Finding the Silver Lining in EMR Investment

Posted on January 17, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

It’s been a week of doom and gloom news as far as healthcare IT goes. Apparently, providers aren’t seeing the ROI they’d hoped for from EMRs, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, RAND researchers have found that, despite predictions to the contrary some years ago, healthcare IT does not actually save money. Couple these with the 2% hike in social security tax everyone is seeing in their paychecks this month, and it’s easy to understand why the healthcare community might be a bit grumpy.

I’m here to propose that providers try to look on the bright side when it comes to recouping some of that EMR investment. Telemedicine programs may hold a ray of hope for providers looking to find additional value in their EMR. These programs, in my opinion, have gained a strong foothold in the healthcare industry – providers, payers and patients are certainly showing interest, especially given the industry’s stance on readmissions these days; the government seems supportive; and vendors are always eager to provide more product to willing customers.

Here are just a few of the telemedicine highlights I’ve come across in the last few weeks:

* A proposed bill in the House backed by the American Telemedicine Association – The Telehealth Promotion act of 2012 – would potentially expand telemedicine programs in Medicaid and Medicare programs, federal health employee plans, the VA, and others

* The federal government has set aside $1.9 million as part of its Telehealth Resource Center Grant Program in the hopes of expanding its current network of 14 centers to 20.

* The FCC will offer qualifying healthcare facilities up to $400 million annually as part of its Healthcare Connect Fund, which seeks to accelerate development of broadband networks in rural areas.

My thinking is that we’ll see these telemedicine initiatives grow as physicians become more scarce (at least in non-metropolitan areas), coordinated care programs increase, payers look to play a part in wellness programs and preventing readmissions, and everyone continues to look for ways to drive down costs. And from what I’ve read, I don’t see how a hospital or physician’s practice can successfully or meaningfully (pardon the pun) participate in a telemedicine program without an EMR.

Which brings us back to the bad news above. EMRs in recent years have mostly been designed with Meaningful Use measures in mind, not telemedicine, and so might not be adequately equipped to integrate data from teleconsultations. This is where vendors come in. If BCC Research’s prediction of the telehospital market growing to $17.6 billion in 2016 is true, they’ll come in droves. They’ll get to that value by working with hospitals and physicians that want to further their telemedicine programs, and will likely be looking for ways to increase the functionality of their EMRs as a result.

As many of us head to HIMSS in a few weeks, it will be interesting to see if providers really are as disgruntled with HIT expenditures as the media would have us believe, and how much play is being given to telemedicine in the educational sessions and on the show floor.

What is your opinion? Do you currently participate in any sort of telehealth program? Do they have the ability to make EMRs more useful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.