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Could Clinicians Create Better HIE Tools?

Posted on August 13, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Andy Oram.His post reminds me of when I asked “Is Full Healthcare Interoperability a Pipe Dream?

A tense and flustered discussion took place on Monday, August 11 during a routine meeting of the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup, a subcommittee set up by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), which takes responsibility for U.S. government efforts to support new IT initiatives in the health care field. The subject of their uncomfortable phone call was the interoperability of electronic health records (EHRs), the leading issue of health IT. A number of “user experience” reports from the field revealed that the situation is not good.

We have to look at the depth of the problem before hoping to shed light on a solution.

An interoperability showcase literally takes the center of the major health IT conference each year, HIMSS. When I have attended, they physically arranged their sessions around a large pavilion filled with booths and computer screens. But the material on display at the showcase is not the whiz-bang features and glossy displays found at most IT coventions (those appear on the exhibition floor at HIMSS), but just demonstrations of document exchange among EHR vendors.

The hoopla over interoperability at HIMSS suggests its importance to the health care industry. The ability to share coordination of care documents is the focus of current government incentives (Meaningful Use), anchoring Stage 2 and destined to be even more important (if Meaningful Use lasts) in Stage 3.

And for good reason: every time we see a specialist, or our parent moves from a hospital to a rehab facility, or our doctor even moves to another practice (an event that recently threw my wife’s medical records into exasperating limbo), we need record exchange. If we ever expect to track epidemics better or run analytics that can lower health case costs, interoperability will matter even more.

But take a look at extensive testing done by a team for the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, recently summarized in a posting by health IT expert Brian Ahier. When they dug into the documents being exchanged, researchers found that many vendors inserted the wrong codes for diagnoses or drugs, placed results in the wrong fields (leaving them inaccessible to recipients), and failed to include relevant data. You don’t have to be an XML programmer or standards expert to get the gist from a list of sample errors included with the study.

And that list covers only the problems found in the 19 organizations who showed enough politeness and concern for the public interest to submit samples–what about the many who ignored the researchers’ request?

A slightly different list of complaints came up at the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup meeting, although along similar lines. The participants in the call were concerned with errors, but also pointed out the woeful inadequacy of the EHR implementations in representing the complexities and variety of patient care. Some called for changes I find of questionable ethics (such as the ability to exclude certain information from the data exchange while leaving it in the doctor’s records) and complained that the documents exchanged were not easy for patients to read, a goal that was not part of the original requirements.

However, it’s worth pointing out that documents exchange would fall far short of true coordinated care, even if everything worked as the standards called for. Continuity of care documents, the most common format in current health information exchange, have only a superficial sliver of diagnoses, treatments, and other immediate concerns, but do not have space for patient histories. Data that patients can now collect, either through fitness devices or self-reporting, has no place to be recorded. This is why many health reformers call for adopting an entire new standard, FHIR, a suggestion recognized by the ONC as valid but postponed indefinitely because it’s such a big change. The failure to adopt current formats seems to become the justification for keeping on the same path.

Let’s take a step back. After all those standards, all those certifications, all those interoperability showcases, why does document exchange still fail?

The JAMIA article indicated that failure can be widely spread around. There are rarely villains in health care, only people pursuing business as usual when that is insufficient. Thus:

  • The Consolidated CDA standard itself could have been more precisely defined, indicating what to do for instance when values are missing from the record.

  • Certification tests can look deeper into documents, testing for instance that codes are recorded correctly. Although I don’t know why the interoperability showcase results don’t translate into real-world success, I would find it quite believable that vendors might focus on superficial goals (such as using the Direct protocols to exchange data) without determining whether that data is actually usable.

  • Meaningful Use requirements (already hundreds of pages long) could specify more details. One caller in the HIT Standards Committee session mentioned medication reconciliation as one such area.

The HIT Standards Committee agonized over whether to pursue broad goals, necessarily at a slow pace, or to seek a few achievable improvements in the process right away. In either case, what we have to look forward to is more meetings of committees, longer and more mind-numbing documents, heavier and heavier tests–infrastructure galore.

Meanwhile, the structure facilitating all this bureaucracy is crumbling. Many criticisms of Meaningful Use Stage 2 have been publicly aired–some during the HIT Standards Committee call–and Stage 3 now looks like a faint hope. Some journalists predict a doctor’s revolt. Instead of continuing on a path hated by everybody, including the people laying it out, maybe we need a new approach.

Software developers over the past couple decades have adopted a range of ways to involve the users of software in its design. Sometimes called agile or lean methodologies, these strategies roll out prototypes and even production systems for realistic testing. The strategies call for a whole retooling of the software development process, a change that would not come easily to slow-moving proprietary companies such as those dominating the EHR industry. But how would agile programming look in health care?

Instead of bringing a doctor in from time to time to explain what a clinical workflow looks like or to approve the screens put up by a product, clinicians would be actively designing the screens and the transitions between them as they work. They would discover what needs to be in front of a resident’s eyes as she enters the intensive care ward and what needs to be conveyed to the nurses’ station when an alarm goes off sixty feet away.

Clinicians can ensure that the information transferred is complete and holds value. They would not tolerate, as the products tested by the JAMIA team do, a document that reports a medication without including its dose, timing, and route of administration.

Not being software experts (for the most part), doctors can’t be expected to anticipate all problems, such as changes of data versions. They still need to work closely with standards experts and programmers.

It also should be mentioned that agile methods include rigorous testing, sometimes to the extent that programmers write tests before writing the code they are testing. So the process is by no means lax about programming errors and patient safety.

Finally, modern software teams maintain databases–often open to the users and even the general public–of reported errors. The health care field needs this kind of transparency. Clinicians need to be warned of possible problems with a software module.

What we’re talking about here is a design that creates a product intimately congruent with each site’s needs and workflow. The software is not imported into a clinical environment–much less imposed on one–but grows organically from it, as early developers of the VistA software at the Veterans Administration claimed to have done. Problems with document exchange would be caught immediately during such a process, and the programmers would work out a common format cooperatively–because that’s what the clinicians want them to do.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Saves Doctors’ Time

Posted on July 21, 2014 I Written By

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

I recently saw an older document from an EHR vendor that outlined some reasons why a doctor should take part in meaningful use stage 2. They suggested that meaningful use stage 2 would save our healthcare system money, save doctors’ and hospitals’ time and save lives.

All of these are noble goals worthy of consideration. If meaningful use could achieve this triple aim, then I think every doctor and healthcare organization would happily hop on this new triple aim. Let’s look at each and see how meaningful use stage 2 is doing with this meaningful use stage 2 triple aim:

Save Our Healthcare System Money – This one is interesting because many of the doctors I talk to are afraid that this is exactly what’s going to happen with meaningful use stage 2. They’re deeply afraid that meaningful use is really a way for the government to get access to a physician’s data so that they can pay the physician less. You have to remember that if we save the healthcare system money that means that some organization is going to get paid less.

While I think that the fear these doctors portray is a little overstated, it is true that the government wants the data to be able to pay people using that data. One could argue that a doctor doing good work has nothing to fear and it’s only the crooks that are over billing for their services are the ones that have to worry. Although, we know that data isn’t perfect and there will be collateral damage. I would just argue that the government doesn’t know what to even do with the data right now. So, we won’t see this change happen in the near future. We’ll see if they can achieve this goal long term.

Save Doctors’ and Hospitals’ Time – This suggestion is so ridiculous that I had to make it the title of the post. What I think is possible is that EHR adoption can save an organization time, but I think we need to be careful substituting EHR adoption with meaningful use. Sure, the EHR incentive money has pushed EHR adoption forward, but any time savings that has come from EHR adoption has been lost to the meaningful use check boxes that are required.

Save Lives – Once again, with this one you have to balance the idea of EHR adoption against meaningful use adoption. However, I am hopeful that things like clinical decision support, ePrescribing (ie. legible prescriptions) and a myriad of other things can save some people’s lives. This is hard to quantify, track and measure and so I don’t think we really know. I think there are anecdotal stories of times where care was improved and even lives saved because of something in an EHR. Certainly there’s also some evidence that EHRs can make care worse. Although, I think that is usually just as anecdotal as the lives saved. For now, I’d say this is a bit of a wash, but long term I like the potential of what EHRs can do to save lives. Although, I’m not sure that MU will be the basis for the lives saved.

TrueMU – When You Realize the MU Standards Are Too Low

Posted on May 15, 2014 I Written By

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

I’ve been writing about meaningful use a lot lately and the path forward for meaningful use. You may want to check out my post about Meaningful Use Being On the Ropes as one example. Although, even more important is this post about how meaningful use missed the patient engagement opportunity. Plus, my next post on LinkedIn is going to be about blowing up meaningful use.

In some ways, people are looking at what I write as a call to dumb down meaningful use. I don’t think that’s what I’m trying to do at all. I don’t think we should lower our standards of what we expect to get from EHR software. I just think that we should make it more meaningful. That’s why the example of patient engagement is an important one. A slight tweak to the meaningful use requirements and we’d actually get more patient engagement out of meaningful use for the same price.

I saw a great example of what I want to achieve in something called TrueMU by HelioMetrics. I think this line from their page says a lot:

“Healthcare providers are achieving Meaningful Use and realizing that standards are lower than the goals that they would like to set for their organizations.”

One of the problems with setting an expectation for people is that they then often go into default mode and just try to meet the expectation. This is happening with meaningful use. People see that as the standard they need to meet to be updated in their use of technology. If this artificial bar weren’t there, many of them would strive for even higher results.

The great part is that we can recognize this and fix it. We can think more strategically in how we’re using technology and achieve well beyond what’s defined in meaningful use. We just have to strategically make this part of our thinking.

I actually saw a lot of this happening with ICD-10. Many organizations saw ICD-10 and didn’t just choose to organize around trying to meet the ICD-10 standard. Instead, they created entire clinical documentation improvement (CDI) programs that would improve the quality of their documentation regardless of which standard they chose to use (or in this case chose to delay).

I wonder what results organizations are seeing when they stop focusing so much on meaningful use and instead focus on ways technology and EHR software can improve their organizations. If you have a story like this, I’d love to hear it.

Meaningful Use is On the Ropes

Posted on May 9, 2014 I Written By

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

We’re entering a really interesting and challenging time when it comes to meaningful use. We’ve often wrote about the inverse relationship between incentive and requirements that exists with meaningful use. As meaningful use stage 2 is now becoming a reality for many organizations and EHR vendors, the backlash against it is really starting to heat up.

If you don’t think this is the case, this slide from the HIT Policy Committee presentation says it a lot when it comes to organizations’ view of meaningful use stage 2.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Attesatation - May 2014

For those that can’t believe what they’re reading, you’re reading it right. 4 hospitals have attested to meaningful use stage 2 and 50 providers as of May 1st. Certainly it’s still relatively early for meaningful use stage 2, but these numbers provide a stark contrast when you think about the early rush to get EHR incentive money during meaningful use stage 1.

This article by Healthcare IT News goes into many of the strains that were seen in the HIT Policy Committee. Sounded like the healthcare IT version of Real Housewives. However, the point they’re discussing are really important and people on both sides have some really strong opinions.

My favorite quote is this one in reply to the idea that we don’t need EHR certification at this point: “Deputy national coordinator Jacob Reider, MD, disagreed. Ongoing certification is required to give physicians and hospitals the security they need when purchasing products.”

Looks like he stole that line from CCHIT (see also this one). What security and assurance does EHR Certification provide the end user? The idea is just so terribly flawed. The only assurance and security someone feels buying a certified EHR is that they can get the EHR ID number off the ONC-CHPL when they apply for the EHR incentive money. The EHR certification can’t even certify EHR to a standard so that they can share health data. EHR Certification should go away.

I’m also a huge fan of the movement in that committee to simplify and strip out the complexity of meaningful use. I wish they’d strip it down to just interoperability. Then, the numbers above would change dramatically. Although, I’ve learned that the legislation won’t let them go that simple. For example, the legislation requires that they include quality measures.

No matter which way they go, I think meaningful use is in a tenuous situation. It’s indeed on the ropes. It hasn’t quite fallen to the mat yet, but it might soon if something dramatic doesn’t happen to simplify it.

Meaningful Use Payouts Hit $19 Billion

Posted on February 12, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

The pace of meaningful use payouts has stayed strong of late, with CMS disclosing that it has disbursed more than $19 billion in EMR usage incentives. While hospitals have been particularly prone to stay on the meaningful use train, eligible providers are collecting their payouts too, according to Healthcare IT News.

According to CMS data, there were 440,998 registered providers participating in the federal EMR incentive program as of the end of 2013, who have to date received 19.2 billion in incentives.

About 88 percent of all eligible hospitals have been given EMR incentive payment so far, according to CMS officials.  Also, about 60 percent of Medicare eligible providers are meaningful users of EMRs, the agency reports.

And the meaningful use programs for Medicare and Medicaid are both active, with more than 340,000 eligible providers having received an incentive payments to their program. Medicaid eligible providers are distinctly less likely to be involved in the meaningful use program; only 20 percent of Medicaid EP’s are meaningful users.

What the Healthcare IT News article doesn’t discuss, but ought to, is that there is considerable evidence that many doctors are not willing to push beyond Stage 1 of meaningful use. Stats suggest that these doctors have little financial incentive to move ahead with Stage 2, and can’t afford the time or money to push through the MU 2 obstacles.

In other words, before CMS runs a victory lap, it might do well to see what’s happening with the doctors walking away from the program.

McKesson, Meditech Chosen As EHR Test Systems for Meaningful Use

Posted on January 23, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Here’s an interesting situation which is just popped up on my radar screen.  CMS and the ONC have chosen the first two vendors to serve as designated test EHR systems, and they’ve gone with McKesson and Meditech.

These test vendors are there to help eligible providers meet the requirements of Meaningful Use Stage 2.  To meet MU Stage 2 requirements, providers must successfully conduct at least one exchange test with a CMS-designated test EMR. (The providers can also meet the requirements by performing one electronic exchange of a summary of care document with a recipient using a different EMR technology.)

What intrigued me about this is that CMS and ONC are starting out with only two vendors for use as test EMR providers.  Given the diversity in the marketplace, you’d think that CMS would want to have fuller stock of vendors lined up before it went forward announcing its plans.

If I were an eligible provider going this route, I’d want to have the choice of a wider range test EMRs. Given how little real interoperability there is between EMRs, I’d like to know that I had a fallback position if my original tests didn’t work out.  After all, nothing I’ve read here suggests that EPs won’t have a chance to try again if the initial testing doesn’t go through, and if I were a provider, it’d be good to know that I could take the shot with other test EMRs. But I could be wrong, and that could have an effect on whether vendors see this as a win.

Let’s see if other substantial EMR vendors take up the ONC’s call to serve as test EMR participants.  It will be interesting to see whether vendors see participation as a credibility-raiser or a chance to get pantsed publicly if interoperating with their systems is a pain.

Should Doctors Say Goodbye To Meaningful Use?

Posted on January 7, 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 @annezieger on Twitter.

Of late there’s been a lot of concern about doctors exiting the Meaningful Use program, with many saying the financial reward was simply not worth the trouble. This trend, of course, has the medical world abuzz with discussion as to what will happen if doctors drop Meaningful Use like a stone.

Meanwhile, a few months ago, an EMR vendor brought the discussion more heat when it announced that it would no longer be Meaningful Use certified. ComChart Medical Software said, in a letter to the EMR community, “unfortunately, will not be able to meet the Stage 2 (or greater) Meaningful Use certification requirements as its requirements are technically extremely difficult to implement.”

If I were running a medical practice, and my vendor took away from me the choice of complying with Meaningful Use or not, I might be angry, but I might breathe a sigh of relief.  After all, complying with Stage 2 will be a major accomplishment for virtually any practice, and if my vendor takes the choice of complying or not complying with Meaningful Use out of my hands, I won’t have people breathing down my neck saying I’m not a team player.

But even if my vendor continues to support a certified EMR for now and into the future, it’s still worth wondering whether it’s worth the trouble for doctors, half of whom are in smallish practices that don’t have much of an IT budget.  After all, if my practice has completed Stage 1 I’ve already realized most of the financial benefits the program offers, notes Modern Healthcare.

So what do you think readers? Do the next stages of Meaningful Use pay off in other ways that make the struggle for compliance worth the trouble?

EMR Mandate Delay, Patient Focused EMR, and Guaranteed EHR Benefit

Posted on October 27, 2013 I Written By

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


This article makes some interesting points about the challenge of EMR. However, I don’t think there’s any shot that the EHR train is going to slow down. At the best there might be a delay in meaningful use stage 2. Although, that could be unlikely as well. P.S. There is no EMR Mandate.


Not true. It takes GREAT EMR design to do that. The regulations are just brutal and don’t focus on the patient.


It’s always beautiful for me to find someone tweeting a blog post I created 4 years earlier. The content is still quite good. Reminds me that I need to finish my EHR Benefits series.

Healthcare Standards – Opportunities and Challenges Remain for SNOMED CT, RxNorm and LOINC

Posted on October 22, 2013 I Written By

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

The following is a guest blog post by Brian Levy, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Health Language.
Levy Low Res

Health IT standards and interoperability go hand-in-hand. Going forward, the success of the industry’s movement towards greater health information exchange (HIE) will hinge on the successful uptake and adoption of standards that will ensure reliable communication between disparate systems.

Progress is being made in this area through both messaging and coding standards introduced as part of Meaningful Use (MU). Specifically, MU coding standards that draw on such industry-respected clinical vocabularies as RxNorm, SNOMED CT® and LOINC® have the potential to drive more accurate, detailed sharing of patient information to promote better decision-making and patient outcomes.

Effectively deploying and adopting these standards is a huge undertaking with responsibilities falling to both vendors and providers going forward. To survive in future of healthcare, EMR vendors will have to evolve to support current and future industry standards. Providers will also have to grow their knowledge base and become more aware of how standards impact care delivery—instead of simply relying on vendors to pick up the slack.

The ability to “normalize” data to support all of these standards will be critical to advancing interoperability and communication between healthcare providers. With so many federal health IT initiatives competing for resources, the integration and use of terminology management solutions will become an important element to any data normalization strategy.

As providers assess their current needs and vendors move towards more enhanced offerings to align with new standards, the combined effort should produce significant progress towards improved information sharing. In the meantime, many challenges and opportunities exist along the roadmap to full implementation and adoption.

Vendor Readiness

While the EMR vendor market hit $20 billion in 2012, recent surveys suggest that many will not have staying power for Stage 3 MU. And one of the primary reasons, according to a 2013 Black Book Market Research report, is lack of focus on usability. An earlier report also pointed to 2013 as the “year of the great EHR switch,” pointing to provider frustrations that their current EMRs do not address the complex connectivity and sophisticated interface requirements of the evolving regulatory landscape.

Stage 1 MU created an artificial opportunity for many vendors to enter the market through government incentive grants. Because most initial EMR systems were not designed with Stage 2 requirements for HIE standards in mind, many vendors may find that they are not in a position to fund the infrastructure advancements needed to support future interoperability.

For instance, many EMRs support ICD-9 or free text for the development of problem lists. Under Stage 2 MU, problem lists must now be built electronically using SNOMED CT, requiring EMR vendors to develop and put out new releases to support the conversion. In tandem with this requirement, EMRs will also have to be designed to support RxNorm and LOINC.

It’s a time of upheaval and financial investment in the EHR industry, and when the dust settles, healthcare providers will have designated the winners. The end-result will ultimately include those players that can support the long-term goals of industry interoperability movements.

Minimizing Workflow Impacts

In existence since 1965, the SNOMED CT code set has a long track record of success and international respect. A comprehensive hierarchical system that includes mappings to other industry terminology standards, the code set enables computers to understand medical language and act on it by organizing concepts into multiple levels of granularity.

Few would dispute the potential of SNOMED CT to enhance accuracy and address the detail needed to promote enhanced documentation practices, but the expansive nature of the code set is still not exhaustive. Searching and finding the SNOMED concepts to include in Problem lists often requires further expansion of synonyms and colloquial expressions commonly used in clinical practice.  In addition, an accurate SNOMED code may not equate to a billable ICD-10 code, potentially requiring clinicians to conduct multiple searches if EMR workflow is not carefully planned.

The challenge for healthcare organizations is two-fold when it comes to the complicated SNOMED CT conversion process. First, the conversion represents one more complex IT project that healthcare organizations must undertake  amid so many other competing initiatives. Second, the success of implementations will be diminished if clinician workflows are negatively impacted. With EMR documentation practices already requiring more time from a clinician’s day, the situation will only be exacerbated if multiple code searches are required to ensure regulatory compliance for MU and ICD-10.

Terminology conversion tools that leverage provider-friendly language can be a great asset to easing the burden by providing maps between ICD-9 or ICD-10 and SNOMED CT problems. Physicians search for the terms they are accustomed to using in the paper record, and terminology tools convert the terms to the best SNOMED CT and ICD-10 codes behind the scenes.

For example, a clinician may add fracture of femur to a problem list, but ICD-10 requires documentation of whether the fracture was open or closed, the laterality of the fracture and whether the fracture was healing. Provider-friendly terminology tools provide prompts for the additional elements needed and guide clinicians to the most appropriate choices without the need for multiple searches.

Improving Mapping Strategies Internally and Externally

Industry crosswalks and maps exist to help ease the transition to new standards like SNOMED CT, RxNorm and LOINC. While these tools provide a good starting point in most cases, there is simply not a gold standard map that will work for every case.

Consider RxNorm, a naming system that supports semantic interoperability between drug terminologies and pharmacy knowledge base systems. Working in tandem with SNOMED CT to improve accurate capture of patient information from external systems, RxNorm codes are now required as part of the CCD (Continuity of Care Document) and HL7 messages for capture of medication information.

While designing EHRs with the capability to send and receive RxNorm codes is the first step, healthcare providers will still require a method of converting codes from RxNorm to internal medicine systems and drug information and interactions databases like Medi-Span, First Databank, Micromedex and Multum. Another challenge to standardizing medication information is the use of free text. Many healthcare providers receive drug information that is not coded at all, requiring a specific, customized mapping.

LOINC, a universal standard for identifying medical laboratory observations, is particularly challenging in this arena. Because the industry is home to hundreds of local lab systems and thousands of local lab codes, creating a single industry mapping solution is nearly impossible. The process often requires that sophisticated algorithms be built by performing an analysis of individual lab tests that are conducted in a particular hospital.

By leveraging the expertise and sophistication of a terminology management solution, healthcare providers can more easily automate and customize mapping of patient data to standardized terminologies. Otherwise, IT departments must expend valuable staff time to build complex mapping systems to address the myriad of needs associated with an influx of new standards.

Conclusion

The healthcare industry has identified use of a common medical language as a key foundational component to advancing information sharing capabilities. By designating such standards as SNOMED CT, RxNorm and LOINC as MU requirements going forward, the industry is taking a progressive step forward to ensuring clinicians have more efficient access to better patient information.

It’s a critical step in the right direction, but the road to success is complex. Healthcare organizations that draw on the expertise of terminology management solutions will be able to achieve the end-goals of this movement much quicker and with fewer headaches than those trying to implement these complex standards on their own.

MGMA Raises Meaningful Use Stage 2 Concerns

Posted on August 26, 2013 I Written By

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

Becoming another of several groups asking for Meaningful Use changes, the head of the Medical Group Management Association has written a letter to HHS outlining several concerns the group has with Meaningful Use Stage 2.

In the letter, which was addressed to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, MGMA President and CEO Susan Turney raised several issues regarding the ability of her members to step up to Stage 2. She argued that physicians have a “diminished opportunity” to achieve Stage 2 compliance, and that as a result it would be unfair to impose Medicare reimbursement sanctions on her members. Turney argues that HHS should institute an “indefinite moratorium” on practices that have successfully nailed Stage 1 Meaningful Use requirements.

Why should HHS give practices a break?  The reason, she says, is that vendors are proving slow to produce Stage 2-certified products, leaving medical practices in the lurch. At the time of writing, Turney said, there were only 75 products and 21 complete EMRs certified for Stage 2 criteria, a small fraction of the more than 2,200 products and nearly 1,400 complete EMRs certified under 2011 criteria for ambulatory eligible professionals.

With vendors largely not ready yet to help practices through Stage 2, practices are likely to have little time to work on software upgrades or expect timely vendor support, she notes. And worse, EPs who invested big in Stage 1-certified EMRs might need to “rip and replace” them for a new one certified to meet Stage 2 if they want to avoid Medicare reimbursement cutback deadline.

On top of all of this, she notes, many practices are having to wait in line for Stage 2 upgrades of their EMR product behind practices adopting  an EMR for the first time. The wait is lengthened, meanwhile, by vendors’ attempts to cope with ICD-10 support, whose Oct. 1, 2014 deadline falls right in the middle of preparations for Meaningful Use Stage 2.

Turney makes a lot of sense in her comments. The vendor market clearly isn’t going to be able to keep up with ICD-10, MU upgrades and new installation within the same time period. I don’t know if an indefinite moratorium on Medicare penalties is the right policy response, but it should certainly be given some thought.

After all, punishing doctors who drop out of Meaningful Use due to factors beyond their control isn’t going to help anyone, either.