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#HIMSS16: Some Questions I Plan To Ask

Posted on February 1, 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.

As most readers know, health IT’s biggest annual event is just around the corner, and the interwebz are heating up with discussions about what #HIMSS16 will bring. The show, which will take place in Las Vegas from February 29 to March 4, offers a ludicrously rich opportunity to learn about new HIT developments — and to mingle with more than 40,000 of the industry’s best and brightest (You may want to check out the session Healthcare Scene is taking part in and the New Media Meetup).

While you can learn virtually anything healthcare IT related at HIMSS, it helps to have an idea of what you want to take away from the big event. In that spirit, I’d like to offer some questions that I plan to ask, as follows:

  • How do you plan to support the shift to value-based healthcare over the next 12 months? The move to value-based payment is inevitable now, be it via ACOs or Medicare incentive programs under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. But succeeding with value-based payment is no easy task. And one of the biggest challenges is building a health IT infrastructure that supports data use to manage the cost of care. So how do health systems and practices plan to meet this technical challenge, and what vendor solutions are they considering? And how do key vendors — especially those providing widely-used EMRs — expect to help?
  • What factors are you considering when you upgrade your EMR? Signs increasingly suggest that this may be the year of the forklift upgrade for many hospitals and health systems. Those that have already invested in massiveware EMRs like Cerner and Epic may be set, but others are ripping out their existing systems (notably McKesson). While in previous years the obvious blue-chip choice was Epic, it seems that some health systems are going with other big-iron vendors based on factors like usability and lower long-term cost of ownership. So, given these trends, how are health systems’ HIT buying decisions shaping up this year, and why?
  • How much progress can we realistically expect to make with leveraging population health technology over the next 12 months? I’m sure that when I travel the exhibit hall at HIMSS16, vendor banners will be peppered with references to their population health tools. In the past, when I’ve asked concrete questions about how they could actually impact population health management, vendor reps got vague quickly. Health system leaders, for their part, generally admit that PHM is still more a goal than a concrete plan.  My question: Is there likely to be any measurable progress in leveraging population health tech this year? If so, what can be done, and how will it help?
  • How much impact will mobile health have on health organizations this year? Mobile health is at a fascinating moment in its evolution. Most health systems are experimenting with rolling out their own apps, and some are working to integrate those apps with their enterprise infrastructure. But to date, it seems that few (if any) mobile health efforts have made a real impact on key areas like management of chronic conditions, wellness promotion and clinical quality improvement. Will 2016 be the year mobile health begins to deliver large-scale, tangible health results? If so, what do vendors and health leaders see as the most promising mHealth models?

Of course, these questions reflect my interests and prejudices. What are some of the questions that you hope to answer when you go to Vegas?

Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 2016 I Written By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Cerner Edging Up On Epic?

Posted on January 7, 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.

At Verona, Wisc.-based Epic Systems, growth is a way of life. In fact, the EMR vendor now boasts a workforce of 9,400, which is estimated to be an increase of 1,400 staffers over the past year.

Not only that, Epic is confident enough to build cute. Its Campus 4, dubbed the “Wizards Academy Campus,” is designed to resemble the fictional Hogwarts school of Harry Potter fame — or if you’re academically-minded, England’s Oxford University. When completed this summer, Campus 4 will add 1,508 offices and 2,000 parking spaces to the Epic headquarters.

I could go on with details of the Disneyland Epic is making of its HQ, but you get the picture. Epic leaders are confident that they’re only going to expand their business, and they want to make sure the endless streams of young eggheads they recruit are impressed when they visit. My guess is that the Epic campus is being designed as a, well, campus speaks to the idea of seeing the company as a home. When I was 25, unique surroundings would have worked on me!

In any event, if I was running the place, I’d be pretty confident too. After all, if its own stats are correct, Epic software is either being used by or installed at 360 healthcare organizations in 10 countries. The EMR giant also reports that its platform manages records for 180 million Americans, or about 55 percent of the entire U.S. population. It also reported generating a not-so-shabby $1.8 billion in revenues for 2014.

But a little-noticed report issued by analyst firm KLAS last year raises questions as to whether the Epic steamroller can maintain its momentum. According to the report, which admittedly came out about a year ago, “the competition between Epic and Cerner is closer than it has been in years past as customers determine their future purchasing plans,” analysts wrote.

According to KLAS researchers, potential EMR buyers are largely legacy customers deciding how to upgrade. These potential customers are giving both Cerner and Epic a serous look, with the remainder split between Meditech and McKesson upgrades.

The KLAS summary doesn’t spell out exactly why researchers believe hospital leaders are beginning to take Cerner as seriously as Epic, but some common sense possibilities occur to me:

The price:  I’m not suggesting that Cerner comes cheap, but it’s become clear over the years that even very solvent institutions are struggling to pay for Epic technology. For example, when traditionally flush-with-cash Brigham and Women’s Hospital undershoots its expected surplus by $53 million due (at least in part) to its Epic install, it’s gotta mean something.

Budget overruns: More often than not, it seems that Epic rollouts end up costing a great deal more than expected. For example, when New York City-based Health and Hospital Corp. signed up to implement Epic in 2013, the deal weighed in at $302 million. Since then, the budget has climbed to $764 million, and overall costs could hit $1.4 billion. If I were still on the fence I’d find numbers like those more than a little concerning. And they’re far from unique.

Scarce specialists:  By the company’s own design, Epic specialists are hard to find. (Getting Epic certified seems to take an act of Congress.) It must be quite nerve-wracking to cut a deal with Epic knowing that Epic itself calls the shots on getting qualified help. No doubt this contributes to the high cost of Epic as well.

Despite its control of the U.S. market, Epic seems pretty sure that it has nowhere to go but up. But that’s what Microsoft thought before Google took hold. If that comparison bears any weight, the company that will lap up Epic’s business and reverse its hold on the U.S. market probably already exists. It may not be Cerner, but Epic will face meaningful competition sometime soon.

Background On Cerner’s Capture Of DoD EHR Data Center Biz

Posted on January 6, 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.

As many readers will know, the Department of Defense awarded Cerner the $4.3 billion Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract this summer, through its partnership with Leidos and Accenture. In doing so the partners beat out some formidable competition, including an Epic/IBM bid and a group, led by Computer Sciences Corp., whose partners included Allscripts and HP.

This is a system integration project on the grandest scale, connecting healthcare systems located at Army hospitals, on Naval vessels, in battlefield clinics across the glove. The idea is to bring all of this data — on active-duty members, reservists and civilian contractors — into a single open, interoperable platform. The new platform should serve 9.5 million military beneficiaries in roughly 1,000 locations.

Now, just six months into the 10-year deal, the DoD has decided to change the rules a bit. Military officials have concluded that the new records system capabilities won’t function at their best unless they’re hosted in a Center datacenter. The new system, officials said, “requires direct access to proprietary Cerner data, which is only available within Cerner-owned-and-operated data centers.”

I’m not sharing this tidbit because it nets the partnership more money — Cerner will take in a comparatively trivial $5 million per year to host the government health data — but for a few other reasons that offer ongoing perspective on this massive deal:

  • While there’s no concrete way to prove this, the buzz around the time of Cerner winning the contract was that it won because it was perceived as more open than Epic. Arguably, if the DoD has to transfer data hosting because it needs access to proprietary algorithms, maybe the whole open thing was a fake-out. Certainly, needing access to Cerner logic locks down the deal even further than a straight ahead contract award.
  • Why couldn’t the DoD anticipate that their own data centers wouldn’t meet the needs of the project?  And why didn’t planners know, in advance, that they’d need access to Cerner’s “quantitative models and strategies” prior to signing on the dotted line? Admittedly, this is a sprawling project, but planning for appropriate network architecture seems pretty basic to me. Did Cerner deliberately raise this issue only after the deal was done?
  • In the notice the DoD issued outlining its intention to shift hosting to Cerner, it noted that while it wasn’t seeking competitive proposals, “any firm believing that they can fulfill the requirement of providing these services may be considered by the Agency.” The key for late entrants would be to prove that they could both meet hosting requirements and connect to proprietary Cerner data.
  • Was the intent always to host the EHR at the Cerner data centers and this was a way to do an end around the bid process and make the initial bid look more attractive (ie. cheaper) so it won the contract? I wonder how many more of these late additions the DoD will have when implementing the Cerner EHR. We’ve seen many hospital EHR implementation budgets have skyrocketed. It’s not hard to imagine the same scenario playing out with the DoD EHR budget. This might be the first of many EHR add-ons that weren’t part of the original contract.

I Have Seen The Portal, And It Is Handy

Posted on July 14, 2015 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.

After writing about EMRs/EHRs and portals for many years, I’ve finally begun using an enterprise-class portal to guide my own care. Here’s some of my impressions as an “inside” (EMR researcher) and “outside” (not employed as a provider) user of this tool. My conclusion is that it’s pretty handy, though it’s still rather difficult to leverage what I’ve learned despite being relatively sophisticated.

First, some background. I get most of my care from northern Virginia-based Inova Health System, including inpatient, primary care, imaging and specialist care. Inova has invested in a honking Epic installation which links the majority of these sites together (though I’ve been informed that its imaging facilities still aren’t hooked up to core medical record. D’oh!) After my last visit with an Inova doctor, I decided to register and use its Epic portal.

Epic’s MyChart has a robust, seemingly quite secure process for registering and accessing information, requiring the use of a long alphanumeric code along with unique personal data to establish an account. When I had trouble reading the code and couldn’t register, telephone-based tech support solved the problem quickly.  (Getting nearsighted as I move from middle- to old-aged!)

Using MyChart, I found it easy to access lab results, my drug list and an overview of health issues. In a plus for both me and the health system, it also includes access to a more organized record of charges and balances due than I’ve been able to put together in many years.

When I looked into extracting and sharing the records, I found myself connected to Lucy, an Epic PHR module. In case you’ve never heard of it (I hadn’t) here’s Epic’s description:

Lucy is a PHR that is not connected to any facility’s electronic medical record system. It stays with patients wherever they receive care and allows them to organize their medical information in one place that is readily accessible. Patients can enter health data directly into Lucy, pull in MyChart data or upload standards-compliant Continuity of Care Documents from other facilities.

As great as the possibility of integrating outside records sounds, that’s where I ran into my first snag. When I attempted to hook up with the portal for DC-based Sibley Memorial Hospital — a Johns Hopkins facility — and integrate the records from its Epic system into the Inova’s Lucy PHR, I was unable to do so since I hadn’t connected within 48 hours of a recent discharge. When I tried to remedy the situation, an employee from the hospital’s Health Information Management department gave me an unhelpful kiss-off, telling me that there was no way to issue a second security code. I was told she had to speak to her office manager; I told her access to my medical record was not up for a vote, and irritated, terminated the call.

Another snag came when I tried to respond to information I’d found in my chart summary. When I noted that one of my tests fell outside the standard range provided by the lab, I called the medical group to ask why I’d been told all tests were normal. After a long wait, I was put on the line with a physician who knew nothing about my case and promptly brushed off my concerns. I appreciate that the group found somebody to talk to me, but if I wasn’t a persistent lady, I’d be reluctant to speak up in the future given this level of disinterest.

All told, using the portal is a big step up from my previous experiences interacting with my providers, and I know it will be empowering for someone like myself. That being said, it seems clear that even in this day and age, even a sophisticated integrated health system isn’t geared to respond to the questions patients may have about their data.

For one thing, even if the Lucy portal delivers as promised, it’s clear that integrating data from varied institutions isn’t a task for the faint of heart. HIM departments still seem to house many staffers who are trained to be clerks, not supporters of digital health. That will have to change.

Also, hospitals and medical practices must train employees to enthusiastically, cheerfully support patients who want to leverage their health record data. They may also want to create a central call center, staffed by clinicians, to engage with patients who are raising questions related to their health data. Otherwise, it seems unlikely that they’ll bother to use it.

HHS’ $30B Interoperability Mistake

Posted on May 8, 2015 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.

Sometimes things are so ill-advised, in hindsight, that you wonder what people were thinking. That includes HHS’ willingness to give out $30 billion to date in Meaningful Use incentives without demanding that vendors offer some kind of interoperability. A staggering amount of money has been paid out under HITECH to incentivize providers to make EMR progress, but we still have countless situations where one EMR can’t talk to another one right across town.

When you ponder the wasted opportunity, it’s truly painful. While the Meaningful Use program may have been a good idea, it failed to bring the interoperability hammer down on vendors, and now that ship has sailed. While HHS might have been able to force the issue back in the day, demanding that vendors step up or be ineligible for certification, I doubt vendors could backward-engineer the necessary communications formats into their current systems, even if there was a straightforward standard to implement — at least not at a price anyone’s willing to pay.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that “interoperability” is an elastic concept, and that the feds couldn’t just demand that vendors bolt on some kind of module and be done with it. Without a doubt, making EMRs universally interoperable is a grand challenge, perhaps on the order of getting the first plane to fly.

But you can bet your last dollars that vendors, especially giants like Cerner and Epic, would have found their Wilbur and Orville Wright if that was what it took to fill their buckets with incentive money. It’s amazing how technical problems get solved when powerful executives decide that it will get done.

But now, as things stand, all the government can do is throw its hands up in the air and complain. At a Senate hearing held in March, speakers emphasized the crying need for interoperability between providers, but none of the experts seemed to have any methods in their hip pocket for fixing the problem. And being legislators, not IT execs, the Senators probably didn’t grasp half of the technical stuff.

As the speakers noted, what it comes down to is that vendors have every reason to create silos and keep customers locked into their product.  So unless Congress passes legislation making it illegal to create a walled garden — something that would be nearly impossible unless we had a consensus definition of interoperability — EMR vendors will continue to merrily make hay on closed systems.  It’s not a pretty picture.

Why Are So Many Big Health IT Companies from Small Cities?

Posted on February 23, 2015 I Written By

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

I was reading over something on HIStalk the other day that talked about how many major healthcare IT and EHR companies have come out of small cities. In fact, when you think about the EHR world, there are only a handful of EHR companies that have come out of the tech hub of the world, Silicon Valley, and they’ve all been started within the past 10 years.

In the article HIStalk mentioned the town Malvern, Pennsylvania. I hadn’t even heard of the town, but a look at Wikipedia has Siemens Healthcare, Ricoh Americas, and Cerner as among the companies based in Malvern. I think the Cerner mention in the list must be because Cerner just purchases Siemens Healthcare, so they are now claiming them. However, Cerner is definitely a Kansas City based company. Either way though, Kansas City is not a HUGE city either and certainly hasn’t been the hub of technology (although, I know they have some cool tech things happening now, like most cities).

The healthcare IT behemoth, Epic was founded in Madison, Wisconsin and now has headquarters in Verona, Wisconsin. If you aren’t in healthcare IT, my guess is that you’ve probably never even heard of Verona.

Those are just a few examples and I’m sure there are many more. Why is it that so many of the large healthcare IT companies have come from small cities? Will that trend continue or will large cities like San Francisco, Boston, New York, and LA start to dominate?

I’m a bit of a young buck in this regard. So, I don’t have the answer. Hopefully some of my readers do. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Is there an advantage to being from a small town when going into healthcare? It’s exciting to me that healthcare innovation can come from anywhere. I hope that trend continues.

Epic Tries To Open New Market By Offering Cloud Hosting

Posted on November 26, 2014 I Written By

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

When you think of Epic, you hardly imagine a company which is running out of customers to exploit. But according to Frost & Sullivan’s connected health analyst, Shruthi Parakkal, Epic has reached the point where its target market is almost completely saturated.

Sure, Epic may have only (!) 15% to 20% market share in both hospital and ambulatory enterprise EMR sector, it can’t go much further operating as-is.  After all, there’s only so many large hospital systems and academic medical centers out there that can afford its extremely pricey product.

That’s almost certainly why Epic has just announced  that it was launching a cloud-based offering, after refusing to go there for quite some time.  If it makes a cloud offering available, note analysts like Parakkal, Epic suddenly becomes an option for smaller hospitals with less than 200 beds. Also, offering cloud services may also net Epic a few large hospitals that want to create a hybrid cloud model with some of its application infrastructure on site and some in the cloud.

But unlike in its core market, where Epic has enjoyed incredible success, it’s not a lock that the EMR giant will lead the pack just for showing up. For one thing, it’s late to the party, with cloud competitors including Cerner, Allscripts, MEDITECH, CPSI, and many more already well established in the smaller hospital space. Moreover, these are well-funded competitors, not tiny startups it can brush away with a flyswatter.

Another issue is price. While Epic’s cloud offering may be far less expensive than its on-site option, my guess is that it will be more expensive than other comparable offerings. (Of course, one could get into an argument over what “comparable” really means, but that’s another story.)

And then there’s the problem of trust. I’d hate to have to depend completely on a powerful company that generally gets what it wants to have access to such a mission-critical application. Trust is always an issue when relying on a SaaS-based vendor, of course, but it’s a particularly significant issue here.

Why? Realistically, the smaller hospitals that are likely to consider an Epic cloud product are just dots on the map to a company Epic’s size. Such hospitals don’t have much practical leverage if things don’t go their way.

And while I’m not suggesting that Epic would deliberately target smaller hospitals for indifferent service, giant institutions are likely to be its bread and butter for quite some time. It’s inevitable that when push comes to shove, Epic will have to prioritize companies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its on-site product. Any vendor would.

All that being said, smaller hospitals are likely to overlook some of these problems if they can get their hands on such a popular EMR.  Also, as rockstar CIO John Halamka, MD of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center notes, Epic seems to be able to provide a product that gets clinicians to buy in. That alone will be worth the price of admission for many.

Certainly, vendors like MEDITECH and Cerner aren’t going to cede this market gracefully. But even as a Johnny-come-lately, I expect Epic’s cloud product do well in 2015.

Will EHR Vendors Become Service and Consulting Companies?

Posted on October 14, 2014 I Written By

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

This is the topic of a really interesting LinkedIn discussion: Will EHR Vendors Become Service and Consulting Companies?

I think this is a really great question and one that’s worthy of serious consideration. I think we’ve seen this happen time and time again in the IT industry. Some of the best examples are IBM, HP, and Dell. As their IT hardware and software becomes a “commodity” then they leverage their relationships and domain expertise to change into a service and consulting company. Usually this also involves them spending their extra cash to acquire the leading consulting company (or companies) in the industry as well.

In some ways we’re already seeing this happen. Epic announced a consulting division of their company in order to retain their senior staff. Cerner’s always made a good chunk of their money from consulting services.

Of course, thanks to meaningful use incentive money and some still massive upgrade costs, EHR vendors haven’t needed to shift their business model to a service and consulting model yet. There’s still plenty of money to be made just selling the software, training, etc.

What will also be interesting to watch is whether the large service and consulting companies like Accenture, IBM, HP, Dell, etc. will eat up the market share so that the EHR companies don’t have as much of an opportunity to grow a service and consulting business. No doubt it will be a big dog fight. Not to mention many of the current EHR consulting companies (although, you could see many of these getting acquired by the EHR vendors).

I guess my short answer to this question is: In the short term, we’re not likely to see a massive shift towards services and consulting, but long term it’s very likely to happen. What are your thoughts?

Ebola Lapse in Dallas Offers Few Lessons, Except About Our Over-reliance on Technology

Posted on October 8, 2014 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://radar.oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Of all the EHR problems encountered daily across the country, the only one to hit the major news outlets was a non-story about a missed Ebola diagnosis in Dallas, Texas. Before being retracted, the hospital’s claim of an Epic failure launched a slew of commentary in the health IT field. These swirled through my head last night as I tried to find a lesson in the incident.

The facts seem to be as follows. A 42-year-old man named Thomas Eric Duncan arrived from Liberia and checked in to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas complaining of symptoms consistent with an Ebola diagnosis. He told the admitting nurse he had come from Liberia, and the nurse entered the data into the Epic EHR.

The purpose of recording the patient’s travel history, however, seemed to be simply to determine the need for immunizations, so the EHR kept it within a nurse’s section of the data (which the hospital called a “workflow”) and did not display it to the doctor. The doctor sent Duncan home, where he came into contact with about 100 people who were potentially infected. His symptoms worsened and he returned to the hospital two days later, where he was finally diagnosed correctly and admitted.

Late night musing #1: If Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas can’t diagnose a case of Ebola, why do they think they can treat one? The hospital has won numerous awards, including one for patient safety–I guess you’re safe once you’re admitted.

Meanwhile, the city of Dallas waited several extra days to clean up infected sheets and other belongings from the Duncan home. In Africa, such detritis are recognized as a major source of new Ebola infections.

Late night musing #2: Does this reflect the competence of public health officials in this country? Maybe we should turn the job over to the Secret Service.

It’s really a shame that the national press jumped on the hospital’s announcement that the EHR was the source of the problem. Commenters criticized the hospital right away, asking why the nurse didn’t simply tell the doctor, and why the doctor didn’t ask on his own.

Finally, the hospital backed off from blaming Epic, thus making the hospital look even stupider and more guilty than it already appeared. Nevertheless, EHRs at some hospitals may be designed to flag warning signals.

Clearly, there are many layers to this health care failure. I don’t blame the nurse, or even the doctor. ERs are always busy, and the nurse might never have known who would see the patient or even be in the ER when the doctor finally saw him.

But I do find a small lesson in the brief appearance of the EHR as a pivotal character in the story. The nurse thought he or she was doing their job just by entering the data into the EHR, and the doctor thought he was doing his job by reading it. The EHR had loomed as a magical solution to health care workflow–in the minds of hospital administrators, if not the ER staff.

Maybe if the nurse knew that the travel history was for the purpose of immunizations, he or she would not have relied on the EHR to use that information for diagnosis. Besides showing the need for training, some of my colleagues suggest that this problem calls for FDA regulation of EHR interfaces. They also suggest that systems use good user interface design to highlight important information (which would require a definition of what’s “important”) or at least allow searches for critical elements of the record.

Late night musing #3: Behind this also lies the mindlessness of much data collected by EHRs. I’m sure the nurse knew whether the unfortunate Mr. Duncan was a smoker and whether he suffered from depression, because regulations require these things to be recorded. Travel history became just another one of these automatic requirements to be tossed into the EHR and forgotten.

My story also concerns the musings of other health IT commentators, who suggested that EHRs be better integrated into “workflows”–as if every clinician follows a mechanical path of treatment and the EHR can figure out what it is.

Another thoughtful posting calls for integrating infectious diseaess into clinical decision support. But as my colleague Sandra Raup (R.D., J.D., M.P.H.) points out, CDS depends on a long history of clinical data collection. One can’t instantly add a new disease.

It might have been useful for some international health organization to realize, when the Ebola outbreak began to spread, that it would eventually break out of central Africa, and then to provide an app to hospitals around the world for checking symptoms and travel history. There is certainly a creative role for health IT to play.

I think the messiness of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas story shows why EHR failures, numerous as they are, don’t get reported in the press. There are just too many complicating factors. The EHR is partly configured by the clinic’s staff, who thereby become responsible for some of its decisions. The EHR failure usually comes when the staff is under stress, when they have communication problems, when the patient’s condition is rare. Ascribing blame becomes a tangled mess; one must start designing systems with multiple, redundant points to catch failures that can fall through the cracks.

So one level, this is just another sad story of humanity’s tendency to trust too much in its technology, a story that ranges from the flight of Icarus to the sail of the Titanic and the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. On other, it’s a familiar story of a systemic problem leading to what’s sometimes called a “normal failure.” Not much new to learn, but lots of work to do. Clinicians have to evaluate EHRs and know how the data is used, a more open system in all directions.