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The Waiting Room – A Patient’s First Impression

Posted on September 23, 2016 I Written By

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

This post is sponsored by Samsung Business. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

We’ve all heard about the importance of first impressions. They last a long time and happen very quickly. The same is true for a medical practice. Patients’ first impression of a medical practice is the waiting room and that impression can last a very long time. What have you done to improve your patients’ experience in the waiting room?

Instead of doing a bunch of small things in your waiting room, I suggest you focus on creating one specific WOW! factor that patients will remember. In many cases people are turning to digital signage to provide this wow factor. Combine amazing content with some amazing digital signage like a curved TV, 3D TV, or massive screen and you can quickly implement the WOW! factor in your waiting room.

These type of memorable experiences for patients in your waiting room are the fuel that feeds social media and physician rating services today. If you want patients to share their experience at your office on social media or rate you highly on the various physician rating websites, start by WOWing them in your waiting room. Almost all of your patients now arrive with a phone in their pocket which they can use while they wait to provide your practice a quality rating. Leverage that as an asset.

I’ve heard some people argue that digital signage isn’t valuable anymore in the exam room because patients all show up with their own smartphones and tablets. They argue that patients have their heads buried in their phones and so they never see the digital signage you put in the exam room. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that most of us with smartphones have become quite habituated to what people call the second screen experience. More and more people are watching TV while playing on their smartphone. It’s normal for us to be processing what’s on a TV while keeping an eye on our smartphone at the same time. The same thing happens in the waiting room when you provide a compelling digital experience. We consume both the TV and our smartphone.

Leveraging a high-quality digital experience in your waiting room provides a better patient experience overall. What’s the worst part of a waiting room? You have to wait. What’s the solution? We all have experienced a long flight or car ride that felt like it was much shorter thanks to some sort of digital media experience. This same experience can be had by patients if you invest in the right digital signage and content. Shorter wait times lead to better physician ratings in ambulatory practices and better HCAHPS scores in hospitals.

How have you approached your waiting room? Is there something unique or interesting you’ve done that’s made the patient experience better? What kind of first impression are you making on your patients?

For more content like this, follow Samsung on Insights, Twitter, LinkedIn , YouTube and SlideShare.

How To Choose Tools For Physician-Patient Engagement

Posted on September 22, 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.

To transition from fee-for-service reimbursement to value-based care, it’s pretty much a given that we have to do a better job of getting patients engaged with their physicians and overall plan of care. However, despite the array of intriguing digital health and mobile technologies we have available to get the job done, it’s still not clear exactly how to do it.

But according to one health IT exec, it all boils down to understanding how the various tools and technologies work and integrating them into your practice. Dr. Ali Hussam, CEO of outcomes data collection firm OBERD, suggests that the following tools are particularly important. I’ve listed his suggestions, and added some thoughts of my own:

  • Educational technologies: Physicians can use these tools to make sure patients are prepared to have an intelligent discussion of their health status, he notes. My take: It’s hard to argue that this makes sense; in fact, this concept is so important that I’m surprised it isn’t mentioned more often as part of the broader patient engagement picture.  
  • Electronic questionnaires: Hussam argues that since value-based care calls for quantifiable outcome measurements, it’s smart to use electronic questionnaires, which are more appealing, efficient and sophisticated than paper tools. My response to this is that while it’s a good idea, it will be important that the questionnaires be based on well-defined measures which the provider organization trusts, and these may not be easy to come by at first.
  • Wearables: Patients may already be using wearables to monitor their own health metrics, but it’s time to make better use of their presence, Hussam suggest. Physicians can step up their value by using the information to improve the quality of health discussions and intervene in response to the data if needed.  It’s hard to argue that he’s right about the potential uses of wearables. However, there’s a lot of doubt about their accuracy, so my sense is that many physicians are still reluctant to make use of them given the clinical accuracy questions which still bedeviled these devices.

Along with recommending these approaches to engagement, Hussam offers some tips for implementing patient engagement technology, including:

  • Focus on patient outcome: Hussam recommends sending a patient-determined outcome as the focus of care, and explaining to patients how engagement technology can help them meet this goal. Plain and simple, this sounds like an excellent idea, as patients are more likely to succeed at meeting goals they have embraced.
  • Solicit feedback: Effective engagement tools “should offer patients a sense of individual attention and intimacy by soliciting feedback about individual patients’ entire healthcare experience,” along with offering care data. He argues, I think compellingly, that this exchange of information could help providers succeed under merit-based incentive payment programs.
  • Encourage responses to questionnaires: As Hussam noted previously, providers must collect data to succeed at outcome-based payment models. But he also notes correctly that these questionnaires and help patients achieve their desired health outcomes by tracking what’s going on with their health. No matter how you couch things, however, patients may need additional encouragement to fill out forms. Perhaps it would make sense to have med techs go through the questionnaires with patients prior to their physician encounter, at least at first.

As Hussam’s analysis suggests, engaging patients isn’t just a matter of presenting them with shiny new technologies. It’s critical to align patient use of the technologies with goals they hope to meet, and to explain how the tools can get them there.

Otherwise, both patients and providers will see little benefit from throwing engagement tools into the mix.

Yet Another Study Says EMRs Contribute to Physician Burnout

Posted on September 21, 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 Mayo Clinic study recently concluded that – surprise, surprise – that physicians who used EMRs were less likely to be satisfied with the amount of time spent on clerical tasks. But from where I sit, while the story certainly deserves attention, it’s also worth considering how this fits into the problem of physician burnout on the whole.

First, let’s review the study itself. To conduct the study, which appeared in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers connected with 6,375 physicians in active practice, 5,389 of which (84.5%) reported using EMRs. Meanwhile, of 5,892 physicians who said that CPOE was relevant to their practice specialty, 4,858 (82.5%) said they used CPOE technology.

Researchers concluded that physicians who use EMRs and CPOE had lower satisfaction with time spent in clerical tasks and higher rates of burnout, including when the data was adjusted for age, sex, specialty, practice setting and hours worked per week. The bottom line, researchers said, was that this large national study demonstrated that satisfaction with EMRs and CPOE was generally low.

Now let’s take a look at the big picture on physician burnout. One comprehensive take comes from the American Academy of Family Physicians, whose position paper on the subject includes the following definition of burnout: “A syndrome characterized by a loss of enthusiasm for work (emotional exhaustion), feeling of cynicism (depersonalization), and a low sense of personal accomplishment.”

The AAFP paper, which points out that the phenomenon has been studied for decades, notes that 45.8% physicians are considered to be experiencing at least one symptom of burnout. According to a recent broad-based study, that there is currently a 35.2% overall burnout rate among U.S. physicians.

According to research cited by the AAFP, there’s still no definitive data on what causes physician burnout, but notes that common drivers of family physician burnout include paperwork, feeling undervalued, frustration referral networks, difficult patients, medicolegal issues, and challenges in finding work-life balance.

While I don’t want to minimize the impact that a badly-designed EMR can have a negative impact on a physician’s practice, or underplay the findings of the Mayo study cited above, I think it’s worth noting that the group doesn’t cite EMRs as a specific cause of burnout.

Clearly, physicians don’t like using EMRs for administrative work — and it even appears that they would rather use paper to handle such chores. However, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that doctors loved documenting on paper either. Complaints about not wanting to finish their charts were common in the paper world too.

And the truth is, as EMRs have gradually shifted from being vehicles to support billing to richer clinical documentation and support tools, it may very well have become harder to use them for routine administrative tasks. Vendors probably need to reconsider yet again the balance between clinical and administrative features, and how effective both are.

That being said, I think it’s important not to forget that physicians are facing many, many challenges, most of which began grinding away at their independence and self-respect well before EMRs became an established part of the picture.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that for some physicians, feeling forced to adopt an EMR has proven to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. And they certainly deserve a hearing. But if in the process, we allow ourselves to lose sight of the countless other problems physicians are struggling with, we are doing them a disservice. Addressing physicians’ EMR issues won’t fix everything that’s broken here.

E-Patient Update:  Keeping Data From Patients Has Consequences

Posted on September 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.

Given who I am – an analyst and editor who’s waist-deep in the health IT world – I am primed to stay on top of my health data, including physician notes, lab reports, test results and imaging studies. Not only does it help me talk to my doctors, it gives me a feeling of control which I value.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that most physicians support me in this. Time and again, I run into situations where I can’t see my own health information via a portal until a physician “approves” the data. I’ve written about this phenomenon previously, mostly to wring my hands at the foolishness of it all, but I see the need to revisit the issue.

Having given the matter more thought, I’ve come to believe that withholding such data isn’t just unfortunate, it’s harmful. Not only does it hamper patients’ efforts to manage their own care effectively, it reveals attitudes which are likely to hold back the entire process of transforming the health system.

An Example of Delayed Health Data
Take the following example, from my own care. I was treated in the emergency department for swelling and pain which I feared might be related to a blood clot in my leg. The ED staff did a battery of tests, including an MRI, which concluded that I was actually suffering from lumbar spine issues.

Given that the spinal issue was painful and disabling, I made an appointment for follow up with a spine specialist for one week after the ED visit. But despite having signed up with the hospital’s portal, I was unable to retrieve the radiologist’s report until an hour before the spine specialist visit. And without that report the specialist would not have been able to act immediately to assist me.

I don’t know why I was unable to access the records for several days after my visit, but I can’t think of a reason why it would have made sense to deprive me of information I needed urgently for continued care. My previous experience, however, suggests that I probably had to wait until a physician reviewed the records and released them for my use.

Defeating the Purpose
To my way of looking at things, holding back records defeats the purpose of having portals in the first place. Ideally, patients don’t use portals as passive record repositories; instead, they visit them regularly and review key information generated by their clinical encounters, particularly if they suffer from chronic illnesses.

It’d be a real shame if conservative attitudes about sharing unvetted tests, imaging or procedure data undercut the benefits of portals. While it’s still not entirely clear how we’re going to engage patients further in managing their health – individually or across a population – portals are emerging as one of the more effective tools we’ve got. Bottom line, patients use them, and that’s a pretty big deal.

I’m not saying that patients have never overreacted to what looked like a scary result and called their doctor a million times in a panic. (That seems to be the scenario doctors fear, from conversations I’ve had over time.) But my guess is that it’s far less common than they think.

And in their attempts to head off a minor problem, they’re discouraging patients from getting involved with their care, which is what they need patients to do as value-based care models emerge. Seems like everyone loses.

Sure, patients may struggle to understand care data and notes at first, but what we need to do is educate them on what it means. We can’t afford to keep patients ignorant just to protect turf and salve egos.

Doctor Car Disparity

Posted on September 16, 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.

My doctor friend recently sent me this great picture which highlighted the disparity in physician compensation as illustrated by the cars they drive:
doctor-perception-issues-and-car-disparity

Just to be clear, my friend is the one driving the Honda and not the BMW or Audi. I bet you could do a pretty great post comparing various physicians to various types of cars, but I digress. No doubt there’s a disparity in the cars doctors drive, but also between physician specialties as well.

The reason this picture really resonated with me is that I’ve regularly commented that doctors don’t do themselves any favors by driving super expensive, luxury cars. For the record, anyone is welcome to drive whatever car they want, but you can’t later be upset when people don’t believe you when you say that physicians don’t get paid well enough. There’s a massive disconnect when you’re able to drive such an expensive car and then claim you don’t get paid enough.

Take a look at the physician parking at your local hospital. After looking at it, it’s hard to argue that physicians aren’t getting paid enough even if it’s likely true for many specialties (starting with primary care). This picture seemed to illustrate that principle really well.

In The Trenches: Primary Care Practice Saves With EMR Transition

Posted on September 13, 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.

This is the first in an occasional series of stories I’m writing on how medical practices – particularly smaller groups – are handling their health IT challenges. If you have suggestions for future columns please feel free to write to me at anne@ziegerhealthcare.com.

It only took six months for Clem Surak to realize that his current EMR system wasn’t going to cut it. Surak, who bought Wilmington, NC-based primary care practice Health Partners in 2011 with his wife, didn’t originally come from the healthcare business, but he quickly saw that his IT platforms weren’t cost-effective.

The systems he inherited to run the practice, an Allscripts EHR sprawling across three servers and a companion practice management platform called Tiger, were “very proprietary” and tech support wasn’t easy to access. And they cost $20K per year to support two doctors.

Worse, the product wasn’t very current. “Meaningful Use had to be downloaded as a separate module,” said Surak.

Not surprisingly, Surak began looking for other options. After consulting with his local Regional Extension Center, he went with a new system from Amazing Charts (full disclosure: a former client of your editor). The new system, which went live in June 2012, offered some important benefits, including:

* Savings:  It cost Health Partners $5,400/month to license the integrated Amazing Charts EHR, a $14,600 savings over the Allscripts systems.

* Maintenance: Because the new solution is cloud-based, the practice doesn’t need to maintain the software or cope with technical breakdowns directly.

* Rollout: Implemented over the course of three months, with no slowdown or reduction in physician hours needed. “We kept our normal pace,” Surak says.

* Data transfer: To bring patient demographic data over from Allscripts to the new system, all the practice had to do was export Allscripts data into an Excel spreadsheet, then run an Amazing Charts wizard which imported it.

Of course, the practice faced some challenges as well, largely around adjusting workflow and phasing out the old system:

* Running in parallel:  For the first few years after the transition to Amazing Charts, Health Partners had to keep the Allscripts system running alongside the new system.

* Practice management lag:  Amazing Charts didn’t offer a practice management module at the time Health Partners acquired the EMR. Until mid-2015, when a practice management module became available, it had to keep doing patient scheduling and accounting in the Allscripts system.

Ultimately, despite some transitional hassles, Surak is glad he made the shift to a set of systems that work effectively in tandem. Putting a new EMR and practice management system in place hasn’t just saved money, it’s helped Surak keep efficiency high, running the practice with just a couple of support staffers.

“Most offices this size would have five to seven support staffers, but we don’t have to,” he says. “And keeping overhead down is the key to remaining independent.”

Enterprise EHR Vendors Consolidating Hold On Doctors

Posted on September 9, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the Humanity in Healthcare?

Posted on September 8, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post from Snarky Frog. Yes, that’s her real name. Ok. You got us. No, it’s not her real name, but that’s how she wants to be known online. Who are we to judge her if she loves frogs and snark that much?
Snarky Frog
There was a time when I blogged. There was a time when I wrote about living with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) and EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). There was time when I wrote about having a parent who…well…if I were to explain in this piece, I would lose all credibility.

There was time when I thought people would read what I wrote. There was a time when I thought people would care about how my father died (Yes hospital in CT, I do hold you accountable for that).

There was a time when I thought people would care that when I was half conscious after fainting, a nurse took it upon herself to show me what happens to drug users – apparently folks who use drugs have no rights to sexual dignity.

I wasn’t using illegal drugs then and I don’t now. The more you read about POTS patients, the more you read about how strange our symptoms are. I still argue my symptoms don’t matter, the way I was stripped of my humanity did and still does – turns out nobody really agrees with me. Guess you can do whatever you want to drug users (I’ve since learned this again and again via EMTs and others). As it turns out, you can also pretty much do this to patients you think are faking their disease.

There was a time when I blogged about how I couldn’t understand that a patient advocacy org promoted things one day, disagreed with them the next, then went back and forth for years. By the way, what’s still up with that? Will exercise heal me or is it IVIG I need or is it small fiber neuropathy all around? Oh… you need to study more – well hate to tell you patient group, if I need IVIG, exercise won’t save me. Though, it honestly may help.

There was a time in life when I questioned things. There was a time when I wrote. There was a time I cared. I probably still do all of those things but I do all of it less.

Nobody cared what I wrote so I stopped publicly blogging. The things I tried to get folks to care about – I was on my own with. I wrote but my writing was for me. I took my blog pieces down one by one.

By that time my writing abilities were somewhat gone after I had taken a few too many hits to the head. Things became mostly jots on google docs. My posts are now long gone into the ether and even the WayBackMachine can’t find them.

Right now I could write about not having a single doc who knows much about any of my diseases. I could write about having 3 different specialists who each understood different pieces of EDS / POTS leave their practices in the same year. I could write about fighting with hospital billing offices. I could write about how a doctor who played a role in quality affairs at an academic medical center could literally get nowhere with my insurance when he tried to get me some assistance. I could write about the discussions I have had with the insurance co regarding how much my POTS costs them (about 90-100K in 2015, likely to be more this year) and the various suggestions I’ve given them to lower those costs. I could write about how they respond with the fact that none of those suggestions, while cost saving to them, are part of my plan, and as such, are not things they can or will do.

I could write about my grief over a friend. I could write about the things I saw happen to her the one time I visited her in the hospital. I could write about how I wanted to help more but couldn’t.

I could write about system failures. I could write and I could write and I could write some more about how every single part of the system has failed me and has failed my friends. It might not all make sense but I could write. The irony is the thing that matters to me the least is the specific cost yet that’s what people care about.

I care about the fact that my friend died.

I care about my losses as a human being. I care how much of my human dignity I have lost and how much has been taken away from me since I started getting sicker. I care about the fact that I will likely lose my job (days off, their having to worry or perhaps lack of worry about my falling on the job, my requests for accommodations etc.). I care about the fact that I will never be able to do what I wanted to do with my life – PhD, fieldwork – yeah, not a chance.

I care about the fact that I will eventually get so physically injured by a fall, by EMTs, by hospital staff, or other that I will no longer be able to get out of bed. I care about the fact that I will forever wonder whether one of these things will kill me, and if so, when.

I can give you the health care cost numbers but they don’t matter to me. Ask any chronic illness patient for his or her own costs of care and you’ll find the same thing. Once you go past “typical” or “trendy” chronic illnesses, there is no care coordination, there is nobody to turn to for help, and your insurance company, well maybe they’ll pay for something and maybe they won’t. I do wonder, if I were sick and rich would I still be as sick?

One thing I do know, I’m damned tired of being sick. I’m tired of identifying myself that way and I’m tired of others doing so. I’m also tired of wondering if it’s in my head and tired of having people tell me it is. (And if it is all in my head, then please, by god, someone help me treat that.)

If creating a blog post that delineates each and every expense will help me find a doctor who can help me with whatever the heck is wrong, yes, I will write one. That said, that post would take away a part of me, the part that says humanity matters most and that’s what we should care about.

This post is part of our effort to remind us of the patient perspective by sharing patients’ stories. Thanks Snarky Frog for sharing your story with us. If you have a patient story you’d like to share, please reach out to us on our Contact Us page.

Department Of Defense (DOD) EHR Delayed By “Aggressive Schedule”

Posted on September 7, 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 Department of Defense has announced that it will be delaying the deployment of its massive EHR project, citing issues identified in testing and an “aggressive schedule” as reasons for the decision. If the DoD and its vendors are right, the deployment delay will be a negligible few months, though one setback to an effort of this kind usually to leads to another.

On the plus side, military officials said, they’ve made significant progress with developing user-approved workflows, interfaces and technical integration of its legacy system to date. But they’re not ready to engage in the concurrent system configuration, cybersecurity risk management, contractor and government testing yet.

The deployment has been in the works for little over a year. Last summer, the DoD Healthcare System Modernization Program awarded the $4.3 billion contract to upgrade its existing Military Health System EHR to a group including Cerner and defense contracting firm Leidos. The Cerner/Leidos team won out against some tough competition, including a partnership including Allscripts, HP and Computer Sciences Corp. and an Epic/IBM bid.

The ten-year project is about as large and complex an integration effort as you’re likely to see even by Cerner standards. The effort will connect healthcare systems located at Army hospitals, on Naval vessels, in battlefield clinics across the globe. MHS GENESIS will bring all of this data — on active-duty members, reservists, and civilian contractors — into a single open, interoperable platform. The new platform should serve 9.5 million military beneficiaries in roughly 1,000 locations.

The project is upgrading the DoD from AHLTA (Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application), which has been in place since 2004. AHLTA has many flaws, though none that would surprise a health IT expert. (For example, when patients are referred to non DoD providers, the data is not captured and integrated into the system.)

Ultimately, it won’t matter very much whether the DoD manages to kick off its project on time. The larger question, here, is whether over the course of a 10-year integration effort, the project becomes, as Forbes columnist Loren Thompson puts it, “obsolete before it’s even built” and incapable of the data sharing that fueled its conception. Of course, any systems integration with a long timeline faces that risk, but not all industries are changing as quickly as healthcare.

The truth is, this is arguably an awkward time for any large entity to be making big interoperability plans. I’d argue that while there are more initiatives than ever aimed at the problem, they’ve effectively made things worse rather than better. After all, the unfortunate truth is that the more people compete over interoperability standards, the less possible data sharing becomes.

A Circular Chat On Healthcare Interoperability

Posted on September 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.

About a week ago, a press release on health data interoperability came into my inbox. I read it over and shook my head. Then I pinged a health tech buddy for some help. This guy has seen it all, and I felt pretty confident that he would know whether there was any real news there.

And this is how our chat went.

—-

“So you got another interoperability pitch from one of those groups. Is this the one that Cerner kicked off to spite Epic?” he asked me.

“No, this is the one that Epic and its buddies kicked off to spite Cerner,” I told him. “You know, health data exchange that can work for anyone that gets involved.”

“Do you mean a set of technical specs? Maybe that one that everyone seems to think is the next big hope for application-based data sharing? The one ONC seems to like.” he observed. “Or at least it did during the DeSalvo administration.”

“No, I mean the group working on a common technical approach to sharing health data securely,” I said. “You know, the one that lets doctors send data straight to another provider without digging into an EMR.”

“You mean that technology that supports underground currency trading? That one seems a little bit too raw to support health data trading,” he said.

“Maybe so. But I was talking about data-sharing standards adopted by an industry group trying to get everyone together under one roof,” I said. “It’s led by vendors but it claims to be serving the entire health IT world. Like a charity, though not very much.”

“Oh, I get it. You must be talking about the industry group that throws that humungous trade show each year.” he told me. “A friend wore through two pairs of wingtips on the trade show floor last year. And he hardly left his booth!”

“Actually, I was talking about a different industry group. You know, one that a few top vendors have created to promote their approach to interoperability.” I said. “Big footprint. Big hopes. Big claims about the future.”

“Oh yeah. You’re talking about that group Epic created to steal a move from Cerner.” he said.

“Um, sure. That must have been it,” I told him. “I’m sure that’s what I meant.”

—-

OK, I made most of this up. You’ve got me. But it is a pretty accurate representation of how most conversations go when I try to figure out who has a chance of actually making interoperability happen. (Of course, I added some snark for laughs, but not much, believe it or not.)

Does this exchange sound familiar to anyone else?

And if it does, is it any wonder we don’t have interoperability in healthcare?