Looking at Slow EMR Adoption

Posted on May 25, 2010 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.

There’s been a whole lot of discussion going on in this post on EMR and HIPAA called Why EMR Efforts Are Proceeding Slowly. The comments are an interesting read for those interested in EMR adoption. However, Jack Callahan, Executive Vice President at SRSsoft, emailed me a very passionate response to that post. I couldn’t let a passionate response like that go relatively unseen in my email inbox, so here’s his response (published with permission):

A major reason why the rate of EMR adoption is so slow is that, despite vendor claims, the actual needs and priorities of the busy, practicing provider are not built in. I’ve worked closely with three EMR companies, and am aware of more than three hundred EMR products, almost all of which, like lemmings, have decided to follow the old CCHIT design-and-development pathway over the cliff. For them, the basic design criterion involves answering the question: “How can our EMR product more effectively generate an automatic Progress Note so the doctor doesn’t have to dictate it, thereby generating cost savings to pay for the EMR?”The answer to that question always seems to be: “Enter a boatload of data from each exam.” Since most of this is entered by the provider him or herself, this is very impractical, especially for busy providers with limited panels to see patients due to surgical or other procedures that generate their primary revenue. The current products pursuing certification have enormous amounts of irrelevant functionality, require way too much data entry, and are largely unusable, especially by specialists and surgeons.

To make an analogy, the current requirements and “certification” process basically dictate that an EMR should be like this:

It should have wings so it can fly, but be shaped like a dump truck because it has to carry a lot of data. It needs to have a half-track undercarriage to provide good traction, no matter the terrain, but it must also function like a submarine in case it ends up in water; further, it must be made totally of recycled, renewable-resource materials for environmental concerns. It must be able to dig deep holes, but also be able to hover; it must be capable of high speeds, but also of changing direction easily. Of course, it should seamlessly switch from any of these modes of operation to any other mode on the fly and without unreasonable delay. Further, it must be adaptable enough to be modified to whatever purpose each user wants, but without giving up a single one of the attributes above, just in case.

Providers must purchase the product with their own funds . . . but may qualify for ARRA reimbursements if they meet certain requirements. These requirements will not be clearly spelled out in advance, however, but will become increasing complex over the five-year reimbursement period, which will end up covering only a small portion of the cost of the product. To qualify for reimbursement, providers must show “Meaningful Use” of the product in their practice—i.e., they must show they can hover, dig holes, navigate underwater, cross a swamp, carry twelve tons of cargo, fly from point A to point B, and spit wooden nickels if requested . . . all without making any mistakes. These requirements will remain in effect even if the practice only needs a simple product that goes in circles around a track.

Any vendor will be allowed to produce these products, but all products will be subject to “certification” that proves they can do all of the above, and more. Every vendor’s product must to be able to exchange parts with every other vendor’s product . . . and with any government-designated agency as well; however, the parts to be exchanged are not specified at the time the product is made. There is no standard for how complex these devices will be to operate . . . vendors will differentiate their offerings by hiring trained users to demo for providers how easy to use their product is by performing “canned,” simple maneuvers that they have spent months, or years, demoing in the past. Vendors can also “guarantee” they have passed “certification” to providers, who may assume that this means that Meaningful Use is also guaranteed; however, vendors have no accountability for Meaningful Use, only for certification. That chicken will come home to roost in 2011.

Some providers see this conundrum more clearly than others. Those are the ones resisting the enthusiastic adoption of EMRs for reasons of incentives alone. But with the marketing and PR weight of more than three hundred vendors seeking certification, with $36 billion in incentives dangling from the government Giving Tree, with the threat of potential penalties for not buying one of the monstrosities above by 2015, and with the offices of ONC and HHS pushing for adoption under administration pressure, how many bad decisions are going to be made in the coming year?

Providers will do best to not use the ARRA incentives as a criterion for adopting an EMR. They should buy an EMR because it makes sense to improve their practice . . . and they should find one that truly fits the way they practice medicine. Meaningful Use should not mean hours of entering data into a menu-driven system. Converting from paper to electronic records provides probably 70% of the benefit of adopting the right EMR, and every single practice will benefit greatly from that alone. Anything else is gravy. And there is lots of gravy to be had, with the right choice. Unfortunately, a bad choice can leave you with a very expensive, unusable, “certified” monstrosity. There are lots of them already lining the roads along the EMR highway, especially where specialists are. And there will be many more starting in 2011 if practices don’t do their homework.