Are EMRs As Great For ACOs As People Say?

Posted on March 13, 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.

For quite some time, talking heads have noted that EMRs will be an essential part of ACOs, so much so that most doubt you can have a successful ACO organization without one.  What I don’t see asked as often, however, is whether EMRs are shaping the future of the ACO movement, both negatively and positively.

What would an ACO look like, if it could exist at all, without an electronic record or HIE in place?

* There would even more mistakes and delays in sharing patient records, as one can hardly expect a larger group of institutions to make *less* mistakes

*  ACOs could launch without having to spend millions of dollars on EMR software, hardware, training and support

*  Clinical workflow would remain the same, generally, even if doctors were forced to include larger numbers of co-workers in their network

And how are ACOs working with EMRs in place?

*  Aside from limited case studies in individual institutions , it’s not clear whether EMRs are turning large, newly assembled care organizations into safer places to get care.

*  ACOs are forming more slowly than they might be, arguably, because a comprehensive EMR is part of t he cost of doing business

* New clinical workflow patterns are being forced upon clinicians, cutting across multiple institutions. While this might ultimately increase efficiency, it’s hard to ignore how many human hours are being invested (or wasted, depending on your position) on new technology.

As you can see, I come down on the “EMRs may not be all they’re cracked up to be for ACOs” side of things. Now, I’d concede that I haven’t been completely fair — I know EMRs have yielded great benefits for some groups of institutions– but I’d say the jury’s still out overall.