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Did Meaningful Use Really Turn EMRs Into A Commodity?

Posted on July 12, 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 long ago, I had a nice email exchange with a sales manager with one of the top ambulatory EMR vendors.  He had written to comment on “The EMR Vendor’s Dilemma,” a piece I wrote about the difficult choices such vendors face in staying just slightly ahead of the market.

In our correspondence, he argued that Meaningful Use (MU) had led customers to see EMRs as commodities. I think he meant that MU sucked the innovation out of EMR development.

After reflecting on his comments, I realized that I didn’t quite agree that EMRs had become a commodity item. Though the MU program obviously relied on the use of commoditized, certified EMR technology, I’d argue that the industry has simply grown around that obstacle.

If anything, I’d argue that MU has actually sparked greater innovation in EMR development. Follow me for a minute here.

Consider the early stages of the EMR market. At the outset, say, in the 50s, there were a few innovators who figured out that medical processes could be automated, and built out versions of their ideas. However, there was essentially no market for such systems, so those who developed them had no incentive to keep reinventing them.

Over time, a few select healthcare providers developed platforms which had the general outline EMRs would later have, and vendors like Epic began selling packaged EMR systems. These emerging systems began to leverage powerful databases and connect with increasingly powerful front-end systems available to clinicians. The design for overall EMR architecture was still up for grabs, but some consensus was building on what its core was.

Eventually, the feds decided that it was time for mass EMR adoption, the Meaningful Use program came along. MU certification set some baselines standards for EMR vendors, leaving little practical debate as to what an EMR’s working parts were. Sure, at least at first, these requirements bled a lot of experimentation out of the market, and certainly discouraged wide-ranging innovation to a degree. But it also set the stage for an explosion of ideas.

Because the truth is, having a dull, standardized baseline that defines a product can be liberating. Having a basic outline to work with frees up energy and resources for use in innovating at the edges. Who wants to keep figuring out what the product is? There’s far more upside in, say, creating modules that help providers tackle their unique problems.

In other words, while commoditization solves one (less interesting) set of problems, it also lets vendors focus on the high-level solutions that arguably have the most potential to help providers.

That’s certainly been the case when an industry agrees on a technology specification set such as, say, the 802.11 and 802.11x standards for wireless LANs. I doubt Wi-Fi tech would be ubiquitous today if the IEEE hadn’t codified these standards. Yes, working from technical specs is different than building complex systems to meet multi-layered requirements, but I’d argue that the principle still stands.

All told, I think the feds did EMR vendors a favor when they created Meaningful Use EMR certification standards. I doubt the vendors could have found common ground any other way.

E-Patient Update: The Kaiser Permanente Approach To Consumer Health IT, Second Stanza

Posted on July 7, 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.

As some of you may recall, I recently wrote a positive review of Kaiser Permanente’s use of consumer-facing health IT. (Kaiser Permanente is both my health insurer and provider.) Their offerings have a number of strengths including:

  • Interfaces: The kp.org site is decent, and the KP app highly usable
  • Access to care: Booking medical appointments is easy, as is cancelling them
  • Responsiveness: Physicians are quick to replay to email via the Kaiser portal
  • Connectedness: Thanks to being on a shared Epic platform, every provider knows my history (at least for the time I’ve spent within the KP system, which is pretty useful)

At the time, I also noted that I had a few minor concerns about the portal features and whatnot, but I was still a fan of KP’s setup.

By and large, my perceptions of Kaiser’s consumer health IT strengths haven’t changed. However, after a couple of months in the system, I’ve gotten a good look at its weaknesses as well. And I thought you might be interested in the problems Kaiser faces in connecting consumers, particularly given its use of best practices in many cases.

All told, these weaknesses suggest that over more than ten years after its Epic rollout, KP leaders still haven’t put their entire consumer health IT strategy in place. Here are a couple of my concerns.

Specialist appointments aren’t integrated

The biggest gripe I have with Kaiser’s interactive tools is that while I can schedule PCP appointments myself, I haven’t been able to set specialist appointments without speaking to a real live person. (My primary care doctor seems to be able to access specialist schedules and set appointments with them on my behalf.)

This may work for someone with no significant health problems, but creates a significant burden for me. After all, as someone with multiple chronic illnesses, I schedule a lot of specialist consults. You don’t realize how much time it takes to set each appointment with a clerical person until you’ve done it for five times in a week.  Try it sometime.

You might assume that this is a rationing measure, as organizations like KP are pretty strict about limiting access to specialist care. The truth is, that doesn’t seem to be the case. At least when it comes to my primary care physician (a big shout out to my PCP, Dr. Jason Singh) it doesn’t seem to be unduly hard to get access to specialists when needed.

No, I have concluded that the reason I can’t schedule specialist appointments online is that KP still hasn’t gotten their act together on this front. My guess is that the specialist systems live in some kind of silo, one that KP hasn’t managed to break down yet.

Mobile and web tools clash

As noted above, I’m largely satisfied with both KP’s consumer portal and its mobile app. True, the website sprawls a bit when it comes to presenting static content — such as physician bios — but the portal itself works fine. The mobile app, meanwhile, is great to use, as it presents my choices clearly and uses screen real estate effectively.

That being said, it annoys the heck out of me that there are minor but seemingly pointless, differences between how the portal and the mobile app function. It would be one thing the app was a shrunken down version of the website, offering a parallel but more limited version of available functions, but that isn’t how it works.

Instead, the services accessible through the portal and via the mobile app vary in small but irritating ways. For example, when emailing providers, you must choose a prewritten subject line from a drop-down menu. And I don’t know why, but the list of subjects available on the web portal version varies significantly from the list of subjects you can access via the mobile app.

There may be a rational reason for this. And mine may sound like a petty objection. But when you’re trying to address something as important as your healthcare, you want to know what’s going on with every detail.

I’d identify other ways in which the app and website portal vary, but I don’t have any other examples I can recall. And that’s the whole point. You don’t remember how the site and/or portal function until you stumble into another incompatibility. You roll your eyes and move on, but you see them again and waste one more spark of energy being annoyed.

It’s all about tradeoffs

So, you might ask if there’s any broad lesson to be taken from this. Honestly, probably not. I don’t like that KP’s tools pose these problems, but they don’t strike me as unusual.

And do my criticisms have any meaning for other healthcare organizations? Nothing more than a reminder that patients will take note of even small problems in your health IT execution, particularly when it comes to tools they rely upon to get things done.

In the end, of course, it’s all about trade-offs, as with any other industry. I don’t know whether KP chose to prioritize a potentially dangerous problem in provider-facing technologies over consumer quibbles, or just don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps they know and have added the fix to a long list of pending projects, or perhaps they don’t have their act together.

Still, lest it is lost in the discussion, remember I’m the customer, and I really don’t care about your IT problems. I just want to have tools that work every time and simplify my life.

So this is my official challenges to Kaiser leadership. For Pete’s sake, KP, would you please help me cut down on the specialist phone calls? Perhaps you could create a centralized specialist appointment call center, or use carrier pigeons, or let me suss out their schedules using my vast psychic powers — hey, they’re all options. Or maybe, just maybe, you can let me schedule the appointments online. Your call.

E-Patient Update: The Kaiser Permanente Approach To Consumer Health IT

Posted on May 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.

Usually, particularly when I have complaints, I don’t name the providers or vendors who serve my healthcare needs, largely because I don’t want to let my personal gripes overshadow my analysis of a particular health IT issue.

That being said, I thought I’d veer from that rule today, as I wanted to share some details on how Kaiser Permanente, my new provider and health plan, supports consumers with health IT functions. Despite having started with Kaiser – in this case the DC metro division – less than a week ago, being an e-patient I’ve had my hands all over its Web – and mobile-based options for patients.

I’m not going to say the system is perfect by any means. There are some blind alleys on the web site, and some problems in integrating clinical information into consumer records, but so far their set-up largely seems thoughtful and well-managed.

Having allegedly spent $4 billion plus on its Epic rollout, it’s hard to imagine how Kaiser could have realized that big a return even several years later, but it seems that the healthcare giant is at least doing many of the right things.

Getting enrolled

My first contact with Kaiser, after signing up with Healthcare.gov, was a piece of snail-mail which provided us with our insurance cards and a summary of our particular coverage. The insurance cards included my health plan ID/medical record number.

To enroll on the core Kaiser site, kp.org, I had to supply the record number, my birth date and a few other basic pieces of information. I also downloaded the KP app, which offers a far-more-elegant interface to the same functions.

Medical appointments

Once logged in, it was easy to choose a primary care doctor and OB/GYN by searching the site and clicking a selection button. If you wished you could review physician profiles and educational history as well as testimonial quotes from patients about that doctor before you chose them.

Having chosen a doctor, booking an appointment with them online was easy.  As with Zocdoc.com, you entered a range of dates for a possible consult, then chose the slot that worked for you. And if you need to cancel one of those appointments, it’s easy to do so online.

Digital communication

I was glad to see that the Kaiser portal allows you to email your doctor directly, something which is less common than you might think. (My last primary care group wouldn’t even put their doctors on the phone.)

Not only that, everyone I’ve talked to at KP so far– three medical appointments, as I was playing catch-up — has stressed that the email function isn’t just for show. My new providers insisted that they do answer email messages, and that I shouldn’t hesitate to write if I have questions or concerns.

Another way KP leverages digital communications is the simple, but effective, device of texting me when my prescriptions are due for a refill. This may not sound like much, but convenience matters! (I can also check med reminders by logging in to a custom KP meds app.)

Data sharing

Given that everyone at Kaiser uses the same Epic EMR, clinicians are of course more aware of what their colleagues are doing than my past gaggle of disconnected specialists. They seem quite serious about reading this history before seeing me, something which past physicians haven’t always done, even if I was previously seen by someone else in their practice.

KP also uses Epic’s Care Everywhere function, which allows them to pull in a limited summary of care from other Epic-based providers. While Care Everywhere has limits, the providers are making use of what they can.

One small wrinkle was that prior to two of my visits, I filled out a questionnaire online and when asked to submit it to my electronic patient record, did so. Nonetheless, I was asked to fill out the same questionnaire again, on paper, when I saw a specialist.

Test results

KP seems to be set up appropriately to share standard test results. However, I’ve already had one test, a mammogram, and in doing so found out that their data sharing infrastructure isn’t quite complete.

After being scanned, I was told that I’d receive my results via snail-mail, in about two weeks. I’m glad that this was a routine screening, rather than a test to investigate something scary, as I would have been pretty upset with this news if I was worried.

My conclusions

I don’t want to romanticize Kaiser’s consumer HIT services. After all, looked at one way, KP is only doing what integrated health systems are supposed to do, and not without at least a few hitches.

Still, at least on first view, on the whole I’m pretty happy with how Kaiser’s interactive functions are deployed, as well the general attitude staff members seem to have about consumer use of HIT tools. Generally speaking, they seem to encourage it, and for someone like me that’s quite welcome.

As I see it, if providers outside of the Kaiser bubble were as married to a shared infrastructure as KP providers are, my care would be much improved. Let’s see if I still if I still feel that way after the new health plan smell has worn off!

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!

Epic Launches FHIR-Based App Platform

Posted on March 2, 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.

It looks like Epic is getting on the FHIR train. According to an article in Modern Healthcare, Epic is launching a new program – serving physician practices and hospitals – to help them build customized apps. The program, App Orchard, will also support independent mobile app developers who target providers and patients.

The launch follows on the heels of a similar move by Cerner, which set up its own sandbox for developers interested in linking to its EMR using FHIR. The Cerner Open Developer Experience (code_), which launched in early 2016, is working with firms creating SMART on FHIR apps.

App Orchard, for its part, lets developers use a FHIR-based API to access an Epic development sandbox. This will allow the developers to address issues in connecting their apps to the Epic EMR. Previously, Epic wouldn’t let mobile app developers connect to its EMR until a customer requested permission on their behalf.

In addition to providing the API, App Orchard will also serve as an online marketplace along the lines of Google Play or the Apple app store. However, end users won’t be able to download the app for their own use — only software developers and vendors will be able to do that. The idea is that these developers will create the apps on contract to customers.

Meanwhile, according to the magazine, Epic will screen and pick an initial group of developers to the program. Brett Gann, who leads the Epic-based team developing App Orchard, told Modern Healthcare that factors which will distinguish one developer from the other include app safety, security, privacy, reliability, system integrity, data integrity and scalability.

As part of their participation, developers will get documentation listing these criteria and what they mean to Epic. The Epic team will expect the developers to commit to following these guidelines and explain how they’ll do so, Gann said.

While Epic hasn’t made any predictions about what types of apps developers will pursue, recent research offers a clue. According to new research by SMART and KLAS, providers are especially interested in apps that help with patient engagement, EMR data viewing, diagnostics, clinical decision support and documentation tasks.

One thing to watch is how Epic decides to handle licensing, ownership, and charges for participation in their Orchard Program. If they have a true open API, then this will be a good move for the industry. If instead they choose to take ownership of everything that’s created, put restrictive licenses on developers, and/or charge huge sums to participate, then it’s unlikely to see much true innovation that’s possible with an open API. We’ll see how that plays out.

Meanwhile, in other Epic news, Becker’s Hospital Review notes that the vendor is planning to develop two additional versions of its EMR. Adam Whitlatch, a lead developer there, told the site that the new versions will include a mid-range EMR with fewer modules (dubbed “utility”), and a slimmer version with fewer modules and advanced features, to be called “Sonnet.”

Whitlatch said the new versions will target physician practices and smaller hospitals, which might prefer a lower-cost EMR that can be implemented more quickly than the standard Epic product. It’s also worth noting that the two new EMR versions will be interoperable with the traditional Epic EMR (known as “all-terrain”).

All told, these are intriguing developments which could have an impact on the EMR industry as a whole.

On the one hand, not only is Epic supporting the movement towards interchangeable apps based on FHIR, it appears that the vendor has decided to give in to the inevitable and started to open up its platform (something it hasn’t done willingly in the past).  Over time, this could affect providers’ overall Epic development plans if Epic executes it well and enables innovation on Orchard and doesn’t restrict it.

Also, the new versions of the Epic could make it available to a much wider audience, particularly if the stripped-down versions are significantly cheaper than its signature EMR. In fact, an affordable Epic EMR could trigger a big shakeup in the ambulatory EMR market.

Let’s see if more large EMR vendors decide to offer an open API. If access to EMR APIs became common, it would represent a major shift in the whole health IT ecosystem.

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.

Accountable Care HIT Spending Growing Worldwide

Posted on November 30, 2016 I Written By

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

A new market research report has concluded that given the pressures advancing the development of accountable care models, the market for solutions serving ACOs should expand worldwide, though North America is likely to lead the segment for the near future.

The report, by research firm Markets & Markets, covers a wide range of technologies, including EHRs, healthcare analytics, HIE, RCM, CDSS, population health, claims management and care management. It also looks at delivery mode, e.g. on premise, web and cloud and end-user, which includes providers and payers. So bear that in mind when you look at these numbers. That being said, providers accounted for the largest share of this niche last year, and should see the highest growth in the sector over the next five years.

Broadly speaking, Markets & Markets reports that the accountable care solutions market grew a healthy growth rate during the last decade. Researchers there expect to see this market grow at a CAGR of 16.6% over the next five years, to hit $18.86 billion by 2021.

When it comes to leaders in the sector, researchers identify Cerner, IBM, Aetna and Epic as leaders in the current ACO solutions market and probable future winners between 2016 and 2021. Other major players in the space include UnitedHealth Group, Allscripts, McKesson, Verisk Health, Zeomega, eClinicalWorks and NextGen. Given how broadly they define this category, I’m not sure how important this is, but there you have it.

According Markets & Markets, the growth of the ACO solutions market worldwide is due to forces we know well, including shifting government regulations, the rollout of initiatives shifting financial risk from payers to providers, the demand to slow down healthcare cost increases in the advance of IT and big data capabilities. (Personally, I’d add the desire of health systems – ACO-affiliated or not – to differentiate themselves by performing well at the population health level.)

If your view is largely US-centric, as is mine, you might be interested to note that the trend towards ACO-like entities in the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions is expanding, the researchers report. Most specifically, Markets & Markets researchers found that there is notable growth occurring in Asian countries, which, it reports, are modifying regulations and monitoring the implementation of procedures, policies and guidelines to promote innovation and commercialization. This has led to an increasing number of hospitals and academic institutions interested in the sector, along with a government focus on implementing health IT solutions and infrastructure – factors likely to generate an expanding ACO solutions market there.

After reading all of this, the question I’m left with is whether there’s any point in differentiating an “ACO” specific player as these researchers have. Maybe I’m playing with words too much hear, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the definition of health system infrastructure is evolving, whether it’s part of an ACO as such or not?

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.