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Physician Practices Lack Good Models For EMR Adoption

Posted on September 14, 2016 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.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
― Leo TolstoyAnna Karenina

When hospitals roll out an EMR, they go through complex and rich information-gathering process. Health IT leaders tackle problems of scale, systems integration and feature development with support from multiple leaders in other departments. There are best practices to consider and vendor selection processes to observe, references and case studies to collect, and user group meetings they can attend to fine tune their EMR rollout and answer questions.

But when it comes to physician practices, particularly the smaller ones that dominate the medical landscape, the way is not as clear. Often without even a full-time IT staff member to assist them in their selection process, EMR adoption by physician groups is far less structured. Sure, physicians may check references like their hospital colleagues do, explore customer case studies and participate in software demos, but in most cases their process is far less systematic and informed than that of a hospital.

What’s more, if their EMR implementation runs into trouble, smaller medical groups may have far less support than hospital IT leaders. After all, not only are they less likely to get much help in selecting an EMR, they probably don’t have a robust network of peers who can answer questions in context. Like any small business, they make their idiosyncrasies work for them, but when they get into trouble with IT they are unhappy in their own unique way.

Standardizing Physician EMR Adoption
Of course, practice leaders who are struggling with their EMR investment can turn to the vendor that sold them the system, but that can backfire pretty easily. While the vendor is obviously the last word on how the contract is structured, they may or may not have a strong incentive to address gripes and concerns, even if they are obligated to address outright failures of the system.

If the vendor offers a fairly open support model, practices may get some help as they evolve. But if their vendor charges by the hour for support, it’s unlikely many practices be willing to pay for the time to address anything but major problems. That may cut practices off from the knowledge and context they need.

Given these concerns, I’d argue that we need to develop a generalizable, reproducible model for physician EMR adoption and rollout. As I envision it, it should include:

  1. A standardized form smaller practices can use to identify their key needs, allowing them to pick and weight their priorities from an evidence-based list of key selection criteria
  2. A frequently-updated database, maintained by a third party, which collects physician ratings on how a given vendor meets these well-articulated needs
  3. A post-implementation form, once again drawn from research evidence, helping them identify and weight their EMR’s performance based on objective criteria

The idea behind all of this is to standardize physician groups’ EMR selection and rollout, and turn what can be a groping, uneven process into an evidence-based one. Not only will this help physicians from the outset, it allows for building a knowledge base which cuts across vendors, geographies, practice sizes and technical sophistication levels. If physicians had such tools, their process of learning would become iterative and collaborative in a far more effective way.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that virtually any software selection process will address issues that don’t make it into a model like the above.  But if you offer practices a more structured way to adopt an EMR, they are more likely to be happy with their overall results. This is going to become even more and more important as small practices switch EHR software due to EHR consolidation and other factors.

Enterprise EHR Vendors Consolidating Hold On Doctors

Posted on September 9, 2016 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.

When I stumbled across a recent study naming the EHRs most widely used by physicians, I don’t know what I expected, but I did not think big-iron enterprise vendors would top the list. I was wrong.

In fact, I should have guessed that things would play out this way for giants like Epic, though not because physicians adore them. Forces bigger than the Cerners and Epics of the world, largely the ongoing trend towards buyouts of medical groups by hospitals, have forced doctors’ hand. But more on this later.

Context on physician EHR adoption
First, some stats for context.  To compile its 2016 EHR Report, Medscape surveyed 15,285 physicians across 25 specialties. Researchers asked them to name their EHR and rate their systems on several criteria, including ease of use and value as a clinical tool.

When it came to usage, Epic came in at first place in both 2012 and 2016, but climbed six percentage points to 28% of users this year. This dovetails with other data points, such that Epic leads the hospital and health system market, according to HIT Consultant, which reported on the study.

Meanwhile, Cerner climbed from third place to second place, but it only gained one percentage point in the study, hitting 10% this year. It took the place of Allscripts, which ranked second in 2012 but has since dropped out of the small practice software market.

eClinicalWorks came in third with 7% share, followed by NextGen (5%) and MEDITECH (4%). eClinicalWorks ranked in fifth place in the 2012 study, but neither NextGen nor MEDITECH were in the top five most used vendors four years ago. This shift comes in part due to the disappearance of Centricity from the list, which came in fourth in the 2012 research.

Independents want different EHRs
I was interested to note that when the researchers surveyed independent practices with their own EHRs, usage trends took a much different turn. eClinicalWorks rated first in usage among this segment, at 12% share, followed by Practice Fusion and NextGen, sharing the second place spot with 8% each.

One particularly striking data point provided by the report was that roughly one-third of these practices reported using “other systems,” notably EMA/Modernizing Medicine (1.6%), Office Practicum (1.2%) and Aprima (0.8%).

I suppose you could read this a number of ways, but my take is that physicians aren’t thrilled by the market-leading systems and are casting about for alternatives. This squares with the results of a study released by Physicians Practice earlier this year, which reported that only a quarter of so of practices felt they were getting a return on investment from their system.

Time for a modular model
So what can we take away from these numbers?  To me, a few things seem apparent:

* While this wasn’t always the case historically, hospitals are pushing out enterprise EHRs to captive physicians, probably the only defensible thing they can do at this point given interoperability concerns. This is giving these vendors more power over doctors than they’ve had in the past.

* Physicians are not incredibly fond of even the EHRs they get to choose. I imagine they’re even less thrilled by EHRs pushed out to them by hospitals and health systems.

* Ergo, if a vendor could create an Epic- or Cerner-compatible module designed specifically – and usably — for outpatient use, they’d offer the best of two worlds. And that could steal the market out from under the eClinicalWorks and NextGens of the world.

It’s possible that one of the existing ambulatory EHR leaders could re-emerge at the top if it created such a module, I imagine. But it’s hard for even middle-aged dogs to learn new tricks. My guess is that this mantle will be taken up by a company we haven’t heard of yet.

In the mean time, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the physician-first EHR players stand a chance of keeping their market share.

No, The Market Can’t Solve Health Data Interoperability Problems

Posted on July 6, 2016 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.

I seldom disagree with John Halamka, whose commentary on HIT generally strikes me as measured, sensible and well-grounded. But this time, Dr. Halamka, I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Dr. Halamka, chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and co-chair of the ONC’s Health IT Standards Committee, recently told Healthcare IT News that it’s time for ONC and other federal regulators to stop trying to regulate health data interoperability into existence.

“It’s time to return the agenda to the private sector in the clinician’s guide vendors reduce the products and services they want,” Halamka said. “We’re on the cusp of real breakthroughs in EHR usability and interoperability based on the new incentives for outcomes suggested by MACRA and MIPS. {T}he worst thing we could do it this time is to co-opt the private sector agenda more prescriptive regulations but EHR functionality, usability and quality measurement.”

Government regs could backfire

Don’t get me wrong — I certainly appreciate the sentiment. Government regulation of a dynamic goal like interoperability could certainly backfire spectacularly, if for no other reason than that technology evolves far more quickly than policy. Regulations could easily set approaches to interoperability in stone that become outmoded far too quickly.

Not only that, I sympathize with Halamka’s desire to let independent clinical organizations come together to figure out what their priorities are for health data sharing. Even if regulators hire the best, most insightful clinicians on the planet, they still won’t have quite the same perspective as those still working on the front lines every day. Hospitals and medical professionals are in a much better position to identify what data should be shared, how it should be shared and most importantly what they can accomplish with this data.

Nonetheless, it’s worth asking what the “private sector agenda” that Halamka cites is, actually. Is he referring to the goals of health IT vendors? Hospitals? Medical practices? Health plans? The dozens of standards and interoperability organization that exist, ranging from HL7 and FHIR to the CommonWell Health Alliance? CHIME? HIMSS? HIEs? To me, it looks like the private sector agenda is to avoid having one. At best, we might achieve the United Nations version of unity as an industry, but like that body it would be interesting but toothless.

Patients ready to snap

After many years of thought, I have come to believe that healthcare interoperability is far too important to leave to the undisciplined forces of the market. As things stand, patients like me are deeply affected by the inefficiencies and mistakes bred by the healthcare industry’ lack of interoperability — and we’re getting pretty tired of it. And readers, I guarantee that anyone who taps the healthcare system as frequently as I do feels the same way. We are on the verge of rebellion. Every time someone tells me they can’t get my records from a sister facility, we’re ready to snap.

So do I believe that government regulation is a wonderful thing? Certainly not. But after watching the HIT industry for about 20 years on health data sharing, I think it’s time for some central body to impose order on this chaos. And in such a fractured market as ours, no voluntary organization is going to have the clout to do so.

Sure, I’d love to think that providers could pressure vendors into coming up with solutions to this problem, but if they haven’t been able to do so yet, after spending a small nation’s GNP on EMRs, I doubt it’s going to happen. Rather than fighting it, let’s work together with the government and regulatory agencies to create a minimal data interoperability set everyone can live with. Any other way leads to madness.

Low-Profile HIT Player Leidos A Major Presence

Posted on June 1, 2016 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.

Here where I live in the Washington, DC metro, federal IT is a major presence. Government IT consulting firms cluster along the area’s highways, and their executives own countless sprawling manses in the nearby suburbs. Those players include Leidos, a northern Virginia-based contracting firm with clients in IT, biomedical research and public health.

Though the firm has annual revenues of about $5.1 billion, and 18,000 employees, Leidos generates little fanfare here, despite a pedigree that includes a $5 billion partnership with Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions segment that provides IT and intelligence services. However, Leidos is actually the new identity of long-established power player SAIC, which restructured and changed its name in late 2013 and has deep roots in national security and government IT contracting.

Most readers probably care little about government IT unless they service that industry. But I’d argue that we should all know about Leidos Health which, among other distinctions, was part of the team (Cerner, Leidos and Accenture Federal) that won the $4.3 billion plus contract to implement an EMR for the US Department of Defense last summer.

The DoD contract was hotly contested, by teams that included an Epic, IBM and Impact Advisors combination, but the Cerner-fronted team pulled off a win that may have saved the EMR vendor’s brand in a brutally competitive market. While it’s not clear what role Leidos played in the win, a DoD official was quoted as saying that a Cerner deal was projected to be “much cheaper,” and it’s possible Leidos support pricing played some role in its calculations. Perhaps more tellingly, DoD officials said cybersecurity considerations played a major role in the award, which plays to Leidos’ strengths.

Leidos Health hasn’t had unmitigated success. Most recently, it was part of a team scheduled to assist with a little-mentioned Epic EMR rollout for the US Coast Guard, which was cancelled due to “various irregularities.” The Coast Guard, which pulled the plug on the rollout in April, had been planning its EMR implementation since 2010.

However, this probably wasn’t much of a setback. And Leidos still delivers health IT services to several other federal agencies, including HHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs, including cybersecurity, health analytics, IT infrastructure and support and software development. And it works with the gamut of enterprise EMR vendors, including Allscripts, Cerner, Epic, McKesson and Meditech.

Truth be told, Leidos may not deserve the “quiet company” label given to it by Healthcare Informatics magazine, which recently dubbed it one the most interesting vendors of 2016. I’m sure Beltway execs who compete for federal contracts are well aware of Leidos Health, which had annual revenues of $593 million last year. And government IT decision-makers are well acquainted with parent company SAIC, a pillar of federal contracting which has been in the business since 1969. (In fact, SAIC president of technology and engineering Deborah Lee James was sworn in as Secretary of the Air Force in late 2013.)

That being said, the DoD deal has dramatically raised Leidos Health’s visibility in the broader health IT world. It will be interesting to see what it does going forward, don’t you think?

Smart Home Healthcare Tech Setting Up to Do Great Things

Posted on March 31, 2016 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 read a report suggesting that technologies allowing frail elderly patients to age in place are really coming into their own. The new study by P & S Market Research is predicting that the global smart home healthcare market will expand at a combined annual growth rate of 38% between now and the year 2022.

This surge in demand, not surprisingly, is emerging as three powerful technical trends — the use of smart home technologies, the rapid emergence of mobile health apps and expanding remote monitoring of patients — converge and enhance each other. The growing use of IoT devices in home healthcare is also in the mix.

The researchers found that fall prevention and detection applications will see the biggest increase in demand between now and 2022. But many other applications combining smart home technology with healthcare IT are likely to catch fire as well, particularly when such applications can help avoid costly nursing home placements for frail older adults, researchers said. And everybody wants to get into the game:

  • According to P&S, important players operating in this market globally include AT&T, ABB Ltd, Siemens AG, Schneider Electric SE, GE, Honeywell Life Care Solutions, Smart Solutions, Essence Group and Koninkllijke Philips N.V.
  • Also, we can’t forget smart home technology players like Nest, and Ecobee will stake out a place in this territory, as well as health monitoring players like Fitbit and consumer tech giants like Apple and Microsoft.
  • Then, of course, it’s a no-brainer for mobile ecosystem behemoths like Samsung to stake out their place in this market as well.
  • What’s more, VC dollars will be poured into startups in this space over the next several years. It seems likely that with $1.1 billion in venture capital funding flowing into mHealth last year, VCs will continue to back mobile health in coming years, and some of it seems likely to creep into this sector.

Now, despite its enthusiasm for this sector, the research firm does note that there are challenges holding this market back from even greater growth. These include the need for large capital investments to play this game, and the reality that some privacy and security issues around smart home healthcare haven’t been resolved yet.

That being said, even a casual glimpse at this market makes it blazingly clear that growth here is good. Off the top of my head, I can think of few trends that could save healthcare system money more effectively than keeping frail elderly folks safe and out of the hospital.

Add to that the fact that when these technologies are smart enough, they could very well spare caregivers a lot of anxiety and preserve older people’s dignity, and you have a great thing in the works. Expect to see a lot of innovation here over the next few years.

e-MDs Acquires McKesson’s Portfolio of Ambulatory EHR Software

Posted on March 10, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post will likely be a little bit of inside baseball for many, but I think it’s a really important subject to cover since it’s going to impact so many practices and so many doctors. The news just came out that e-MDs was acquiring the suite of ambulatory EHR software owned by McKesson. For those keeping track at home, these are 6 of the assets acquired from McKesson: McKesson Practice Choice™, Medisoft®, Medisoft® Clinical, Lytec®, Lytec® MD, and Practice Partner®.

This shouldn’t be a surprise from a McKesson perspective. At HIMSS I heard multiple stories of people talking with McKesson staff who didn’t even know the names of their EHR software. Sad, but true. The only question for McKesson is will Paragon get sold off next?

For those that aren’t familiar with the history of e-MDs, it was purchased by Marlin Equity Partners back in March 2015 and merged with Marlin’s MDeverywhere company. Marlin then went on to acquire AdvancedMD from ADP in August of 2015 as they started to stock pile ambulatory EHR vendors. With the acquisition of the McKesson assets, Marlin now owns a large number of ambulatory EHR vendors.

This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. We all knew that 300 EHR vendors wasn’t sustainable long term and we know that the EHR market has matured now that the false market meaningful use created is over. Some consolidation was bound to happen and it’s no surprise that a private equity firm is rolling up these companies as they seek to find the benefits of scale. The press release notes that the combined company’s products and services are being used by nearly 55,000 providers nationwide after this latest acquisition. That’s quite a presence in the ambulatory space.

The unfortunate downside of this type of EHR roll up is that not all of these EHR software can survive under one roof. Some of them have got to go. The only question is which one(s) will survive. Unlike EHR vendor founders, private equity companies are disconnected from the original product and so it doesn’t hurt as much for them to shut down a weaker product line as they consolidate users on to what they consider the best software. I’d be shocked if we didn’t see this happen with a number of EHR software that are now under e-MD’s (and Marlin’s) roof.

I also won’t be surprised if Marlin and e-MDs continue with more acquisitions. There are still a few hundred other ambulatory EHR vendors out there.

Practice Fusion Cuts 25% of Staff

Posted on February 4, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Following on our post a few weeks ago about the potential Practice Fusion IPO, news just came out that EHR vendor, Practice Fusion, has now cut its staff by 25%. The Techcrunch report says that the cuts were across the board and affected roughly 74 people. Many are suggesting that the two reports are related since cutting staff is a great way to improve your profit numbers before an anticipated IPO.

While I think the IPO could be in mind, I think there are likely some other trends at play too. While Techcrunch notes that it’s a down market for many IT companies, I think it’s fair to say that many EHR vendors have felt the pinch of late. I wrote a year or so ago that the golden era of government incentivized EHR sales was over and we’re entering a much different market. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that an EHR vendor might go through some cuts as the false market created by meaningful use disappears. I won’t be surprised to see more layoffs from other EHR vendors. Especially ambulatory EHR vendors like Practice Fusion.

No doubt another factor at play is that Tom Langan replaced Ryan Howard as CEO back in August. It’s very common for a new CEO to go through a round of layoffs after taking over a business. Doing so is hard for the previous CEO who’s so connected to the staff. Not that layoffs are ever easy, but it’s much easier for a new CEO to layoff people in order to make the organization more efficient. That’s particularly true when the previous CEO was the original CEO and Founder of the company.

The cynical observer could also argue that Practice Fusion needed to do these layoffs in order to slow their burn rate since they aren’t in a position to raise more capital. You’d think the $150 million they already raised would give them plenty of run way. However, you’d be surprised how quickly that disappears with that many staff on payroll (Not to mention rents in San Francisco). I personally don’t think this is a case of Practice Fusion cutting staff because they can’t go and raise money. However, it could be Practice Fusion cutting its burn rate so that they have some flexibility on when they go public without having to raise more money.

All of this said, 74 people lost their jobs at an EHR vendor. That’s never fun for anyone involved. At least they’ll likely have plenty of job opportunities in silicon valley. Unless that bubble pops like some are suggesting. It will be interesting to see how many now former Practice Fusion employees search for another job in health care IT.

Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 2016 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.

Back in March 0f 2013, six health IT vendors came together to announce the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance. The group, which included Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth, said they were forming the not-for-profit organization to foster national health data interoperability. (Being a cynical type, I immediately put it in a mental file tagged “The Group Epic Refused To Join,” but maybe that wasn’t fair since it looks like the other EHR vendors might have left Epic out on purpose.)

Looked at from some perspectives, the initiative has been a success. Over the past couple of years or so, CommonWell developed service specifications for interoperability and deployed a national network for health data sharing. The group has also attracted nearly three dozen HIT companies as members, with capabilities extending well beyond EMRs.

And according to recently-appointed executive director Jitin Asnaani, CommonWell is poised to have more than 5,000 provider sites using its services across the U.S. That will include more than 1,200 of Cerner’s provider sites. Also, Greenway Health and McKesson provider sites should be able to share health data with other CommonWell participants.

While all of this sounds promising, it’s not as though we’ve seen a great leap in interoperability for most providers. This is probably why new interoperability-focused initiatives have emerged. Just last week, five major HIT players announced that they would be the first to implement the Carequality Interoperability Framework.

The five vendors include, notably, Epic, along with athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts. While the Carequality team might not be couching things this way, to me it seems likely that it intends to roll on past (if not over) the CommonWell effort.

Carequality is an initiative of The Sequoia Project, a DC-area non-profit. While it shares CommonWell’s general mission in fostering nationwide health information exchange, that’s where its similarities to CommonWell appear to end:

* Unlike CommonWell, which is almost entirely vendor-focused, Sequoia’s members also include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts.

* The Carequality Interoperability Framework includes not only technical specifications for achieving interoperability, but also legal and governance documents helping implementers set up data sharing in legally-appropriate ways between themselves and patients.

* The Framework is designed to allow providers, payers and other health organizations to integrate pre-existing connectivity efforts such as previously-implemented HIEs.

I don’t know whether the Carequality effort is complimentary to CommonWell or an attempt to eclipse it. It’s hard for me to tell whether the presence of a vendor on both membership lists (athenahealth) is an attempt to learn from both sides or a preparation for jumping ship. In other words, I’m not sure whether this is a “game changer,” as one health IT trade pub put it, or just more buzz around interoperability.

But if I were a betting woman, I’d stake hard, cold dollars that Carequality is destined to pick up the torch CommonWell lit. That being said, I do hope the two cooperate or even merge, as I’m sure the very smart people associated with these efforts can learn from each other. If they fight for mindshare, it’d be a major waste of time and talent.

Significant Articles in the Health IT Community in 2015

Posted on December 15, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Have you kept current with changes in device connectivity, Meaningful Use, analytics in healthcare, and other health IT topics during 2015? Here are some of the articles I find significant that came out over the past year.

The year kicked off with an ominous poll about Stage 2 Meaningful Use, with implications that came to a head later with the release of Stage 3 requirements. Out of 1800 physicians polled around the beginning of the year, more than half were throwing in the towel–they were not even going to try to qualify for Stage 2 payments. Negotiations over Stage 3 of Meaningful Use were intense and fierce. A January 2015 letter from medical associations to ONC asked for more certainty around testing and certification, and mentioned the need for better data exchange (which the health field likes to call interoperability) in the C-CDA, the most popular document exchange format.

A number of expert panels asked ONC to cut back on some requirements, including public health measures and patient view-download-transmit. One major industry group asked for a delay of Stage 3 till 2019, essentially tolerating a lack of communication among EHRs. The final rules, absurdly described as a simplification, backed down on nothing from patient data access to quality measure reporting. Beth Israel CIO John Halamka–who has shuttled back and forth between his Massachusetts home and Washington, DC to advise ONC on how to achieve health IT reform–took aim at Meaningful Use and several other federal initiatives.

Another harbinger of emerging issues in health IT came in January with a speech about privacy risks in connected devices by the head of the Federal Trade Commission (not an organization we hear from often in the health IT space). The FTC is concerned about the security of recent trends in what industry analysts like to call the Internet of Things, and medical devices rank high in these risks. The speech was a lead-up to a major report issued by the FTC on protecting devices in the Internet of Things. Articles in WIRED and Bloomberg described serious security flaws. In August, John Halamka wrote own warning about medical devices, which have not yet started taking security really seriously. Smart watches are just as vulnerable as other devices.

Because so much medical innovation is happening in fast-moving software, and low-budget developers are hankering for quick and cheap ways to release their applications, in February, the FDA started to chip away at its bureaucratic gamut by releasing guidelines releasing developers from FDA regulation medical apps without impacts on treatment and apps used just to transfer data or do similarly non-transformative operations. They also released a rule for unique IDs on medical devices, a long-overdue measure that helps hospitals and researchers integrate devices into monitoring systems. Without clear and unambiguous IDs, one cannot trace which safety problems are associated with which devices. Other forms of automation may also now become possible. In September, the FDA announced a public advisory committee on devices.

Another FDA decision with a potential long-range impact was allowing 23andMe to market its genetic testing to consumers.

The Department of Health and Human Services has taken on exceedingly ambitious goals during 2015. In addition to the daunting Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, they announced a substantial increase in the use of fee-for-value, although they would still leave half of providers on the old system of doling out individual payments for individual procedures. In December, National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo announced that Health Information Exchanges (which limit themselves only to a small geographic area, or sometimes one state) would be able to exchange data throughout the country within one year. Observers immediately pointed out that the state of interoperability is not ready for this transition (and they could well have added the need for better analytics as well). HHS’s five-year plan includes the use of patient-generated and non-clinical data.

The poor state of interoperability was highlighted in an article about fees charged by EHR vendors just for setting up a connection and for each data transfer.

In the perennial search for why doctors are not exchanging patient information, attention has turned to rumors of deliberate information blocking. It’s a difficult accusation to pin down. Is information blocked by health care providers or by vendors? Does charging a fee, refusing to support a particular form of information exchange, or using a unique data format constitute information blocking? On the positive side, unnecessary imaging procedures can be reduced through information exchange.

Accountable Care Organizations are also having trouble, both because they are information-poor and because the CMS version of fee-for-value is too timid, along with other financial blows and perhaps an inability to retain patients. An August article analyzed the positives and negatives in a CMS announcement. On a large scale, fee-for-value may work. But a key component of improvement in chronic conditions is behavioral health which EHRs are also unsuited for.

Pricing and consumer choice have become a major battleground in the current health insurance business. The steep rise in health insurance deductibles and copays has been justified (somewhat retroactively) by claiming that patients should have more responsibility to control health care costs. But the reality of health care shopping points in the other direction. A report card on state price transparency laws found the situation “bleak.” Another article shows that efforts to list prices are hampered by interoperability and other problems. One personal account of a billing disaster shows the state of price transparency today, and may be dangerous to read because it could trigger traumatic memories of your own interactions with health providers and insurers. Narrow and confusing insurance networks as well as fragmented delivery of services hamper doctor shopping. You may go to a doctor who your insurance plan assures you is in their network, only to be charged outrageous out-of-network costs. Tools are often out of date overly simplistic.

In regard to the quality ratings that are supposed to allow intelligent choices to patients, A study found that four hospital rating sites have very different ratings for the same hospitals. The criteria used to rate them is inconsistent. Quality measures provided by government databases are marred by incorrect data. The American Medical Association, always disturbed by public ratings of doctors for obvious reasons, recently complained of incorrect numbers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In July, the ProPublica site offered a search service called the Surgeon Scorecard. One article summarized the many positive and negative reactions. The New England Journal of Medicine has called ratings of surgeons unreliable.

2015 was the year of the intensely watched Department of Defense upgrade to its health care system. One long article offered an in-depth examination of DoD options and their implications for the evolution of health care. Another article promoted the advantages of open-source VistA, an argument that was not persuasive enough for the DoD. Still, openness was one of the criteria sought by the DoD.

The remote delivery of information, monitoring, and treatment (which goes by the quaint term “telemedicine”) has been the subject of much discussion. Those concerned with this development can follow the links in a summary article to see the various positions of major industry players. One advocate of patient empowerment interviewed doctors to find that, contrary to common fears, they can offer email access to patients without becoming overwhelmed. In fact, they think it leads to better outcomes. (However, it still isn’t reimbursed.)

Laws permitting reimbursement for telemedicine continued to spread among the states. But a major battle shaped up around a ruling in Texas that doctors have a pre-existing face-to-face meeting with any patient whom they want to treat remotely. The spread of telemedicine depends also on reform of state licensing laws to permit practices across state lines.

Much wailing and tears welled up over the required transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. The AMA, with some good arguments, suggested just waiting for ICD-11. But the transition cost much less than anticipated, making ICD-10 much less of a hot button, although it may be harmful to diagnosis.

Formal studies of EHR strengths and weaknesses are rare, so I’ll mention this survey finding that EHRs aid with public health but are ungainly for the sophisticated uses required for long-term, accountable patient care. Meanwhile, half of hospitals surveyed are unhappy with their EHRs’ usability and functionality and doctors are increasingly frustrated with EHRs. Nurses complained about technologies’s time demands and the eternal lack of interoperability. A HIMSS survey turned up somewhat more postive feelings.

EHRs are also expensive enough to hurt hospital balance sheets and force them to forgo other important expenditures.

Electronic health records also took a hit from ONC’s Sentinel Events program. To err, it seems, is not only human but now computer-aided. A Sentinel Event Alert indicated that more errors in health IT products should be reported, claiming that many go unreported because patient harm was avoided. The FDA started checking self-reported problems on PatientsLikeMe for adverse drug events.

The ONC reported gains in patient ability to view, download, and transmit their health information online, but found patient portals still limited. Although one article praised patient portals by Epic, Allscripts, and NextGen, an overview of studies found that patient portals are disappointing, partly because elderly patients have trouble with them. A literature review highlighted where patient portals fall short. In contrast, giving patients full access to doctors’ notes increases compliance and reduces errors. HHS’s Office of Civil Rights released rules underlining patients’ rights to access their data.

While we’re wallowing in downers, review a study questioning the value of patient-centered medical homes.

Reuters published a warning about employee wellness programs, which are nowhere near as fair or accurate as they claim to be. They are turning into just another expression of unequal power between employer and employee, with tendencies to punish sick people.

An interesting article questioned the industry narrative about the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act, saying that the industry is expanding robustly in the face of the tax. However, this tax is still a hot political issue.

Does anyone remember that Republican congressmen published an alternative health care reform plan to replace the ACA? An analysis finds both good and bad points in its approach to mandates, malpractice, and insurance coverage.

Early reports on use of Apple’s open ResearchKit suggested problems with selection bias and diversity.

An in-depth look at the use of devices to enhance mental activity examined where they might be useful or harmful.

A major genetic data mining effort by pharma companies and Britain’s National Health Service was announced. The FDA announced a site called precisionFDA for sharing resources related to genetic testing. A recent site invites people to upload health and fitness data to support research.

As data becomes more liquid and is collected by more entities, patient privacy suffers. An analysis of web sites turned up shocking practices in , even at supposedly reputable sites like WebMD. Lax security in health care networks was addressed in a Forbes article.

Of minor interest to health IT workers, but eagerly awaited by doctors, was Congress’s “doc fix” to Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula. The bill did contain additional clauses that were called significant by a number of observers, including former National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari no less, for opening up new initiatives in interoperability, telehealth, patient monitoring, and especially fee-for-value.

Connected health took a step forward when CMS issued reimbursement guidelines for patient monitoring in the community.

A wonky but important dispute concerned whether self-insured employers should be required to report public health measures, because public health by definition needs to draw information from as wide a population as possible.

Data breaches always make lurid news, sometimes under surprising circumstances, and not always caused by health care providers. The 2015 security news was dominated by a massive breach at the Anthem health insurer.

Along with great fanfare in Scientific American for “precision medicine,” another Scientific American article covered its privacy risks.

A blog posting promoted early and intensive interactions with end users during app design.

A study found that HIT implementations hamper clinicians, but could not identify the reasons.

Natural language processing was praised for its potential for simplifying data entry, and to discover useful side effects and treatment issues.

CVS’s refusal to stock tobacco products was called “a major sea-change for public health” and part of a general trend of pharmacies toward whole care of the patient.

A long interview with FHIR leader Grahame Grieve described the progress of the project, and its the need for clinicians to take data exchange seriously. A quiet milestone was reached in October with a a production version from Cerner.

Given the frequent invocation of Uber (even more than the Cheesecake Factory) as a model for health IT innovation, it’s worth seeing the reasons that model is inapplicable.

A number of hot new sensors and devices were announced, including a tiny sensor from Intel, a device from Google to measure blood sugar and another for multiple vital signs, enhancements to Microsoft products, a temperature monitor for babies, a headset for detecting epilepsy, cheap cameras from New Zealand and MIT for doing retinal scans, a smart phone app for recognizing respiratory illnesses, a smart-phone connected device for detecting brain injuries and one for detecting cancer, a sleep-tracking ring, bed sensors, ultrasound-guided needle placement, a device for detecting pneumonia, and a pill that can track heartbeats.

The medical field isn’t making extensive use yet of data collection and analysis–or uses analytics for financial gain rather than patient care–the potential is demonstrated by many isolated success stories, including one from Johns Hopkins study using 25 patient measures to study sepsis and another from an Ontario hospital. In an intriguing peek at our possible future, IBM Watson has started to integrate patient data with its base of clinical research studies.

Frustrated enough with 2015? To end on an upbeat note, envision a future made bright by predictive analytics.

Ways to Not Rank EHR Vendors

Posted on September 16, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of my pet peeves is organizations that put out rankings for EHR vendors that are based on really low quality factors and metrics. I’ve put a graphic I recently found at the bottom of this post. The graphic uses user adoption level, search traffic, and social media presence to rank “The 10 Most Popular EHR Products.” Yes, the image is at the bottom of the post, because I don’t think you should pay much attention to the ranking. Let’s talk about why.

First, I’ll give credit to them for putting their factors in the graphic itself. Many organizations that put out these rankings don’t even share their methodology for ranking EHR vendors. Although, this compliment falls flat on the first factor: user adoption level.

EHR User Adoption Level
They obtained this ranking and score from a survey of software users. Of course, they don’t say anything about how this survey sample was collected, how they selected who participated in the survey, etc. Long story short, I can think of probably 1000 ways that this sample is going to be biased. There are literally 300 EHR vendors out there. I need to consult my statistician friends, but I can’t imagine the random sample you’d need to get in order to estimate the users of 300 EHR vendors. Plus, there are so many ways to bias this sample based on region, hospital EHR or ambulatory EHR, hospital size, practice size, specialty, etc etc etc.

I also am not sure what they consider “regular users” of the system. Does that mean my 5 front desk staff count as well or is it just providers? Plus, if you look at the scores for the vendors taht are listed, Cerner and Meditech should be much higher when it comes to user adoption level. In fact, it’s possible they have more users than Epic which has the highest ranking possible for user adoption level.

I do think that user adoption level is an ok way to rank EHR vendors. The fact that many healthcare organizations have spent a bunch of money on an EHR vendor is one sign of an EHR vendors popularity and it’s worth considering what’s popular when evaluating software of any kind (including EHR software). However, does anyone have a really good way of analyzing how many users an EHR vendor has? The closest I’ve seen is meaningful use attestation data and it has its weaknesses. Long story short, I’m not buying the user adoption level rankings below.

EHR Search Traffic
Google has a great tool where you can compare search traffic for various keywords. I’ve used it before to compare the popularity of terms like EMR and EHR (They’re about even with EMR still ahead). While this tool is cool and very interesting, is that how you determine how popular an EHR vendor is? What if that EHR vendor has had some major security breaches and everyone is searching their name to find out about the breaches? That seems to be a sign that the EHR vendor is popular, but not for good reasons. Plus, how do you know when someone is searching for the Epic EHR versus Epic the movie and a few million variations of the word epic? Not to mention, if you have Jonathan Bush as your CEO, you’re going to get more searches than other EHR vendors just because of his vibrant personality (was that the politically correct way to describe it?).

Long story short, search traffic is an awful measure to use when ranking EHR vendors. I know some really amazing EHR software that have very little search traffic. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. They’ve focused on creating great software, partnering with doctors, and creating direct relationships with their users. Their search traffic certainly won’t reflect that piece of the puzzle.

EHR Social Media Presence
What’s in a like or follow? Yes, those are the factors the graphic below used to evaluate EHR vendors social media presence. They do weigh this factor less than the others. Does a like or follow on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook mean you’re popular? Do you know how easy it is to buy followers if you want to look like you have a lot of followers? $5 per 1000 followers is easy to get. Plus, these counts don’t matter as much as which people are following you and how engaged they are with you on social media. That matters a lot more than follower counts.

I don’t want to totally discredit an EHR vendors involvement in social media. That might be a sign that the company stays up to date and involved with the latest technology changes. It might mean that they’re engaged with and interested in their customers. Then again, it might not. Many EHR vendors just use it as a way to broadcast their company and not actually engage with people. Some EHR vendors don’t even participate in social media at all. That’s not an evil thing, but it might be worth investigating more and seeing if their lack of involvement in technology is seen in other aspects of their product offering.

So while I see value in evaluating an EHR vendor’s social presence, you can’t evaluate and rank it based on likes and followers. A much more complicated assessment is needed.

Conclusion
I understand that many organizations are grabbing hold of any means to differentiate the 300+ EHR vendors out there. It’s certainly a challenge I know first hand. However, I hope that healthcare organizations don’t get led astray by poorly done rankings like the graphic below. There’s always more to the story. If EHR rankings were easy, I would have done them myself a long time ago.

Top 10 Most Popular EHR Vendor Infographic