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Competition Heating Up For AI-Based Disease Management Players

Posted on May 21, 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.

Working in collaboration with a company offering personal electrocardiograms to consumers, researchers with the Mayo Clinic have developed a technology that detects a dangerous heart arrhythmia. In so doing, the two are joining the race to improve disease management using AI technology, a contest which should pay the winner off handsomely.

At the recent Heart Rhythm Scientific Sessions conference, Mayo and vendor AliveCor shared research showing that by augmenting AI with deep neural networks, they can successfully identify patients with congenital Long QT Syndrome even if their ECG is normal. The results were accomplished by applying AI from lead one of a 12-lead ECG.

While Mayo needs no introduction, AliveCor might. While it started out selling a heart rhythm product available to consumers, AliveCor describes itself as an AI company. Its products include KardiaMobile and KardiaBand, which are designed to detect atrial fibrillation and normal sinus rhythms on the spot.

In their statement, the partners noted that as many as 50% of patients with genetically-confirmed LQTS have a normal QT interval on standard ECG. It’s important to recognize underlying LQTS, as such patients are at increased risk of arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. They also note that that the inherited form affects 160,000 people in the US and causes 3,000 to 4,000 sudden deaths in children and young adults every year. So obviously, if this technology works as promised, it could be a big deal.

Aside from its medical value, what’s interesting about this announcement is that Mayo and AliveCor’s efforts seem to be part of a growing trend. For example, the FDA recently approved a product known as IDx-DR, the first AI technology capable of independently detecting diabetic retinopathy. The software can make basic recommendations without any physician involvement, which sounds pretty neat.

Before approving the software, the FDA reviewed data from parent company IDx, which performed a clinical study of 900 patients with diabetes across 10 primary care sites. The software accurately identified the presence of diabetic retinopathy 87.4% of the time and correctly identified those without the disease 89.5% of the time. I imagine an experienced ophthalmologist could beat that performance, but even virtuosos can’t get much higher than 90%.

And I shouldn’t forget the 1,000-ton presence of Google, which according to analyst firm CBInsights is making big bets that the future of healthcare will be structured data and AI. Among other things, Google is focusing on disease detection, including projects targeting diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, among other conditions. (The research firm notes that Google has actually started a limited commercial rollout of its diabetes management program.)

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff fascinating. Still, the AI future is still fuzzy. Clearly, it may do some great things for healthcare, but even Google is still the experimental stage. Don’t worry, though. If you’re following AI developments in healthcare you’ll have something new to read every day.

The Future of Small Medical Practices

Posted on December 27, 2017 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.

One of the questions I get most often relates to the future of small practices in healthcare. I’ve heard a lot of people make really great arguments for why small medical practices have an extremely challenging future in healthcare. We’ve all heard stories of large healthcare organizations eating up small medical practices left and right.

For the longest time, I’ve argued that this is all just part of a cycle of doctors selling to hospitals and then doctors hating life as an employed doctor and so they return to running their own practice. This cycle seems to be playing out and most doctors still hate being employees. However, there are a lot of other forces at play that makes it harder for doctors to go out and start their own independent medical practice again.

As I look at the biggest healthcare trends, none of them point to a brighter future for the small, independent medical practice. In fact, most of them make it even harder for small medical practices to survive.

For example, the shift to value based reimbursement is something that should be a great thing for small medical practices that have been known to provide the highest quality, personalized care. While this is true, must of value based reimbursement is as much about understanding and applying the data to a population in order to improve the overall health. How many small practices are going to be capable to do this type of data analysis?

If you extrapolate this further, it’s hard to imagine a future healthcare system that’s not built on the back of data. If that’s the case, he who holds the data holds the power. It’s worth asking if even the hospitals and health systems will be large enough to have the data they need on their patients. Or will even the largest hospitals and health systems need to work with massive companies like Google and Amazon who are currently collecting data at rates that no hospital could even consider?

This is a scary and exciting future that is a topic for another post. However, from a small practice perspective, this could be a good thing. If large corporations like Google and Amazon have the data needed to improve healthcare, then it’s possible that those corporations will enable small practices to survive. It could level the playing field for small practices that are trying to compete with large health systems.

What’s certain is that every healthcare organization is going to have to move beyond just the EHR. Sure, the EHR will be a requirement for every medical practice, but I believe it will only be the start. For small and large medical practices to survive, they’re going to have to start exploring what other technology they can implement to provide a better patient experience. The good thing is that small practices can be nimble and implement new technology quickly and without as much bureaucracy. The hard part is that they have to do so with a smaller budget.

What do you think about the future of small medical practices? Will they survive? Should we be making efforts to make sure they survive?

Will 2018 Be The Year Of The Health IT/Non-Health-IT Merger?

Posted on December 1, 2017 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.

Within the last several days, the news broke that Amazon Web Services would probably be doing some sort of far-reaching cloud deal with Cerner. Given that AWS is a nearly $20 billion cloud organization, and Cerner one of the largest health IT players in the game, a lot could happen here.

My guess, not that it’s any leap of imaginative genius, is that if the currently-rumored deal between the two partners works, Amazon will make a serious bid to buy out Cerner as a whole. Given the massive profits potentially at stake in health IT, the idea of such an acquisition seems credible to me, at least if Cerner’s stockholders approve. After all, isn’t Amazon the company that just did a multibillion-dollar buyout of Whole Foods to fuel its growing (but still relatively small-scale) efforts in food retailing?

Not only is this particular deal interesting, I think it may portend some major structural changes in the health IT business as a whole. Specifically, I think we’re reaching a point where there will be a lot of pressure on companies with adequate cash and compatible goals to target HIT organizations, particularly if they need to scale up quickly and don’t have much internal knowledge on the subject.

And there’s no question that as healthcare settles into being a digital business, a range of digital businesses outside of healthcare will see that as an opportunity to step into such an important market. After all, how could they not want to be part of any organization that’s competing effectively in an industry that consumes a double-digit portion of the US GDP?

Over this period, many small internal workgroups outside healthcare will be transformed into scouting units seeking the next big digital healthcare deal. At the same time, these divisions will start forming quiet alliances strategic to their business, not only with giants like Cerner and Epic but also well-positioned startups in hot areas such as, say, blockchain security or supply chain management. (How could an ERP vendor not wonder how a healthcare supply chain management company running over blockchain could enhance their business?)

Then, of course, there are the more obvious moves which will bring a new critical mass of health IT customers, knowledge and talent to companies with a giant market presence already, such as Apple and Samsung.

Such M&A efforts won’t be optional. As Microsoft’s experience has proven in the past, and Amazon has apparently found more recently, you can’t just storm into the enterprise healthcare world and demand your cut, no matter how big a player you are. Getting there will take a well-finessed, mutually-fruitful agreement, if not an acquisition, even for a mega-company like Google/Alphabet.

Now, can I tell you which companies will be executing on such deals next year? I have a few theories, but no specific intelligence to share that you couldn’t pick up on your own by skimming industry headlines. But I do stand by my prediction that by the end of 2018, we’ll have seen a few spectacular deals between HIT vendors and digital companies outside the industry that will have a major influence for years to come.

Google, Stanford Pilot “Digital Scribe” As Human Alternative

Posted on November 29, 2017 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.

Without a doubt, doctors benefit from the face-to-face contact with patients restored to them by scribe use; also, patients seem to like that they can talk freely without waiting for doctors to catch up with their typing. Unfortunately, though, putting scribes in place to gather EMR information can be pricey.

But what if human scribes could be replaced by digital versions, ones which interpreted the content of office visits using speech recognition and machine learning tools which automatically entered that data into an EHR system? Could this be done effectively, safely and affordably? (Side Note: John proposed something similar happening with what he called the Video EHR back in 2006.)

We don’t know the answer yet, but we may find out soon. Working with Google, a Stanford University doctor is piloting the use of digital scribes at the family medicine clinic where he works. Dr. Steven Lin is conducting a 9-month long study of the concept at the clinic, which will include all nine doctors currently working there.

Patients can choose whether to participate or not. If they do opt in, researchers plan to protect their privacy by removing their protected health information from any data used in the study.

To capture the visit information, doctors will wear a microphone and record the session. Once the session is recorded, team members plan to use machine learning algorithms to detect patterns in the recordings that can be used to complete progress notes automatically.

As one might imagine, the purpose of the pilot is to see what challenges doctors face in using digital scribes. Not surprisingly, Dr. Lin (and doubtless, Google as well), hope to develop a digital scribe tool that can be used widely if the test goes well.

While the information Stanford is sharing on the pilot is intriguing in and of itself, there are a few questions I’d hope to see project leaders answer in the future:

  • Will the use of digital scribes save money over the cost of human scribes? How much?
  • How much human technical involvement will be necessary to make this work? If the answer is “a lot” can this approach scale up to widespread use?
  • How will providers do quality control? After all, even the best voice recognition software isn’t perfect. Unless there’s some form of human content oversight, mis-translated words could end up in patient records indefinitely – and that could lead to major problems.

Don’t get me wrong: I think this is a super idea, and if this approach works it could conceivably change EHR information gathering for the better. I just think it’s important that we consider some of the tradeoffs that we’ll inevitably face if it takes off after the pilot has come and gone.

Mercy Shares De-Identified Data With Medtronic

Posted on October 20, 2017 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.

Medtronic has always performed controlled clinical trials to check out the safety and performance of its medical devices. But this time, it’s doing something more.

Dublin-based Medtronic has signed a data-sharing agreement with Mercy, the fifth largest Catholic health system in the U.S.  Under the terms of the agreement, the two are establishing a new data sharing and analysis network intended to help gather clinical evidence for medical device innovation, the company said.

Working with Mercy Technology Services, Medtronic will capture de-identified data from about 80,000 Mercy patients with heart failure. The device maker will use that data to explore real-world factors governing their response to Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy, a heart failure treatment option which helps some patients.

Medtronic believes that the de-identified patient data Mercy supplies could help improve device performance, according to Dr. Rick Kuntz, senior vice president of strategic scientific operations with Medtronic. “Having the ability to study patient care pathways and conditions before and after exposure to a medical device is crucial to understanding how those devices perform outside of controlled clinical trial setting,” said Kuntz in a prepared statement.

Mercy’s agreement with Medtronic is not unique. In fact, academic medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and increasingly, broad-based technology giants are getting into the health data sharing game.

For example, earlier this year Google announced that it was expanding its partnerships with three high-profile academic medical centers under which they work to better analyze clinical data. According to Healthcare IT News, the partners will examine how machine learning can be used in clinical settings to sift through EMR data and find ways to improve outcomes.

“Advanced machine learning is mature enough to start accurately predicting medical events – such as whether patients will be hospitalized, how long they will stay, and whether the health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure,” said Google Brain Team researcher Katherine Chou in a blog post.

As with Mercy, the academic medical centers are sharing de-identified data. Chou says that offers plenty of information. “Machine learning can discover patterns in de-identified medical records to predict what is likely to happen next, and thus, anticipate the needs of the patients before they arise,” she wrote.

It’s worth pointing out that “de-identification” refers to a group of techniques for patient data protection which, according to NIST, include suppression of personal identifiers, replacing personal identifiers with an average value for the entire group of data, reporting personal identifiers as being within a given range, exchanging personal identifiers other information and swapping data between records.

It may someday become an issue when someone mixes up de-identification (which makes it quite difficult to define specific patients) and anonymization, a subcategory of de-identification whereby data can never be re-identified. Such confusion would, in short, be bad, as the difference between “de-identified” and “anonymized” matters.

In the meantime, though, de-identified data seems likely to help a wide variety of healthcare organizations do better work. As long as patient data stays private, much good can come of partnerships like the one underway at Mercy.

Amazon Attacking Health IT Opportunities

Posted on August 17, 2017 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.

Getting a footing in the health IT industry is more challenging than it looks. After all, even tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google haven’t managed to take over despite their evident interest in the field.

Apparently, that hasn’t daunted Amazon. The retail giant has pulled together a secret team dedicated to exploring new healthcare technology opportunities, according to a CNBC report. And unlike other companies attacking the space from outside, Amazon has a history of sliding its way into unexpected markets successfully.

According to CNBC the new team, which is named 1492, is working to find an easier way to extract data from EMRs as well as push data into them. In doing so, Amazon is going up against a very wide field of competitors ranging from small startups to the healthcare arms of giant tech vendors and consulting firms.

What distinguishes Amazon’s approach from its competitors is that the online retailer hopes to aggregate that data and make it available to consumers and their doctors, sources told CNBC. The story doesn’t say whether Amazon plans to sell this data, and I don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t here, but my bet is that if it can, Amazon will pitch the data to pharmaceutical companies. And where there’s a will there’s a way.

In addition to looking at data management opportunities, 1492 members are scouting out ways of repurposing Amazon’s existing technology for use in healthcare. As another article notes, some healthcare organizations have already begun experimenting with delivering routine medical information and even coaching surgeons on safety protocols using Amazon voice-based assistant Alexa.  The new group, for its part, will be looking for healthcare applications for existing Amazon products like the Echo and Dash Wand.

The 1492 group is also preparing to build a telemedicine platform. Your first thought might be that the industry doesn’t need another telemedicine platform, and generally speaking, you would probably be right.  But if Amazon can get its healthcare IT bona fides in order, and manages to attract enough doctors to its platform, it could be in a strong position to market those services to consumers.

Make no mistake: We should take Amazon’s health IT effort seriously. At first glance, healthcare may seem like an odd arena for a company best known for selling frying pans and socks and discount beauty supplies. But Amazon has expanded its focus many times over the years and has typically done better than people expected. It may do so this time as well.

By the way, the retailer is apparently still hiring people for the 1492 initiative. I doubt it’s easy to find the hiring manager in question, but if I were you I’d inquire. These jobs could pose some interesting challenges.

Google’s DeepMind Runs Afoul Of UK Regulators Over Patient Data Access

Posted on July 20, 2017 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.

Back in February, I recounted the tale of DeepMind, a standout AI startup acquired by Google a few years ago. In the story, I noted that DeepMind had announced that it would be working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees three hospitals, to test out its healthcare app

DeepMind’s healthcare app, Streams, is designed to help providers kick out patient status updates to physicians and nurses working with them. Under the terms of the deal, which was to span five years, DeepMind was supposed to gain access to 1.6 million patient records managed by the hospitals.

Now, the agreement seems to have collapsed under regulatory scrutiny. The UK’s data protection watchdog has ruled that DeepMind’s deal with the Trust “failed to comply with data protection law,” according to a story in Business Insider. The watchdog, known as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has spent a year investigating the deal, BI reports.

As it turns out, the agreement empowered the Trust hospitals to share the data without the patients’ prior knowledge, something that presumably wouldn’t fly in the U.S. either. This includes data, intended for use in developing the Streams’ app kidney monitoring technology, which includes info on whether people are HIV-positive, along with details of drug overdoses and abortions.

In its defense, DeepMind and the Royal Free Trust argued that patients had provided “implied consent” for such data sharing, given that the app was delivering “direct care” to patients using it. (Nice try. Got any other bridges you wanna sell?) Not surprisngly, that didn’t satisfy the ICO, which found several other shortcomings and how the data was handled as well.

While the ICO has concluded that the DeepMind/Royal Free Trust deal was illegal, it doesn’t plan to sanction either party, despite having the power to hand out fines of up to £500,000, BI said. But DeepMind, which set up his own independent review panel to oversee its data sharing agreements, privacy and security measures and product roadmaps last year, is taking a closer look at this deal. Way to self-police, guys! (Or maybe not.)

Not to be provincial, but what worries me about this is less the politics of UK patient protection laws, and bore the potential for Google subsidiaries to engage in other questionable data sharing activities. DeepMind has always said that they do not share patient data with its corporate parent, but while this might be true now, Google could do incalculable harm to patient privacy if they don’t maintain this firewall.

Hey, just consider that even for an entity the size of Google, healthcare data is an incredibly valuable asset. Reportedly, even street-level data thieves pay 10x for healthcare data as they do for, say, credit card numbers. It’s hard to even imagine what an entity the size of Google could do with such data if crunched in incredibly advanced ways. Let’s just say I don’t want to find out.

Unfortunately, as far as I know U.S. law hasn’t caught up with the idea of crime-by-analytics, which could be an issue even if an entity has legal possession of healthcare data. But I hope it does soon. The amount of harm this kind of data manipulation could do is immense.

The Healthcare AI Future, From Google’s DeepMind

Posted on February 22, 2017 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.

While much of its promise is still emerging, it’s hard to argue that AI has arrived in the health IT world. As I’ve written in a previous article, AI can already be used to mine EMR data in a sophisticated way, at least if you understand its limitations. It also seems poised to help providers predict the incidence and progress of diseases like congestive heart failure. And of course, there are scores of companies working on other AI-based healthcare projects. It’s all heady stuff.

Given AI’s potential, I was excited – though not surprised – to see that world-spanning Google has a dog in this fight. Google, which acquired British AI firm DeepMind Technologies a few years ago, is working on its own AI-based healthcare solutions. And while there’s no assurance that DeepMind knows things that its competitors don’t, its status as part of the world’s biggest data collector certainly comes with some advantages.

According to the New Scientist, DeepMind has begun working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees three hospitals. DeepMind has announced a five-year agreement with the trust, in which it will give it access to patient data. The Google-owned tech firm is using that data to develop and roll out its healthcare app, which is called Streams.

Streams is designed to help providers kick out alerts about a patient’s condition to the cellphone used by the doctor or nurse working with them, in the form of a news notification. At the outset, Streams will be used to find patients at risk of kidney problems, but over the term of the five-year agreement, the developers are likely to add other functions to the app, such as patient care coordination and detection of blood poisoning.

Streams will deliver its news to iPhones via push notifications, reminders or alerts. At present, given its focus on acute kidney injury, it will focus on processing information from key metrics like blood tests, patient observations and histories, then shoot a notice about any anomalies it finds to a clinician.

This is all part of an ongoing success story for DeepMind, which made quite a splash in 2016. For example, last year its AlphaGo program actually beat the world champion at Go, a 2,500-year-old strategy game invented in China which is still played today. DeepMind also achieved what it terms “the world’s most life-like speech synthesis” by creating raw waveforms. And that’s just a couple of examples of its prowess.

Oh, and did I mention – in an achievement that puts it in the “super-smart kid you love to hate” category – that DeepMind has seen three papers appear in prestigious journal Nature in less than two years? It’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from the brilliant minds at Google, which can afford the world’s biggest talents. But it’s still a bit intimidating.

In any event, if you haven’t heard of the company yet (and I admit I hadn’t) I’m confident you will soon. While the DeepMind team isn’t the only group of geniuses working on AI in healthcare, it can’t help but benefit immensely from being part of Google, which has not only unimaginable data sources but world-beating computing power at hand. If it can be done, they’re going to do it.

Dr. Google – Or at Least a WebMD Replacement

Posted on June 21, 2016 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.

We’ve all heard the talk about Dr. Google and how it’s the first place many of us reach out to with are various medical issues. Well, Dr. Google (my term, not there’s) is stepping up their game even more with their most recent announcement. Here’s an excerpt of the changes to a Google search for symptoms:

So starting in the coming days, when you ask Google about symptoms like “headache on one side,” we’ll show you a list of related conditions (“headache,” “migraine,” “tension headache,” “cluster headache,” “sinusitis,” and “common cold”). For individual symptoms like “headache,” we’ll also give you an overview description along with information on self-treatment options and what might warrant a doctor’s visit. By doing this, our goal is to help you to navigate and explore health conditions related to your symptoms, and quickly get to the point where you can do more in-depth research on the web or talk to a health professional.

Lest you think this is just Google, they have worked with some actual doctors on their results:

We worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show.

Although, Google did follow that up with a big disclaimer that they’re just a source of information and that it shouldn’t replace consulting a doctor for medical advice. Yeah, Google’s not quite ready to take on the liability of actually giving medical advice. So, take their results with that grain of salt.
Dr. Google
Of course, Google doesn’t have to worry about it. Millions already take their health-related search results with a grain of salt. I’d really say that this update is an algorithm tweak and an interface tweak more than it being a real change to the way Google does things.

If I’m WebMD, I’d be a bit worried by these tweaks by Google. Doesn’t what Google’s doing sound a lot like WebMD? However, I’m sure Google sends a ton of traffic WebMD’s way, so they won’t likely complain about things. At least not for now.

I’m sure most doctors’ reaction to this is likely covered by this coffee cup:
Dr Google - Google Search Replacement for Medical Degree
In response to this mug, e-Patient Dave provides an alternate and important perspective on the balance between an informed patient versus an arrogant, disrespectful patient. Like most things in life, it’s what you do with the information or tool that matters. It can be used for good or bad depending on how you approach it.

All of this said, the patient is becoming more empowered every day. Consumer driven healthcare is here to stay and Dr. Google is going to be one important tool in that toolbox for many patients.

Is Cerner Edging Up On Epic?

Posted on January 7, 2016 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.

At Verona, Wisc.-based Epic Systems, growth is a way of life. In fact, the EMR vendor now boasts a workforce of 9,400, which is estimated to be an increase of 1,400 staffers over the past year.

Not only that, Epic is confident enough to build cute. Its Campus 4, dubbed the “Wizards Academy Campus,” is designed to resemble the fictional Hogwarts school of Harry Potter fame — or if you’re academically-minded, England’s Oxford University. When completed this summer, Campus 4 will add 1,508 offices and 2,000 parking spaces to the Epic headquarters.

I could go on with details of the Disneyland Epic is making of its HQ, but you get the picture. Epic leaders are confident that they’re only going to expand their business, and they want to make sure the endless streams of young eggheads they recruit are impressed when they visit. My guess is that the Epic campus is being designed as a, well, campus speaks to the idea of seeing the company as a home. When I was 25, unique surroundings would have worked on me!

In any event, if I was running the place, I’d be pretty confident too. After all, if its own stats are correct, Epic software is either being used by or installed at 360 healthcare organizations in 10 countries. The EMR giant also reports that its platform manages records for 180 million Americans, or about 55 percent of the entire U.S. population. It also reported generating a not-so-shabby $1.8 billion in revenues for 2014.

But a little-noticed report issued by analyst firm KLAS last year raises questions as to whether the Epic steamroller can maintain its momentum. According to the report, which admittedly came out about a year ago, “the competition between Epic and Cerner is closer than it has been in years past as customers determine their future purchasing plans,” analysts wrote.

According to KLAS researchers, potential EMR buyers are largely legacy customers deciding how to upgrade. These potential customers are giving both Cerner and Epic a serous look, with the remainder split between Meditech and McKesson upgrades.

The KLAS summary doesn’t spell out exactly why researchers believe hospital leaders are beginning to take Cerner as seriously as Epic, but some common sense possibilities occur to me:

The price:  I’m not suggesting that Cerner comes cheap, but it’s become clear over the years that even very solvent institutions are struggling to pay for Epic technology. For example, when traditionally flush-with-cash Brigham and Women’s Hospital undershoots its expected surplus by $53 million due (at least in part) to its Epic install, it’s gotta mean something.

Budget overruns: More often than not, it seems that Epic rollouts end up costing a great deal more than expected. For example, when New York City-based Health and Hospital Corp. signed up to implement Epic in 2013, the deal weighed in at $302 million. Since then, the budget has climbed to $764 million, and overall costs could hit $1.4 billion. If I were still on the fence I’d find numbers like those more than a little concerning. And they’re far from unique.

Scarce specialists:  By the company’s own design, Epic specialists are hard to find. (Getting Epic certified seems to take an act of Congress.) It must be quite nerve-wracking to cut a deal with Epic knowing that Epic itself calls the shots on getting qualified help. No doubt this contributes to the high cost of Epic as well.

Despite its control of the U.S. market, Epic seems pretty sure that it has nowhere to go but up. But that’s what Microsoft thought before Google took hold. If that comparison bears any weight, the company that will lap up Epic’s business and reverse its hold on the U.S. market probably already exists. It may not be Cerner, but Epic will face meaningful competition sometime soon.