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!

ONC To Farm Out Certification Testing To Private Sector – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 14, 2017 I Written By

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

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

EHR certification has been a big part of the meaningful use program and is now part of MACRA as well. After several years of using health IT certification testing tools developed by government organizations, the ONC has announced plans to turn the development of these tools over to the private sector.

Since its inception, ONC has managed its health IT’s education program internally, developing automated tools designed to measure health IT can compliance with certification requirements in partnership with the CDC, CMS and NIST. However, in a new blog post, Office of Standards and Technology director Steven Posnack just announced that ONC would be transitioning development of these tools to private industry over the next five years.

In the post, Posnack said that farming out tool development would bring diversity to certification effort and help it perform optimally. “We have set a goal…to include as many industry-developed and maintained testing tools as possible in lieu of taxpayer financed testing tools,” Posnack wrote. “Achieving this goal will enable the Program to more efficiently focus its testing resources and better aligned with industry-developed testing tools.”

Readers, I don’t have any insider information on this, but I have to think this transition was spurred (or at least sped up) by the eClinicalWorks certification debacle.  As we reported earlier this year, eCW settled a whistleblower lawsuit for $155 million a few months ago;  in the suit, the federal government asserted that the vendor had gotten its EHR certified by faking its capabilities. Of course the potential cuts to ONC’s budget could have spurred this as well.

I have no reason to believe that eCW was able to beat the system because ONC’s certification testing tools were inadequate. As we all know, any tool can be tricked if you throw the right people at the problem. On the other hand, it can’t hurt to turn tool development over to the private sector. Of course, I’m not suggesting that government coders are less skilled than private industry folks (and after all, lots of government technology work is done by private contractors), but perhaps the rhythms of private industry are better suited to this task.

It’s worth noting that this change is not just cosmetic. Poznack notes that with private industry at the helm, vendors may need to enter into new business arrangements and assume new fees depending on who has invested in the testing tools, what it costs to administer them and how the tools are used.

However, I’d be surprised if private sector companies that develop certification arrangements will stay tremendously far from the existing model. Health IT vendors may want to get their products certified, but they’re likely to push back hard if private companies jack up the price for being evaluated or create business structures that don’t work.

Honestly, I’d like to see the ONC stay on this path. I think it works best as a sort of think tank focused on finding best practices health IT companies across government and private industry, rather than sweating the smaller stuff as it has in recent times. Otherwise, it’s going to stay bogged down in detail and lose whatever thought leadership position it may have.

eClinicalWorks Settlement Raises Question Of Customer Liability

Posted on July 19, 2017 I Written By

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

Not much ago, my colleague John Lynn shared the news that EMR vendor eClinicalWorks had settled a whistleblower lawsuit for $155 million. The U.S. Department of Justice found that the vendor had skirted many EMR certification requirements, which in turn had caused providers using its software to file false claims for Meaningful Use incentives.

Today, I read an interesting follow-up by Becker’s Hospital Review addressing the issue of whether eCW users faced any liability for the vendor’s failure to meet certification standards.  The Becker’s writer, who reached out to CMS to find out its policy on the matter, found that while eCW’s customers technically submitted false claims for MU reimbursement, the agency won’t be asking any them to return any of the money.

If anyone has calculated how much CMS paid them, I haven’t seen the figures, but I’m sure it’s a pretty substantial sum of money. It’s good to see that the feds aren’t putting the squeeze on these customers, who presumably weren’t aware of eCW’s apparent skullduggery.

The thing is, I find it hard to believe that eCW is the only vendor who fudged things to get certified for the MU program. In fact, I’d guess that virtually every vendor in the industry has skirted if not crossed the line when it comes to EMR certification. That’s the way it goes, realistically, when you’re dealing with federal oversight.

After all, doesn’t every company work to save as much on taxes as they can? Yes, some are very conservative and only take whatever deductions they see as clearly legal, but others push harder. A goodly number of firms are willing to adopt strategies a tax lawyer might call “aggressive” – which don’t clearly violate the law but may raise a few eyebrows – in an effort to maximize their profits.

The big question here is whether an EMR customers could be on the hook for incentives paid wrongly due to an invalid vendor certification. If vendors are coloring outside the lines, it’s likely some will be caught, and if so, I’m betting that CMS will eventually get tough with their customers.

In the absence of clear evidence of customer wrongdoing, CMS might let customers keep their incentive payments. But I imagine that under some circumstances, the agency might wonder if they knew they what was going on and decided to take, say, a price cut in exchange for keeping its mouth shut.

Also, particularly if other vendors are hit with whistleblower suits, CMS might decide that customers should have validated that the EMR they were using actually had a legitimate certification. I don’t know how (or if) EMR customers would do this, but I can imagine a scenario under which CMS might take this tack.

Bottom line, we’d all better hope that CMS doesn’t decide to audit every vendor’s EMR certification filings. As I see it, their customers could easily be caught in the backlash.

Researcher Puts Epic In Third Place For EMR Market Share

Posted on May 16, 2017 I Written By

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

A new research report tracking market share held by EMR vendors puts Epic in third place, behind Cerner and McKesson, a conclusion which is likely to spark debate among industry watchers.

The analyst firm behind the report, Rockville, MD-based Kalorama Information, starts by pointing out that despite the hegemony maintained by larger EMR vendors, the competition for business is still quite lively. With customers still dissatisfied with their systems, the hundreds of vendors still in the market have a shot at thriving, it notes.

Kalorama publisher Bruce Carlson argues that until the larger firms get their act together, there will still be plenty of opportunity for these scrappy smaller players: “It’s still true to say no company, not even the largest healthcare IT firms, have even a fifth of this market,” Carlson said in a published statement. “We think that is because there’s still usability, vendor-switching, lack of mindshare in the market and customers are aching for better.”

In calculating how much each vendor has of the EMR market, the analyst firm estimated each vendors’ hardware, software and services revenue flowing directly from EMRs, breaking out the percentage each category represented for each vendor. All projects were based on 2016 data.

Among the giants, Kalorama ranks Cerner as having the biggest market share, McKesson as second in place and Epic as third. The report’s observations include:

  • That Cerner is picking up new business, in part, due to the addition of its CernerITWorks suite, which works with hospital IT departments, and Cerner RevWorks, which supports revenue cycle management functions. Kalorama also attributes Cerner’s success to the acquisition of Siemens IT and its having won the Department of Defense EMR contract.
  • That McKesson is building on its overall success as a health IT vendor, which puts it in a good position to build on its existing technology. For example, it has solutions addressing medication safety, information access, revenue cycle management, resource use and physician adoption of EMRs, including Paragon, Horizon, EHRM, Star and Series for hospitals, along with Practice Partners, Practice Point Plus and Fusion for ambulatory care.
  • That Epic serves giant customers like Kaiser Permanente, as well as holding a major share of new business in the EMR market. Kalorama is predicting that Epic will pick up more ambulatory customers, which it has focused on more closely of late.

The report also lists Allscripts Healthcare Solution, which came in fourth. Meanwhile, it tosses in GE Healthcare, Athenahealth’s Intersystems, QSI/NextGen, MEDITECH, Greenway and eClinicalWorks in with a bundle of at least 600 companies active in the EMR market.

The report summary we editors got didn’t include some details on how the market components broke down. I would like to know more about the niches in which these vendors play.

For example, having seen a prediction earlier this year that the physician practice market would hit $17.6 billion worldwide within seven years, it would be interesting to see that dot connected with the rest of the market share information. Specifically, I’d like to know how much of the ambulatory EMR market included integrated practice management software. That would tell me something about where overall solutions for physicians were headed.

However, I still got something out of the information Kalorama shared.  As our esteemed publisher John Lynn often notes, all market share measurements are a bit, um, idiosyncratic at best, and some are not even that reliable. But as I see it the estimates are worth considering nonetheless, as they challenge us to look at the key moving parts in the EMR market. Hey, and it gives us something to talk about at tradeshow parties!

Rival Interoperability Groups Connect To Share Health Data

Posted on December 27, 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.

Two formerly competitive health data interoperability groups have agreed to work together to share data with each others’ members. CommonWell Health Alliance, which made waves when it included Cerner but not Epic in its membership, has agreed to share data with Carequality, of which Epic is a part. (Of course, Epic said that it chose not to participate in the former group, but let’s not get off track with inside baseball here!)

Anyway, CommonWell was founded in early 2013 by a group of six health IT vendors (Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth.) Carequality, for its part, launched in January of this year, with Epic, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts on board.

Under the terms of the deal, the two will shake hands and play nicely together. The effort will seemingly be assisted by The Sequoia Project, the nonprofit parent under which Carequality operates.

The Sequoia Project brings plenty of experience to the table, as it operates eHealth Exchange, a national health information network. Its members include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, CVS’s Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts, while CommonWell is largely vendor-focused.

As things stand, CommonWell runs a health data sharing network allowing for cross-vendor nationwide data exchange. Its services include patient ID management, record location and query/retrieve broker services which enable providers to locate multiple records for patient using a single query.

Carequality, for its part, offers a framework which supports interoperability between health data sharing network and service providers. Its members include payer networks, vendor networks, ACOs, personal health record and consumer services.

Going forward, CommonWell will allow its subscribers to share health information through directed queries with any Carequality participant.  Meanwhile, Carequality will create a version of the CommonWell record locator service and make it available to any of its providers.

Once the record-sharing agreement is fully implemented, it should have wide ranging effects. According to The Sequoia Project, CommonWell and Carequality participants cut across more than 90% of the acute EHR market, and nearly 60% of the ambulatory EHR market. Over 15,000 hospitals clinics and other healthcare providers are actively using the Carequality framework or CommonWell network.

But as with any interoperability project, the devil will be in the details. While cross-group cooperation sounds good, my guess is that it will take quite a while for both groups to roll out production versions of their new data sharing technologies.

It’s hard for me to imagine any scenario in which the two won’t engage in some internecine sniping over how to get this done. After all, people have a psychological investment in their chosen interoperability approach – so I’d be astonished if the two teams don’t have, let’s say, heated discussions over how to resolve their technical differences. After all, it’s human factors like these which always seem to slow other worthy efforts.

Still, on the whole I’d say that if it works, this deal is good for health IT. More cooperation is definitely better than less.

eClinicalWorks Warns Users About Patient Safety Risks

Posted on December 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.

EMR vendor eClinicalWorks has issued a warning to users about “potential patient safety risks” in its software, a very unusual step which is almost unheard of from vendors in this market.

If there are any meaningful care problems that could occur by using the company’s software, they could have a broad impact. According to the vendor, 115,000-odd physicians use its software, 850,000 healthcare professionals and 70,000 facilities.

Unlike many such announcements by software vendors – which typically identify, say a security vulnerability or a newly-identified bug – the press announcement on the topic is rather broad. In its press release on the subject, eClinicalWorks summarizes its goals as follows:

eCW is making this announcement to ensure that all participants in the healthcare process – clinicians, pharmacies, and patients and their family members or caregivers – are aware of key patient safety risks and are focused on the roles they can play in minimizing those risks.

But there’s certainly more. In what comes across as exasperation with providers who aren’t keeping up with advisories, eCW asks its users to implement software upgrades needed to address problems with medication management, electronic prescribing and the process of ordering tests and procedures.

Specifically, eCW notes that it needs providers to install upgrades issued back in December of last year. It also pleads with doctors to upgrade their eCW to the latest version of their software, which it issued in July of 2016, as well as asking users to upgrade to the most current version of the Multum or Medispan drug databases.

In addition to making these technical requests, eCW makes several operational suggestions, including that users should read every patient safety notice, designate a patient safety officer to serve as eCW liason, and asks providers to confirm order accuracy as well as training patients to do the same. It also urges providers to follow appropriate steps for modifying medications and to take special care with custom medications.

Then, in a particularly unusual move, the press release also speaks directly to patients, advising them to be educated about their care, to know their medications and orders and to confirm that tests performed are the right ones and med orders are accurate.

It remains to be seen how effective eCW’s public awareness strategy will be. After all, if your end users are so recalcitrant that they don’t bother to keep their critical software up to date, neither pleading nor shaming them is likely to do the trick. Plus, many users don’t upgrade EHR software because there’s a cost to upgrade the software (Not sure if eCW’s upgrades are free or not).

That being said, doctors using eClinicalWorks will have virtually no excuse they can offer if a patient is harmed by software they were privately and publicly warned to update. If its customers figure this out, perhaps fear of med mal litigation will achieve eCW’s purpose after all.

News Flash: Physicians Still Very Dissatisfied With EMRs

Posted on October 18, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrating With EMR Vendors Remains Difficult, But This Must Change

Posted on October 4, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 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.

Back in March 0f 2013, six health IT vendors came together to announce the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance. The group, which included Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth, said they were forming the not-for-profit organization to foster national health data interoperability. (Being a cynical type, I immediately put it in a mental file tagged “The Group Epic Refused To Join,” but maybe that wasn’t fair since it looks like the other EHR vendors might have left Epic out on purpose.)

Looked at from some perspectives, the initiative has been a success. Over the past couple of years or so, CommonWell developed service specifications for interoperability and deployed a national network for health data sharing. The group has also attracted nearly three dozen HIT companies as members, with capabilities extending well beyond EMRs.

And according to recently-appointed executive director Jitin Asnaani, CommonWell is poised to have more than 5,000 provider sites using its services across the U.S. That will include more than 1,200 of Cerner’s provider sites. Also, Greenway Health and McKesson provider sites should be able to share health data with other CommonWell participants.

While all of this sounds promising, it’s not as though we’ve seen a great leap in interoperability for most providers. This is probably why new interoperability-focused initiatives have emerged. Just last week, five major HIT players announced that they would be the first to implement the Carequality Interoperability Framework.

The five vendors include, notably, Epic, along with athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts. While the Carequality team might not be couching things this way, to me it seems likely that it intends to roll on past (if not over) the CommonWell effort.

Carequality is an initiative of The Sequoia Project, a DC-area non-profit. While it shares CommonWell’s general mission in fostering nationwide health information exchange, that’s where its similarities to CommonWell appear to end:

* Unlike CommonWell, which is almost entirely vendor-focused, Sequoia’s members also include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts.

* The Carequality Interoperability Framework includes not only technical specifications for achieving interoperability, but also legal and governance documents helping implementers set up data sharing in legally-appropriate ways between themselves and patients.

* The Framework is designed to allow providers, payers and other health organizations to integrate pre-existing connectivity efforts such as previously-implemented HIEs.

I don’t know whether the Carequality effort is complimentary to CommonWell or an attempt to eclipse it. It’s hard for me to tell whether the presence of a vendor on both membership lists (athenahealth) is an attempt to learn from both sides or a preparation for jumping ship. In other words, I’m not sure whether this is a “game changer,” as one health IT trade pub put it, or just more buzz around interoperability.

But if I were a betting woman, I’d stake hard, cold dollars that Carequality is destined to pick up the torch CommonWell lit. That being said, I do hope the two cooperate or even merge, as I’m sure the very smart people associated with these efforts can learn from each other. If they fight for mindshare, it’d be a major waste of time and talent.

NFL Uses eCW To Do Concussion Assessment

Posted on July 29, 2013 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.

Late last year, the NFL announced that it was using eClinicalWorks’ EMR to standardize their healthcare documentation for players. (Around the same time, the NBA announced that it was implementing Cerner’s EMR.)

Now, we learn that the NFL is gearing up to launch eCW as part of a pilot study of data sharing. It’s also rolling out a program bringing concussion assessment to the field-side.

According to USA Today, the league is distributing iPads to every medical staff member — equipped with X-rays, imaging studies, notes and more — to boost its ongoing efforts to improve assessment of concussions.

All of the iPads rolled out to NFL clinicians will be loaded with X2 software which includes a standard concussion assessment instrument, the Sideline Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT-3). SCAT-3 is the most advanced version available of neurocognitive test used to determine whether a player has a concussion, USA Today reports.

For most teams, the data collected on the deployed iPads will end up being printed and placed in a paper chart.

However, eight teams — the Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers — are part of a pilot program in which the results collected on the iPad will be sent via Internet into the patient’s EMR.  Eventually, if the pilot works as expected, the EMR data will be shifted as needed between all 32 NFL teams.

What makes the new pilot a bit unusual is that there’s apparently some politics involved in sharing medical data across the league.

The players, agents and the NFL Players Association are apparently concerned that when team members are being scouted by other teams in the league,  the medical data could potentially be used against them. They’re also concerned as to whether certain health information could work against players in free agency or grievance hearings.

The NFL told USA Today that it’s still working out how it will handle free agent medical records, calling the pilot program a “work in progress.”  The league does not intend to use the EMR to share records between teams until the pilot is over.