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Creating Healthcare Interoperability Bundles

Posted on October 25, 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 this point in the evolution of healthcare data, you’d think it would be easy to at least define interoperability, even if we can’t make it happen. But the truth is that despite the critical importance of the term, we still aren’t as clear as we should be on how to define it. In fact, the range of possible solutions that can be called “interoperable” is all over the map.

For example, a TechTarget site defines interoperability as “the ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer.” When defined down to its most basic elements, even passive methods of pushing data from one to another count is interoperability, even if that data doesn’t get used in clinical care.

Meanwhile, an analysis by research firm KLAS breaks interoperability down into four levels of usefulness, ranked from information being available, to providers having the ability to locate records, to the availability of clinical view to this data having an impact on patient care.

According to a recent survey by the firm, 20% of respondents had access to patient information, 13% could easily locate the data, 8% could access the data via a clinical view and just 6% had interoperable data in hand that could impact patient care.

Clearly, there’s a big gap between these two definitions, and that’s a problem. Why? Because the way we define baseline interoperability will have concrete consequences on how data is organized, transmitted and stored. So I’d argue that until we have a better idea of what true, full interoperability looks like, maybe we should map out interoperability “bundles” that suit a given clinical situation.

A Variety of Interoperabilities

For example, if you’re an ACO addressing population health issues, it would make sense to define a specific level of interoperability needed to support patient self-management and behavioral change. And that would include not only sharing between EMR databases, but also remote monitoring information and even fitness tracking data. After all, there is little value to trying to, say, address chronic health concerns without addressing some data collected outside of clinic or hospital.

On the other hand, when caring for a nursing home-bound patient, coordination of care across hospitals, rehab centers, nurses, pharmacists and other caregivers is vital. So full-fledged interoperability in this setting must be effective horizontally, i.e. between institutions. Without a richly-detailed history of care, it can be quite difficult to help a dependent patient with a low level of physical or mental functioning effectively. (For more background on nursing home data sharing click here.)

Then, consider the case of a healthy married couple with two healthy children. Getting together the right data on these patients may simply be a matter of seeing to it that urgent care visit data is shared with a primary care physician, and that the occasional specialist is looped in as needed. To serve this population, in other words, you don’t need too many bells and whistles interoperability-wise.

Of course, it would be great if we could throw the floodgates open and share data with everyone everywhere the way, say, cellular networks do already. But given that such in event won’t happen anytime in the near future, it probably makes sense to limit our expectations and build some data sharing models that work today.

A Circular Chat On Healthcare Interoperability

Posted on September 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.

About a week ago, a press release on health data interoperability came into my inbox. I read it over and shook my head. Then I pinged a health tech buddy for some help. This guy has seen it all, and I felt pretty confident that he would know whether there was any real news there.

And this is how our chat went.

—-

“So you got another interoperability pitch from one of those groups. Is this the one that Cerner kicked off to spite Epic?” he asked me.

“No, this is the one that Epic and its buddies kicked off to spite Cerner,” I told him. “You know, health data exchange that can work for anyone that gets involved.”

“Do you mean a set of technical specs? Maybe that one that everyone seems to think is the next big hope for application-based data sharing? The one ONC seems to like.” he observed. “Or at least it did during the DeSalvo administration.”

“No, I mean the group working on a common technical approach to sharing health data securely,” I said. “You know, the one that lets doctors send data straight to another provider without digging into an EMR.”

“You mean that technology that supports underground currency trading? That one seems a little bit too raw to support health data trading,” he said.

“Maybe so. But I was talking about data-sharing standards adopted by an industry group trying to get everyone together under one roof,” I said. “It’s led by vendors but it claims to be serving the entire health IT world. Like a charity, though not very much.”

“Oh, I get it. You must be talking about the industry group that throws that humungous trade show each year.” he told me. “A friend wore through two pairs of wingtips on the trade show floor last year. And he hardly left his booth!”

“Actually, I was talking about a different industry group. You know, one that a few top vendors have created to promote their approach to interoperability.” I said. “Big footprint. Big hopes. Big claims about the future.”

“Oh yeah. You’re talking about that group Epic created to steal a move from Cerner.” he said.

“Um, sure. That must have been it,” I told him. “I’m sure that’s what I meant.”

—-

OK, I made most of this up. You’ve got me. But it is a pretty accurate representation of how most conversations go when I try to figure out who has a chance of actually making interoperability happen. (Of course, I added some snark for laughs, but not much, believe it or not.)

Does this exchange sound familiar to anyone else?

And if it does, is it any wonder we don’t have interoperability in healthcare?

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.

KLAS Gives athenahealth, Not Epic, its 2013 “Best in KLAS” award

Posted on February 6, 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.

While Epic Systems may still be that the giant in the room, according KLAS, athenahealth is the best overall software vendor for 2013.

athenahealth’s taking first place pushes Epic to second for the first time in eight years. athenahealth got the most positive opinions from the thousands of providers participating in the KLAS poll, notably praise for the usability of its athenaClinicals, athenaCollector and athenaCommunicator products, according to EHR Intelligence.

athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush was all too happy to take a victory lap. “The old guard of each IT leaders is finally being displaced by more nimble innovative models designed for healthcare’s future – not for its past,” Bush told EHR Intelligence.

Epic still remains in first place as for its overall software suite, reports EHR Intelligence. And it took home multiple prizes this year. But there’s a revolution brewing outside the Epic palace, it would appear. Not one that calls for angry peasants and pitchforks, but clearly some level of entrenched discontent is at work here.

Other well-known vendors of EMRs took their lumps as well. For example, Cerner came in at seventeenth, McKesson at 20th, and Allscripts came in 23rd.

So what to make of all of this? As my colleague John Lynn notes, awards of this kind are best taken with a grain of salt. After all, providers don’t need software that wins popularity contests, they need software which they can afford, which can handily meet Meaningful Use standards and which doctors and nurses and other clinicians can use without a hitch. Being sure their vendors win sexy awards really isn’t on their worry list.

Still, the fact that Epic has been unseated after eight years at the top of KLAS’s best vendor list may mean something. Perhaps Epic’s grip on the market is loosening a bit?

KLAS Names Top EMR Vendors For Mid-Sized Practices

Posted on January 27, 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.

A new report by KLAS has designated Epic, athenahealth and Greenway as the top three EMR vendors among mid-sized healthcare practices.  The report, which also identified unpopular EMRs in the space, drew its conclusions based on analysis of ability, workflow and integration capabilities, according to iHealthBeat.

To do the study, KLAS interviewed clinicians and IT personnel at practices with 11 to 75 doctors.

Researchers named the top three mid-sized EMR vendors as Epic Systems, which scored a 85.3 points out of 100; athenahealth, which scored 83.5 points; and Greenway, which scored 81.3 points.

Each of the top three vendors distinguished themselves in unique ways.  For example, researchers found that practices liked Epic’s consistent delivery in large hospital-based practices, athenahealth’s “nimble deployment” and system updates, and Greenway’s exceptional service to smaller, independent practices.

Meanwhile, KLAS noted that Allscripts, McKesson and Vitera had the highest percentage of dissatisfied customers, practices which felt stuck with their current EMR system but would not purchase it again.  Reasons for their dissatisfaction included upgrade issues, lack of support, and a perceived lack of vendor partnership, iHealthBeat said.

When it comes down to it, it’s pretty clear when these practices need from their vendors, and a feeling of partnership and mutual support seems to top the list of matter which researchers is doing the study.  But it’s clear that these characteristics can be pretty hard to come by, even from companies you’d think had plenty of resources to deliver a sense of support and availability to their customers.  Allscripts, McKesson and Vitera (although it is Greenway now) had better get their act together quickly, as mid-sized medical practices are a major market, even if they don’t spend quite as much as hospitals.

EMR Usability Point Difference, Us vs Them in EHR Adoption, and EMR Companies Don’t Care About Usability

Posted on July 7, 2013 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 can’t believe there’s a 30 point difference in usability. Really? No, I’m not talking about the difference. I’m talking about trying to put a number on EMR usability. Think how ridiculous that idea really is. An EMR is made up of 100s of functions and you’re going to take an EMR vendor’s usability and try and quantify it to a number. That’s just insane.


This is an awesome point that really highlights a bunch of the key challenges that happen in EMR implementations. There’s definitely a lot of blame and finger pointing that can happen. You have to battle against this for it not to happen.


This is a great article that can be summed up with: because they don’t have to care. That’s right. EHR sales are doing just fine, so they don’t have to worry about usability. Healthcare really has reached a point of acceptance of crappy technology. This will change one day, but I don’t see it changing at least until after meaningful use.

More Than Half of US Hospitals Plan Medical Device Integration Investments

Posted on August 14, 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.

When used right, EMRs can be very powerful. But I think most of us would agree that the endgame — the greatest level of benefit they can offer — will be when hospitals succeed at integrating EMRs with medical devices.  A new study from CapSite suggests that hospital CIOs agree completely with this analysis.

The CapSite study, which surveyed more than 300 hospital leaders, found that 54 percent of U.S. hospitals plan to purchase new medical device integration solutions over the next 24 months. When asked why, 40 percent of hospitals said “quality improvements” were the primary reason for their planned investment.

Now, integration is a fairly broad term. I doubt we’re looking at a 24-month horizon for some of the following:

  • In a May study by KLAS, more than half of 251 providers surveyed said that EMR connectivity will be a factor when they next invest in infusion pumps.  But at present vanishingly few hospitals are actually implementing new smart pumps with wireless EMR connectivity.
  • If you consider an iPad a “medical device,” it’s worth remembering that iPad-to-EMR integration is still dicey at best. Smartphones aren’t well integrated either, especially Android devices. And getting them in synch with EMRs is no trivial matter.
  •  At least one vendor — like the first of many — is offering a software solution which integrates data from wireless sensors on the patient’s body into a cloud-based, open-source EMR. This is a great idea, but still in its infancy.

All that being said, there’s definitely some integration which should take place more quickly. For example, integration of voice recognition technology with EMRs is moving at a fast clip. Doing this for dictation within an EMR is a no-brainer. The next level will to see how far speech and natural language understanding get in filling out more of the encounter data and (brace yourself) coding the visits for doctors.Though many of the more intriguing apps are still in their babyhood, it seems we’re on for seamlessly connected EMR-to-device experience in hospitals fairly soon.

Do Privately-Owned EMR Vendors Offer Better Customer Care?

Posted on February 14, 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.

When a company like Greenway Medical Technologies (NASDAQ: GWAY) goes public, most of the post-IPO talk centers on what its leaders will do with the money.

Ideally, the newly-rich EMR vendor will do customer-friendly stuff like improving their product and strengthening their technical support organization. In reality, though, public companies have a different focus; their job is keeping the Wall Street folks who own their shares happy.

Since happy largely means only one thing — increasing profits and earnings per share — that vendor isn’t likely to take on new expenses. No, it’s more likely to find ways to charge more and sell more, rather than doing a better job of showing love to its existing customers.

SRSsoft’s Evan Steele has shared a nice analysis of  how KLAS customer support ratings (for companies serving the 6 to 25 physician practice) compare with the vendor’s financial status.  While they’re not exactly scientific, Steele’s conclusions are still striking; he concludes that five of the top six vendors are privately owned.

Now, I’m not sure how that correlates with another KLAS data point, in which publicly-held EMR/practice management vendor athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN) was named as top-ranked provider for its cloud-based EHR in December. Its stock has also been on a generally upward climb for the past 12 months, ranging from $39.87 to $72.70 per share.

Is it possible athena is managing to please both its customers and its investors? Well, if the typically nasty gossip you see on athena’s discussion board is any indication, no. It looks like grouchy insiders are shorting the stock, which some expect to plunge below its starting price to $30/share or so fairly soon.

That being said, one particularly intriguing comment suggests that Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN) is eyeballing athena, which observers think would be a good fit.

Cerner fits the profile I’ve outlined: it’s huge, profitable and what’s more, in need of a product to fill the physician niche it doesn’t own. If you think Cerner could just build its own physician presence, look at GE’s decision to drop doctor-oriented Centricity Advance. Clearly getting doctors to buy was  much harder than it looked at first glance.

Cerner doesn’t need athena to build its margins: analysts expect it to see sales growth of 13+ percent this year, to $2.5 billion or so. It should also see earnings growth of 22+ percent to $2.25 per share.

Buying athena would give Cerner a critical medical practice presence, and at the same time, let athena keep its customers happy without forcing it to play only for a Wall Street audience. In this situation, at least, maybe an EMR vendor can have its cash and eat it too.

Epic, Cerner Best For ACOs? Say What?

Posted on September 29, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly sure what an Accountable Care Organization is. In fact, I’m betting nobody is — there’s a bunch of harrumphing and throat clearing out there, but I haven’t seen any crystal-clear descriptions out there.  Shall we say that ACOs are more honored in the breach than in the observance and leave it at that?

Now, we come to the puzzling part of this piece. If nobody’s managed to define an ACO clearly, how can any particular EMR be a better ACO tool than another?  We’ll have to ask KLAS about this one, since they’re the ones that discovered this “fact.”

Today, KLAS announced that it had interviewed 197 providers at 187 organizations to see how ACOs are forming up. A third of the respondents said that they were pursuing a formal Medicare ACO designation, and the majority were felt ACOs were the future, KLAS reported.

Sure, considering that ACOs are just risk-taking organizations with a capitated feel, some people already have a sense of what to expect. But throw an EMR into the mix and we’re in new territory — hopefully good territory, but new nonetheless.

So, tell me how providers know that Epic and Cerner are the most ACO-ready? Apparently, respondents believe that Cerner already has many of the IT pieces needed to run ACOs; moreover, they say Cerner is working closely with providers interested in the ACO model.

Survey takers also gave a nod to Epic, which they see as being close to ready (though behind in analyics and ability to share data with non-Epic users).

Wait a minute — let me get this straight.  Respondents know Cerner has the right pieces, even though the ACO doesn’t exist yet?  They like Epic, even though it doesn’t share data outside of its walled garden?  KLAS is kidding, right?

At this point, I’ll be kind and say that Epic and Cerner users are a bit brainwashed, which I too might be if I’d spent the kind of money those folks have on an EMR.

But the voice in my suggests that KLAS might have had its finger on the scales just a little bit. I will not publicly state that Allscripts, CPSI, GE Healthcare, McKesson, MEDITECH, QuadraMed and Siemens scored worse because they didn’t pay for play…but something sure isn’t right here.

 

 

 

EMR Needs Differ By Specialty – KLAS Doesn’t Differentiate Them

Posted on May 17, 2011 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.

John’s Note: I got the following message from an EMR vendor a while back. I’ve removed the specific names of the EMR vendors to protect the innocent (and guilty in some cases). Plus, the names of the specific companies are tangential to the issue of ratings services like KLAS.

Many of you know that I’m generally opposed to EHR certification and ratings services are a close second. I don’t think these companies are evil, but I just think they provide very little value to the industry and doctors in particular. The comments below were intended for me and not necessarily as a blog post, but I think they’re worth sharing and considering. Hopefully it will help doctors better understand what they’re getting and not getting.

I’m sure this post will drive some interesting discussion in the comments.

I have been talking with [someone] at KLAS since HIMSS about WHY the KLAS data is either 1) Losing Relevance, or 2) Actually Misleading Providers.

[KLAS representative] told me in April that the average annual “accesses” to the KLAS data was about 17,000, while in 2010, they had over 14,000 through mid-April. Big trend change. ONC-driven, no doubt.

I had a discussion with [KLAS representative] at HIMSS and since, outlining how the KLAS data can and probably IS misleading clients. How? For instance….[EMR Vendor A] gets high marks…almost as high as [EMR Vendor B]
.
They have two “konfidence” checks on their data for the 6-25 provider practice size category (KLAS has 1-5, 6-25, and 25+, I believe as their categories, and vendors must submit their reference accounts in those partitions).

If you are a provider who sees high marks for [EMR Vendor A] in the 6-25 provider space…with all the good supporting comments…..well above the other vendors….you would probably rely on that data to decide they have to be on your short list. But everyone knows that [EMR Vendor A] serves mostly primary care and ob/gyn practices. They have adapted templates and have references for those accounts. What if you are an orthopedist or ophthalmologist…or other specialist. They have almost NO references for that. The KLAS data does not break it out. You may be badly mislead….and find out shortly after spending tens of thousands of dollars…that it wont work at all for you.

We have asked them to break out the data by specialty… they know who they are talking to. They know what each practice is. Not hard to add the question…so the data can be sliced that way. Tremendous value-add for ALL practices to know how the vendors break out. Guess what they are going to find out when they do that? And by the way…they ONLY gather data from accounts that have been installed and live for a certain period of time….no data on failed attempts or those that gave up using products.

KLAS agreed in principle it was a good idea to add specialty to their data. They even agreed to start doing it with the last reporting cycle, but didn’t have much time. All the data they have….not normalized by specialty.

LIKE THE GOVERNMENT, THEY ARE ASSUMING ALL SPECIALTIES CAN BE TREATED THE SAME AS FAR AS EMR ADOPTION GOES. Why do they think there is a 50-83% failure rate in the industry? Why has “meaningful use” not been defined for specialties before “certification” of a product can be decided? Does an orthopedist who does hip replacements, rotator cuff surgery and meniscus revisions…..report the same thing as doctors who treat diabetes, liver disease or other costly chronic-care conditions? Heck No.

I don’t think the market fully realizes how “homogenized” the KLAS data is….after all, if the average depth of the Mississippi River is only three feet…..why are there so many different size boats—-barges to sailboats—sailing in it each day?