Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Epic Tries To Open New Market By Offering Cloud Hosting

Posted on November 26, 2014 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 you think of Epic, you hardly imagine a company which is running out of customers to exploit. But according to Frost & Sullivan’s connected health analyst, Shruthi Parakkal, Epic has reached the point where its target market is almost completely saturated.

Sure, Epic may have only (!) 15% to 20% market share in both hospital and ambulatory enterprise EMR sector, it can’t go much further operating as-is.  After all, there’s only so many large hospital systems and academic medical centers out there that can afford its extremely pricey product.

That’s almost certainly why Epic has just announced  that it was launching a cloud-based offering, after refusing to go there for quite some time.  If it makes a cloud offering available, note analysts like Parakkal, Epic suddenly becomes an option for smaller hospitals with less than 200 beds. Also, offering cloud services may also net Epic a few large hospitals that want to create a hybrid cloud model with some of its application infrastructure on site and some in the cloud.

But unlike in its core market, where Epic has enjoyed incredible success, it’s not a lock that the EMR giant will lead the pack just for showing up. For one thing, it’s late to the party, with cloud competitors including Cerner, Allscripts, MEDITECH, CPSI, and many more already well established in the smaller hospital space. Moreover, these are well-funded competitors, not tiny startups it can brush away with a flyswatter.

Another issue is price. While Epic’s cloud offering may be far less expensive than its on-site option, my guess is that it will be more expensive than other comparable offerings. (Of course, one could get into an argument over what “comparable” really means, but that’s another story.)

And then there’s the problem of trust. I’d hate to have to depend completely on a powerful company that generally gets what it wants to have access to such a mission-critical application. Trust is always an issue when relying on a SaaS-based vendor, of course, but it’s a particularly significant issue here.

Why? Realistically, the smaller hospitals that are likely to consider an Epic cloud product are just dots on the map to a company Epic’s size. Such hospitals don’t have much practical leverage if things don’t go their way.

And while I’m not suggesting that Epic would deliberately target smaller hospitals for indifferent service, giant institutions are likely to be its bread and butter for quite some time. It’s inevitable that when push comes to shove, Epic will have to prioritize companies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its on-site product. Any vendor would.

All that being said, smaller hospitals are likely to overlook some of these problems if they can get their hands on such a popular EMR.  Also, as rockstar CIO John Halamka, MD of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center notes, Epic seems to be able to provide a product that gets clinicians to buy in. That alone will be worth the price of admission for many.

Certainly, vendors like MEDITECH and Cerner aren’t going to cede this market gracefully. But even as a Johnny-come-lately, I expect Epic’s cloud product do well in 2015.

Microsoft Joins Battle for Wearables Market

Posted on November 4, 2014 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.

Following the lead of several other companies big and small, Microsoft has jumped into the wearables healthcare market with a watch, a fitness tracker and a cloud-based platform that condenses and shares data.

It’s little wonder. After a few years of uncertainty, it seems pretty clear that the wearables market is taking off like a rocket. In fact, 21% of US consumers own such a device, according to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers. That’s slightly higher that the number of consumers who bought tablets during the first two years after they launched, PwC reports. Not only Microsoft, but Apple and Samsung, as well as smaller players with a high profile — such as Fitbit — are poised to take the sector by storm.

Microsoft’s new entry is called Microsoft Health, a platform letting users store health and fitness data. The date in question is collected by a Microsoft Health app, available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone. The platform also gathers data generated from the Microsoft Band, a smart and designed to work with Microsoft’s new platform.

The idea behind pulling all of this data into a single platform is to integrate data from different devices and services in a smart way that allows consumers to generate insights into their health. The next step for Microsoft Health, execs say, is to connect all of that data in the platform to the tech giant’s HealthVault, a Web-based PHR, making it easier for people to share data with their healthcare providers.

Other tech giants are making their own wearables plays, of course. Google, for example, has released Google Fit, a fitness-based app designed to help users track physical activity. Google’s approach is  Android smart phones, relying on sensors built into the smart phones to detect if the user is walking, running or biking. Users can also connect to devices and apps like Noom Coach and Withings.

Apple, for its part, has launched HealthKit, its competing platform for collecting data from various health and fitness apps.  The data can then be accessed easily by Apple users through the company’s Health app (which comes installed on the iPhone 6.) HealthKit is designed to send data directly to hospital and doctor charts as well. It also plans to launch a smart watch early next year.

While there’s little doubt consumers are interested in the wearables themselves, it’s still not clear how enthusiastic they are about pulling all of their activity onto a single platform. Providers might be more excited about taming this gusher of data, which has proved pretty intimidating to doctors already overwhelmed with standard EMR information, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll find fitness information to be helpful.

All told, it looks like there will be a rollicking battle for the hearts and minds of wearables consumers, as well as the loyalty of providers.  As for me, I think it will be a year or two, at minimum, before we get a real sense of what consumers and providers really want from these devices.

HealthTap Offerings Track the Evolution of Health Care

Posted on August 15, 2014 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://radar.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.

Health care evolves more quickly in the minds of the most visionary reformers than in real health care practices. But we are definitely entering on a new age:

  • Patients (or consumers, or whatever you want to call them–no good term has yet been developed for all of us regular people who want better lives) will make more of their own decisions and participate in health care.
  • Behavior change will be driven by immediate interventions into everyday life, and health care advice will be available instantly on demand instead of waiting for an annual visit to the doctor. Health care will be an integrated into life activities, not a distinct activity performed by a professional on a passive recipient.
  • Patient information will no longer be fragmented among the various health care providers with whom the patient comes in contact, but will be centralized with the patients themselves, integrated and able to support intelligent decision-making.
  • Mobile devices will be intimately entwined with daily behavior, able to provide instant feedback and nudges toward healthy alternatives.

I have seen this evolution in action over several years at HealthTap, a fascinating company that ties together more than 10 million patients a month and more than 62,000 doctors. I interviewed the charismatic founder, Ron Gutman, back in 2011 before they had even opened their virtual doors. At that time, I felt intrigued but considered them just a kind of social network tying together doctors and patients.

Gutman’s goals for health care were far greater than this, however, and he has resolutely added ratings, analytics, and other features to his service over the years. Most recently, HealthTap has moved from what I consider a social network to a health maintenance tool with continuous intervention into daily life–a tool that puts public health and patient empowerment at the top of its priorities. And it may go even farther–moving from seeking help on illness to promoting health, which Gutman describes simply and winningly as “feeling good.”

The center of the offering is a personal health record. Plenty of other organizations offer this, most famously Apple’s HealthKit. HealthTap’s personal health record is unique in supporting the service’s search feature, where patients can search for advice and get results tailored specifically to their age, medical conditions, etc.–not just the generic results one gets from a search engine. It also ties into HealthTap’s new services, including real time virtual consults with doctors.

09-TAKE-ACTION-Customized-Checklists-HealthTap
Sample update from HealthTap

Gutman is by no means interested in maintaining a walled garden for his users; he is looking for ways to integrate with other offerings such as HealthKit and with the electronic health records used by health providers. He says, “The only entity that will win the game is the one that adds the most value to the user.”

Other new features tied in to the HealthTap services include:

  • A recommendation system for apps that can improve health and well-being. The apps are rated by the doctors within the HealthTap system, must be in Apple App Store or Google Play, and must be approved by the FDA (unless they are part of the large, new category of apps that the FDA has chosen not to regulate).
  • Off-the-shelf checklists to help patients manage medication, keep track of healthy behaviors, etc. As part of HealthTap Prime, a concierge service ($99 per year for the first person and $10 for each additional family member), the user can get personalized checklists from doctors, as well.
  • With the concierge service, subscribers also have the opportunity to directly contact a doctor any time, 24/7, on all popular mobile platforms, using live video, voice, and text.
  • The “Get Help” module in the HealthTap app provides useful checklists through all mobile devices, and even Android wearables. Patients can get reminders, useful links to relevant content, and other content pushed to their devices, at a pace they choose.

Some of these features–such as the recommended apps and personalized checklists–go beyond advice and constitute a type of treatment that is subject to legal liability. HealthTap has covered all its bases insuring doctors have insurance against mistakes.

The numbers show that HealthTap is a big community; comments received from Gutman about patients who say they’ve saved their lives show that it is an effective one. I think the choices they’ve made are insightful and illustrate the changes all health care institutions will have to make in order to stay relevant in the twenty-first century.

I Want to Thank the Academy, Err, the Hospital CIO: EHR Hospital Market Share

Posted on July 7, 2014 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.

We’re always interested in who’s up and who’s down. Whether it’s TV shows, Senate races, book sales or baseball stats, we want to know who’s up, who’s down and who’s going nowhere.

We’re big on trends, shares and who’s going where. The closer the race, the more avid the interest – My Nats would be sitting pretty if only the Braves weren’t so pesky. The EHR market place is no exception for interest, even if the numbers are a lot harder to follow than the National League East.

In my last foray into EMR market share, I looked at SK&A’s stats from their rolling survey of US medical practices.

Another company, Definitive Healthcare similarly tracks the hospital EHR marketplace. They’ve generously shared their findings with Healthcare Scene and I’ve used them here. Please note: Any errors, mistakes or other screw-ups with their numbers are mine alone. With that said, here’s what I’ve found.

How Many Divisions Does the Hospital Market Have?

Definitive divides the hospital market into several categories that can be daunting to follow. That’s not their making. It’s the nature of the market.

The major division that Definitive reports on is inpatient versus ambulatory systems. You might think that ambulatory systems are only for non hospital setting, but hospitals, of course, have many outpatients and use ambulatory EHR systems to serve them.

The Inpatient Marketplace

Among inpatient systems, EPIC leads with a 20 percent share shown in Tables I and II. The market is highly concentrated with EPIC, Cerner and Meditech commanding 54 percent. The remaining 46 percent scatters with no one breaking double digits.

Table I All Inpatient Hospitals EHR Vendor Market Shares

Table II All Inpatient EHR Shares

 The Ambulatory Hospital Marketplace

The picture for hospital ambulatory systems used is notably different. See Tables III and IV. While EPIC and Cerner vary slightly from their inpatient share, the other vendors shift all over the place. Allscripts barely registers 4 percent in inpatient, jumps to third place with 14 percent.

Siemens and HMS drop off the top ten being replaced by eClinicalWorks and NextGen. At 22 percent is the catchall, Other EHRs. This is up 8 percent from its inpatient 14 percent.

Table III All Ambulatory Hospitals

Table IV All Amb Hospitals

Inpatient EHRs: Health Systems and Independent Hospitals

Definitive also breaks down inpatient hospitals by health system hospitals v independents. Almost a majority of health systems, 47 percent, choose EPIC and Cerner. See Tables V and VI. Indeed, the top four vendors, EPIC, Cerner, Meditech and McKesson astoundingly have a 74 percent share. The other vendors are at 7 percent or less.

Table V Inpatient Healthcare Systems Hospitals

Independent hospitals differ a bit from this pattern. Non major vendors have 12 percent and open source Vista has 5 percent, but otherwise the pattern is similar.

Table VI Inpatient Independent Hospitals

Inpatient Hospitals by Size: Under and Over 100 Beds

Hospitals with 100 plus beds, no surprise, favor EPIC, Cerner and Meditech. These three have a monopolistic 64 percent. See Table VII.

Table VII Inpatient Hospitals with =>100 Beds

Small, Inpatient Hospital Systems: A More Competitive Market

Small hospitals are a different story. The top five vendors are bunched around 14 percent each. See Table VIII. The mix of vendors is starkly different. Meditech and Cerner lead with EPIC third. However, Epic drops nine percent from the prior group to 14 percent in this.

In the prior tables, the top three vendors have a market majority. In this group, 65 percent of the market belongs to the third through tenth vendors. You can see the difference in competition in Tables VIII and IX.

Table VIII Inpatient Hospitals =>100 Beds

Table IX Inpatient Hospitals <100 Beds

Hospital Ambulatory EHR Systems by Bed Size

The ambulatory market for hospitals with 100 plus beds is similar to the inpatient market. EPIC, Cerner and Allscripts have a 53 percent share.

The remaining share is split among several vendors, with eClinicalWorks, and athenahealth making an appearance. Significantly, Other EHRs ranked second.

Smaller hospitals’ ambulatory systems, as with smaller inpatient hospitals, show a competitive market. The category Other EHRs actually leads with a 21 percent share. Tables X and XI show the difference between these two markets.

Table X Ambulatory Systems =>100 Beds Table XI Ambulatory Systems <100 Beds

Market Shares: What’s the Conclusion?

In this and previous posts, I’ve looked at EHR vendor market shares sliced up in several ways. I’ve used what I consider reliable, independent data sources from SK&A and Definitive Healthcare. I used their information because they are careful to include all practices in their surveys not just those that bother to reply.

I also used them for the simple reason that they were freely available to us. There are other sources, such as KLAS, that produce market surveys, but they charge about $2,500 for their analysis. Moreover, they keep all but the most general findings behind their paywall.

What then is the message from all these numbers? It’s this: there is a competitive market, but it’s only robust among small practices. Those with three or less practioners have the most competitive market with eClinicalWorks in the lead. Within major segments, EPIC, Cerner and Meditech dominate. The non hospital market is more mixed, but EPIC, Cerner, etc., share increases as practice size grows.

For these larger practices, it’s monopolistic competition. If you’re looking for an EHR and you have ten or more docs, you can find any number of vendors. It’s most likely you’ll end up choosing among just a few big guys.

This reminds me of when we shopped for kitchen cabinets and counter tops. We were impressed with some dramatic possibilities. The sales rep, who we got to know well, laughed:

“When folks start out they focus on the avant garde. Then they realize they’re choosing for several years. Suddenly they get more conventional.”

If you come by our place, you’ll see our oak cabinets and white tile counter top. I think it goes that way with hospital execs choosing EHRs. They may toy with something different, but in the end, they’ll go with what they know. After all, no one every got fired for buying EPIC. Well, almost no one.

Next: Attribution and Market Share

If you still haven’t got your fill of market numbers, I have one more topic to explore. I’m interested in knowing how market share relates to MU attestations. That is, does a high market share guarantee a high attestation rate? The next post in this series will look at that.

If you have questions on market share, please post a comment or write me at: carl@healthcarescene.com

Allscripts And Team Battle Epic and IBM for DoD Contract

Posted on June 27, 2014 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.

Earlier this month,we shared the news that Epic and IBM had gotten together to fight for the DoD’s massive Healthcare Management Systems  Modernization project. The project is to replace the current Military Health System, which should serve some 9.7 million beneficiaries.  The winning team should make about $11 billion to do the work.

So it’s little wonder that another group of health IT giants have stepped up to fight for such a juicy prize.  A group lead by Computer Sciences Corp., whose partners include Allscripts and HP, has announced that it intends to compete for the contract.

The HMSM project is extremely ambitious. It’s intended to connect varied healthcare systems across the globe, located at Army hospitals, on Naval vessels, in battlefield clinics and more, into a single open, interoperable platform serving not only active-duty members, but also reservists and civilian contractors.

Before you burst out laughing at the idea that any EMR vendor could pull this off, it’s worth considering that perhaps their partners can.  It’s hard to argue that CSC has a long track record in both government and private sector health IT work, and HP has 50 years with of experience in developing IT projects military health and VA projects.

That being said, one has to wonder whether Allscripts — which is boasting of bringing an open architecture to the project — can really put his money where its mouth is. (One could say the same of Epic, which frequently describes its platform as interoperable but has a reputation of being interoperable only from one Epic installation to the other.)

To be fair, both project groups have about as much integration firepower as anyone on earth. Maybe, if the winner manages to create an interoperable platform for the military, they’ll bring that to private industry and will see some real information sharing there.

That being said, I remain skeptical that the DoD is going to get what it’s paying for; as far as I know, there is no massively interoperable platform in existence that meets the specs this project has.  That’s not an absolute dealbreaker, but it should raise some eyebrows.

Bottom line, the DoD seems determined to give it a try, regardless of the shaky state of interoperability in the industry overall. And its goals seem to be the right ones. After all, who  wouldn’t want an open platform that lends itself to future change and development?  Sadly, however, I think it’s more likely that will be shaking our heads over the collapse of the project some years from now.

Digital Health, Connected Health, Wireless Health, Mobile Health, Telehealth – You Choose

Posted on May 7, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

Neil Versel posted a great poll asking people which term they prefer. You can vote on it below:

I usually don’t dig into the terminology and branding side of things. At the end of the day, for me it’s all about making sure that we understand each other. If you call something digital health or connected health or mobile health, they’re all the same genre of item. To be honest, I mostly ignore all of those words and want to know what the application actually does.

However, Neil brought up a good point in his post about the lack of consensus in his poll. Here’s his summary of the poll results:

In any case, these results, however unscientific they may be, are representative of the fact that it is so hard to reach consensus on anything in health IT. They also are symbolic of the silos that still exist in newer technologies.

Consensus in healthcare is really hard. I’m reminded of what someone at the Dell Healthcare Think Tank event I participated in said, “Healthcare is second only to florists when it comes to market fragmentation.” It’s like steering a ship with hundreds of rudders all pointing different directions. Certainly not an easy task and not something I see changing soon.

EHR Post Acquisition, 2014 Certified, ICD-10 and the Amazing Charts Future with John Squire, President and COO

Posted on April 30, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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 had the chance to sit down and interview John Squire, President and COO of Amazing Charts. I was interested to learn about the transition Amazing Charts has experienced after being purchased by Pri-Med and the departure of Amazing Charts Founder, Jonathan Bertman. Plus, I wanted to learn why Amazing Charts wasn’t yet 2014 Certified and their plans to make it a reality. We also talk about the value of meaningful use and the ICD-10 delay. Then, we wrap up with a look at where Amazing Charts is headed in the future.

Check out EHR videos for all of my EHR and Healthcare IT interview videos and be sure to subscribe to the Healthcare Scene youtube channel.

EHR Is Not Disruptive…And Never Will Be

Posted on April 28, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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.

Ben Wanamaker and Devin Bean have an outstanding blog post on the Disruptive Innovation blog (Clayton Christensen Institute for those following at home) called Why EHRs are not (yet) disruptive. If you care about the EHR market, you should go and give it a slow thorough read. Well worth pondering what they’re saying. For those who don’t want to read the whole article, here’s a small excerpt:

The reason EHRs are not “roiling the health care landscape” with disruption is not that the technology is bad—rather it’s the business model in which they are being implemented. While there is some evidence that EHRs can help increase clinical quality, the technology is by and large being crammed into sustaining business models and used as an expensive sustaining innovation to replace paper records with complex electronic systems. Implementing new technology to sustain the way you already make money almost always keeps costs high and prevents true disruption. Indeed, the history of innovation is littered with companies that had a potentially disruptive technology such as EHRs within their grasp but failed to commercialize it successfully because they did not couple it with a disruptive business model.

Plus, this powerful quote:

EHRs have little reason to use the new electronic system differently from the old paper system, and so EHRs often neither decrease cost nor increase quality. They’re just next year’s more expensive model of paper-based patient records.

As I read this I thought, EHR weren’t meant to be and they won’t ever be disruptive. In fact, they cement in the status quo. I think we see this playing out more and more every day.

To be disruptive, we’ll need something to come from outside of EHR. It likely will have to buck the current reimbursement model. Payers and government really control the environment. As Steve Case said at SXSW V2V, government is the biggest customer of healthcare. That makes disruption difficult unless you go outside the current system.

The disruptive technology that comes will in many ways feel like an EHR, but it won’t be an EHR like we know it. My point is that technology will disrupt healthcare and many in the EHR world will see the disruptive technology and say that it looks very much like the EHR software of today. However, what they won’t realize is that it’s not the technology, but the business model that’s paired with the technology that’s so disruptive.

Has EHR Become a Bad Brand?

Posted on April 25, 2014 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.

The other day, I had lunch at DC’s Soupergirl with the redoubtable Chuck Webster, workflow tool maven and evangelist. We talked a lot and discovered that both of us had a warm spot for the classic neighborhoods near Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. He as a transplant and I as a native.

More to this blog’s point, we discussed the state of EHRs and their numerous problems. Chuck wondered if EHR, per se, had become a bad brand? It’s a good question. Have we seen a once promising technology become, as has managed care, a discredited healthcare systems? It’s an easy case to make for a host of reasons, such as these:

Poor Usability. There are scads of EHRs in the marketplace, but few, if any, have a reputation as being user friendly. Whenever I first talk to an EHR user, I wait a few minutes while they vent about:

  • How they can’t put in or get out what they need to,
  • Their PCs being poorly located, inflexible or the wrong footprint,
  • Data that’s either missing, cut off or hard to find,
  • Logging in repeatedly,
  • Transcribing results from one system to put it in another,
  • Wading through piles of boilerplate, to get what they need etc., etc.
  • Having to cover PCs with sticky note workarounds.

As for patients, my friend Joe, a retired astrophysicist, is typical. He says when his doctor is on her EHR she doesn’t face him. She spends so much time keying, he feels like he’s talking to himself.

Now, it’s not completely fair to blame an EHR for how it’s implemented. The local systems folks get a lot of that blame. However, vendors really have failed to emphasize best practices for placing and using their systems.

Missing Workflows. EHRs, basically, are database systems with a dedicated front end for capturing and retrieving encounters and a back end for reporting. To carry out, their clinical role they have to be flexible enough to adapt to varying circumstances with a minimum of intervention.

For example, when you make an appointment for a colonoscopy, the system should schedule you and the doctor. It should then follow rules that automatically schedule the exam room, equipment, assign an anesthetist, and other necessary personnel, etc.

When you come in, it should bring up your history, give your doctor the right screens for your procedure, and have the correct post op material waiting. General business software workflow engines have done this sort of thing for years, but such functions elude many an EHR. EHRs without needed workflow abilities increase staff times and labor costs. They also mean users miss important opportunities and potential errors increase.

Data Sharing. Moving from paper to electronic records promised to end patient information isolation. Paper and faxed records can only be searched manually. However, with a structured electronic record, redundant entry would be reduced and information retrieval enhanced. Or so the argument went, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

While there are systems, such as the VA, Kaiser and various HIEs that fulfill much of the promise, it is still a potential rather than a reality for most of us. There are two basic reasons for this state of affairs: ONC’s mishandling of interchange requirements and one member of Congress’ misplaced suspicions.

ONC’s Role. ONC’s Meaningful Use program is meant to set basic EHR standards and promote data interchangeability.

When it comes to these goals, MU fell down from the start. MU1 could have been concise requiring an EHR to capture a patient’s demographics, vitals, chief complaint and meds.

Most importantly, MU could have made this information sharable by adopting one of HL7’s data exchange protocols. This would have given us a basic, national EHR system. Instead, MU focused on too many nice to have features, leaving data exchange way down the list.

ONC has tried to correct its data interchange a failing in MU2 to a degree, but it’s not there yet. Here’s what GAO, has to say about ONC’s efforts:

HHS, including CMS and ONC, developed and issued a strategy document in August 2013 that describes how it expects to advance electronic health information exchange. The strategy identifies principles intended to guide future actions to address the key challenges that providers and stakeholders have identified. However, the HHS strategy does not specify any such actions, how any actions should be prioritized, what milestones the actions need to achieve, or when these milestones need to be accomplished. GAO Report-14-242, March 24, 2014. Emphasis added.

Ron Paul. The other important obstacle to interchange came from Congress. When Congress passed HIPAA in 1996, it mandated that HHS develop a national, patient ID. However, in 1998 Ron Paul, (R-TX) deduced that since HHS wanted the ID system, it therefore wanted to put everyone’s medical records in a government database. He saw this as a threat to privacy. He got a rider added to HHS’s budget forbidding it to implement the ID system or even discuss one.

The ban’s remained in succeeding budgets. The rider has created a national medical data firewall for each of us, which hinders all of us. Paul’s gone from Congress, but Congress continues the ban. As Forbes’ Dan Munroe wrote about Paul’s ban:

The health data chaos we have today doesn’t allow for interoperability, portability or mobility. It’s why fax machines remain the ‘lingua franca” of U.S. healthcare. Every healthcare entity in the U.S. sees each patient, event and location as unique to them. For lack of a single identifier, there’s no easy or cost-effective way to coordinate patient care. Emphasis added.

While the lack of a patient ID is not EHRs fault, it noticeably reduces their ability to interchange information. State or other HIE’s are, in effect, workarounds for lack of a uniform ID. This situation adds to the perception of EHRs as unresponsive technology.

Onerous Agreements. As many an EHR buyer has found, vendors see EHRs as a sellers’ market. They use this to write onerous license agreements exempting their products from adhering to standards such as MU or from responsibility for costly errors or omissions.

These agreements not only limit liability, but often silence a buyer’s adverse comments. The effect is to cut buyers from any meaningful recourse. This shortsighted practice adds one more layer to the EHR industry’s image as unresponsive, self serving and defensive.

Whither the Brand?

The question then is are things so bad that EHR needs rebranding? If so, how should this be done by calling EHRs something else, advocating for a different technology, or yet another alternative?

For some brands, a new name along with some smart PR will do. That’s how Coca Cola reversed its New Coke fiasco. EHRs have a tougher problem. EHRs are not a one vendor product. They are a program class. Reforming EHR’s brand will take more than effective PR. It will take pervasive technical and policy changes.

Change From Where?

Change in a major technical field, as in public policy, requires either overcoming or going around inertia, habit, and complacency. EHRs are no exception. Here are some ways change could happen.

External Events. The most likely source of change is a crisis that brings public pressure on both the industry and government. There is noting like a tragedy to grab public attention and move decision makers off the dime. I don’t want it to occur this way, but nothing like a tragedy makes events go into fast forward and move issues from obscure to inevitable. Given EHRs many patient safety problems, this is all too likely an outcome.

ONC Initiative. ONC could step in and help right matters. For example, as I have advocated, ONC could run NIST’s usability protocols for all systems seeking MU certification. It could then publish the test results giving users a needed, common benchmark. This, in turn, could be a major push to get vendors to regard usability, etc., as an important feature.

ONC is not inclined to do this. Instead, it asks vendors to pick one of several versions of user centric technology. As Bennett Lauber, Chief Experience officer of The Usability People recently told HIEWatch:

“Usability certification for meaningful use really isn’t a test the way the rest of the certification process is. (Testers) go out and observe users, and report back to the certifiers,” Lauber reports. “There seem to be different sets of evaluation criteria because ONC has not really defined usability yet….” Emphasis Added.

Recently appointed ONC Coordinator, Dr. Karen Desalvo, unlike her predecessors, has been frank about changing ONC’s course. She’s revamped her advisory committee structure and spoken about going beyond meaningful use to big data.Notably, she understands the need for and the problems of interoperability. However, she’s not offered any changes in standards. ONC is in the best position to implement real standards, but for both political reasons; it’s unlikely to do so.

To chill things politically, vendors only have to find a few Congressmen who’ll, for a well placed contribution, will send ONC vendor drafted letters threatening its appropriation, committee reviews, etc. It can happen otherwise, but as Damon Runyon has said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

User Revolt. The most notable user push back to the status quo has involved unilateral EHR vendor agreements.

As Katie Bo Williams of Healthcare Drive (edited by Hospital EMR and EHR’s Anne Zieger) has notably described, major lawsuits are costing some vendors dearly. The industry, however, has yet to set buyer agreement standards that could aid its and EHRs’ reputation.

These lawsuits might chastise vendors, but users will need to become bolder if they want change. EHR vendors have an association to protect their interests. So do hospitals, physicians, practice managers, etc. Users are the one group that’s not represented.

You may belong to this or that product’s user group, but there is no one group that looks after EHR user’s interest. If there were a well organized and led EHR user group that lobbied for better usability, workflow tools and universal data exchange etc., then these issues would become more visible. More importantly, users would be able to demand a place at the table when ONC, etc., makes policy.

Those interested in patient safety, too, are taking some new directions. Recently, ECRI convened the Partnership for Promoting Health IT Patient Safety to promote changes, within “a non punitive environment,” that is, in a collaborative setting among vendors, practioners, safety organizations, etc. While the group has not issued any reports, it offers two hopeful signs.

The group’s advisory panel includes experts, such as, MIT’s Dr. Nancy Leveson, who works in aeronautic and ballistic missile safety systems. The other factor is that the group has consciously sought to give vendors a place where they see the impact their products have on patient safety without the threat of litigation. Whether the group can bring this off and influence the market remains to be seen.

Technical Fix. It’s possible users may decide to fix EHR’s problems themselves. For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center  (UPMC) uses a combination of EPIC, Cerner and its own clinical systems. It wanted to pull patient information into one, comprehensive, easily used profile. To do this, the Center developed a new, tablet front end that overcomes a variety of common EHR problems.

Once a major actor, such as Pitt, shows there is a market, others will explore it. You’ll know it’s a real trend, when a major vendor buys a front end start up and brands it as its own.

Natural Turnover. Finally, John recently raised the question of EHRs’ future in What Software Will Replace EHR? He thinks that change will come organically as more technically robust software pushes out the old.

Slowly replacing current EHRs with new tools is the most likely path. However, a slow path may be the worst outcome. Slow turnover would give us a mixture of even more incompatible systems. This would make the XP installed base problem look simple.

The EHR brand reminds me of a politician with both high positives and negatives. It may be liked by many, however, it also has a lot of baggage. As with a candidate in that position, something will have to change those negatives or it will find itself just an also ran.

What Software Will Replace EHR?

Posted on April 15, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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’m usually a very grounded and practical person. I’m all about dealing with the practical realities that we all face. However, every once in a while I like to sit back and think about where we’re headed.

I’ve often said that I think we’re locked into the EHR systems we have now at least until after the current meaningful use cycle. I can’t imagine a new software system being introduced in the next couple years when every hospital and healthcare organization has to still comply with meaningful use. Many might argue that meaningful use beyond the current EHR incentive money might lock us in to our existing EHR software for many years after as well.

Personally, I think that a new software will replace the current crop of EHR at some point. This replacement will likely coincide with the time an organization is up for renewal of their current EHR. The renewal costs are usually so high that a young startup company could make a splash during renewal time. Add in a change of CIO and I think the opportunity is clear.

My guess is that the next generation of healthcare documentation software will be one that incorporates data from throughout the entire ecosystem of healthcare. I’m not bullish on many of the current crop of EHR software being able to make the shift from being document repositories and billing engines into something which does much more sophisticated data analysis. A few of them will be able to make the investment, but the legacy nature of software development will hold many of them back.

It’s worth noting that I’m not talking about the current crop of data that you can find outside of the healthcare system. I’m talking about software which taps into the next generation of data tracking which goes as far as “an IP address on every organ.” This type of granular healthcare data is going to change how we treat patients. The next generation healthcare information system will need to take all of this data and make it smart and actionable.

To facilitate this change, we could really use a change in our reimbursement system as well. ACOs are the start of what could be possible. What I think is most likely is that the current system will remain in place, but providers and organizations will be able to accept a different model of payment for the healthcare services they provide. While I fear that HHS might not be progressive enough to do such a change, I’m hopeful that by making it a separate initiative they might be able to make this a reality.

What do you think? What type of software, regulations and technology will replace our current crop of EHR? I don’t think the current crop of EHR has much to worry about for now. However, it’s an inevitable part of a market that it evolves.