The EMR Vendor’s Dilemma

Posted on June 6, 2017 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.

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with an executive at one of the leading EMR vendors. During our conversation, she stressed that her company was focused on the future – not on shoring up its existing infrastructure, but rather, rebuilding its code into something “transformational.”

In describing her company’s next steps, she touched on many familiar bases, including population health, patient registries and mobile- first deployment to support clinicians. She told me that after several years of development, she felt her company was truly ready to take on operational challenges like delivering value-based care and conducting disease surveillance.

All that being said – with all due respect to the gracious exec with whom I spoke – I wouldn’t want to be a vendor trying to be transformed at the moment. As I see it, vendors who want to keep up with current EMR trends are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, such vendors need to support providers’ evolving health IT needs, which are changing rapidly as new models of care delivery are emerging. Not only do they need to provide the powerhouse infrastructure necessary to handle and route massive floods of data, they also need to help their customers reach and engage consumers in new ways.

To do so, however, they need to shoot at moving targets, or they won’t meet provider demand. Providers may not be sure what shape certain processes will take, but they still expect EMR vendors to keep up with their needs nonetheless. And that can certainly be tricky these days.

For example, while everybody is talking about population health management, as far as I know we still haven’t adopted a widely-accepted model for adopting it. Sure, people are arriving at many of the same conclusions about pop health, but their approach to rolling it out varies widely.  And that makes things very tough for vendors to create pop health technology.

And what about patient engagement solutions? At present, the tools providers use to engage patients with their care are all over the map, from portals to mobile apps to back-end systems using predictive analytics. Synchronizing and storing the data generated by these solutions is challenging enough. Figuring out what configuration of options actually produces results is even harder, and nobody, including the savviest EMR vendors, can be sure what the consensus model will be in the future.

Look, I’m aware that virtually all software vendors face this problem. It’s difficult as heck to decide when to lead the industry you serve and when to let the industry lead you. Straddling these two approaches successfully is what separates the men from the boys — or the girls from the women — and dictates who the winners and losers are in any technology market.

But arguably, health IT vendors face a particularly difficult challenge when it comes to keeping up with the times. There’s certainly few industries are in a greater state of flux, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It will take some very fancy footwork to dance gracefully with providers. Within a few years, we’ll look back and know vendors adapted just enough.