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It’s Time To Work Together On Technology Research

Posted on September 12, 2018 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.

Bloggers like myself see a lot of data on the uptake of emerging technologies. My biggest sources are market research firms, which typically provide the 10,000-foot view of the technology landscape and broad changes the new toys might work in the healthcare industry. I also get a chance to read some great academic research, primarily papers focused on niche issues within a subset of health IT.

I’m always curious to see which new technologies and applications are rising to the top, and I’m also intrigued by developments in emerging sub-disciplines such as blockchain for patient data security.

However, I’d argue that if we’re going to take the next hill, health IT players need to balance research on long-term adoption trends with a better understanding of how clinicians actually use new technologies. Currently, we veer between the micro and macro view without looking at trends in a practical manner.

Let’s consider the following information I gathered from a recent report from market research firm Reaction Data.   According to the report, which tabulated responses from a survey of about 100 healthcare leaders, five technologies seem to top the charts as being set to work changes in healthcare.

The list is topped by telemedicine, which was cited by 29% of respondents, followed by artificial intelligence (20%), interoperability (15%), data analytics (13%) and mobile data (11%).

While this data may be useful to leaders of large organizations in making mid- to long-range plans, it doesn’t offer a lot of direction as to how clinicians will actually use the stuff. This may not be a fatal flaw, as it is important to have some idea what trends are headed, but it doesn’t do much to help with tactical planning.

On the flip side, consider a paper recently published by a researcher with Google Brain, the AI team within Google. The paper, by Google software engineer Peter Lui, describes a scheme in which providers could use AI technology to speed their patient documentation process.

Lui’s paper describes how AI might predict what a clinician will say in patient notes by digging into the content of prior notes on that patient. This would allow it to help doctors compose current notes on the fly.  While Lui seems to have found a way to make this work in principle, it’s still not clear how effective his scheme would be if put into day-to-day use.

I’m well aware that figuring out how to solve a problem is the work of vendors more than researchers. I also know that vendors may not be suited to look at the big picture in the way of outside market researcher firms can, or to conduct the kind of small studies the fuel academic research.

However, I think we’re at a moment in health IT that demands high-level research collaboration between all of the stakeholders involved.  I truly hate the word “disruptive” by this point, but I wouldn’t know how else to describe options like blockchain or AI. It’s worth breaking down a bunch of silos to make all of these exciting new pieces fit together.

eClinicalWorks Faces Additional Fine For Violating Terms Of Fraud Settlement

Posted on August 10, 2018 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.

In mid-2017, the news broke that EHR vendor eClinicalWorks had agreed to pay $155 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former employee. The government had accused the company of doctoring its code to cover the fact that its platform couldn’t pass certification testing,

Following the agreement with the government, eCW was hit with two class-action lawsuits related to the certification fraud, one filed by a group of clinicians over funds lost due to the certification and another by patients who say that data display errors may have affected their care.

Unfortunately for eCW, its legal troubles aren’t over. The vendor is now on the hook for a fine it incurred for failing to comply with the Corporate Integrity Agreement it signed as part of its settlement deal. The $132,500 fine probably won’t have a massive impact on the company, but it’s a reminder of how much trouble the certification problem continues to cause.

In signing the CIA, which will be in place for five years, eCW agreed to a number of things, including that it would adhere to software standards and practices, identify and address patient safety and certification issues and meet obligations to existing and future customers. eCW also promised to report patient safety issues in a timely manner.

Apparently, it didn’t do so, and that triggered the penalty stipulated in the CIA. Among the terms buried in the hefty CIA document is that the vendor would be fined $2,500 for each day eCW failed to establish and implement patient safety issues as reportable events. Somehow, the vendor let this go for almost two months. Bummer.

Of course, eCW leaders must be reeling. This has to have been the most painful year in the company’s history, without a doubt. Customers are understandably quite angry with eCW, and some of them are suing. Patients are suing. Its reputation has taken a major hit.

The financial implications of the settlement are staggering too. Very few companies could cover a $155 million payout without a struggle, and even if a business liability insurer is covering the loss, the settlement can’t be good for its relationships with financial institutions. It’s a mess I’d wish on no one.

On the other hand, am I being too harsh when I suggest that under the circumstances, letting a reporting problem go for 53 days doesn’t speak well of eCW’s recovery? Yes, I’m sure that keeping up with CIA requirements has been pretty burdensome, but we’re talking about survival here.

I’m not going to hazard a guess as to whether eCW is on the skids or just struggling to recover from a massive blow to its fundament. But geez, folks. Let’s hope you get on top of these issues soon. Violating the terms of the CIA within year two of the five-year agreement doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Nurse Satisfaction With EHRs Rises Dramatically, But Problems Remain

Posted on May 18, 2018 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.

In the past, nurses despised EHRs as much as doctors did – perhaps even more. In fact, in mid-2014, 92% of nurses surveyed weren’t satisfied with the EHR they used, according to a study by Black Book Research. But things have changed a lot since then, Black Book says. The following data is focused largely on hospital-based nursing, but I think many of these data points are relevant to medical practices too.

Despite their previous antipathy to EHR’s, as of Q2 2018, 96% of nurses told Black Book that they wouldn’t want to go back to using paper records. That score is up 24% since 2016, the research firm reports.

Part of the reason the nurses are happier is that they feel they’re getting the technical support they need. Eighty-eight percent of responding nurses said that their IT departments and administrators were responding quickly when they asked for EHR changes, as compared with 30% in 2016.

On the other hand, the study also noted that when hospitals outsource the EHR helpdesk, nurses don’t always like the experience. Twenty-one percent said their experience with the EHR’s call center didn’t meet their expectations for communication skills and product knowledge. On the other hand, that’s a huge improvement from 88% in 2016.

Not only that, RNs are eager to improve their EHR skillsets. Most nurses are now glad that they are skilled at using at least one EHR, and 65% believe that persons who are skilled at working with multiple systems are seen as highly-desirable job candidates by health systems.

Providers’ choice of EHR can be an advantage for some in attracting top dressing talented. Apparently, RNs are beginning to choose job openings for the EHR product and vendor the provider uses as an indication of how the working environment may be than the provider itself. Eighty percent of job-seeking RNs reported that the reputation of the hospital’s EHR system is one of the top three considerations impacting where they choose to work.

That being said, there are still some IT issues that concern nurses. Eighty-two percent of nurses in inpatient facilities said they don’t have computers in each room or handheld/mobile devices they can use to access the EHR. That number is down from 93% in 2016, but still high.

These statistics should be of great interest to both hospitals and physicians. Obviously, hospitals have an institutional interest in knowing how nurses feel about their EHR platform and how they supported. Meanwhile, while most average size practices don’t address the same IT issues faced by hospitals, it benefits them to know what their nurses are looking for in a system. There’s much to think about here.

Cloud-Based EHRs With Analytics Options Popular With Larger Physician Groups

Posted on April 20, 2018 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.

Ever wonder what large medical practices want from the EHRs these days? According to one study, the answer is “cloud-based systems with all the bells and whistles.”

Black Book Research just completed a six-month client satisfaction poll questioning members of large practices about their EHR preferences. The survey collected data from roughly 19,000 EHR users.

According to the survey, 30% of practices with more than 11 clinicians expect to replace their current EHR by 2021, primarily because they want a more customizable system. It’s not clear whether they are sure yet which vendors offer the best customization options, though it’s likely we’ll hear more about this soon enough.

Among groups planning an EHR replacement, what appealed to them most (with 93% ranking it as their preferred option) was cloud-based mobile solutions offering an array of analytical options. They’re looking for on-demand data and actionable insights into financial performance, compliance tracking and tools to manage contractual quality goals. Other popular features included telehealth/virtual support (87%) and speech recognition solutions for hands-free data entry (82%).

Among those practices that weren’t prepared for an EHR replacement, it seems that some are waiting to see how internal changes within Practice Fusion and eClinicalWorks play out. That’s not surprising given that both vendors boasted an over 93% customer loyalty level for Q1 2018.

The picture for practices with less than six or fewer physicians is considerably different, which shouldn’t surprise anybody given their lack of capital and staff time.  In many cases, these smaller practices haven’t optimized the EHRs they have in place, with many failing to use secure messaging, decision support and electronic data sharing or leverage tools that increase patient engagement.

Large practices and smaller ones do have a few things in common. Ninety-three percent of all sized medical and surgical practices using an installed, functional EHR system are using three basic EHR tools either frequently or always, specifically data repositories, order entry and results review.

On the other hand, few small to midsize groups use advanced features such as electronic messaging, clinical decision support, data sharing, patient engagement tools or interoperability support. Again, this is a world apart from the higher-end IT options the larger practices crave.

For the time being, the smaller practices may be able to hold their own. That being said, other surveys by Black Book suggest that the less-digitalized practices won’t be able to stay that way for long, at least if they want to keep the practice thriving.

A related 2018 Black Book survey of healthcare consumers concluded that 91% of patients under 50 prefer to work with digitally-based practices, especially practices that offer conductivity with other providers and modern portals giving them easy access to the health data via both phones and other devices.

Comprehensive Health Record Vs. Connected Health Record

Posted on March 26, 2018 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.

The “comprehensive health record” model is quite in vogue these days. Epic, in particular, is championing this model, which supplants existing EHR verbiage and integrates social determinants of health. “Most health systems know they have to go beyond their walls,” Epic CEO Judy Faulkner told Healthcare IT News. A number of other EMR vendors have followed Epic’s lead.

To date, however, most clinicians have yet to embrace this model, perhaps because they’re out of patience with the requirements imposed by EHRs. What’s more, the broader healthcare industry hasn’t reached a consensus on the subject. For example, a team of experts from UCSF argues that healthcare needs a “connected health record,” a much different animal than vendors like Epic are proposing.

The authors see today’s EHR as an “electronic file cabinet” which is poorly equipped to handle health activities and use cases such as shared care planning, genomics and personalized medicine, population health and public health, remote monitoring and sensors.

They contend that to create an interoperable healthcare ecosystem, we will need to move far beyond point-to-point, EHR-to-EHR connections. Instead, they suggest adding connections with patients and family caregivers, non-clinical providers such as school clinics for youth and community health centers. (They do agree with Faulkner that incorporating data on social determinants of health is important.)

Their connected health record ties more professionals together and adapts to new models of care. It would foster connections between primary care physicians, multiple specialists, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, laboratories, public health registries and new models of care such as ACOs. It would be adaptive rather than reactive.

For example, if the patient at home with cancer gets a fever, her temperature data would be transmitted to her primary care physician, her oncologist, her home care nurse and family caregiver. The care plan would evolve based on the recommendations of team members, and the revised vision would be accessible automatically to the entire care team. “A static, allegedly comprehensive health record misses the dynamics of an interactive, learning health system,” the authors say.

All that being said, this model still appears to be at the vision stage. Perhaps given its backing, the comprehensive health record seems to be getting far more attention. And arguably, attempting to integrate a good deal more data on patients into an EHR could be beneficial.

However, both models are largely untested, and both beg the question of whether building more content on an EHR skeleton can lead to transformation. On the other hand, while the concept of a connected health record is attractive, my sense is that the components needed to this happen have not matured yet.

Ultimately, it will be clinicians who decide which model actually works for them, not vendors or abstract thinkers. Let’s see which model makes the most sense to them.

Practice Fusion Drops Free Software Model

Posted on February 26, 2018 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.

More than a decade ago, an upstart company grabbed the health IT world’s attention when it rolled out a free advertising-based EMR. The company, Practice Fusion, wasn’t the only venture offering free EMR access. But its brash attitude and unapologetic defense of its business model won the industry’s grudging acceptance, and its occasional bouts of hyper-aggressive sales tactics actually made its story more interesting.

Now, in the wake of its $100 million agreement to sell out to Allscripts, the end of an era has arrived. The company has announced that it’s now switching to a paid subscription model, priced at $100 per physician per month, according to CNBC.

Prior to his 2015 ouster from the company, founder and then-CEO Ryan Howard had continued to insist that Practice Fusion software would always be free. Apparently, over the long run, this didn’t work out. (No need to shed any tears for Howard, by the way. He’s comfortably ensconced in a new venture called iBeat. The company is building a cellular smartwatch that monitors heart rhythms and calls emergency responders in a crisis.)

Most observers see the $100 million sale to Allscripts as a bad deal for Practice Fusion which, as my colleague John Lynn notes, had raised more than $157 million over its lifespan.

It seems fair to say that if the free EMR model was still working, Allscripts wouldn’t have been able to pick up Practice Fusion so cheaply.Its increasingly tarnished reputation can’t have helped either. The company has always pushed the envelope with its aggressive marketing strategies, but in recent years it pretty much burst the envelope open.

Two years ago, Practice Fusion got slapped by the FTC for engaging in deceptive consumer marketing practices. Its problems began in 2012 when it began to send out email messages to patients of providers who used its EMR. According to the agency, Practice Fusion never told consumers that the doctors didn’t send the email messages, nor informed them that their responses to the emails would be made public. It’s hard to tell whether this played a role in the firm’s seeming decline, but it certainly didn’t help.

In all fairness, Howard and his team deserve a great deal of credit for breaking ground in HIT. Offering doctors an alternative to the hugely expensive, doctor-hostile EMRs available to medical practices at the time was a big accomplishment and provided a lifeline for many medical practices. Unlike many of its old-school competitors, Practice Fusion was physician-centric and affordable, and that was no small feat either. But over time, its big idea didn’t prove out. Practice Fusion has been forced to admit that there’s no (even ad-based) lunch.

Let’s see what Allscripts does with Practice Fusion’s assets and whether it invests in its latest addition to the corporate family. My guess is that Allscripts will let its latest toy languish and eventually die, but you never know. Maybe Practice Fusion will be reborn.

E-Patient Update: Clinicians Who Email Patients Have Stronger Patient Relationships

Posted on January 26, 2018 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.

I don’t know about you, but before I signed up with Kaiser Permanente – which relies heavily on doctor-to-patient messaging via a portal – it was almost unthinkable for a primary care clinician to share their email address with me. Maybe I was dealing with old-fashioned folks, but in every other respect, most of my PCPs have seemed modern enough.

Few physicians have been willing to talk with me on the phone, either, though nurses and clinical assistants typically passed along messages. Yes, I know that it’s almost impossible for doctors to chat with patients these days, but it doesn’t change that this set-up impedes communication somewhat. (I know – no solution is perfect.)

Given these experiences, I was quite interested to read about a new study looking at modes of communication between doctors and patients in the good old days before EHR implementation. The study, which appeared in the European Journal for Person Centered Healthcare, compared how PCPs used cellphones, email messages and texts, as well as how these communication styles affected patient satisfaction.

To conduct the study, researchers conducted a 16-question survey of 149 Mid-Atlantic primary care providers. The survey took place in the year before the practices rolled out EHRs offering the ability to send secure messages to patients.

In short, researchers found that PCPs who gave patients their email addresses were more likely to engage in ongoing email conversations. When providers did this, patients reported higher overall satisfaction than with providers who didn’t share their address. Cellphone use and text messaging didn’t have this effect.

According to the authors, the study suggests that when providers share their email addresses, it may point to a stronger relationship with the patient in question. OK, I get that. But I’d go further and say that when doctors give patients their email address it can create a stronger patient relationship than they had before.

Look, I’m aware that historically, physicians have been understandably reluctant to share contact information with patients. Many doctors are already being pushed to the edge by existing demands on their time. They had good reason to fear that they would be deluged with messages, spending time for which they wouldn’t be reimbursed and incurring potential medical malpractice liability in the process.

Over time, though, it’s become clear that PCPs haven’t gotten as many messages as they expected. Also, researchers have found that physician-patient email exchanges improve the quality of care they deliver. Not only that, in some cases email messaging between doctors and patients has helped chronically-ill patients manage their conditions more effectively.

Of course, no communication style is right for everyone, and obviously, that includes doctors. But it seems that in many cases, ongoing messaging between physicians and patients may well be worth the trouble.

Clinicians File Class Action Suit Against eClinicalWorks

Posted on January 9, 2018 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.

EMR provider eClinicalWorks has been hit by another class action lawsuit, this time a suit led by clinicians, raising questions as to how much legal trouble the vendor can survive.

The new suit is the latest of a series of dominos falling on eCW. Its legal problems began in May of last year, when it was forced to settle a suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice for $155 million. The suit contended that eCW got its Meaningful Use certification by misrepresenting its capabilities.

Then, in November of last year, eCW was slammed with a class action lawsuit, this one demanding $1 billion. The suit alleged that by lying about the capabilities of its software, eCW “failed millions of patients by failing to maintain the integrity of patient records.”

Now, eCW faces another class action suit, this time led by primary care doctors. The suit alleges that because eCW’s software didn’t meet MU standards as promised, they lost government reimbursement. The suit asserts the eCW gave the PCPs “no reason to suspect that [it] had made false statements to obtain its certification.”

All of this is interesting in and of itself, but it doesn’t address the bigger question: Can eCW survive the legal firestorm that has engulfed the company?

eClinicalWorks is a private company, so I can’t offer detailed information on its finances, but it reported revenue of $130 million for the third quarter of 2017. If that’s a representative number, the company generates roughly half a billion dollars a year.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s not an infinite supply. The $155 million settlement has to have hurt (though I suppose it might have been covered in part or entirely by business liability insurance).

The other two lawsuits could prove more deadly. While it’s hard to predict whether a suit will go anywhere, there’s at least some chance that eCW will face a $1 billion judgment. Of course, even if it does lose the case, it will take effect only after several years of legal wrangling. Nonetheless, it seems likely that such a conclusion could bankrupt the company.

The other key question is whether eCW can hold onto its customers as lawsuit after lawsuit is filed. It might seem to some that eCW has been punished enough for its indiscretions, and that the additional lawsuits are largely part of a feeding frenzy. On the other hand, one might suggest that if eCW lied to all of its customers, it deserves to be forced out of business. It’s a flip of the coin at  this point.

Regardless, the suits do suggest that EMR vendors had better keep their noses clean. If they try to fool customers – or the feds – the results could be catastrophic.

Thoughts on Practice Fusion Raising $70 Million

Posted on September 24, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today, Practice Fusion announced that they have just closed a $70 million round of funding. This series D round of funding brings Practice Fusion’s total funding to $134 million and a valuation estimated at $700 million. The round was led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, OrbiMed Advisors, and Deerfield Management Company.

We’d heard that this round was close almost 2 months ago. I’m not sure what took them so long to finally close the round. I also found it interesting in this Forbes article about the funding round that “Practice Fusion leads vendors this year in acquiring Allscripts’ former customers.” I have a feeling Aprima might have something to say about that.

In that same article, Practice Fusion declined to disclose revenues, but Ryan Howard suggested that he expects Practice Fusion revenues to triple next year. Then, it was suggested in the article that payments from labs connected to Practice Fusion customers would make up a significant source of revenue. You might remember that Practice Fusion lost one revenue stream when Kareo decided to launch their own free EHR. Practice Fusion has since rolled out 3 new billing companies and so they could have made up that revenue.

The article also suggests that revenue is available from Pharma for mining the Practice Fusion data for insights. Then, they’ve always talked about the potential for pharma advertising in the Free EHR. I also had someone suggest to me recently that Practice Fusion could be making money off of selling leads to the various healthcare education companies out there. Considering the number of emails I get from these healthcare education companies, they definitely have money to spend on targeted leads.

The question I’ve asked for many years isn’t whether Practice Fusion has created value. No doubt their current user base and data set has value. The question that remains is whether they’ve created a company that merits a $700 million valuation and whether the $134 million investment will yield a quality return. Plus, can Practice Fusion build the company’s revenue while still maintaining physicians’ trust in Practice Fusion. They now have $70 million in funding to find out.

Aprima EHR’s Offline Functionality

Posted on August 29, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been writing for a number of years on the challenge that EMR downtime causes a clinic. In case you missed them, check out some of the following posts:
My EMR is DOWN!!!
Working Offline When Your EHR Isn’t Available
Cost of EHR Down Time
Reasons Your EHR Will Go Down
SaaS EHR Down Time vs. In House EHR Down Time

Not to mention Katherine Rourke’s recent post titled, “When The EMR Goes Down, Doctors Freak Out.” Obviously, downtime is a big problem as doctors become more reliant on their EHR software. Plus, as I state in some of the article, downtime is inevitable.

One of the most common comments I got on those posts was doctors asking why they couldn’t work in the EHR software even when it was down. My answer was usually that the EHR vendor could do that, but that it would require them to architect the EHR to be able to support offline use of the EHR and that wasn’t a simple task.

Turns out that Aprima has built this functionality into their EHR called Aprima Replication. Here’s their description of the replication feature:

Every installation of Aprima EHR includes the Replication functionality. This allows physicians to continue working within patient charts when they are not able to be connected to their server (whether it is hosted locally in their office or in the cloud). They have identical functionality as if they were fully connected with the ability to look up or enter data, perform everyday tasks such as messaging and tasking, create orders, review results, etc. Everything is stored locally on their hard drive in a secure and encrypted environment and automatically syncs information the next time they are online whether that be over a mobile wireless connection, wifi + VPN over a public network, back in their office over a wired or wifi network, at home, or wherever and however they are able to connect. Additionally, all of the synchronization is done behind the scenes allowing the provider to continue working live without having to wait for the replication to complete.

Aprima Replication goes beyond other mobile technologies because this does not require connectivity, and even more importantly it is not simply a copy of the server that is “read only,” or a partial export of charts that leaves the server side locked until the provider “checks the chart back in.” This is fully functional on the provider side while disconnected AND allows others to also continue to make updates and changes to the chart, patient scheduling, handle all the needs surrounding coordination of care, billing and collections, etc. This can also be used as a great “downtime” alternative to paper in the event of an internet outage for those using the cloud or a server failure when running it locally.

I asked a couple follow up questions to clarify exactly how the offline EMR functionality worked. Here are my questions and their answers (originally an email exchange):
The challenge I have is understanding how the patient records are available without an internet connection. You can’t be downloading every single patient record locally are you?

In our unique, patent pending Replication process, every provider has a profile unique to their needs and preferences. This includes a subset of patients based on their previous schedule, future schedule, open orders and tasks, a specific facility they may be servicing such as a nursing home, their messages, attachments, (they can set size limits to address minimal bandwidth environments such as wireless air cards) etc. Based on these parameters the appropriate patient charts are “replicated” to their tablet/laptop computer. This is an ongoing, real-time process while they are connected to the network that keeps the data current. Any time they disconnect, or even lose connectivity if there is an outage, they continue to have full chart access for reviewing, adding, and editing as if they were still connected. As soon as connectivity is restored the synchronization starts up again and continues until all of their work, plus all of the work done simultaneously on the server side, is merged back together.

Does it just download some “active patient” list or the records for the patients on your schedule for some certain time period? It’s a really beautiful thing that you’re program can work without the internet. I assume all of the drug databases, etc are downloaded and available locally as well?

Yes, they are, including all drug interaction checking which remains fully functional while off line. Any orders for scripts, labs, diagnostics, or anything else, can be created offline and then processed when the computer is back in network range. So the script or order will be ‘staged’ and ready to go. It’s just like when you write an email when your offline, then when you get in range, the emails in your outbox just go.

The other question I have is how the records deal with multiple people modifying the record in a disconnected mode. What if the nurse accesses the record and documents something and then the doctor gets in and document something. Does the record get reconciled once it’s reconnected?

Yes indeed it does.

Are there every any issues that have to be reconciled manually?

There is a “collision” report. These “collisions” are rare but we do accommodate them very well. If a Replication “save” conflict occurs, a message will be sent to the user group that is defined to be notified. Replication conflict messages contain details of the conflict and the name of the associated patient if applicable.

The next time I see Aprima at a conference, I plan to check out this feature first hand. Reconciling a patient record that two people are editing can get pretty complex. I’d like to see how it handles it. Plus, I’d love to see how well it does at resyncing the data after being offline for a while. Not to mention how well it does at identifying the patient info it should have stored locally.

This is a really challenging feature to implement. I think it says something about Aprima that they took it on. If it works well, I know there are a lot of doctors that would love this feature in their EHR.