Mature EMRs? A Long, Long Time Coming

Posted on March 7, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Today I got a call from an executive recruiter who wanted to know, in essence, where the EMR market was going.  Aside from the usual chatter about Meaningful Use, talent shortages and HITECH, one question she asked made me think: “What do you think is the main thing someone like me should know about the health IT market.”

Having pondered this for a while, I realized that the answer is fairly simple. Above all, anyone who wants to understand health IT needs to know two things: a) That health IT leaders need to be change leaders, more than ever before in the industry and, more importantly, b) that the EMR is at version 0.5 when it comes to maturity and integration into the life of most hospitals.

Yes, I mean version 0.5. We’re talking barely in beta, when it comes to solid integration, staff training, enough institutional knowledge so people can share and learn and a high-performing system that doctors love.  Sure, a few hospitals (1 percent, as I recall) have reached that legendary HIMSS Analytics stage 7, but most are lucky to have gotten their Meaningful Use Stage 1 payment into the door.

When you consider that a large number of CIOs doubt they have the man/women power to complete their Stage 1 implementation, the picture looks even grimmer.  Not only are the EMRs immature, they’re largely being implemented and run by consultants who will cut and run with their experience bank, as they have little ability to share it other than in (to staff and doctors at least) boring reports.

Bottom line, I’d argue that it will be a whopping five to seven years, at least, before EMRs meet either HIMSS Analytics criteria for maturity or my personal Zieger seat-of-the-pants model.  I hate to say that it could even be 10 years, but I see it as a possibility.

The reality is, government can be powerful, and big financial incentives are tasty, but you can’t force an industry to change overnight just because it would be really, really cool.