EHR Innovation & Regulation: Friends or Foes?

Posted on August 16, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Stephen Dart, Sr. Director of Product Management at AdvancedMD.

Healthcare insiders often point out how far behind the industry is in taking advantage of technology when compared to industries like retail or finance.

Technology providers get their share of blame for not designing it with a user in mind, a common argument heard in relation to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) ill-fitting place in the physician’s workflow. What is not talked about much is the role regulations play in shaping the technology and its use in healthcare.

Designing for compliance

Regulations are present in every industry and serve an important function of protecting individuals’ privacy and rights. Healthcare is highly regulated compared to many other industries due to the sensitive nature of Protected Health Information.  There is a good deal of additional regulations regarding programs such as MACRA, dedicated to monitoring provider performance and reporting it back to the government for reimbursement. As such, technology for providers must be designed to capture and report such data.

For vendors like AdvancedMD, one of the challenges is not in designing software to address the regulations, but rather in designing it under the ever-evolving guidelines and shifting deadlines. At times, well-meaning standards also fail to function as intended because they are not enforced end-to-end.

As an example, Meaningful Use Stage 2 required the EHR to meet a standard for interfacing with state immunization registries. For certification, technology providers had to produce a standard-format file and transmit it to the state immunization registry. However, every state had its own set of requirements and most states would not accept the format designated as the certification requirement but instead have their own additional or different requirements.

Consider lab results as another example. The EHR has to meet the engineering standard for using a LOINC code when receiving lab results to enable the physician to report metrics for regulatory attestation. Unfortunately, labs are not held to the same standard, and if the lab does not send results using the LOINC code, the physician cannot get credit when reporting or has to manually add a code for it to be considered for meeting the performance metric.

Naturally, there is cost incurred to design compliance features for vendors. At AdvancedMD, it has a significant impact on our research and development (R&D) budget. It also influences the other two R&D categories that have a direct impact on the end-user experience – keeping the technology on the cutting edge and innovation.

Integrating compliance into workflow

If regulations require physicians to report more data, vendors have a choice of designing compliance features to either ask the physician to input that information manually or to capture it automatically for reporting.

At AdvancedMD, a lot of effort goes into automating the regulatory requirements and integrating the necessary data collection naturally into providers’ existing workflow. If software identifies that the physician has just written an electronic prescription, there is no reason to ask him or her to go into a separate system and attest manually to having done so. This regulatory tracker can be natively built into the platform.

All roads lead to innovation

There is a lot of pressure on everyone in healthcare today and the industry is undergoing constant changes. Patients expect more as they pay more under high-deductible plans.  They increasingly rely on wearables to tell them how well they sleep and how many steps they need to take as part of a larger trend of taking command of their own health. Doctors and patients alike will benefit from this data being integrated into patient records.  If this patient-captured data can be merged into the patient chart, machine learning and analytics algorithms can in some cases predict what an independent practice needs to do next. This next step could be to streamline administrative processes for outreach messaging and improve care through electronic follow-up, leading to increased profitability and better care. Importantly, the EHR, practice management and all other technologies designed for providers need to liberate them to focus on patient care, not distract from it.

All these advanced features are the next frontier in healthcare and require vendors to dedicate a lot more effort and budget to innovation. While healthcare technology can’t be expected to catch up with an Apple or Facebook overnight with regard to user experience, there is much that can be done to close the gap. The industry as a whole will get there much faster when regulations and technology align to advance that goal.

Incremental regulatory steps in areas where standards can be controlled and enforced cradle-to-the-grave will benefit all parties. Vendors can plan their engineering budgets in advance and design fully functional compliance features. The industry will benefit from designing with the user in mind, furthering the role regulations play in shaping technology and its use in healthcare. Ultimately, regulations should allow providers to focus on care and to engage more meaningfully with their patients, thus optimizing the EHR’s role in the physician’s workflow.