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Data Ownership Disputes, Not Tech Challenges, Slow Interoperability

Most of the time, when we discuss obstacles to interoperability, we focus on the varied technical issues and expense involved in data sharing between hospitals and doctors. And without a doubt, there are formidable technical challenges ahead — as well as financial ones  – on the road to full-on, fluid, national data exchange between providers.

But those aren’t the only obstacles to widespread interoperability, according to one health IT leader. There’s another issue lurking in the background which is also slowing the adoption of HIEs and other data-sharing plans, according to HIMSS head H. Stephen Lieber, who recently spoke to MedCity News. According to Lieber, the idea that providers (not patients) own clinical data is one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of broad interoperability.

“There is still some fine-tuning needed around how technology is adopted, but fundamentally it’s not a technology barrier. It’s a cultural barrier and it’s also a lack of a compelling case,” Lieber told MedCity News.

In Lieber’s experience, few institutions actually admit that they believe they own the data. But the truth is that they want to hold on to their data for competitive reasons, he told MedCity News.

What’s more, there’s actually a business case for not sharing data. After all, if a doctor or hospital has no data on a patient, they end up retesting and re-doing things — and get paid for it, Lieber notes.

Over time, however, hospitals and doctors will eventually be pushed hard in the direction of interoperability by changes in reimbursement, Lieber said. “Work is already being done in Washington to redesign reimbursement. Once Medicare heads down that path, commercial insurers will follow,” Lieber told the publication.

Lieber’s comments make a great deal of sense, and what’s more, focus on an aspect of interoperability which is seldom discussed. If hospitals and doctors still cling to a culture in which they own the clinical data, it’s most definitely going to make the task of building out HIEs more difficult. Let’s see if CMS actually comes up with a reimbursement structure that directly rewards data sharing; if it does, then I imagine you will see real change.

August 13, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Specialty EHR Speaks that Specialty

I’ve long been a proponent of the role of specialty specific EHRs. In fact, at one point I suggested that a really great EHR company could be a roll up of the top specialty specific EHRs. I still think this would be an extraordinary company that could really compete with the top EHR vendors out there. For now, I haven’t seen anyone take that strategy.

There are just some really compelling reasons to focus your EHR on a specific specialty. In fact, what you find is that even the EHR vendor that claims to support every medical specialty is usually best fit for one or a couple specific specialties. Just ask for their client list and you’ll have a good idea of which specialty likes their system the most.

I was recently talking with a specialty EHR vendor and they made a good case for why specialists love working with them. The obvious one he didn’t mention was that the EHR functions are tailored to that specialty. Everyone sees and understands this.

What most people don’t think about is when they talk to the support or sales people at that company. This is particularly important with the support people. It’s a very different experience calling an EHR vendor call center that supports every medical specialty from one that supports only your specialty. They understand your specialties unique needs, terminology, and language. Plus, any reference clients they give you are going to be in your specialty so you can compare apples to apples.

Certainly there can be weaknesses in a specialty specific EHR. For example, if you’re in a large multi specialty organization you really can’t go with a specialty specific EHR. It’s just not going to happen. With so many practices being acquired by hospitals, this does put the specialty specific EHR at risk (depending on the specialty).

Another weakness is when you want to connect your EHR to an outside organization. Most of them can handle lab and prescription interfaces without too much pain. However, connecting to a hospital or HIE can often be a challenge or cost you a lot of money to make happen. Certainly the meaningful use interoperability requirements and HL7 standards help some. We’ll see if it’s enough or if the future of healthcare interoperability will need something more. For example, will specialty specific EHR be able to participate in CommonWell if it achieves its goals?

There’s a case to be made on both sides of the specialty specific EHR debate. As with most EHR decisions, you have to choose which things matter most to your clinic.

June 19, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus.

Telemedicine Not Connecting With EMRs

As smartphones and tablets become a standard part of healthcare as we know it, telemedicine is gaining a new foothold in medicine too.  In some cases, we’re talking off the cuff transactions in which, say, a patient e-mails a photo to a doctor who can then diagnose and prescribe.  But telemedicine is also taking root on an institutional level, with health systems rolling out projects across the country.

The problem is, however, that these telemedicine projects simply don’t integrate with EMRs, according to an article in SearchHealthIT.  The piece’s writer, Don Fluckinger, recently attended American Telemedicine Association’s 2013 Annual International Meeting & Trade Show, where complaints were rife that EMRs and telemedicine don’t interoperate.

I really liked this summary of the situation one executive shared with Fluckinger:

For now, the executive (who asked not to be named) said, telemedicine providers need to keep away from the “blast radius” of EHR vendor conflicts, lest their budgets get consumed by building interfaces to the various non-interoperable EHR systems.

Not only are health systems struggling to integrate telemedicine data with EMRs, telemedicine providers are in a bit of a difficult spot too, Fluckinger notes. As an example, he tells the tale of Seattle-based Carena Inc., a provider of primary care services to patients via phone and video, which provides after-hours support to physicians at Franciscan Health System in Tacoma, Wash.

Carena itself has an EMR which has the ability to share searchable PDF documents for use in patient EMRs, but Franciscan’s seven hospitals are bringing up an Epic implementation which can’t support this trick.  Top execs at Franciscan want to connect Carena’s data to Epic, but that won’t happen right away.  So Franciscan may end up setting up Carena’s after-hours service within Franciscan’s Epic installation to work around the interoperability problem.

This is just one sample of the interoperability obstacles healthcare organizations are encountering when they set out to create a telemedicine service. As telemedicine explodes with the use of portable devices, I can only imagine that this will impose one more pressure on vendors to conquer compatibility problems. (But sadly, I doubt it will force any real changes in the near future.)

June 5, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

EMR Vendors Want Meaningful Use Stage 3 Delay

A group of EMR vendors have joined the chorus of industry organizations asking that Meaningful Use Stage 3 deadlines be moved up to a later date.  The vendors also want to see the nature of Stage 3 requirements changed to put a greater emphasis on interoperabilityInformation Week reports.

The group, the HIMSS EHR Association (EHRA), represents 40 vendors pulled together by HIMSS.  Members include both enterprise and physician-oriented vendors, including athenahealth, Cerner, Epic, eClinicalWorks, Emdeon, Meditech, McKesson, Siemens GE Healthcare IT and Practice Fusion.

In comments submitted to HHS, the vendors argue that MU Stage 3 requirements should not kick in until three years after a provider reaches Stage 2, and start no earlier than 2017. But their larger request, and more significant one, is that they’d like to see Meaningful Use Stage 3′s focus changed:

“The EHRA strongly recommends that Stage 3 focus primarily on encouraging and assisting providers to take advantage of the substantial capabilities established in Stage 1 and especially Stage 2, rather than adding new meaningful use requirements and product certification criteria. In particular, we believe that any meaningful use and functionality changes should focus primarily on interoperability and building on accelerated momentum and more extensive use of Stage 2 capabilities and clinical quality measurement.”

So, we’ve finally got vendors like walled-garden-player Epic finding a reason to fight for interoperability. It took being clubbed by the development requirements of Stage 3, which seems to have EHRA members worried, but it happened nonetheless.

While there’s obviously self-interest in vendors asking not to strain their resources on new development, they still have a point which deserves considering.  Does it really make sense to push the development curve as far as Stage 3 requires before providers have gotten the chance to leverage what they’ve got?  Maybe not.

Now, the question is whether the vendors will put their code where their mouth is. Will the highly proprietary approach taken by Epic and some of its peers become passe?

January 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

EHR Benefit, Goodhart’s Law, and EHR Interoperability


Thanks to Sherry for pointing us out to this example of the benefit of EHR. I hope that Sherry’s dad does well in surgery and recovers well.


I think that Charles might be on to something here. The interesting thing to me is that it’s very likely that looking back on the HITECH act, the most valuable part will just be shining the spotlight on EHR. It’s woken a lot of healthcare organizations up to EHR and what was happening with EHR that were in a cozy slumber. I think that’s the most important thing we can do to move healthcare IT forward.


I don’t see this getting better any time soon. Check out the entire Twitter thread for this message to get the full context of the discussion. I’m still bamboozled by why we can all see the value of exchanging data, the technical details have been solved (see HIMSS interoperability showcase) and yet we’re still not sharing data.

January 27, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus.

Will Big EMR Vendors Use Healthcare Standards As A Weapon?

Standards are a tricky thing. Some times, they bring a technical niche to its senses and promote innovation, and others, they’re well-intentioned academic efforts which gain no ground.  From what I’ve seen over the years, the difference between which standards gain acceptance and which end up in trash bin of history has more to do with politics than technical merit.

But what the EMR industry did neither? From the mind of my crafty colleague John, here’s a scenario to consider.  What if rather than going with an industry-wide standard for interoperability, the big EMR vendors agreed on a standard they’d share and more or less shut out the smaller players?

Yeah, I already hear you asking: “Wouldn’t that be an antitrust violation?”  While I am not and probably never will be a lawyer, my guess is if a bunch of big vendors deliberately, obviously shut the smaller players out, it would be. But standards are so slippery that I bet it’d be a while before anyone outside of our industry saw something funny going on.

Besides, the government is doing everything in its power to get EMR vendors to help providers achieve interoperability. Right now ONC is not getting much cooperation — in fact, I’d characterize the big vendors’ stance as ‘passive aggressive’ at best.  So if Epic, Cerner, Siemens, MEDITECH and their brethren found a way to make their products work together, they might get a gold star rather then an FTC/DoJ slap on the wrist.

Besides, it would be in the interests of the bigger firms to include a few smaller players in their interoperability effort, the ones in the big boys’ sweet spots, and then “oops,” the smaller companies would get acquired and the knowledge would stay home.

Right now, as far as I can tell, it’s Epic versus the rest of the world, and that rest of the EMR world is not minded to play nicely with anyone else either. But if John can imagine a big-EMR-company standards-based coup d’etat happening, rest assured they have as well.

John’s Comment: Since Anne mentions this as my idea, I thought I’d weight in a little bit on the subject. While it’s possible that the big EHR vendors could adopt a different standard and shut out the small EHR vendors, I don’t think that’s likely. Instead of adopting a different standard, I could see the large EHR vendors basically prioritizing the interfaces with the small EHR vendors into oblivion.

In fact, in many ways the big EHR vendors could use the standard as a shield for what they’re doing. They’ll say that they can interface with any EHR vendor because they’re using the widely adopted standard. However, it’s one thing to have the technical capability to exchange healthcare information and a very different thing to actually create the trust relationship between EHR vendors to make the data sharing possible.

Think about it from a large EHR vendor perspective. Why do they want to be bothered with interoperability with 600+ EHR vendors? That’s a lot of work and is something that could actually hurt their business more than it helps.

My hope is that I’m completely wrong with this, but I’ve already seen the large EHR vendors getting together to make data sharing possible. The question is whether they’re sincerely doing this out of a desire to connect as many health records as quickly as possible or whether it is good strategy. My gut feeling is that it’s probably both. It just works out that the first is better to say in public and the second is just a nice result of doing the first.

October 9, 2012 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

The Epic EMR Giant Challenge, EHR Alternatives, EMR Go-Live Tweets, and Patient-Centric Health

As I mentioned on EMR and HIPAA today, I’ve decided to trade off posts between this site and EMR and HIPAA each Sunday. On one site I’ll do a post looking at various EMR and Healthcare IT related tweets. On the other site, Katie will be taking a look around the various Healthcare Scene blogs to highlight some of the important posts that people might have missed.

This will be the first round up of EMR related tweets on EMR and EHR. I hope you enjoy the posts. It’s always fun and interesting to see what people are saying and hopefully I provide some valuable commentary alongside the tweets.


While this article has a catchy headline (Anything with Epic in it’s headline seems to do well), I was disappointed by the article. Any discussion of Epic’s dominance that revolves around a discussion of interoperability as this article does is really missing the target. I’m not sure how the author of this article missed that even different Epic installs can’t share information. Epic has done very well at a lot of things, but interoperability is not one of them.


I don’t agree completely with The Nerdy Nurse. You can still get paid without using an EMR. ARRA hasn’t drastically changed that situation. Although, down the road that might become the case.


If you are an EHR lover, you’ll love the Live Tweeting that John Showalter did of his EHR Go Live. I love the transparency and the energy he has. Another great John in the healthcare IT space. I should start a Healthcare IT John’s list.


I’m not sure anyone would argue that Epic is a patient-centric platform. I’d be interested to hear someone who’d like to give it a try.

June 10, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus.

Meaningful Use Solidifies EHR as the Database of Healthcare

Earlier this month I wrote a post describing EHR as the Database of Healthcare. I believe this is a powerful and important thing to understand. It also led to some good conversation in the comments. As an entrepreneur I’m always interested to see the trends in the industry to hopefully better understand what is going to happen in the future. I think that this is one of those trends.

Just to make the case clearer, consider the effects of meaningful use on EHR software. Meaningful use stage 1 and EHR certification has already hijacked at least one EHR development cycle and you can be sure that meaningful use stage 2 and stage 3 will be hijacking another couple EHR development cycles. You heard me right. In order to meet the EHR certification and meaningful use requirements, most EHR vendors have to put a whole development team focused just on meeting those government requirements.

Meaningful use has codified EHRs into a box.

Instead of allowing EHR software to create innovative solutions it requires standards be met for storing and accessing info. Sure it also adds in security and tries to work towards interoperability, but those aren’t innovations that doctors want to see.

I expect many of the best healthcare innovators will build on top of the EHR base, not try and build the base again.

March 20, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus.

Specialist EMRs: Pros and Cons

Right now, the bulk of well-known vendors are fighting for hospital and multispecialty/primary care group business.

But specialist EMRs are a thriving market, too, and one analysts like myself don’t cover often enough. To get an idea of how many specialist EMRs are out there, check out this list of EMR specialties my colleague John Lynn compiled. Though it’s from 2009, it should give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here.

Is it really necessary for specialty physicians to buy an EMR dedicated to their profession?  One specialty vendor offers a thoughtful argument as to why their approach is better:

 Clinical content is required to sufficiently document exam findings, diagnoses, and medical plans. To be truly effective, an EMR must possess a comprehensive library of information that alleviates the need for physicians to document from scratch. Otherwise, both the workflow efficiencies and the documentation improvements touted by EMR vendors suffer.

But, according to [Peter] Waegemann, “most medical specialty societies simply are not ready to ‘come up with the data’ around which vendors can design specialized systems.” Therefore, most generalized EMR vendors put the responsibility for developing clinical content on the shoulders of their customers. But, therein lies the problem.

Writing a comprehensive, usable library can take up to 400 hours of a physician’s time – time that is already in very short supply and very expensive. The sheer amount of time required for such a task oftentimes delays implementations, frustrates users, and is one of the top reason behind EMR failures. Some vendors rely on third party resources to sell libraries to specialty customers, but doing so oftentimes raises the overall cost and complexity of the solution to unacceptable levels.

On the other hand, I can think of at least a few reasons why a specialty EMR might not be the best choice for a practice:

* Interoperability:  If your practice joins a health information exchange (and let’s face it, that day is coming for most physicians) will your specialty EMR be able to link up comfortably with mainstream systems?

* Connections with hospital systems:  Another interoperability issue. If the hospital where you do most of your business is an Epic shop, and you’re using, say, the

* Workflows that don’t fit with major systems:  It’s all well and good to be really comfortable with your specialty EMR, but how will that work when you’re forced to “switch gears” and use mainstream systems in settings outside your practice.

So folks, which side do you come down on in this discussion?

March 19, 2012 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Fixing EMR Drawbacks

FierceHealthIT editor Ken Terry had a recent post on the need for better human-computer interfaces in EMRs. He highlighted a few areas where EMRs could stand some improvement, and I thought they were bang on. These are aspects I’ve thought about a great deal myself, and true to the Steve Jobs dictum of staying foolish, I’m offering some solutions to these oft-mentioned problems. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have already thought of these and better solutions, but here we go:

1) Initial Data Entry – The biggest headache for providers’ offices today is what to do with all those boxes of medical records. Scanning solutions exist but they leave you with unstructured data. Manual extraction is time-consuming and requires upfront investment. I’ve pondered for a while about this. I think on-demand data extraction might be the way to go. Provider offices know ahead of time what their weekly, even monthly appointments are. If a provider’s office digitizes the records of patients with upcoming appointments every week, it should have most of its records digitized by end of year. This is assuming patients make it to the doctor’s office for at least once-a-year appointments if not more. If the office outsources this work, it needs some monetary investment, no doubt, but such a setup might be affordable since it is pay-as-you-go.

2) Templating – Terry states that many doctors hate the templates that come with most EMRs. And templates make it easy to generate pages and pages of verbiage which say exactly the same thing for patients with similar profiles, or say very little that is meaningful. Surely customizable or extensible templates can get rid of this problem. Or speech-to-text dictation that allows the doctor to mirror practices from not so long ago.

3) Alert Overload – Many EMRs are designed to issue alerts for adverse drug interactions, prompts for patients and similar such decision support tools. But too few of these and you risk not asking the right questions. Too many providers just ignore them, or worse, override them. No easy solutions for this one, except maybe to figure out where the fine line lies between lack of decision support and too many alerts.

4) Interoperability – EMRs cannot talk to each other. So a patient who moves from one provider to another is really at the mercy of software whimsies. Or worse. For providers, it’s equally frustrating not to be able to get ahold of the patient records in a format suitable for their particular EMR software. One simple answer – standards. Granted HL7 is still evolving, but EMR vendors need to at least consider offering data exports in this format.

October 17, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.