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Data Ownership Disputes, Not Tech Challenges, Slow Interoperability

Posted on 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 @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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.

Telemedicine Not Connecting With EMRs

Posted on 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 @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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.)

EMR Vendors Want Meaningful Use Stage 3 Delay

Posted on 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 @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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?

Will Big EMR Vendors Use Healthcare Standards As A Weapon?

Posted on 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 @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

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.

Fixing EMR Drawbacks

Posted on 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.

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.

Video at HIMSS Talking About NHIN and CONNECT

Posted on March 10, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Ever since I first saw Fred Trotter’s post about CONNECT being the future of EMR interoperability, I was really interested in the open source software CONNECT. Of course, when the PR person from ONC emailed me with an opportunity to talk with someone from ONC, I jumped at the chance.

The following is a short video where I tried to capture what ONC is doing with NHIN and CONNECT so that people can be more informed on these 2 projects. I hope you enjoy:

This video coverage of HIMSS 10 sponsored by Practice Fusion and their Free EMR.

EMR Conversions

Posted on February 22, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I got an email asking me about converting an EMR from one EMR vendor to another. No doubt as time progresses, we’re going to see more and more clinics having to make the switch as clinics continue to consolidate. Here’s my response to this person. Hopefully other people will find it informative.

Converting an EMR is an incredibly challenging affair. Especially when you’re trying to convert from an ambulatory EMR to a hospital EMR.

There’s so many factors I’m not really sure where to start. I guess the first question is did you negotiate in your contract with Practice Partner that 1. you own the data in your EMR and 2. they would provide the “database schema” of the EMR so you would know where and how the data is stored in the database?

If you don’t have these 2 things, then converting the data is going to be an extremely big challenge. Even with these things, you can expect some major challenges. One EMR vendor described the conversion process the best. He described it as an imperfect science where you’ll never know 100% for sure that you got ALL of the data out and done correctly. You can know you’re close, but it’s almost impossible to know you got everything out of the previous EMR. It’s basically a best guess and often requires an iterative process where you think you got most of it and then you realize that something else is missing and so you have to go back and see what you did wrong.

The future of EMR is for the EMR interoperability standards to improve to a point where you can essentially “export” all the data from your EMR in some sort of standard format which you can then import into a new EMR. Those standards will be used by patients when they switch doctors. They’ll also be used by patients that want to have their own “PHR.” They’ll also be used by specialists to interact with primary care doctors. However, these standards have a long way to go. So, until then, it’s going to be an imperfect science.

Anyone else have thoughts and suggestions for those looking to convert from one EMR to a new EMR?

Interoperability, Meaningful Use and Certified EMRs

Posted on August 25, 2009 I Written By

I like reading the weekly newsletters from XLEMR. Ryan Ricks has a way of making complex issues simple. This is a part of his recent newsletter.

Meaningful use has four main functional requirements: computerized order entry, drug interaction checking, maintaining an updated problem list, and generation of transmissible prescriptions. A certified EMR system must provide these functions, and physicians must use them daily for all their patients. In addition, a certified EMR must be capable of sharing information and working with other systems.

The HIT Committee wisely chose existing data standards for their recommendations. Health Level 7 (HL7) is data standard based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML). HL7 was developed for earlier government programs, such as the Doctors Office Quality Information Technology (DOQIT) and Physicians Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI).

For the full newsletter, go to: http://www.xlemr.com/b2evolution/blogs/index.php

What are your thoughts on the direction that the HIT committee is going?

Bill Gates Talks About Electronic Medical Records and Healthcare

Posted on August 20, 2009 I Written By

From an Interview with Bill Gates of Microsoft. Some of his views about electronic medical records and healthcare. See complete article.

Mr. Gates was also critical of the United States government’s unwillingness to adopt a national identity card, or allow some businesses, like health care, to centralize data-keeping on individuals. “It has always come back to the idea that ‘The computer knows too much about you,’ ” he said. The United States “got off to a bad start” when it comes to using computers to keep data about its citizens, he said. Doctors are not allowed to share records about an individual patient, and virtual doctor visits are banned, he said, which “wastes a lot of money.” The United States “had better come up with a better model” for health care, he said.

I agree and disagree with Mr. Gates. We need more data sharing and more interoperability BUT confidentiality IS an important issue. Just look at how the drug tests became public about Major League Baseball Players when they were PROMISED it would be strictly confidential!!!! I don’t trust big government or big business. Question: How do you tell an attorney or politician or corporate executive are lying? Answer: Their lips or moving or their fingers are typing!

We have to make sure medical information about individuals remains confidential and remains in the control of the individual.