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The Digital Health Biography: There’s A New Record In Town

Posted on January 18, 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.

Few of us would argue that using EMRs is not a soul-sucking ordeal for many clinicians. But is there any alternative in sight? Maybe so, according to Robert Graboyes and Dr. Darcy Nikol Bryan, who are touting a new model they’ve named a “digital health biography.”

In a new article published in Real Clear Health, Graboyes, an economist who writes on technology, and Bryan, an OB/GYN, argue that DHBs will be no less than “an essential component of 21st century healthcare.” They then go on to describe the DHB, which has several intriguing features.

Since y’all know what doctors dislike (hate?) about EMRs, I probably don’t need to list the details the pair shares on why they generate such strong feelings. But as they rightly note, EMRs may take away from patient-physician communication, may be unattractively designed and often disrupt physician workflow.

Not only that, they remind us that third parties like insurance companies and healthcare administrators seem to get far more benefits from EMR content than clinicians do. Over time, data analytics efforts may identify factors that improve care, which eventually benefits clinicians, but on a transactional level it’s hard to dispute that many physicians get nothing but aggravation from their systems.

So what makes the DHB model different? Here’s how the authors lay it out:

* Patients own the DHB and data it contains
* Each patient should have only one DHB
* Patient DHBs should incorporate data from all providers, including PCPs, specialists, nurse practitioners, EDs, pharmacists and therapists
* The DHB should incorporate data from wearable telemetry devices like FitBits, insulin pumps and heart monitors
* The DHB should include data entered by patients, including family history, recollections of childhood illness, fears and feelings
* DHB data entry should use natural language rather than structured queries whenever possible
* The DHB should leverage machine learning to extract and organize output specific to specific providers or the patient
* In the DHB model, input and output software are separated into different categories, with vendors competing for both ends separately on functionality and aesthetics
* Common protocols should minimize the difficulty and cost of shifting from one input or output vendor to the other
* The government should not mandate or subsidize any specific vendors or data requirements
* DHB usage should be voluntary, forcing systems to keep proving their worth or risk being dumpted
* Clinical applications shouldn’t be subservient to reimbursement considerations

To summarize, the DHB model calls for a single, patient-controlled, universal record incorporating all available patient health data, including both provider and patient inputs. It differ significantly from existing EMR models in some ways, particularly if it separated data input from output and cut vendors out of the database business.

As described, this model would eliminate the need for separate institutions to own and maintain their own EMRs, which would of course stand existing health IT structures completely on their head. Instead of dumping information into systems owned by providers, the patient would own and control the DHB, perhaps on a server maintained by an independent intermediary.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which providers would be willing to give up control to this great an extent, even if this model was more effective. Still, the article makes some provocative suggestions which are worth discussing. Do you think this approach is viable?

E-Patient Update:  When Your Tech Fails, Own It!

Posted on December 30, 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 am reasonably comfortable with my primary care practice which, though not exactly chi-chi – no latte machine in the lobby! — does a reasonably good job with the basics of scheduling, payment, referrals and the like.  And I also like that my PCP is part of a multispecialty group linked together by an athenahealth EMR and portal, which makes it easier to coordinate my care.

But recently, I’ve run into some technical problems with the practice portal, repeatedly and inconveniently. And rather than take action, apologize or even acknowledge the problem on an executive level, the group appears to be doing nothing whatsoever to address the issue.

The issue I’m having is that while the portal is supposed to let you schedule appointments online, my last two didn’t show up in the group’s live schedule. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. One of the appointments was to see a neurologist for help with blinding migraines, and trying to attend the non-existent meeting was a nightmare.

Because I needed my neurologist, I scraped myself out of bed, put on an eye mask to avoid extra light exposure – migraine makes you terribly light-sensitive – and had my husband guide me to the car. But when I walked into the lobby (peeking out from under the mask to avoid crashing into things) I was told that they had nothing for me on the schedule.

Almost crying at this point, and with migraine-induced tears streaming down my cheeks, I begged them to squeeze me in, but they refused. To add insult to injury, they all but told me that it must have been my fault that the appointment booking didn’t take. There was no “I’m sorry this happened” whatsoever, nor any suggestion that their technology might be glitchy. If I hadn’t been so sick I might have gotten into a screaming match with the supercilious receptionist, but given my condition I just slinked away and went back to bed.

I’ve since learned, from a much nicer clerk at the affiliated primary care practice, that the group has been getting scores of calls from similarly aggrieved patients whose time had been wasted – and health needs unmet. “Tell the doctor, so she can tell the practice management committee,” she told me. “This is happening all the time.”

Of course, because I write about health IT, I realize that practice leaders may be struggling with issues that defy an easy fix, but I’m still disappointed with their failure to respond publicly. There are many steps they could have taken, including:

* Putting a warning on their practice website, and (if possible) the portal that the scheduling function has issues and to double-check that their appointment registered
* Disabling the scheduling function entirely until they’re reasonably certain it works
* Putting a sign in on the practice’s front desk alerting patients about the problem
* Updating the practice’s “hold” message with an advisory

And that’s just what came to mind immediately. They could do postcards, email messages, letters, robocalls…I don’t care if they drive around town with a guy who shouts the message into a megaphone. I just want expect them to take responsibility and treat my time and health with respect. Sure, tech will go south, but if it does, own it! There’s no excuse for ignoring problems like these.

E-Patient Update: The Smart Medication Management Portal

Posted on December 16, 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.

As I work to stay on top of my mix of chronic conditions, one thing that stands out to me is that providers expect me to do most of my own medication tracking and management. What I mean by this is that their relationship to my med regimen is fairly static, with important pieces of the puzzle shared between multiple providers. Ultimately, there’s little coordination between prescribers unless I make it happen.

I’ve actually had to warn doctors about interactions between my medications, even when those interactions are fairly well-known and just a Google search away online. And in other cases, specialists have only asked about medications relevant to their treatment plan and gotten impatient when I tried to provide the entire list of prescriptions.

Sure, my primary care provider has collected the complete list of my meds, and even gets a updates when I’ve been prescribed a new drug elsewhere. But given the complexity of my medical needs, I would prefer to talk with her about how all of the various medications are working for me and why I need them, something that rarely if ever fits into our short meeting time.

Regardless of who’s responsible, this is a huge problem. Patients like me are being sent with some general drug information, a pat on the back, and if we experience side effects or are taking meds incorrectly we may not even know it.

So at this point you’re thinking, “Okay, genius, what would YOU do differently?” And that’s a fair question. So here’s what I’d like to see happen when doctors prescribe medications.

First, let’s skip over the issue of what it might take to integrate medication records across all providers’s HIT systems. Instead, let’s create a portal — aggregating all the medication records for all the pharmacies in a given ZIP Code — and allow anyone with a valid provider number and password to log in and review it.  The same site could run basic analytics examining interactions between drugs from all providers. (By the way, I’m familiar with Surescripts, which is addressing some of these gaps, but I’m envisioning a non-proprietary shared resource.)

Rather than serving as strictly a database, the site would include a rules engine which runs predictive analyses on what a patient’s next steps should be, given their entire regimen, then generate recommendations specific to that patient. If any of these were particularly important, the recommendations could be pushed to the provider (or if administrative, to staff members) by email or text.

These recommendations, which could range from reminding the patient to refill a critical drug to warning the clinician if an outside prescription interacts with their existing regimen. Smart analytics tools might even be able to predict whether a patient is doing well or poorly by what drugs have been added to their regimen, given the drug family and dosage.

Of course, these functions should ultimately be integrated into the physicians’ EMRs, but at first, hospitals and clinics could start by creating an interface to the portal and linking it to their EMR. Eventually, if this approach worked, one would hope that EMR vendors would start to integrate such capabilities into their platform.

Now I imagine there could be holes in these ideas and I realize how challenging it is to get disparate health systems and providers to work together. But what I do know is that patients like myself get far too little guidance on how to manage meds effectively, when to complain about problems and how to best advocate for ourselves when doctors whip out the prescription pad. And while I don’t think my overworked PCP can solve the problem on her own, I believe it may be possible to improve med management outcomes using smart automation.

Bottom line, I doubt anything will change here unless we create an HIT solution to the problem. After all, given how little time they have already, I don’t see clinicians spending a lot more time on meds. Until then, I’m stuck relying on obsessive research via Dr. Google, brief chats with my frantic retail pharmacist and instincts honed over time. So wish me luck!

FDA Under Pressure To Deliver Clinical Decision Support Guidelines

Posted on November 10, 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.

The world of clinical decision support technologies may change soon, as the FDA may soon be releasing guidelines on how it will regulate such technology. According to a new report in Politico, the agency has been working on such guidelines since 2011, but it’s not clear what standards it will use to establish these rules.

Software vendors in the CDS business are getting antsy. Early this year, a broad-based group known as the Clinical Decision Support Coalition made headlines when it challenged the agency to clarify the scope of CDS software it will regulate, as well as what it will require from any software that does fall under its authority.

At the time, the group released a survey which found that one-third of CDS developers were abandoning CDS product development due to uncertainty around FDA regulations. Of CDS developers that were moving ahead despite the uncertainty, the only two-thirds were seeing significant delays in development, and 20% of that group were seeing delays of greater than one year.

The delay has caught the attention of Congress, where Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have filed the Medical Electronic Data Technology Enhancement for Consumers’ Health Act, legislation designed to resolve open questions around CDS software, but the problem still remains.

The FDA has had a research project in place since late 2014 which is creating and evaluating a CDS system for safe and appropriate use of antibiotics. The researcher-developed system generates alerts when a provider prescribes an antibiotic that poses a risk of serious cardiac adverse events for specific patients. Two of the 26 hospitals in the Banner Health network are participating in the study, one of which will use the system and the other which will not. The results aren’t due until April of next year.

It’s hard to say what’s holding the FDA up in this case, particularly given that the agency itself has put CDS guidance on his list of priority projects. But it could be a simple case of too much work and too few staff members to get the job done. As of late last year, the agency was planning to fill three new senior health scientist positions focused on digital health, a move which could at least help it keep up with the flood of new health technologies flooding in from all sides, but how many hours can they work?

The truth is, I’d submit, that health IT may be moving too quickly for the FDA to keep up with it. While it can throw new staff members at the problem, it could be that it needs an entirely new regulatory process to deal with emerging technology such as digital health and mobile device-based tools; after all, it seems to be challenged by dealing with CDS, which is hardly a new idea.

Consider The Portable EMR

Posted on October 19, 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.

The other day I was reading the Huffington Post, and was surprised to stumble across a rather interesting article promoting the benefits of a “portable” EMR. Now, for HIT fans like ourselves, the word portability implies having data travel from one provider directly to another in a usable manner. But author David Black, who describes himself as a “software guy” and Technology Partner at Oak HC/FT, has something different in mind.

For Black, the best way to share healthcare data would be if the patient carried it around from place to place and updated it as they travel from provider to provider. To be more specific, the portable EMR is an app with all of the patient’s healthcare data and history stored in it. The app would serve the purpose Microsoft Outlook does for email, with the data stored and backed up in the cloud, available to sync to any device.

As Brown sees it, not only would this be a way to keep data at patients’ fingertips, it would be a better way to control access to PHI as well. As he notes, many apps ask permission to access data such as email contacts. In this case, the app would ask permission before sharing the data with medical professionals. None of the data would be “locked up” in an EMR, he says.

Now, while I’m intrigued by this idea, I can see several problems that would result from wide adoption of this approach, including the following:

* Safety and security of the data stored in the cloud:  I’m no legal expert, but from what I’ve read about the healthcare cloud, any cloud vendor with which a provider works must be a full Business Associate under HIPAA, and meet the data security standards involved. I doubt many cloud services chosen by a consumer are in compliance, and that needs to be resolved before these become too popular.

* Securing of the consumers’ data:  Ok, let’s say that the cloud-based backup arrangements were kosher. Live ePHI is still resident (and probably quite hackable) on the consumer device which contains the EMR portability app. How can consumers protect it adequately, and if they don’t what happens to systems within the provider organization that access it?

* Carrying the device:  Even if the consumer data in the portability app is secure both in the cloud and on the device, that device still has to travel with the patient. No one wants to carry a laptop everywhere, smartphones and tablets have usability issues and other devices come with their own questions. Also, if the patient’s phone or laptop gets smashed in a car wreck, but providers need current health data to treat them, where do they get it?

Despite these complaints, I do see the benefits of Brown’s approach. Putting portability into the patients’ hands has not only accessibility benefits, but also stands to boost patient engagement. (And in fact, I know of at least one company – full disclosure, a client – that’s actually doing something along these lines.) But the model that Brown is proposing has many challenges to address.

News Flash: Physicians Still Very Dissatisfied With EMRs

Posted on October 18, 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.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that many physicians still aren’t convinced that the big industry-wide EMR rollout was a good idea. But nonetheless, I was still surprised to learn — as you might be as well — that in the aggregate, physicians thoroughly dislike pretty much all of the ambulatory EMRs commonly used in medical practices today.

This conclusion, along with several other interesting factoids, comes from a new report from healthcare research firm peer60. The report is based on a survey from the firm conducted in August of this year, reaching out to 1,053 doctors in various specialties.

Generally speaking, the peer60 study found that EMR market for acute care facilities is consolidating quickly, and that Epic continues to add market share in the ambulatory EMR market (Although, it’s possible that’s also survey bias).  In fact, 50% of respondents reported using an Epic system, followed by 21% Cerner, 9% Allscripts and 4% the military EMR VistA.  Not surprisingly, respondents reporting Epic use accounted for 55% of hospitals with 751+ beds, but less predictably, a full 59% of hospitals of up to 300 beds were Epic shops as well. (For an alternate look at acute care EMR market share, check out the stats on systems with the highest number of certified users.)

When it came to which EMR the physician used in their own practice, however, the market looks a lot tighter. While 18% of respondents said they used Epic, 7% reported using Allscripts, 6% eClinicalWorks, 5% Cerner, 4% athenahealth, e-MDs and NextGen, 3% Greenway and Practice Fusion and 2% GE Healthcare. Clearly, have remained open to a far greater set of choices than hospitals. And that competition is likely to remain robust, as few practices seem to be willing to change to competitor systems — in fact, only 9% said they were interested in switching at present.

To me, where the report got particularly interesting was when peer60 offered data on the “net promoter scores” for some of the top vendors. The net promoter score method it uses is simple: it subtracts the percent of physicians who wouldn’t recommend an EMR from the percent who would recommend that EMR to get a number from 100 to -100. And obviously, if lots of physicians reported that they wouldn’t recommend a product the NPS fell into the negative.

While the report declines to name which NPS is associated with which vendor, it’s clear that virtually none have anything to write home about here. All but one of the NPS ratings were below zero, and one was rated at a nasty -73. The best NPS among the ambulatory care vendors was a 5, which as I read it suggests that either physicians feel they can tolerate it or simply believe the rest of the crop of competitors are even worse.

Clearly, something is out of order across the entire ambulatory EMR industry if a study like this — which drew on a fairly large number of respondents cutting across most hospital sizes and specialties — suggests that doctors are so unhappy with what they have. According to the report, the biggest physician frustrations are poor EMR usability and a lack of desired functionality, so what are we waiting for? Let’s get this right! The EMR revolution will never bear fruit if so many doctors are so frustrated with the tools they have.

I’m Now a Thing on the Internet of Things

Posted on October 11, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Thanks to a Biotronik Eluna 8 DR-T pacemaker that sits below my clavicle, I’m now a thing on the internet of things. What my new gizmo does, other than keeping me ticking, is collect data and send it to a cell device sitting on my nightstand.

biotronik-eluna
Once a day, the cell uploads my data to Biotronik’s Home Monitoring website, where my cardiologist can see what’s going on. If something needs prompt attention, the system sends alerts. Now, this is a one way system. My cardiologist can’t program my pacemaker via the net. To do that requires being near Biotronik’s Renamic inductive system. That means I can’t be hacked like Yahoo email.

The pacemaker collects and sends two kinds of data. The first set shows the unit’s functioning and tells a cardiologist how the unit is programmed and predicts its battery life, etc. The second set measures heart functioning. For example, the system generates a continuous EKG. Here’s the heart related set:

  • Atrial Burden per day 

  • Atrial Paced Rhythm (ApVs) 

  • Atrial Tachy Episodes (36 out of 48 criteria) 

  • AV-Sequences 

  • Complete Paced Rhythm (ApVp)
  • Conducted Rhythm (AsVp) 

  • Counter on AT/AF detections per day 

  • Duration of Mode Switches
  • High Ventricular Rate Counters
  • Intrinsic Rhythm (AsVs) 

  • Mode Switching
  • Number of Mode Switches 

  • Ongoing Atrial Episode Time
  • Ventricular Arrhythmia

Considering the pacemaker’s small size, the amount of information it produces is remarkable. What’s good about this system is that its data are available 24/7 on the web.

The bad news is Biotronik systems don’t directly talk to EHRs. Rather, Renamic uses EHR DataSynch, a batch system that complies with IEEE 11073-10103, a standard for implantable devices. EHR DataSynch creates an XML file and ships it along with PDFs to an EHR via a USB key or Bluetooth. However, Renamic doesn’t support LANs. When the EHR receives the file, it places the data in their requisite locations. The company also offers customized interfaces through third party vendors.

For a clinician using the website or Renamic, data access isn’t an issue. However, access can be problematic in an EHR. In that case, the Biotronik data may or may not be kept in the same place or in the same format as other cardiology data. Also, batch files may not be transferred in a timely fashion.

Biotronik’s pacemaker, by all accounts, is an excellent unit and I certainly am glad to have it. However, within the EHR universe, it’s one more non-interoperable device. It takes good advantage of the internet for its patients and their specialists, but stops short of making its critical data readily available. In Biotronik’s defense, their XML system is agnostic, that is, it’s one that almost any EHR vendor can use. Also, the lack of a widely accepted electronic protocol for interfacing EHRs is hardly Biotronik’s fault. However, it is surprising that Biotronik does not market specific, real time interfaces for the products major EHRs.

Providers Often Choose Low-Tech Collection Solutions

Posted on October 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.

As most providers know, it’s harder to collect money from the patient once they’ve walked out the door. This has always been an issue, but is particularly important today given that patients are being asked to bear an increasingly larger percentage of their healthcare bill.

In some cases, providers solve this problem by having their staff reach out directly via phone, rather than relying entirely on paper billing. Others address these issues with technology solutions such as offering payment options via a web portal. And of course, some providers do both.

But the question remains, which combination is most likely to boost collections efficiently without losing patients in the process? And it’s this question, which underlies all those other considerations, which a new study hopes to address. When reading the results, it’s good to bear in mind that the sponsor, BillingTree, is a payment technology firm and therefore has a bias, but the survey data was interesting nonetheless.

First, a look at providers’ collections challenges. Respondents told BillingTree that compliance and collecting payments once the patient has left the building were concerns, along with knowing the correct amount to bill after insurance and addressing the client’s ability to pay. Perhaps the biggest issues were a lack of payment channels – be they staffers, interactive voice response or website tech — and disputes over the amount billed.

According to BillingTree researchers, few respondents were using Web or automated phone payment collection technologies to bring in these missing dollars. While 93.9% accepted online and mail payments, and 86.7% said they accepted payments over the phone via a live agent, only 66.7% provided a web portal payment option, and just 6.7% offered the ability to pay via an interactive voice response system. Rather than add new technologies, respondents largely said that they intended to improve collections by adding staff members or outsourcing part of their collection operations.

On the other hand, technology plays a somewhat bigger part in providers’ future plans for collections. Over the next 12 months, 20% said they planned to begin accepting payments via a web portal, and 13.3% intend to add an IVR system to accept payments. Meanwhile, the 26.7% of providers who are planning to outsource some or all of their collections are likely to benefit indirectly from these technologies, which are common among payment outsourcers, BillingTree noted.

Among those providers that did offer phone or web-based payment options, one-fifth chose to add a convenience fee to the transaction. BillingTree researchers noted that given the low adoption of such technologies, and concerns about regulatory compliance, such fees might be unwise. Nonetheless, the data suggest that collection of such fees increase over time.

All this being said, the BillingTree study doesn’t look at perhaps the most critical technology issue providers are struggling to address. As a recent American Medical Association survey recently concluded, providers are quite interested in tools that link to their EMR and help them improve their billing and reimbursement processes.

Focusing on revenue cycle management issues at the front end of the process makes sense. After all, while patients are being forced to take on larger shares of their medical costs, insurers are still more reliable sources of income. So while it makes sense for providers to track down patients who leave without having paid their share of costs, focusing the bulk of their technology dollars on improving the claims process seems like a good idea.

Integrating With EMR Vendors Remains Difficult, But This Must Change

Posted on October 4, 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.

Eventually, big EMR vendors will be forced to provide a robust API that makes it easy to attach services on to their core platform. While they may see it as a dilution of their value right now, in time it will become clear that they can’t provide everything to everyone.

For example, is pretty unlikely that companies like Epic and Cerner will build genomics applications, so they’re going to need to connect using an API to add that functionality for their users. (Check out this video with John Lynn, Chris Bradley of Mana Health and Josh Siegel of CareCloud for more background on building a usable healthcare API.)

But as recent research points out, some of the vendors may be dragged kicking and screaming in that direction before they make it easy to connect to their systems. In fact, a new study by Health 2.0 concludes that smaller health IT vendors still face significant difficulties integrating with EMRs created by larger vendors.

“The complaint is true: it’s hard for smaller health tech companies to integrate their solutions with big EMR vendors,” wrote Health 2.0’s Matthew Holt on The Health Care Blog. “Most EMR vendors don’t make it easy.”

The study, which was supported by the California Health Care Foundation, surveyed more than 100 small health technology firms. The researchers found that only two EMR vendors (athenahealth and Allscripts) were viewed by smaller vendors as having a well-advertised, easy to access partner program. When it came to other large vendors, about half were happy with Epic, Cerner and GE’s efforts, while NextGen and eClinicalWorks got low marks for ease of integration, Holt reported.

To get the big vendors on board, it seems as though customer pressure is still critical at present, Holt says. Vendors reported that it helped a great deal if they had a customer who was seeking the integration. The degree to which this mattered varied, but it seemed to be most important in the case of Epic, with 70% of small vendors saying that they needed to have a client recommend them before Epic would get involved in integration project.

But that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from there on out.  Even in the case where the big EMR vendors got involved with the integration project, smaller tech vendors weren’t fond of many of their APIs .

More than a quarter of those using Epic and Cerner APIs rated them poorly, followed by 30% for NextGen, GE and MEDITECH and a whopping 50% for eClinicalWorks. The smaller vendors’ favorite APIs seemed to be the ones offered by athenahealth, Allscripts and McKesson. According to Holt, athenahealth’s API got the best ratings overall.

All that being said, some of the smaller vendors weren’t that enthusiastic about pushing for integration with big EMR vendors at present. Of the roughly 30% who haven’t integrated with such vendors, half said it wasn’t worth the effort to try and integrate, for reasons that included the technical or financial cost would be too great. Also, some of the vendors surveyed by Health 2.0 reported they were more focused on other data-gathering efforts, such as accessing wearables data.

Still, EMR vendors large and small need to change their attitude about opening up the platform, and smaller vendors need to support them when they do so. Otherwise, the industry will remain trapped by a self-fulfilling prophecy that true integration can never happen.

MGMA Blames Rise in HIT Costs on Fed’s Regs

Posted on September 15, 2016 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

MGMA’s released a study of 850 member’s practices showing HIT costs up by more than 45 percent in the last six years. MGMA puts much of the blame on federal regulations. It’s concerned that:

Too much of a practice’s IT investment is tied directly to complying with the ever-increasing number of federal requirements, rather than to providing better patient care. Unless we see significant changes in the final MIPS/APM rule, practice IT costs will continue to rise without a corresponding improvement in the care delivery process.

There may be a good case that the HITECH act is responsible for the lion’s share of HIT growth for these and other providers, but MGMA study doesn’t make the case – not by far.

What the study does do is track the rise in HIT costs since 2011 for physician owned, multispecialty practices. For example, MGMA’s press release notes that IT costs have gone up by almost 47 percent since 2009.

In fairness, MGMA also notes that costs may have also gone up do to other costs, such as patient portals, etc. However, the release emphasizes that regulations are at great fault.

Here’s why MGMA’s case falls flat:

  • Seeing Behind the Paywall. If you want to examine the study, it’ll cost you $655 to read it. Many similar studies that charge, provide a good synopsis and spell out their methodology. MGMA doesn’t do either.
  • Identifying the Issue. It’s one thing to complain about regulations. It’s quite another to identify which ones specifically harm productivity without compensating benefit. MGMA cites regulations without so much as an example.
  • Lacking Comparables. MGMA’s press release notes that total HIT costs were $32,000 per practitioner. However, this does not look at non HIT support costs, nor does it address comparable support costs from other professions.
  • Breaking Down Costs. The study offers comparable information to practitioners by specialty types, etc. However, all IT costs are lumped together and called HIT.
  • Ignoring Backgrounds. MGMA notes that HIT costs rose most dramatically between 2010 and 2011, which marked MU1’s advent. It doesn’t address these practices’ IT state in 2009. It would be good to know how many were ready to install an EHR and how many had to make basic IT improvements?
  • Finessing Productivity. Other than mentioning patient portals, MGMA ignores any productivity changes due to HIT. For example, how long did it take and what did it cost to do a refill request before HIT and now? This and similar productivity measures could give a good view of HIT’s impact.

It’s popular to beat up on HITs in general and EHRs in general. Lord knows, EHRs have their problems, but many of the ills laid at their doorstep are just so much piling on. Or, as is this case, are used to make a connection for the sake of political argument.

Studies that want to get at the effect HIE and EHRs have had on the practice of medicine need to be carefully done. They need to look at how things were done, what they could accomplish and what costs were before and after HIT changes. Otherwise, the study’s data are fitted to the conclusions not the other way around.

MGMA’s a major and important player with a record of service to its members. In this case, it’s using its access to important practice information in support of an antiregulatory policy goal rather than to help determine HIT’s real status.