe these execs will have to have a sick relative at the hospital during a rollout before they’ll make the effort.

KLAS Summit: Interoperability Doing the Work to Move HealthIT Forward

Posted on October 9, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor. Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare. twitter: @coherencemed

I had the privilege of attending the KLAS research event with leaders in patient data interoperability. From the ONC to EHR vendors- executives from EHR vendors and hospital systems made their way to a summit about standards for measurement and improvement. These meetings are convened with the mutual goal of contributing to advancement in Health IT and improvement of patient outcomes. I’m a big fan of collaborative efforts that produce measurable results. KLAS research is successfully convening meetings everyone in the HealthIT industry has said are necessary for progress.

The theme of Interoperability lately is: Things are not moving fast enough.

The long history of data in health records and variety in standards across records have created a system that is reluctant to change. Some EMR vendors seem to think the next step is a single patient record- their record.

Watching interactions between EHR vendors and the ONC was interesting. Vendors are frustrated that progress and years of financial investment might be overturned by an unstable political atmosphere and lack of funding. Additionally, device innovation and creation is changing the medical device landscape at a rapid rate. We aren’t on the same page with new data and we are creating more and more data from disparate sources.

Informatics experts in healthcare require a huge knowledge base to organize data sharing and create a needs based strategy for data sharing. They have such a unique perspective across the organization. Few of the other executives have the optics into the business sense of the organization. They have to understand clinical workflows and strategy., as well as financial reimbursement. Informatics management is a major burden and responsibility- they are in charge of improving care and making workflows easier for clinicians and patients. EMR use has frequently been cited as a contributor to physician burnout and early retirement. Data moving from one system can have a huge impact on care delivery costs and patient outcomes. Duplicated tests and records can mean delayed diagnosis for surgeons and specialists. Participants of the summit discussed that patients can be part of improving data sharing.

We have made great progress in terms of interoperability but there is still much to be done. Some of the discussion was interesting, such as the monumental task the VA has in patient data with troop deployment and care. There was also frank discussion about business interests and data blocking ranging from government reluctance to create a single patient identifier to a lack of resources to clean duplicated records.

Stakeholders want to know what the next steps are- how do we innovate and how do we improve from this point forward? Do we create it internally or partner with outside vendors for scale? They are tired of the confusion and lack of progress. Participants want more. I asked a few participants what they think will help things move forward more quickly. Not everyone really knows how to make things move forward faster.

Keith Fraidenburg of CHIME praised systems for coming together and sharing patient data- to improve patient outcomes. I spoke with him about the Summit itself and his work with informatics in healthcare. He discussed how the people involved in this effort are some of the hardest working people in healthcare. Their expertise in terms of clinical knowledge and data science is highly specialized and has huge implications in patient outcomes.

“To get agreement on standards would be an important big step forward. It wouldn’t solve everything but to get industry wide standards to move things forward the industry needs a single set of standards or a playbook.”

We might have different interests, but the people involved in interoperability care about interoperability advancement. Klas research formed a collaborative of over 31 organizations that are dedicated to giving great feedback and data about end users. The formation of THE EMR Improvement Collaborative can help measure the success of data interoperability. Current satisfaction measures are helpful, but might not give health IT experts and CMIOs and CIOs the data they need to formulate an interoperability strategy.

The gaps in transitions of care is a significant oversight in the existing interoperability marketplace. Post acute organizations have a huge need for better data sharing and interorganizational trust is a factor. Government mandates about data blocking and regulating sharing has a huge impact on data coordination. Don Rucker, MD, John Fleming, MD, Genevieve Morris and Steve Posnack participated in a listening session about interoperability.  Some EMR vendors mentioned this listening session and ability to have a face to face meeting were the most valuable part of the Summit.

Conversations and meetings about interoperability help bridge the gaps in progress. Convening the key conversations between stakeholders helps healthcare interoperability move faster. There is still work to be done and many opportunities for innovation and improvement. Slow progress is still progress. Sharing data from these efforts by the KLAS research team shows a dedication to driving interoperability advancement. We will need better business communication between stakeholders and better data sharing to meet the needs of an increasingly complex and data rich world.

What do you think the next steps are in interoperability?

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.

Data Sharing Largely Isn’t Informing Hospital Clinical Decisions

Posted on July 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.

Some new data released by ONC suggests that while healthcare data is being shared far more frequently between hospitals than in the past, few hospital clinicians use such data regularly as part of providing patient care.

The ONC report, which is based on a supplement to the 2015 edition of an annual survey by the American Hospital Association, concluded that 96% of hospitals had an EHR in place which was federally tested and certified for the Meaningful Use program. That’s an enormous leap from 2009, the year federal economic stimulus law creating the program was signed, when only 12.2% of hospitals had even a basic EHR in place.

Also, hospitals have improved dramatically in their ability to share data with other facilities outside their system, according to an AHA article from February. While just 22% of hospitals shared data with peer facilities in 2011, that number had shot up to 57% in 2014. Also, the share of hospitals exchanging data with ambulatory care providers outside the system climbed from 37% to 60% during the same period.

On the other hand, hospitals are not meeting federal goals for data use, particularly the use of data not created within their institution. While 82% of hospitals shared lab results, radiology reports, clinical care summaries or medication lists with hospitals or ambulatory care centers outside of their orbit — up from 45% in 2009 — the date isn’t having as much of an impact as it could.

Only 18% of those surveyed by the AHA said that hospital clinicians often used patient information gathered electronically from outside sources. Another 35% reported that clinicians used such information “sometimes,” 20% used it “rarely” and 16% “never” used such data. (The remaining 11% said that they didn’t know how such data was used.)

So what’s holding hospital clinicians back? More than half of AHA respondents (53%) said that the biggest barrier to using interoperable data integrating that data into physician routines. They noted that since shared information usually wasn’t available to clinicians in their EHRs, they had to go out of the regular workflows to review the data.

Another major barrier, cited by 45% of survey respondents, was difficulty integrating exchange information into their EHR. According to the AHA survey, only 4 in 10 hospitals had the ability to integrate data into their EHRs without manual data entry.

Other problems with clinician use of shared data concluded that information was not always available when needed (40%), that it wasn’t presented in a useful format (29%) and that clinicians did not trust the accuracy of the information (11%). Also, 31% of survey respondents said that many recipients of care summaries felt that the data itself was not useful, up from 26% in 2014.

What’s more, some technical problems in sharing data between EHRs seem to have gotten slightly worse between the 2014 and 2015 surveys. For example, 24% of respondents the 2014 survey said that matching or identifying patients was a concern in data exchange. That number jumped to 33% in the 2015 results.

By the way, you might want to check out this related chart, which suggests that paper-based data exchange remains wildly popular. Given the challenges that still exist in sharing such data digitally, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

ONC Releases HIE Toolkit For Rural Healthcare

Posted on March 18, 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.

The ONC has released a new toolkit designed to help rural healthcare players such as rural hospitals, critical access hospitals, clinics and state offices of rural health to participate in HIEs, iHealthBeat reports.

Here’s a summary of what the toolkit contains, courtesy of iHealthBeat:

The toolkit release follows on ONC head Farzad Mostashari’s announcement that this will be the year providers are pushed hard to go for interoperability.

Expect to see more efforts of this kind as ONC nobly soldiers along, suffering from a trimmed budget due to sequestration, attempting to close the gaps vendors seem loathe to close.

Yes, as Mostashari notes in an interview with HealthcareITNews, Meaningful Use Stage 2 pushes the vendors a long way toward interoperability:

Vendors are really going to have to step up to the plate in terms of being able to achieve the Stage 2 expectations for true vendor-to-vendor coded, clinical structured, documents being able to have kind of ubiquitous protocols with security in place. That’s a big step for the industry and meaningful use Stage 2 sets the tempo and expectations for that.

But vendors have proved amazingly agile at wiggling out of interoperability promises to date. Let’s see if MU Stage 2 finally breaks the deadlock.