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A 6 Step Guide to Succeeding as an ACO

Posted on June 18, 2015 I Written By

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

Farzad Mostashari’s company, Aledade, raising $30 million is a good sign that healthcare organizations are going to be spending a lot of time and money figuring out these new ACO and value based reimbursement models. If you’re a healthcare organization that hasn’t started learning about ACOs, here’s a good whitepaper to start.

The whitepaper is titled “Succeeding as an ACO: A 6-Step Guide for Health Care Organizations” and does a lot more than just talk about the 6 steps to building an ACO. It covers ACO in a pretty thorough way. However, the 6 steps are pretty valuable as well:

1. Understand Your Costs
2. Reduce Out-Migration from Your Network
3. Maximize Pay-for-Performance Reimbursement
4. Identify Early Opportunities for Utilization Reductions
5. Support Chronic Care and Disease Management
6. Predict Who Will Develop Issues

Is your healthcare organization ready for the changing reimbursement model and ACOs? If you’re not sure, read through this FREE whitepaper and you’ll have a better idea of what’s happening and how you want to position yourself and your organization in this changing reimbursement environment.

What Happens When Billing Is Optimized?

Posted on May 27, 2015 I Written By

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

In my recent EHR workshop in Dubai I talked with them about the many changing EHR business models that I’ve seen over the last 10 years. I was really trying to highlight how these new business models have generally been good for healthcare since it’s caused EHR prices to drop to a much more reasonable price point.

Take for example the Free EHR model. Whether you love it or hate it, one thing is certain: Free EHR has caused all the other EHR vendors to lower their price. I’ve seen this over and over again with EHR vendors. It’s hard to compete with an overpriced product against free. So, they had to lower their price so that the price of their EHR didn’t look as bad against free.

One model that I mentioned to those who attended my workshop was that some EHR vendors charge a percentage of billing in order to use their EHR software. athenahealth is the most famous for this approach. Their business model has worked pretty well for them because they’re able to say that not only will the practice get the EHR software for free, but athenahealth also can make the case that by having them assist with the practices billing, then they can help to better optimize the practices billing as well. So, the practice is getting more effective billing and a free EHR. This is why athenahealth could charge such a high percentage of an organization’s billing.

Turns out that there are a lot of billing companies that make a similar business case. Pay me 4-6% of your billing and we’ll optimize your billing which will actually make you more money than you’re paying us. Most of the billing management companies work off of this approach. Of course, this approach works best when you’re talking about practices that aren’t doing a good job managing their billing. This actually seems to apply to most practices.

What I’ve started to wonder is what’s going to happen once all of these practices’ billing is basically optimized? Now the percentage of billing starts to feel really expensive. Practices won’t be good at realizing the optimization that’s occurred and I’m sure that many will choose to take on the billing again. As they take on the billing, they’ll head back to a less than optimized state and then they’ll be ripe pickings for a billing company again.

I can see this cycle happening over and over again. Plus, if you’re a billing company or a company like athenahealth that makes your money off of a percentage of billing, then there’s always new practices that are at every stage of the cycle. So, there’s new business all over the place. The key for these organizations is to find the practices that are at the right place in the cycle.

Will anything happen to stop this cycle?

The athenahealth EHR and Meaningful Use Guarantees

Posted on April 27, 2015 I Written By

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

I’ve written many times about the various meaningful use guarantees that many companies have made over the years. athenahealth being one of the first to do so. In fact, they’ve made it part of their company culture to make guarantees. They’ve done it with Meaningful Use, ICD-10, EOBs, PQRS and MSSP guarantees. Jonathan Bush, President and CEO of athenahealth, recently did a blog post that explained why they do these guarantees:

When Leon Leonwood Bean, founder of L.L.Bean, first created the infamous Bean Boot (officially known as the Maine Hunting Shoe), he sent mailers out to local fishermen and hunters to promote the new boot and guarantee complete satisfaction. Within a few weeks, 90 of the first 100 boots purchased were returned. The leather uppers had separated from the rubber bottoms. Though it almost put L.L.Bean out of business, L. L. stayed true to the guarantee and refunded the customers. After borrowing more money to perfect the boot, he put them back on the market. This winter, over 100 years later, L.L.Bean couldn’t even keep up with the demand for Bean Boots. They’ve even become the latest badge of hipsterdom.

Today, L.L.Bean continues to guarantee satisfaction on all its products. Customers are always trying to return 10 year old boots for brand new ones. But the company doesn’t get persnickety about it. The amount of business the guarantee drives (as evident by this year’s demand) more than makes up for the cost of some free boots, which may never have become a practical winter fashion statement without putting money on the line.

Jonathan Bush goes on to talk about how many people think that the guarantee is about marketing, but it’s not. It’s about a corporate mandate that inspires innovation around something that’s important to customers. You can see how this works. If your bottom line is affected by a guarantee, then you’re sure as heck going to work like crazy to figure out how to solve that problem. At least you better, or your going to go out of business.

Pretty smart thinking as long as you’re smart about which things are worth guaranteeing. The wrong guarantee and you could have your company spending time innovating on something that doesn’t matter. Of course, at least you also get the benefit of the guarantee marketing bump whether Jonthan wants to admit it or not.

Athenahealth Goes After Hospitals and Tavenner Steps Down

Posted on January 22, 2015 I Written By

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

There were two big pieces of news this week that I thought I’d discuss. Hopefully you’ll also add your thoughts and insights in the comments.

1. Athenahealth Moves Into Hospital Market With Acquisition Of Atlanta Startup RazorInsights
I thought the announcement of this acquisition was really interesting. Literally the day before this came out, someone asked me what I thought of Athenahealth. After some discussion, they said do you think they’ll take on Epic and Cerner. I quickly responded, “Well, they don’t have an inpatient EHR, so they don’t have a dog in the fight.” Well, now they do have a dog in the fight. Of course, RazorInsights still isn’t a big competitor of Epic and Cerner. However, if I know Jonathan Bush, that’s the ambition. At least that’s what his numerous cloud rants lead you to believe that he thinks he can take down Epic and Cerner with one single word: Cloud. We’ll see what RazorInsights can do under the Athenahealth umbrella.

2. CMS Leader Marilyn Tavenner Steps Down
Neil Versel has a great article covering Tavenner’s departure. His comments are pretty interesting when it comes to her staying low-profile and away from the media during her tenure at CMS. She’s certainly taken a lot of heat from the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov and other programs.

Personally, I’ll most remember her for her promise at HIMSS 2014 that ICD-10 was going to happen and that healthcare organizations better be ready. Of course, we know how that story played out with Congress passing a few lines in the SGR bill to delay ICD-10 another year. Given Tavenner’s promise, I’m quite sure she was blind sided by Congress’ move as well.

I’m not sure her departure is a good or a bad thing for healthcare. I’m sure that the healthcare behemoth will move along like it always has. Best of luck to her wherever she lands. No doubt working in the government in a high profile position is a rather thankless job that usually pays below market wages.

Who do you think will take Tavenner’s position at CMS? Does it matter?

Communities Help Open Source Electronic Health Records Thrive (Part 3 of 3: Project Round-up)

Posted on December 16, 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.

This series examines the importance of community and what steps are being taken by open source projects in health IT to create communities around their projects. My previous posting covered VistA and its custodial organization, OSEHRA. The last article in this series covers some important projects in open source with very different approaches to building community.

In addition to VistA, the electronic health record with the most success in building community is OpenMRS, using a unique approach. The project has an unusual genesis. They didn’t come out of a technology center such as Silicon Valley, or a center of health research such as my own Boston. Instead, they were inspired by the Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University.

Getting only a small amount of attention in the United States, OpenMRS proved quite valuable in the developing regions of Africa, especially Rwanda. The U.S. developers realized right away that, for their software to be useful in cultures so far from Indiana, it would have to be understood and fully embraced by local experts.

Indeed, a number of accomplished software developers can be found in Rwanda and surrounding countries. The challenge to OpenMRS was to attract them to the goal of improving health care and to make work on OpenMRS easy.

OpenMRS not only trained developers in African countries to understand and adapt their software to local conditions, but mentored them into becoming trainers for other developers. The initial project to train Rwandan developers thus evolved, the local developers becoming competent to train others in neighboring countries.

In this way, the OpenMRS developers back in the U.S. opened up the project in a unique way to people on other continents. To be sure, the developers had a practical end: they knew they could not provide support to every site that wanted to install OpenMRS, or adapt it to local needs. But they ultimately created a new, intensely committed, international community around OpenMRS. Regular conferences bring together OpenMRS developers from far-flung regions.

The SMART platform is not an EHR itself, but an application programming interface (API) that its developers are asking EHR vendors to adopt. The pay-off for adoption will be that all compliant EHRs can interoperate, and a software developer can write a single app that runs on all of them. SMART was developed at Harvard Medical School with support from ONC. It now runs on top of FHIR, an HL7 project to provide a modern API giving access to all EHR data.

EHRs are not by any means the only community-building efforts in open source health IT. Another significant player is Open Health Tools, which came into being in recognition of the creative work being done by research firms, university professors, and others in various health IT areas.

OHT brings together a wide range of developers to build software for research, clinical work, and other health-related projects. It’s remarkably diverse, providing a meeting place for all projects interested in making health care technology work better. Although they have had problems finding financial support, they now solicit dues from interested projects and seem poised to grow.

For a while, OHT had grand visions of recruiting their members to contribute to a unified “framework” on which other software developers could build applications. This proved to be a bit too big a bite to chew, given the wide range of activities that go on in health IT. But OHT still encourages members to find common ground and make use of each other’s advances.

Aaron Seib, CEO of Open Health Tools, listed the main goals OHT has for its member developers: making communities discoverable, making their licensing intelligible, and addressing the intellectual property barriers that can constrain a project’s adoption. OHT also helps establish trust and connect the dots among the community members to multiply effects across member communities. Roger Maduro of Open Health News writes that OHT has played a critical role in building the open health ecosystem, including the VistA community.

Many other institutions also sense a need for community. A few years ago I spoke with John Speakman, who was working for the National Cancer Institute at the time. They had developed some software that was very popular among developers, but no one made any contributions back to the common software base, and the NCI wanted the users of the software to start taking responsibility for the tools on which they depended. He took on the task of building community, but left when he realized it was not going to take hold.

Among the problems was the well-known dependence of government agencies such as the NCI on contractors. Speakman points to an organizational and cultural gap between “the big Beltway Bandit companies (who will never use the code themselves to do biomedical science) over academic groups engaged in biomedicine.” He also thinks the NCI intervened too much in community activities, instead of letting community members work out disagreements on their own. “If the government is going to invest in the seeding of open source communities,” he says, “it has to (a) focus on releasing the data and see what folks do with it, and (b) use as light a hold as possible on how the communities run themselves.”

Athenahealth stands out among EHR vendors with its More Disruption Please program. There it is building an ecoystem of third-party tools that its customers can use as part of its cloud-based service. This goal is similar to that of the open source SMART platform, which is trying to get EHR vendors and other data stores to adopt a common API and thus make themselves more open to software developers.

Openness and community go together. Although the health IT field is slow to adopt both practices, some projects could be entering into a virtuous cycle where open source developers learn to appreciate the value of their communities, which in turn reward the most open projects with greater success.

Jonathan Bush Loves Health Data–But How Will We Get As Much As He Wants?

Posted on September 24, 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.

The fervent hope of health care reformers is that someday we will each know as much about our bodies–our vital signs, the health of our organs, the contents of our genomes-as corporations know about our marketing habits. One of the recent expressions of this dream comes in Jonathan Bush’s engaging and readable account of the healthcare system, Where Does It Hurt?.

Bush is a tireless advocate for bottom-up, disruptive forces in healthcare, somewhat in the same camp as Vinod Khosla (whose Health Datapalooza keynote I covered) and Clayton Christensen (who wrote the forward to Bush’s book). What Bush brings to the discussion is hands-on experience at confronting the healthcare behemoth in an explicitly disruptive way (which failed) as well as fitting into the system while providing a bit more light by building athenahealth (which succeeded).

Bush’s book tours the wreckage of the conventional health care system–the waste, errors, lack of communication, and neglect of chronic conditions that readers of this blog know about–as well as some of the promising companies or non-profits that offer a way forward. His own prescription for the health care system rests on two main themes: the removal of regulations that prevent the emergence of a true market, and the use of massive data collection (on physicians and patients alike) to drive a rational approach to health care.

Both government and insurers would have a much smaller role in Bush’s ideal health care system. He recognizes that catastrophic conditions should be covered for all members of society, and that the industry will need (as all industries do) a certain minimum of regulation. (Bush even admitted that he “whined” to the ONC about the refusal of a competitor to allow data exchange.) But he wants government and insurers to leave a wide open field for the wild, new ideas of clinicians, entrepreneurs, and software developers.

Besides good old-fashioned human ingenuity, the active ingredient in this mix is data–good data (not what we have now), and lots of it. Bush’s own first healthcare business failed, as he explains, through lack of data along with the inconsistency of insurance payments. A concern for data runs through this book, and motivates his own entrance into the electronic health records market.

What’s missing from the Where Does It Hurt?, I think, is the importance of getting things in the right order: we can’t have engaged patients making free choices until an enormous infrastructure of data falls into place. I have looked at the dependencies between different aspects of health IT in my report, The Information Technology Fix for Health: Barriers and Pathways to the Use of Information Technology for Better Health Care. Let’s look at some details.

Bush wants patients to have choice–but there’s already a lot of choice in where they get surgery or other procedures performed. As he points out, some of the recent regulations (such as accountable care organizations) and trends in consolidations go in the wrong direction, removing much of this choice. (I have also written recently about limited networks.) One of Bush’s interesting suggestions is that hospitals learn to specialize and pay to fly patients long distances for procedures, a massive extension of the “medical tourism” affluent people sometimes engage in.

But even if we have full choice, we won’t be able to decide where to go unless quality measures are rigorously collected, analyzed, and published. Funny thing–quality measures are some of the major requirements for Meaningful Use, and the very things that health IT people complain about. What I hear over and over is that the ONC should have focused laser-like on interoperability and forgone supposedly minor quests like collecting quality measurements.

Well, turns out we’ll need these quality measures if we want a free market in health care. Can the industry collect these measures without being strong-armed by government? I don’t see how.

If I want a space heater, I can look in the latest Consumer Reports and see two dozen options rated for room heating, spot heating, fire safety, and many other characteristics. But comparable statistics aren’t so easy to generate in health care. Seeing what a mess the industry has made of basic reporting and data sharing in the data that matters most–patient encounters–we can’t wait for providers to give us decent quality measures.

There’s a lot more data we need besides provider data. Bush goes into some detail about the Khosla-like vision of patients collecting and sharing huge amounts of information in the search for new cures. Sites such as PatientsLikeMe suggest a disruptive movement that bypasses the conventional health care system, but most people are not going to bother collecting the data until they can use it in clinical settings.

And here we have the typical vicious cycle of inertia in health care: patients don’t collect data because their doctors won’t use it, doctors say they can’t even accept the data because their EHRs don’t have a place for it, and EHR vendors don’t make a place for it because there’s no demand. Stage 3 of Meaningful Use tries to mandate the inclusion of patient data in records, but the tremendous backward tug of industry resistance saps hope from the implementation of this stage.

So I like Bush’s vision, but have to ask: how will we get there? athenahealth seems to be doing its part to help. New developments such as Apple’s HealthKit may help as well. Perhaps Where Does It Hurt? can help forward-thinking vendors, doctors, health information exchanges, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people pull together into a movement to make a functioning system out of the pieces lying around the landscape.

If You Were an EHR, Which Would You Be?

Posted on August 6, 2014 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 recently watching a video of Derek Hough, Dancer on Dancing with the Stars (and much more). In the interview Derek was asked which dance best fit various periods of his life. As an #HITNerd, I thought we could do something similar with EHR vendors. So…

If You Were an EHR, Which Would You Be? Are you…

Epic – Single minded, focused and dominating in their sphere. Closed to outside discussions, but very thoughtful and caring of those in your inner circle. A bulldog if someone comes after something you consider important. Built on an aging system that’s done well, but many question how much longer they can be successful on top of such an old platform.

Cerner – The second child who’s done really well for themselves, but wonders why the older brother gets all the attention. They’re successful, well educated, built on a strong foundation, open to improvement. They’ve recently taken on a little bit of baggage. They decided to marry someone who’s been divorced and has four children. We’re not sure how this new marriage is going to work out and how it’s going to impact the family structure.

MEDITECH – This is the middle child. Ahead of their time, but no one notices them anymore. They’re quiet and mostly stay to themselves in their corner. Sure, they’d like to be noticed and get more attention, but they don’t mind too much since they’ve been so successful.

Allscripts – Flashy. Exciting and unpredictable. They’re the one that wears the flashy green jacket to the party. They’ve worked on so many things in their life that it’s hard to really place who they are and what they do. They’ve seen a lot of success, but don’t make us predict what they’ll do next. They seem to have a clear vision of where there going (albeit different than it was 2-3 years ago), but that could change so you have to stay on your toes.

athenahealth – Despite some ADD tendencies, they’ve largely stayed the course on what they want to do and what they want to become. They’re always interesting to be around, because they’re never shy to say what they think or feel about anything. While not as successful as some other people, they still have a lot of potential that could blow up for good or bad. If nothing else, they’re the life of the party and always keep things interesting.

I could keep going, but that’s a good start using a few of the larger or more well known EHR vendors. Which one is most like you? Also, I really hope that many of you will join me in the comments and revise/improve upon what I’ve written or do something similar for another EHR vendor. Let’s have some fun and learn about people’s perceptions of these companies in the process.

Note: Cerner is an advertiser on this site.

KLAS Gives athenahealth, Not Epic, its 2013 “Best in KLAS” award

Posted on February 6, 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.

While Epic Systems may still be that the giant in the room, according KLAS, athenahealth is the best overall software vendor for 2013.

athenahealth’s taking first place pushes Epic to second for the first time in eight years. athenahealth got the most positive opinions from the thousands of providers participating in the KLAS poll, notably praise for the usability of its athenaClinicals, athenaCollector and athenaCommunicator products, according to EHR Intelligence.

athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush was all too happy to take a victory lap. “The old guard of each IT leaders is finally being displaced by more nimble innovative models designed for healthcare’s future – not for its past,” Bush told EHR Intelligence.

Epic still remains in first place as for its overall software suite, reports EHR Intelligence. And it took home multiple prizes this year. But there’s a revolution brewing outside the Epic palace, it would appear. Not one that calls for angry peasants and pitchforks, but clearly some level of entrenched discontent is at work here.

Other well-known vendors of EMRs took their lumps as well. For example, Cerner came in at seventeenth, McKesson at 20th, and Allscripts came in 23rd.

So what to make of all of this? As my colleague John Lynn notes, awards of this kind are best taken with a grain of salt. After all, providers don’t need software that wins popularity contests, they need software which they can afford, which can handily meet Meaningful Use standards and which doctors and nurses and other clinicians can use without a hitch. Being sure their vendors win sexy awards really isn’t on their worry list.

Still, the fact that Epic has been unseated after eight years at the top of KLAS’s best vendor list may mean something. Perhaps Epic’s grip on the market is loosening a bit?

KLAS Names Top EMR Vendors For Mid-Sized Practices

Posted on January 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.

A new report by KLAS has designated Epic, athenahealth and Greenway as the top three EMR vendors among mid-sized healthcare practices.  The report, which also identified unpopular EMRs in the space, drew its conclusions based on analysis of ability, workflow and integration capabilities, according to iHealthBeat.

To do the study, KLAS interviewed clinicians and IT personnel at practices with 11 to 75 doctors.

Researchers named the top three mid-sized EMR vendors as Epic Systems, which scored a 85.3 points out of 100; athenahealth, which scored 83.5 points; and Greenway, which scored 81.3 points.

Each of the top three vendors distinguished themselves in unique ways.  For example, researchers found that practices liked Epic’s consistent delivery in large hospital-based practices, athenahealth’s “nimble deployment” and system updates, and Greenway’s exceptional service to smaller, independent practices.

Meanwhile, KLAS noted that Allscripts, McKesson and Vitera had the highest percentage of dissatisfied customers, practices which felt stuck with their current EMR system but would not purchase it again.  Reasons for their dissatisfaction included upgrade issues, lack of support, and a perceived lack of vendor partnership, iHealthBeat said.

When it comes down to it, it’s pretty clear when these practices need from their vendors, and a feeling of partnership and mutual support seems to top the list of matter which researchers is doing the study.  But it’s clear that these characteristics can be pretty hard to come by, even from companies you’d think had plenty of resources to deliver a sense of support and availability to their customers.  Allscripts, McKesson and Vitera (although it is Greenway now) had better get their act together quickly, as mid-sized medical practices are a major market, even if they don’t spend quite as much as hospitals.

My #BlueButton Patient Journey: Where Are the Smiley Faces?

Posted on January 22, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Smiley faces and patient payment barriers were on my mind yesterday as I spent a few minutes in the patient portals I use (powered by Cerner, and athenahealth, in case you’re interested). I’ll get to my thoughts on user experience in a sec.

First, an update on the Blue Button Connector, which I may have explained in an earlier post. The Connector is an ONC-powered website that will offer consumers an easy way to find providers, payers and other healthcare organizations that participate in the Blue Button initiative. It will also offer developers a way to access Blue Button + technology, “a blueprint for the structured and secure transmission of personal health data on behalf of an individual consumer. It meets and builds on the view, download and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for certified EHR technology,” according to the ONC.

Originally slated for debut in mid-January of this year, ONC has let it be known that it will delay the release so that when it does go live, it will work well. I’m sure I don’t have to point out the recent events that likely prompted this decision. I’m all in favor of delay to ensure everything works well. A beta version is expected to launch just before or at HIMSS. I may have to reach out to the folks at ONC to see about getting an invite to participate. Stay tuned.

Now, back to my user experience with one of my patient portals. I recently logged into the athenahealth-powered portal to cancel an upcoming appointment. It seemed easy enough to schedule a new appointment, but there was no button or quick link to cancel. I sent a secure message through the portal to the appointment department noting my need to cancel. Because it was less than 24 hours until said appointment, I also called the office as a point of courtesy to make sure they knew of my request. The receptionist who answered told me that sending a message to cancel an appointment is the best option through the portal, as that prompts staff to get back in touch with patients to see if they need to reschedule. A valid point, I thought. I realized not long after that call that I’ll need to reschedule an appointment with a different provider, as my current one is during HIMSS. Hopefully rescheduling will be just as painless.

My recent encounter with the Cerner-powered portal was almost just as painless, leaving me with three observations to share. The first being that I messaged my provider and was pleased to get a response back first thing the next morning. The second being that I attempted to look into a payment balance through said portal, but was put off by the fact that the portal directed me to a third-party site for which I have to set up another account. I wonder why the payment/billion function isn’t embedded into the portal. I’m sure there are underlying reasons patients aren’t aware of, but it sure would be a nice value-add. Unfortunately, I’m the type of patient who, when I encounter a barrier to payment, will set the bill aside and let it languish far longer than it needs to.

And the third being that I, as someone with no medical training, would far prefer smiley faces to numbers when it comes to lab results. Let me explain. Here is what I’m greeted with when I first log into the portal:

portalstats

These numbers don’t mean much, as I’m not aware of what levels are appropriate for my age, weight, height, etc. I think it would be much easier to understand if a smiley or frowny face were placed next to each number, with a small link to some sort of resource that could help me better understand each figure. I think perhaps we tend to overcomplicate things since we have so much technology at our fingertips. At the end of the day, as a patient, I want fast access to my portal and easy to understand information within it.

What are your thoughts on patient portal user experience? Have you seen any emoticons used in clinical settings? Let me know your thoughts via the comments below.