Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

Who is Adopting EHRs and Why: ONC Turns up Some Surprises

Posted on December 15, 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.

A high-level view of the direction being taken by electronic health records in the U.S. comes from a recent data brief released by the Office of the National Coordinator. Their survey of physician motivations for adopting EHRs turns up some puzzling and unexpected findings. I’ll look at three issues in this article: the importance of Meaningful Use incentives and penalties, the role of information exchange, and who is or is not adopting EHRs.

Incentives and Penalties
The impact of the Meaningful Use bribes–sorry, I meant incentive payments–in the HITECH act are legendary: they touched off a mad rush to adopt technology that had previously aroused only tepid interest among most physicians, because they found the EHRs outrageously expensive, saw no advantage to their use, or just didn’t want to leave the comfort zone of pen and paper. The dramatic outcome of Stage 1, for instance, can be seen in the first chart of this PDF.

This month’s data brief reconfirms that incentives and penalties played a critical role during the period that Meaningful Use has been in play. In the brief’s Figure 3, incentives and penalties topped the list of reasons for adopting records, with nothing else coming even close (although the list was oddly chosen, leaving out credible reasons such as “EHRs are useful”).

The outsized role payments play is both strange and worrisome. Strange, because the typical $15,000 paid per physician doesn’t even start to cover the costs of converting from paper to an EHR, or even from one EHR to another. Worrisome, because the escalator (a favorite metaphor of former National Coordinator David Blumenthal) on which payments put physicians is leveling off. Funding in the HITECH act ends after Stage 3, and even those payments will be scrutinized by the incoming budget-conscious Congress.

In addition, Stage 2 attestations have been dismally low. Critics throughout the industry, smelling blood, have swooped in to call for scaling back, to suggest that meaningful use provisions be eased or weakened, or just to ask for a more concentrated focus on the key goal of interoperability.

The ONC knows full well that they have to cut back expectations as payments dry up, although penalties from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services can still provide some leverage. Already, the recent House budget has level-funded the ONC for next year. Last summer’s reorganization of the ONC was driven by the new reality. Recent initiatives at the ONC show a stronger zeal for creating and urging the adoption of standards, which would be consistent with the need to find a role appropriate to lean times.

Health Information Exchange
I am also puzzled by the emphasis this month’s data brief puts on health information exchange. Rationally speaking, it would make perfect sense for physicians to ramp up and streamline the sharing of patient data–that’s exactly what all the health care reformers are demanding that they do. Why should somebody ask a patient to expose himself to unnecessary radiation because an X-Ray hasn’t been sent over, or try to treat someone after surgery without knowing the discharge plan?

Actually, most physicians would. That’s how they have been operating for decades. Numerous articles find that most physicians don’t see the value of information exchange, and can profit from their ignorance of previous tests and treatments the patient has received.

And that’s probably why, after taking hundreds of millions of dollars from governments, the heavy-weight institutions called Health Information Exchanges have repeatedly thrown in the towel or been left gasping for breath. At least two generations of HIEs have come and gone, and the trade press is still searching for their value.

So I’m left scratching my head and asking: if doctors adopt EHRs for information exchange, are they getting what they paid for? Redemption may have arrived through the Direct project, an ONC-sponsored standard for a low-cost, relatively frictionless form of data exchange. Although the original goal was to make HIE as simple as email, the infrastructure required to protect privacy imposes more of a technical burden. So the ONC envisioned a network of Health Information Service Provider (HISP) organizations to play the role of middleman, and a number are now operating. According to Julie Maas of EMR Direct, nearly half a million people were using Direct in July 2014, and the number is expected to double the next time statistics are collected next February.

So far, although isolated studies have shown that HIEs improve outcomes and reduce costs, we haven’t seen these effects nationwide.

What Hinders Adoption
Some of the most intriguing statistics in the data brief concern who is adopting EHRs and what holds back others from doing so. The main dividing line is simply size: most big organizations have EHRs and most small ones don’t.

I have explored earlier the pressures of health care reform on small providers and the incentives to merge. Health care technology is a factor in the consolidation we’re seeing around the country. And we should probabaly look forward to more.

Americans have trouble feeling good about consolidation in any field. We’re nostalgic for small-town proprietors like the pharmacist in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We forget that the pharmacist in that movie nearly killed someone by filling a prescription incorrectly. In real life, large organizations can pursue quality in a host of ways unavailable to individuals.

One interesting finding in the data brief is that rural providers are adopting EHRs at the same rate as urban ones. So we can discard any stereotypes of country hick doctors letting teenagers set up the security on their PCs.

Lack of staff and lack of support are, however, major barriers to adoption. This is the last perplexing question I take from the data brief. Certainly, it can be hard to get support for choosing an EHR in the first place. (The Meaningful Use program set up Regional Extension Centers to partially fill the gap.) But after spending millions to install an EHR, aren’t clinicians getting support from the vendors?

Support apparently is not part of the package. Reports from the field tell me that vendors install the software, provide a few hours of training, and tip their hats good-bye. This is poetic justice toward physicians, who for decades have sent patients out weak and groggy with a prescription and a discharge sheet. Smart organizations set aside a major percentage of their EHR funding to training and support–but not everybody knows how to do this or has grasped the need for ongoing support.

I certainly changed some of my opinions about the adoption of EHRs after reading the ONC data brief. But the statistics don’t quite add up. We could use some more background in order to understand how to continue making progress.

Purpose of EHR Incentive Program According to CMS

Posted on September 9, 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.

When I was reading through the EHR Certification flexibility final rule, I found a really interesting part of the rule (pg.49-50) that describes what CMS sees as the purpose of the HITECH act and all the money their spending on EHR software:

The entire overarching purpose of the EHR Incentive Program is to move providers towards advanced use of health IT to support reductions in cost, increased access, and improved outcomes for patients.

It’s been one of my pet peeves lately. People always come on this site or on social media and say “that goes against the purpose of the HITECH act.” I often would reply, “what is the purpose of the HITECH act?”

My problem with people’s comments about the purpose of all this spending on EHR software is that purpose changes depending on perspective. I’ve written before about the misalignment between “incentives” and “purpose.”

While I think the purpose for something changes based on whose perspective you’re talking about, I think it’s really important to know where CMS is coming from when it comes to the EHR incentive money and meaningful use. Now we know. They made it quite clear in the final rule.

How do you think the EHR incentive money is doing at achieving CMS’ purpose?

What is Direct?

Posted on June 10, 2014 I Written By

Julie Maas is Founder and CEO of EMR Direct, a HISP (Health Information Service Provider) whose mission is to simplify interoperability in healthcare through the use of Direct messaging EHR integration and other applications. EMR Direct works with a large developer community to enable Direct for MU2 and other workflows using a custom, rapid-integration API that's part of the phiMail Direct Messaging platform. Julie is passionate about improving quality of care and software user experience, and manages ongoing interoperability testing within DirectTrust. Find Julie on Twitter @JulieWMaas.

John’s Update: Check out the full series of Direct Project blog posts by Julie Maas:

The specialist down the street insists he wants to receive your primary care doctor’s referrals, but only if it’s digital: “Sure, I’ll take your paper file referral sent via fax. But the service will cost an extra $20, to pay the scribe to digitize the record so I can properly incorporate the medical history.”

Does it really sound that far off? Search your feelings, Luke…

Will getting medical treatment using paper records soon be like trying to find somewhere to play that old mix tape you only have on cassette?  Sound crazy?  Try taking an x-ray film to a modern radiology department, and see if they still have a functioning light box anywhere to look at it.  It’s all digital now.

There are, of course, other factors.

Because MU2.

Because nobody, and I mean no small company and no large company, wants to be referred to as a data silo anymore.

Direct Exchange is a way of sending and receiving encrypted healthcare data, and certified EHRs must be able to speak it, beginning this year.  Adoption of Direct is increasing rapidly, and its secure transfer enables patient engagement as well as interoperability between systems that were previously dubbed silos.  Here is a brief overview of where Direct is currently required in the context of MU2 (please refer to certification and attestation requirements directly, for full details):

Certified ambulatory and acute EHRs need to use Direct for Transitions of Care (170.314(b)(1) and (b)(2)). They have to be able to Create a valid CCDA and Transmit it using Direct, and they have to be able to use Direct to Receive, Display, and Incorporate a CCDA. In the proposed MU 2015, the Direct piece may be de-coupled from the CCDA piece and modularized for certification purposes, but the end to end requirement would remain the same.

EHRs or their patient portal partner additionally need to demonstrate during certification that patients can View, Download, and Transmit via Direct their CCDA or a human readable version of it.  Yes, you heard correctly, I said patients.  As in patient engagement.

So, how does a healthcare provider get Direct?

1. Get a Direct account through your Direct-enabled EHR vendor

One way HIT vendors offer Direct is through a partnership with one or more HISPs (OpenEMR, QRS, Greenway, and others).  Others run their own HISPs (Cerner, athenahealth, and others).

2. Get a Direct account through an XD* HISP that’s connected to your EHR

HIT vendors alternatively enable access to Direct through an XD* plug-and-play (mostly) connector.  These “HISP-agnostic” EHRs allow healthcare organizations a choice between multiple XD*-capable HISPs when meeting MU2 measures (MEDITECH, Epic, Quadramed, and other EHRs have implemented Direct this way).  EMR Direct, MaxMD, Inpriva, and a few other HISPs offer XD* HISP services; not every HISP offers XD* service at this time.  Of course, there is a trade-off between this flexibility and the extra legwork required of the practice or hospital in setting up Direct.

3. Get a web-based or email client-based Direct account not tethered to an EHR or Personal Health Record (PHR)

 

Direct doesn’t have to be integrated into an EHR to transfer information digitally. Non-tethered accounts cannot attest to the sending side of (b)(2) nor the receiving side of (b)(1) on their own, but they can be Direct senders and receivers nonetheless, participating in Transitions of Care or data transfer for other purposes.  They may also be used to exchange health data with patients, billing companies, pharmacies, or other healthcare entities who are Direct-enabled. In fact, some very compelling use cases involve systems who may not have their own EHR, but want to receive digital transitions of care—one such example is skilled nursing facilities.

By the way, patients are also an integral part of the Direct ecosystem.  Several PHRs are already Direct-enabled, and more are on the way.

So, go digital and get your Direct address, and begin interoperating in the modern age!

The Time Has Finally Come for MU, It Really Is Now or Never

Posted on March 27, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lea Chatham.
Lea Chatham

The healthcare industry has been talking about Meaningful Use (MU) for years now. The program started in 2011, but there were discussions and planning going on years before that. It’s become a ubiquitous topic in healthcare publications and blogs. So much so that many providers probably still think that they have time to decide if they are really going to attest or not.

The truth is that 2014 is last year to initiate participation for Medicare to receive incentive payments. To avoid the first adjustment of 1%, providers must attest for Stage 1, Year 1 no later than the third quarter of 2014 (July 1 – September 30, 2014). You can still start MU in future years to avoid additional penalties, but you won’t get any incentives and you will still have the 1% deduction on your Medicare Part B Claims starting in 2015. That penalty doesn’t go away if you start MU in 2015 or 2016.

What this means is that the estimated 40% of America’s physicians who don’t’ have an EHR and haven’t yet begun to attest for MU have a decision to make—now. And there are essentially three options:

  1. Choose an EHR and attest in 2014
  2. Accept the penalty (which increases each year)
  3. Request a hardship exception.

Here is what you need to know about each of these options so you can make the right choice for your practice.

Choose an EHR & Attest

Over $16 billion in incentives has been paid out to providers who have been attesting for MU. If you start in 2014, you’ll still get $24,000 over three years for your efforts. You’ll also avoid the penalties, which start with 1% in 2015 and increase each year for a minimum of three years. The larger your Medicare pool of patients, the more sense this makes financially.

If you are going to adopt an EHR now, be sure to choose the right solution for your needs. Many of the providers who have not yet implemented an EHR, are small practices (10 or fewer providers). According to a survey conducted in January by SK&A, the smaller the practice, the lower the adoption rate. Small, independent practices don’t have staff, time, or money to waste. So it has to be right the first time. Take these factors into consideration:

  1. Cost: There are now free and low cost EHRs that can offer almost any specialty the tools they need to reap the benefits of an EHR.
  2. Cloud-based and Mobile: Its 2014, don’t choose an EHR unless it offers anytime, anywhere access and true mobile connectivity.
  3. 2014 Edition Certified for MU: As of January 1, 2014, you need a 2014 Edition certified EHR to attest for MU. Only about 12% of complete EHRs have this certification, which narrows the field.
  4. Total Integration: You can get more from your EHR if it is fully integrated with your practice management and billing system. You can meet MU and streamline many other functions. As a bonus it can actually increase both charges and collections. A UBM white paper showed that the average increase in revenue was $33,000 per FTE provider per year!

Accept the Penalty

So you are thinking you’ll just take the penalty. This may be because you don’t serve Medicare patients or at least not that many. It could also be that you are planning to retire soon and don’t think you’ll be around in another couple of years. But consider this, with MU, PQRS, and eRx penalties, it reaches over 10% in total adjustments to your Medicare Part B claims in five years. If you do start seeing more Medicare patients (as your patients age) or you don’t retire, 10% is nothing to sneeze at. If you are a solo doc and you generate an average of $30,000 a month and about 30% of your patients have Medicare, that’s $10,000 a month. A 10% cut adds up to $12,000 a year. To make that up, you would have to conduct about 100-120 more patient visits a year (if your average visit reimbursement is around $100-150).

And here is something else to consider. Perhaps you are willing to take that hit, and you are sure that you don’t want to attest for MU. But does that mean you don’t need to implement an EHR? Not these days. Patient expectations are changing, and to stay competitive you need to meet those expectations. A study conducted by the Optum Institute showed that 62% of patients want to correspond with their physician online and 75% are willing to view their medical records online. Another survey conducted by Deloitte showed that two-thirds of patient would consider switching to a physician who offers secure access to medical records online. You need patients to stay in business so take their changing needs seriously or you may struggle to stay competitive in changing times.

Request a Hardship Exception

The first thing that needs to be said here is that not everyone can apply for a hardship exception. If you’d like to attest for MU, but need more time AND you meet one or more of the criteria, then you should definitely consider this option. This is a summary, check the CMS tipsheet to find out more:

  1. Your area lacks the necessary infrastructure (i.e., no broadband)
  2. You’re a new provider
  3. Natural disaster or other unforeseen barrier
  4. Lack of face-to-face interaction with patients
  5. Practice in multiple locations
  6. EHR vendor issues (i.e., your current vendor was unable to certify for 2014 edition)

For most providers who are practicing full time in a single location and have not yet chosen an EHR, these exceptions won’t apply. This leaves you with choices and one and two above. You will still need to decide if you want to attest or not.

If you are still on the fence, consider this… Beyond MU, practices are facing the ICD-10 transition and a changing reimbursement landscape with ongoing reform from of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Technology can be a very effective tool to help you manage these changes and turn this set of challenges into an opportunity to optimize your practice and position your business for success no matter what comes your way.


About Lea Chatham

Lea Chatham is the Content Expert at Kareo, responsible for developing educational resources to help small medical practices improve their businesses. She joined Kareo after working at a small integrated health system for over five years developing marketing and educational tools and events for patients. Prior to that, Lea was a marketing coordinator for Medical Manager Health Systems, WebMD Practice Services, Emdeon, and Sage Software. She specializes in simplifying information about healthcare and healthcare technology for physicians, practice staff, and patients.

Meaningful Use Changes Focus to a To-Do List and Away from Patient Care

Posted on March 4, 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.

I was reading a message from a doctor recently that really struck me. He commented about the impact of meaningful use on his EHR use and said that he’s now “trying to figure out what to do next instead of trying to figure out what is wrong with a patient.”

I’m sure some doctors will come on here and argue why the person experiencing this is a bad doctor and why they should always be focused on patient care and not checking the next box. While there’s always a balance in everything we do, the comment from this doctor really struck me because it describes really well the way so many doctors are being trained to use their EHR. They literally have people auditing and tracking them to make sure that they’re checking the right check boxes so they can meet meaningful use. This type of hyper focus on checking the right boxes and punishment when you don’t changes the way someone practices medicine.

I always love when people comment that many doctors didn’t like the stethoscope when it came out. They use that story to explain that many doctors don’t like EHR software, but that they’ll come around the way they did with the stethoscope.

While there’s some merit in this analogy, I can’t imagine there was anyone watching how a doctor used the stethoscope to ensure that it was used in a specific manner. That’s what we have going on in the EHR world today. Meaningful use is so prescriptive in its requirements that it overwhelms a doctor to the point of affecting the quality of care they provide.

Think about the efforts that are being made by EHR vendors and EHR consultants to take the meaningful use load off of a doctor’s back. Everything from changing the design to meet the MU requirements without a major change to workflow to offloading as much of the meaningful use requirements to someone other than the doctor. If meaningful use really was of value for doctors, why would they have to go to all this effort to avoid doing it?

#HIMSS14 Highlights: the Snail’s Pace of Interoperability

Posted on February 26, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Ah, HIMSS. The frenetic pace. The ridiculously long exhibit hall. The aching feet. The Google Glass-ers. As I write this, day three for me is in full swing and I’ve finally managed to find some time to reflect on what I’ve seen, which includes a ridiculously long taxi queue at the airport, more pedicabs than I can count, beautiful weather and lots of familiar faces, which is what makes HIMSS so much fun. I’ve heard lots of buzzwords and sales talk, and seen only about an eighth of the exhibit hall, barely scratching the surface of what’s out there on the show floor.

Several common themes stand out based on the sessions and events I’ve been to, and the passions of those I’ve encountered. Whether it’s vendor breakfasts, social networking functions, exhibit elevator pitches or educational sessions, interoperability and engagement are still the buzzwords to beat. This particular HIMSS has given me a different perspective on each, and offered new insight into what’s happening with the Blue Button Connector. I’ll cover each of these in HIMSS Highlights posts over the next several weeks, starting with interoperability.

The industry seems far more realistic this year regarding interoperability – downright frustrated by the slow pace at which such a lofty goal is proceeding. Industry experts Brian Ahier and Shahid Shah perhaps expressed it best during a lively panel discussion at the Surescripts booth:

interoppanel

interoptweet3

interoptweet1

interoptweet2

Putting vendors’ feet to the fire will certainly initiate a quick and painful reaction, but probably not a sustainable one. True momentum will occur only when providers get singed a bit, too. Panelist comments at a Dell / Intel breakfast on analytics for accountable care brought this into sharper focus for me. The fact that too many disparate EMRs (and thus too many vendors poised to cause inertia) are making it hard for analytics to successfully be adopted and utilized at an enterprise level, highlights a bigger problem related to hindsight and strategy.

From my perspective – that of an industry observer and commentator – it seems many providers felt compelled to purchase EMRs because the federal government offered them money to do so, and hopefully just as many were optimistic about the role technology would play in positively affecting patient outcomes. Vendors saw a great business opportunity and moved quickly to develop systems that met Meaningful Use criteria (not necessarily going for best-fit as related to workflow needs and usability). Neither group truly knew what they were in store for, especially regarding longer term plans for health information exchange.

Providers now find themselves wanting to move forward with health information exchange and greater interoperability, but slowed down by the very IT systems they were so insistent on purchasing just a few years ago. Vendors (some more than others) are hesitant to crack open their products to allow data to truly flow from one system to another, and who can blame them? The EMR market, in particular, is poised to shrink, which begs the question, who will survive? What companies will be around at HIMSS 15 and 16? Those who keep their systems siloed, like Epic? Or those who are trying to break down the silos, such as Common Well Alliance members like athenahealth and Greenway?

It makes me wonder if providers wouldn’t have been better served with just had a handful of EMRs to choose from around the time of HITECH, all guaranteed to evolve as needed and play nicely with each other in the interest of health information exchange. Too many options have caused too many barriers. That’s not just my opinion, by the way. I’m willing to bet that a sizeable chunk of the 37,537 HIMSS 14 attendees would agree with me.

Do you disagree? Are providers (and patients) better served by more IT options than less? Let me know your thoughts, and impressions of interoperability advancement at HIMSS, in the comments below.

The State of the Meaningful Use

Posted on January 30, 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.

UPDATE:
If meaningful use were gone (ie. no more EHR incentive money or penalties requiring meaningful use), which parts of meaningful use would you remove from EHR immediately and which parts would you keep?
Responses:
*Michael Sherling, MD – Modernizing Medicine
*Shahid Shah – Influential Networks
*Joel Kanick – interfaceMD
*Michael Brozino – simplifyMD
*Dr. Michael Koriwchak
*Karen Knecht – Encore Health Resources

I recently wrote what’s been a really popular article on EMR and HIPAA called “Meaningful Use Program a Success…Depending on How You Measure Success.” I think we’re at an interesting point in the meaningful use program and it’s worth taking a step back and seeing where we’re at with meaningful use.

As I state in the other article, there’s no doubt that the EHR incentive money has moved the needle on EHR adoption. Those of us who believe that EHR holds lots of potential benefit to healthcare have to be happy about the amazing EHR adoption rate that has occurred thanks largely to $36 billion of EHR incentive money (we’ll save the question of whether we’ve gotten our money’s worth for another post).

While we could Monday Morning quarterback (appropriate football reference the week of the Super Bowl) the EHR incentive program and meaningful use, that won’t change the fact that it’s here and it’s not going anywhere. So, instead of asking whether we should have spent the money on EHR and whether we should have done meaningful use, I decided to take a deeper look at meaningful use and how we could improve the program. Which elements of meaningful use are really adding value and which parts of meaningful use should be removed? Or maybe it’s all great and we should just continue on the path we’re on.

I decided to use a simple approach to identify what’s good and what’s bad with meaningful use. I reached out to EHR vendors, doctors, practice managers, hospital executives, and other EHR experts and asked them a simple question. The answers to this question should provide a solid understanding of what’s meaningful in meaningful use and what’s not.

Here’s the question I asked:
If meaningful use were gone (ie. no more EHR incentive money or penalties requiring meaningful use), which parts of meaningful use would you remove from EHR immediately and which parts would you keep?

The concept is simple. If there wasn’t some outside influence (ie. government money) influencing the requirement to do meaningful use, which elements of MU actually provide value to the users of an EHR. Those that provide value will continue to be embraced by an EHR vendor and those that don’t will be removed. Plus, this is the reality of what’s going to happen once the EHR incentive money runs out, so let’s find this info out now.

I originally thought that this question would lead to a blog post with quotes from a variety of people offering their unique perspectives. However, every person who’s answered so far had so much to say on the topic, that each of their responses was worthy of a blog post of its own.

With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting all of the responses as separate posts across the network of Healthcare Scene blogs. I’ll link each of these blog posts at the bottom of this post as they are published.

Open Call for Participation
As I considered this, I realized that hundreds of other people might want to participate as well. As a health IT community I think we can make a real impact. So, I encourage everyone who reads this to publish their response to the question above.

If you have your own blog, publish it there and link back to this post so we can add your post to our list below. If you don’t have a blog, wish to remain anonymous, or would just rather have us publish it, we’re happy to publish it for you. Drop us a note on our contact us page and we can work out the details.

I believe this will become an incredible resource of information to better understand how to improve meaningful use. Once I’ve gathered a good number of responses, I’ll be reaching out to ONC and CMS to make sure they take in the body of contributed work as well. Hopefully this simple approach will be effective at gathering a response from more people than the convoluted rule making process was able to do.

Meaningful Use will go down as one of the most impactful things to hit healthcare IT and EHR in my lifetime. It behooves us to do what we can to make the most of meaningful use.

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

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?

Mulling Over EMR Market Consolidation

Posted on September 27, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I had the pleasure of attending a Technology Association of Georgia Health Society event last week on mobile health. It offered me a chance to chat with colleagues, and hear from a panel of payers, providers, startups and vendors on the current state of and predictions for mobile health. While networking beforehand, I found myself trying to succinctly answer a colleague’s question of, “Where do you see the EMR market heading in the next few years?”

My short answer was, “It is consolidating and will continue to consolidate.” I had more details and theories on the tip of my tongue, but didn’t get the chance to back up my statements before we were ushered in to the evening’s presentation. It was a big question – one that I think has only one correct answer, but also one that potentially has a variety of explanations behind that answer. Needless to say, I mulled it over that night and into the next day, when, coincidentally, I awoke to news of the Vitera/Greenway Medical deal.

If I had the chance to do it over again, I’d break my response down like this: Meaningful Use obviously provided incentive for businesses to get into the EMR game. Some were already in healthcare, while others were on the fringes. Combine those new industry entrants with companies that have provided EMRs since before HITECH, and you’re left with a crowded market.

Implementations and go lives coinciding with Stage 1 left many providers dissatisfied with the EMR experience thus far, but still willing to forge ahead. As they look to Stage 2, some realize their vendors – whom many are already disenchanted with – will not be up to the task of helping hospitals meet digital patient engagement quotas, among other Meaningful Use guidelines. And so began the rip and replace movement.

Vendors deemed not up to par looked at their options. Many took a step back and reassessed product development and strategy, deciding to either: get out of the healthcare game, close up shop altogether, merge with a competitor, or make themselves available for possible acquisition.

That’s one wave of consolidation. I’m fairly confident we’ll see another wave in the next 12 to 18 months, if it hasn’t already started. (I don’t think we’ll see too many Phoenix-type situations like Google.) As providers dive deeper into using technologies around Stage 2 engagement requirements, they’ll experience a second wave of acceptance or denial. At some point, the EMR replacement market will die down, providers will settle into the technology they’ve settled on, and purchases of new systems will stagnate. EMR sales will thus dry up a bit, forcing vendors to again look at their options. I would think that many will turn into consulting services once the demand for new software has died down.

Now that I’ve put pen to paper and laid out my thoughts, I wonder what readers predict. I encourage you to let me know whether I’m on the mark, totally off base, or somewhere in between.

Connecting the Dots Between S2MU and #HCSM

Posted on September 5, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I gave myself a pat on the back last week for attending Friday’s #HITsm chat. Moderator Brian Ahier (@ahier) and the usual suspects did a great job of zeroing in on the positives and negatives of what not only a delay to Stage 2 of Meaningful Use could look like, but what modifications to the requirements could look like as well.

As I mentioned during the chat, I feel that delaying it further would only delay the ultimate benefits we are all hoping healthcare IT like EMRs will bring to patient care. It will also add copious amounts of fuel to the already burning fire of provider discontent. Modification, however, might actually ease the burden on both providers and vendors. I’ll defer to the chat commentary, which you can view via the transcript.

If a recent CMS presentation on providers likely to incur Meaningful Use penalties is any indication, modifications might just let them breathe a small sigh of relief and focus a bit more on their patients, rather than hurriedly struggling to meet IT deadlines with ill-fitting or non-certified products.

Concurrently with all of this Stage 2 coverage has been a rise in commentary on providers’ use of social media. I have to assume that physicians and hospitals are becoming more attuned to the benefits of social networking in light of the industry’s push towards more patient engagement. While hospital social media strategies may be considered an offshoot of engagement initiatives tied to Stage 2, I have a feeling providers are beginning to realize such strategies are a valuable means of marketing and education outreach in their own right.

It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between the types of doctors and hospitals CMS has identified as being most likely to incur Meaningful Use penalties and the social networking activity of that same group. I’d venture to say that providers at penalty risk don’t have social strategies in place, and face more systemic problems related to lower reimbursements, fewer resources, not enough qualified IT staff available, too many patients and not enough physicians, etc. It’s also probably safe to assume that providers that do have a social networking strategy have more resources, and have been able to devote those resources to preparation for Meaningful Use well before their less fortunate colleagues.

What do you think? Feel free to play devil’s advocate by leaving a comment below.