Patient Generated Data, Workflow and Usability Coming Into Focus for EHR Vendors

Posted on October 16, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

At the recent Medical Group Management Association annual conference (MGMA17), I made a point of visiting as many of the EHR vendors in the exhibit hall as I could so that I could ask them two questions:

  1. What are you working on right now, given that there is a bit of a lull between ONC requirements?
  2. How do EHRs and EHR vendors need to evolve over the next 5 years?

Below are some of the best responses I received.

Steve Dart, Senior Director of Product Management at AdvancedMD believes that both EHRs and EHR companies need to fundamentally change their paradigms in order to thrive over the next five years. “EHRs should facilitate the job that needs to get done rather than serve as a documentation repository,” says Dart. “What is that job? Helping patients live healthier lives while at the same helping physicians be happier at work. We really missed the boat during the Meaningful Use (MU) gold rush. We neither helped patients be healthier nor did we make physician lives easier. In fact, as an industry we generally made things more difficult for doctors.”

AdvancedMD is charting a new path forward, instead of just fixing their user interface (UI), they are rethinking their entire approach to their EHR. The company is taking full advantage of the lull in MU requirements by using the time to bring together designers, UI experts, physicians and office managers to design a brand new EHR. Dubbed the “connect the dots” strategy, AdvancedMD is centering their next generation on clinical and administrative workflows.

“When you think about it, healthcare is really just a journey of sequential workflows,” Dart explains. “A patient starts by experiencing symptoms, then moves to research physicians online, schedules an appointment, comes in for their visit, goes to get lab tests done, comes back to discuss the results and fills a prescription. What EHR companies have done is create whole bunch of point solutions for each one of these situations. What we haven’t done well is connect these all together with technology. We siloed everything. Instead what we need to realize is that each situation is actually a complex workflow and we journey from one workflow to another as patients. What we need now, and what AdvancedMD believes, is that we should build technology that enables these workflows – make them easier and more seamless for patients and physicians. Data collection, for example, should happen on devices that both doctors and patients already use and in a way that doesn’t detract from the visit.”

To illustrate that AdvancedMD is doing more than just giving their theory lip-service, Dart showed an early design prototype of an EHR interface that provides a longitudinal view of a practice. Instead of clicking down into one patient to order labs or renew prescriptions and then clicking down into the next patient to do the same, the new interface groups all lab orders together and all the prescriptions together. One click and the physician can see all that they need to do and clicks once to push the orders ahead. The new interface is highly intuitive and functional.

Juan Molina, VP of Strategy and Business Development at CareCloud also believes that EHRs need to radically change. “EHRs need to allow doctors and their staff to do their jobs better,” says Molina. “We have to stop asking doctors to be data entry clerks and documentation specialists. They need to go back to being 100% focused on the patient and providing care. As an industry we have focused too much on checking the box. We need to move beyond that through better use of technology – especially modern cloud-based architectures.”

Mollna is most excited about the potential of real-time analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the point of care. He feels that the promise of precision medicine and true personalized care will only be possible if “massive amounts of health data is crunched and context from that data delivered to the doctor at the time when they are seeing a patient.” CareCloud is using the freedom from compliance requirements to work on new partnerships for deep analytics, AI and patient experience (read about their partnership with First Data here).

It is refreshing to hear EHR companies talk about collaboration. Over the past several years it was frustrating to see vendors attempt to build everything themselves only to end up with inferior solutions to what was readily available in other industries from other vendors. Partnership and collaboration are a welcome shift in EHR strategy.

athenahealth is actively pursuing partnerships as part of their More Disruption Please (MDP) program. “We are constantly expanding and improving our cloud-based platform to align with our vision,” says Stephanie Zaremba, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at athenahealth. “We want to see a healthcare industry free from administrative burden, enabled to care for diverse and disparate populations, and one that ultimately lets doctors be doctors. We believe that the current paradigm of federal regulations hinders, rather than helps, our industry from making this vision a reality. The innovation we so desperately need can’t flourish in the confines of check-the-box requirements that do not grow and evolve with technological advances. But even if we’re stuck with the regulatory status quo, in the next five years, we hope that vendors will continue to embrace their collective potential, shifting from competitors to collaborators in an effort to create a more provider-friendly, patient-facing, and connective tech landscape that captures the full continuum of care.”

The announcement of the partnership between Pulse Systems and InteliChart at MGMA17 is a prime example of this newfound collaborative spirit. For years Pulse offered a perfectly serviceable patient portal, yet they recognized that they would never pour as much time and effort into that area of their solution versus a company like InteliChart.

“We are pursuing an open-EHR strategy,” explains Chris Walls, President & CEO of Pulse Systems. “Although we provide a comprehensive solution, we recognize that clients may not want every component from our stack. They may want to keep a best-of-breed solution that they already have in place. Rather than force our clients to change, we are working to ensure we can integrate and play nice with others.”

Pulse arrived at this open approach by listening closely to clients and prospects. What they found was an under-current of a best-of-breed approach. Physician offices wanted to use different tools and applications from different vendors but the lack of integration and internal IT resources forced them to go with a single monolithic solution instead.

Through this listening exercise, Pulse also realized that it was more than an EHR vendor to its clients. Many of their clients are smaller practices which do not have ready access to technical support. Rather than deflect their client’s calls for help with mundane things like anti-virus updates, internet connection issues and printer failures, they leaned into it. They created a dedicated IT Field Support team that handles calls for routine IT issues and will even fly out to help a client if needed.

By proactively helping their clients in this manner, Pulse has found that they reduce EHR issues down the road and they engender tremendous loyalty. When you think about it Pulse is essentially applying a Population Health approach to their own clients – offering preventative maintenance to avoid more costly support calls in the future.

Most impressive is how Greenway Health is using this lull in compliance requirements. “Now that we are freed from working on ONC compliance work, we are putting focus on customer requested enhancements” says Mark Janiszewski, EVP of Product Managmeent & Corporate Development at Greenway. “Much to the delight of our customers, we can now apply resources to the enhancements that they have asked for, but that were lower in priority compared to what was needed to comply with regulations and the Meaningful Use program.”

Greenway is also using their “found time” to take a serious look at EHR usability. They recognize that there is tension between physicians and EHR makers caused by the endless clicking and confusing user interfaces. Greenway is hoping to relieve that tension by collaborating with clients to improve their system. According to Janiszewski, the company has planned a series of customer visits where a team of designers and engineers can observe how people interact with their system over a 2-3 day period.

The team has already identified several areas of improvement after observing how admin staff were copying down ID numbers from one screen onto post-it notes in order to key it in on a different screen to bypass a lengthy click-path. The team is hard at work to ensure data is transferred across the system more seamlessly.

Over the next five years, Janiszewski believes that EHR companies will have to embrace the concept of multiple care settings and multiple data sources: “EHRs will need to have a higher degree of interoperability as patients move between care settings – from acute care to rehab to home care or from acute care to elder care. EHRs will also need to solve for Patient Generated Data. We are all wearing fitness trackers and using apps to track our health. This data needs to be incorporated in a meaningful way into the EHR. “

The responses from MGMA17 demonstrates that companies are well aware of the negative feelings healthcare providers have towards EHRs. What is very encouraging is that fixing the user interface is only one of many different solutions being pursued by EHR companies. Rather than myopically focusing on the shiny object in front of them, companies like Greenway, Pulse, athenahealth, CareCloud and AdvancedMD are taking a step back and looking at healthcare with a broader perspective in order to identify opportunities for improvement. It will be interesting to circle back with them a year from now to see what progress has been made.