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Making Health Data Patient-Friendly

Posted on May 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.

Most of the efforts designed to make healthcare processes more transparent hope to make patients better shoppers. The assumption is that better-informed patients make better decisions, and that ultimately, if enough patients have the right data they’ll take steps which improve outcomes and lower the cost of care. And while the evidence for this assumption is sparse, the information may increase patient engagement in their care — and hopefully, their overall health.

That’s all well and good, but I believe too little attention has been paid to another dimension of transparency. To wit, I’d argue that it’s more than time to present patients with clinical data on a real- or near-real-time basis. Yes, shopping for the right doctor is good, but isn’t it even more important for patients to see what results he or she actually gets in their particular medical case?

Patients rarely get a well-developed look at their clinical data. Patient portals may offer access to test and imaging results from today through 10 years ago — my health system does — but offer no tools to put this data in context. If a patient wants to take a good look at their health history, and particularly, how test results correlate with their behavior, they’ll have to map the data out themselves. And that’s never going to work for your average patient.

Of course, there are obstacles to making this happen:

  • Physicians aren’t thrilled with the idea of giving patients broad healthcare data access. In fact, more than one doctor I’ve seen wouldn’t let me see test results until he or she had “approved” them.
  • Even if you set out to create some kind of clinical data dashboard, doing so isn’t trivial, at least if you want to see patients actually use it. Significant user testing would be a must to make this approach a success.
  • To my knowledge, no EMR vendor currently supports a patient dashboard or any other tools to help patients navigate their own data. So to create such an offering, providers would need to wait until their vendor produces such a tool or undertake a custom development project.

To some extent, the healthcare IT industry is already headed in this direction. For example, I’ve encountered mobile apps that attempt to provide some context for the data which they collect. But virtually all healthcare apps focus on just a few key indicators, such as, say calorie intake, exercise or medication compliance. For a patient to get a broad look at their health via app, they would have to bring together several sets of data, which simply isn’t practical.

Instead, why not give patients a broad look at their health status as seen through the rich data contained in an EMR? The final result could include not only data points, but also annotations from doctors as to the significance of trends and access to educational materials in context. That way, the patient could observe, say, the link between blood pressure levels, exercise, weight and med compliance, read comments from both their cardiologist and PCP on what has been working, and jump to research and education on cardiovascular health.

Ultimately, I’d argue, the chief obstacle to creating such an offering isn’t technical. Rather, it’s a cultural issue. Understandably, clinicians are concerned about the disruption such approaches might pose to their routine, as well as their ability to manage cases.

But if we are to make patients healthier, putting the right tools in their hands is absolutely necessary. And hey, after paying so much for EMRs, why not get more value for your money?

P.S. After writing this I discovered a description of a “digital health advisor” which parallels much of what I’m proposing. It’s worth a read!

Halamka Ponders The Need to Leave Medicine If We Continue Our Current Trajectory

Posted on May 5, 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.

The famous Dr. John Halamka, Hospital CIO, Doctor, Former member of the HIT Policy committee, blogger at Life as a Healthcare CIO, recently read the 962 page MACRA NPRM and he wrote up a detailed look at the IT elements of MACRA. The post is worth a read if you’re interested in MACRA. Especially if you don’t want to spend the 20 hours reading it that he spent.

MACRA aside, he ends his post with this bombshell of a comment:

As a practicing clinician for 30 years, I can honestly say that it’s time to leave the profession if we stay on the current trajectory.

A doctor in the comments shared a similar view to Dr. Halamka:

Wow, I feel exactly the same as you do. As a front line ortho provider in a small group. I think now I get the message. CMS and ONC wants us out of private practice, either retire, or join as a salaried doc or hospital employee. That is the only justification for this 1000 page nightmare.

We’ve written a lot about physician burnout and many doctors distaste of all this government regulation, but having someone like John Halamka comment like this is quite telling. What’s scary for me is that I don’t see much light at the end of the MACRA tunnel from a physician perspective. Do you?

Too Many Healthcare Apps

Posted on May 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.

As we all know, if we want something, there’s probably an app for that. From head to toe, from bank to restaurant to club, in most places in the world, there’s probably an app to meet your needs.

Apple is rightly lauded for its contribution in this area. While it didn’t invent the smart phone as such — early devices mashing together PDAs and connected computing preceded the march of i-Everything by some time — but obviously, it popularized this technology and made it usable to virtually everyone, and for that it deserves the kudos it has gotten.

But as we work to build mobile healthcare models, I’d argue, the notion of there being an app for each need is falling flat. Healthcare organizations are creating, and clinicians prescribing, targeted apps for every healthcare niche, but consumers aren’t showing a lot of interest in them.

Healthcare consumers have shown interest in a subsection of health app categories. According to a study completed last year, almost two-thirds of Americans would use a mobile app to manage health issues. The study, the Makovsky/Kelton “Pulse of Online Health” survey, found that their top interests included tracking diet/nutrition (47%), medication reminders (46%), tracking symptoms (45%) and tracking physical activity (44%).

But other research suggests that consumers aren’t that enthused about other categories of healthcare apps. For example, a recent study by HealthMine concluded that while 59% of the 500 respondents it surveyed had chronic conditions, only 7% used digital disease management tools.

I’ve made the following argument before, but I think it’s worth making again. From what I’ve observed, in talking to both providers and patients, the notion of developing a multitude of apps covering specialized needs is a failed strategy, reflecting the interests of the healthcare industry far more than patients. And as a result, patients are staying away in droves.

From what I’ve observed, it appears that healthcare organizations are developing specialized apps because a) that strategy mirrors the way they are organized internally or b) they’re trying to achieve specific outcomes (such as a given average blood sugar level among diabetics). So they build apps that reflect how they collect and manage data points within their business.

The problem is, consumers don’t care what a facility or clinician’s goals are, unless those goals overlap with their own. They certainly don’t want to open a new app every time they take on a new health concern. And that sucks the benefit right out of app-creation efforts by healthcare providers. After all, aren’t people with multiple conditions the expensive patients we’d most like to target?

What’s more, apps designed to capture data aren’t terribly motivating. Clinicians may live or die on the numbers, but unless those numbers come with a realistic path to action, they will soon be ignored, and the app discarded. Consider the humble bathroom scale. For most people, that one data point isn’t particularly helpful, as it says nothing about where to go from there. So people generally give up when they’re neither motivated nor taught by the apps they download.

To be successful with mobile healthcare, providers and clinicians will need to back the development of apps which guide and sustain users, rather than turn them into data entry clerks.  It’s not clear what should replace the current generation, but we need to turn to a more patient-centric model. Otherwise, all our efforts will be wasted.

Health Organizations Failing At Digital Health Innovation

Posted on May 3, 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.

Few healthcare providers are prepared to harvest benefits from digital health innovations, a new study suggests. The study, by innovation consultancy Enspektos LLC, concludes that digital health innovation efforts are fairly immature among healthcare organizations, despite the enormous wave of interest in these technologies.

While this should come as no surprise to those of us working in the industry, it’s a little depressing for those of us — including myself — who passionately believe that digital health tools have the potential to transform the delivery of care. But it also reminds providers to invest more time and effort in digital health efforts, at least if they want to get anything done!

The study, which was sponsored by healthcare IT vendor Validic, chose 150 survey participants working at health organizations (hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, payers) or their partners (technology firms, startups and the like) and asked them to rate digital health innovation in the healthcare industry.

The results of this study suggest that despite their high level of interest, many healthcare organizations don’t have the expertise or resources needed to take full advantage of digital health innovations. This tracks well with my own experience, which suggest that digital health efforts by hospitals and clinics are slapdash at best, rolling out apps and doling out devices without thinking strategically about the results they hope to accomplish. (For more data on digital health app failures see this story.)

According to Enspektos, only 5% of health organizations could demonstrate that they were operating at the highest level of proficiency and expertise in digital health innovation. The majority of health organizations worldwide are experimenting with and piloting digital health tools, researchers concluded.

Apparently, digital health is moving slowly even with relatively mature technologies such as mobile platforms. One might think that mobile deployments wouldn’t baffle IT departments, but apparently, many are behind the curve. In fact, health organizations typically don’t have enough technical expertise or large enough budget to scale their digital health efforts effectively, Enspektos researchers found.

Of course, as a digital health technology vendor, Validic is one of many hoping to be the solution to these problems. (It offers a cloud-based technology connecting patient-recorded data from digital health apps, devices and wearables to healthcare organizations.) I’m not familiar with Validic’s products, but their presence in this market does raise a few interesting issues.

Assuming that its measures of digital health maturity are on target, it would seem that health organizations do need help integrating these technologies. The question is whether a vendor such as Validic can be dropped into the technical matrix of a healthcare organization and bring its digital health program to life.

My guess is that no matter how sophisticated an integration platform they deploy, healthcare organizations still have a tremendous amount of work to do in thinking about what they actually want to accomplish. Most of the digital health products I’ve seen from providers, in particular, seem to be solutions in search of a problem, such as apps that have no bearing on the patient’s actual lifestyle and needs.

On the other hand, given how fluid digital health technology is at this point, perhaps vendors will be creating workflow and development models that healthcare organizations can adapt. It remains to be seen who will drive long-term change. Honestly, I’m betting on the vendors, but I hope more healthcare players step up, as I’d like to see them own this thing.

Why We Store Data in an EHR

Posted on April 27, 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.

Shereese Maynard offered this interesting stat about the data inside an EHR and how that data is used.


I then made up this statistic which isn’t validated, but I believe is directionally accurate:


Colin Hung then validated my tweet with his comment:

It’s a tricky world we live in, but the above discussion is not surprising. EHRs were created to make an office more efficient (many have largely failed at that goal) and to help a practice bill at the highest level. In the US, you get paid based on how you document. It’s safe to say that EHR software has made it easier to document at a higher level and get paid more.

Notice that the goals of EHR software weren’t to improve health outcomes or patient care. Those goals might have been desired by many, but it wasn’t the bill of goods sold to the practice. Now we’re trying to back all this EHR data into health outcomes and improved patient care. Is it any wonder it’s a challenge for us to accomplish these goals?

When was the last time a doctor chose an EHR based on how it could improve patient care? I think most were fine purchasing an EHR that they believed wouldn’t hurt patient care. Sadly, I can’t remember ever seeing a section of a RFP that talks about an EHRs ability to improve patient care and clinical outcomes.

No, we store data in an EHR so we can improve our billing. We store data in the EHR to avoid liability. We store data in the EHR because we need appropriate documentation of the visit. Can and should that data be used to improve health outcomes and improve the quality of care provided? Yes, and most are heading that way. Although, it’s trailing since customers never demanded it. Plus, customers don’t really see an improvement in their business by focusing on it (we’ll see if that changes in a value based and high deductible plan world).

In my previous post about medical practice innovation, Dr. Nieder commented on the need for doctors to have “margin in their lives” which allows them to explore innovation. Medical billing documentation is one of the things that sucks the margins out of a doctor’s life. We need to simplify the billing requirements. That would provide doctors more margins to innovate and explore ways EHR and other technology can improve patient care and clinical outcomes.

In response to yesterday’s post about Virtual ACO’s, Randall Oates, MD and Founder of SOAPware (and a few other companies), commented “Additional complexity will not solve healthcare crises in spite of intents.” He, like I, fear that all of this value based reimbursement and ACO movement is just adding more billing complexity as opposed to simplifying things so that doctors have more margin in their lives to improve healthcare. More complexity is not the answer. More room to innovate is the answer.

Bill Could Cut Meaningful Use Reporting Period Drastically

Posted on April 25, 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.

A bill has been filed in Congress that would slash the Meaningful Use reporting period from one year to 90 days. This seems to be a challenge to CMS, which has reportedly held firm in the face of pressure to cut the reporting period on its own.

Supporters of the bill, which is backed by a broad coalition of industry trade groups, argue that a 365-day reporting period is unduly burdensome for providers, and will become even more awkward as MACRA requirements fall into place. Cutting the reporting period “will continue the significant progress providers are making to harness the use of technology to succeed in new payment and care delivery models,” argued a coalition of such groups in a letter sent to CMS last month.

That being said, it’s not clear how the structure of Meaningful Use incentives will play out under MACRA. So the reporting period change may or may not be as relevant as it might have been before the MACRA rules were set to be announced.

CMS leaders have said that the upcoming Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) – which will probably fall in place under MACRA in 2017 — is designed to unify incentive payments. Specifically, it integrates existing MU, PQRS and Value-Based Payment Modifier programs. MIPS payments will be based on a weighted score rating providers on four factors: quality (30%), resource use (30%), Meaningful Use (25%) and clinical practice improvement activities (15%). This suggests that a focus on reporting requirements is probably a matter of closing the barn door after the horse has left the stable.

On the other hand, since Meaningful Use isn’t going away completely, maybe cutting the reporting period required is necessary. If providers are being rated on a set of factors of which MU is just a part, reporting for an entire year could certainly impose an administrative burden. Why set providers up to fail by forcing them to overextend their resources on reporting?

I believe that reducing Meaningful Use requirements is a sensible step to take at this point. While there are probably those who would argue the point, I submit that MU has been pretty successful in motivating providers to rethink their relationship with HIT, and has even help a subset to completely rethink how they deliver care. Now, it’s time to move the ball forward, to a more holistic approach that goes beyond regulating care processes.

Admittedly, it’s possible that cutting the reporting period, or otherwise shifting the emphasis away from regulating HIT use, might cause some providers to slack off in some way. But to my way of thinking, that’s a risk we need to take. After investing many billions of dollars on promoting smart HIT use, we have to assume that we’ve done what we can, and focus on smart quality measures. With any luck, the new measures will work better for everyone involved.

New Payment Model Pushes HIT Vendors To Collaborate

Posted on April 20, 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.

CMS has launched a new program designed to shift more risk to and offer more rewards to primary care practices which explicitly requires HIT vendors to be involved at advanced stages. While the federal government has obvious done a great deal to promote the use of HIT in medical practices, this is the first I’ve seen where HHS has demanded vendors get involved directly, and I find it intriguing. But let me explain.

The new Comprehensive Primary Care Plus payment scheme – which builds upon an existing model – is designed to keep pushing risk onto primary care practices. CMS expects to get up to 5,000 practices on board over the next five years, spanning more than 20,000 clinicians serving 25 million Medicare beneficiaries.

Like Medicare payment reforms focused on hospitals, CPC+ is designed to shift risk to PCPs in stages. Track 1 of the program is designed to help the practices shift into care management mode, offering an average care management fee of $15 per beneficiary per month on top of fee-for-service payments. Track 2, meanwhile, requires practices to bear some risk, offering them a special hybrid payment which mixes fee-for-service and a percentage of expected Evaluation & Management reimbursement up front. Both tracks offer a performance-based incentive, but risk-bearing practices get more.

So why I am I bothering telling you this? I mention this payment model because of an interesting requirement CMS has laid upon Track 2, the risk-bearing track. On this track, practices have to get their HIT vendor(s) to write a letter outlining the vendors’ willingness to support them with advanced health IT capabilities.

This is a new tack for CMS, as far as I know. True, writing a letter on behalf of customers is certainly less challenging for vendors than getting a certification for their technology, so it’s not going to create shockwaves. Still, it does suggest that CMS is thinking in new ways, and that’s always worth noticing.

True, it doesn’t appear that vendors will be required to swear mighty oaths promising that they’ll support any specific features or objectives. As with the recently-announced Interoperability Pledge, it seems like more form than substance.

Nonetheless, my take is that HIT vendors should take this requirement seriously. First of all, it shines a spotlight on the extent to which the vendors are offering real, practical support for clinicians, and while CMS may not be measuring this just yet, they may do so in the future.

What’s more, when vendors put such a letter together in collaboration with practices, it brings both sides to the table. It gives vendors and PCPs at least a marginally stronger incentive to discuss what they need to accomplish. Ideally – as CMS doubtless hopes – it could lay a foundation for better alignment between clinicians and HIT leaders.

Again, I’m not suggesting this is a massive news item, but it’s certainly food for thought. Asking HIT vendors to stick their necks out in this way (at least symbolically) could ultimately be a catalyst for change.

Digital Disease Management Tools Aren’t Too Popular

Posted on April 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.

Despite having a couple of chronic illnesses, I don’t use disease management tools and apps, even though I’m about as digital health-friendly as anyone you can imagine. So I guess the results of the new survey, suggesting that I’m not alone, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The study was conducted by HealthMine, which recently surveyed 500 insured consumers to find out whether they used digital health devices and apps. Researchers found that while 59% of respondents suffer from chronic conditions, only 7% of these individuals used a disease management tool.

This was the case despite the fact that 50% reported using fitness/activity trackers or apps, and that 52% of respondents were enrolled in a wellness program. Not only that, two thirds of those involved in a wellness program said their program offered incentives for using digital health tools.

Disease management tools may not be in wide use, but that doesn’t mean that the consumers weren’t prepared to give digital health a try. When they drilled down further, HealthMine researchers learned that in addition to the half of respondents that used fitness trackers, consumers were interested in a wide variety of digital health options. For example, 46% used food/nutrition apps, 39% used weight loss apps, 38% used wearable activity tracker apps, 30% used heart rate apps, 28% used pharmacy apps, and 22% used patient portals or sleep apps.

To get consumers interested in disease management tools, it might help to know what motivates them to pick up any digital health app for their use. The biggest motivators cited were desire to know their numbers (42%), followed by improving their health (26%), the knowledge that someone on the other side of the app is tracking results (19%), and incentives for using the app (10%). (It’s worth noting that while incentives weren’t the biggest motivator to use digital health tools, 91% of respondents said that incentives would motivate them to use digital health tools more often.)

All that being said, I think I know what’s wrong here. In my experience, the apps consumers reported using are directed at helping consumers handle problems which, though complex, can be addressed in part by measuring a few key indicators. For example, achieving fitness is a broad and multifactorial goal, but counting steps is simple to do and simple to grasp. Or take food/dieting apps: eating properly can be a life’s work, but drawing on a database to dig out carb counts isn’t such a big deal.

On the other hand, managing a chronic illness may call for data capture, interaction with existing databases, monitoring by a skilled outside party and expert guidance. Pulling all of these together into a usable experience that consumers find helpful — much less one that actually transforms their health — is far more difficult than, say, tracking calories in and calories burned.

I’d argue that truly effective disease management tools, which consumers would truly find useful, calls for institutional commitment by vendors or providers that neither is ready to supply. But if disease management tools came with a particularly intuitive interface, a link to live providers and perhaps more importantly, education as to why the items being tracked matter, we might get somewhere.

EHRs Weren’t Designed to Influence the Practice of Medicine

Posted on April 15, 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.

I was going through some old notes from a conference and found an interesting note from a meeting I had with Ensocare at ANI 2014 (Yep, I have lots of notes like this that I’m enjoying reading) that said, “EHRs were never designed to influence the practice of medicine.” Obviously this much later I’m not sure of the context of the comment, but it still really resonates with me today. I assume Ensocare’s perspective was that EHRs weren’t designed to influence care, but that’s what they were trying to accomplish.

It’s a fascinating observation which makes me wonder how many healthcare IT companies goals are to truly influence care. It calls back to my post last month about what it really takes to move the needle in healthcare IT. It’s kind of amazing to think that EHR software wasn’t designed to move the clinical care needle. You could argue that they wanted to move the business process automation needle. You could also argue that EHRs moved the reimbursement needle. Although the problem with moving the reimbursement needle is that it might be great for doctors to get paid more than they were before, but that translates to increased costs to the healthcare system as a whole. I think we’ve largely seen that play out and now they’re trying to deal with it.

As I said in the post linked above, I think that some EHR vendors have backed themselves into a place where they can influence the practice of medicine. However, very few of them were designed to really influence the practice of medicine. It was much easier to solve the business process automation issues and plenty of money to be made by doing so. It’s much harder to actually improve the practice of medicine.

Looking forward, I’m thinking about what type of software company could come along that would disrupt the current batch of EHR software. We could have some technology or mix of technology that continues along the business process automation path. Don’t underestimate the power of a solution like this. However, I wonder what mix of technology solutions could really influence the practice of medicine. Imagine an “EHR” software that was so useful and so powerful that if you chose not to use it you’d be at major risk for medical malpractice.

That’s a really high bar to achieve. However, once you get over that bar, it makes it hard for competitors to enter that space. So, it would be worth the effort. My only fear is that given the current climate, would anyone believe a company that says they’ve created something that will dramatically improve patient care?

In the first crop of EHR software I believe there was a disconnect in the marketing. I don’t think many EHR vendors claimed to improve patient care. They didn’t need to claim it. However, the disconnect was that many of those that purchased EHR software drew their own conclusions on an EHR’s ability to improve patient care. Now, most of these people have been burnt by the idea that an EHR could truly improve patient care. That’s going to be a hard perception to change.

Coming full circle, I imagine that’s why Ensocare and hundreds of other companies that really do want to use technology to move the needle on patient care aren’t calling their solutions EHR software. They have to use a different brand. All of that said, I’m interested in finding more health IT companies that are brave enough to take on the challenge of improving patient care. Which companies do you know that are working on this goal?

Direct Primary Care Docs And EMRs

Posted on April 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.

For those that haven’t stumbled upon it, direct primary care is an emerging model for changing the relationship between primary care docs and their patients. Under this model, patients pay primary care practices a flat fee per month which covers all services they use during that month. From what I’ve seen, fees are typically between $50 and $100 per month, depending on the patient’s age.

The key to this model — which borrows from but is emphatically not a concierge set-up — is taking insurance companies out of the relationship. And investors seem to be excited about this approach, with VC money flowing into DPC companies and startups like Turntable Health, which is backed by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh.

I bring this up because I wanted to lay out a theory and see what you folks think. The theory doesn’t come from me; it was tossed out in a blog item by Twine Health, which makes a collaborative care platform. In the item, Twine blogger Chris Storer argues that the DPC movement is enabling doctors to junk their EMRs, which he suggests have been put in place to handle insurance documentation.

While the notion is self-serving, given that Twine seemingly wants to replace EMRs in the healthcare continuum, I thought it gave rise to an interesting thought experiment. Are EMRs mostly a tool to placate insurance companies? It’s worth considering. While Twine may or may not offer a solution, it’s hard to argue that existing EMRs “have empowered both physicians and patients in developing relationships that result in better healthcare outcomes.”

In the blog item, Storer argues that primary care practices largely use EMRs as a means of capturing data, and by doing so meeting insurance claims requirements. Though he offers no evidence to this effect, Storer suggests that DPC practices are dumping EMRs to focus better on patient care. There’s actually at least one direct-primary-care oriented EMR on the market (atlas.md, which is backed by a DPC practice in Wichita, KS), but that doesn’t prove the blogger wrong.

For Twine and its ilk, the question seems to be whether switching from EMRs to another care management model would actually improve the patient experience in and of itself. I’m sure that Twine (and others who consider themselves competitors) believe that it will.

As I see it, though, they’re talking around some key issues. no matter how user-friendly a platform is, No how laudable its goals are, I doubt that even a direct primary care practice unfettered by insurance requirements could seamlessly shift their practice to a platform such this. And no matter how good next-gen collaborative tools are — and I’m optimistic about them, as a category — the workflow issues which have alienated patients in the EMR age won’t go away entirely.

So while I’ll believe that DPC practices want to pitch their EMR, my guess is that the odds of their replacing it with an alternative platform are slim. Now, if collaborative care players catch practices when they’re being formed, that may be a different story. But for now my guess is that any practice that has an EMR in place is unlikely to dump it for the time being. The alternatives (including going back to paper charts) are unlikely to make sense.