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One Platform to Connect to All EHR Software

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I’ve talked for years with people who want to solve the problem of connecting their non-EHR software to all the EHR vendors out there. Entrepreneur after entrepeneur has asked me how they can connect their product to ALL the EHR vendors. It usually ends up being a question like, “Isn’t there just one company we could connect to that will connect us to all the EHR vendors out there?”

I’ve dreamed about this as well. In fact, I recently wrote a post on Hospital EMR and EHR titled “Meaningful Use Drove the Data Gathering” where I suggest things like “EHR data is a treasure trove of opportunity.” and “In the future, EHR vendors will be differentiated more on the marketplace of third party applications they support than on their own in house developed apps.”

The problem is that even if every EHR vendor were to open up their application to third party applications, a startup company doesn’t want to have to integrate with all 300+ EHR vendors out there. Instead, they’d much rather integrate with one company who can connect them to all the other EHR vendors.

While a simple solution to connect to every EHR isn’t available yet, In a recent chat with Thanh Tran, Founder of Zoeticx, he showed me the closest thing to this vision that I’ve seen.

This slide shows what Zoeticx has built so far and a little bit of their vision for the future. When I saw this slide, it looked very much like what I described above.
Zoeticx Data Platform

As the slide shows, it only connects to 4 EHR vendors (5 EHR software) right now. So, they still have a lot of work to do to make this model work across all 300+ EHR vendors. However, it displays a vision of what’s possible if a company like Zoeticx builds the right middleware to connect EHR software to third party software.

After talking with Thanh Tran, you could tell that he lived, breathed, and loved the middleware space. He understood what it took to build a great middleware. For example, Zoeticx has a number of applications that leverage the middleware that they’re building. Some might argue that this makes Zoeticx a product company and not a middleware company. However, those that say this don’t understand what it takes to make great middleware.

By Zoeticx having some applications which leverage their middleware, they accomplish a couple very important things. First, they are essentially “eating their own dog food” and get to see first hand the challenges of building an application that uses their middleware. This will improve the middleware product better than any other technique. Second, Zoeticx applications will serve as essentially a set of demo applications which can be used to demonstrate what’s possible. Without these essentially demo applications, it’s often hard for people to understand how an API like Zoeticx can be used.

Certainly it’s possible that the Zoeticx application business is so good that they don’t go after the middleware opportunity. However, knowing Thanh’s background makes me think that this is an unlikely possibility. He wants Zoeticx to be a middleware company.

Thanh Tran also said something really intriguing about the latest EHR that they connected to their universal patient clinical data model (Zoeticx Patient Clarity). He said that when they added the new EHR, they didn’t have to change the Zoeticx Patient Clarity side of the equation at all. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out as they connect to more and more EHR vendors.

In fact, I believe that’s the next key step for Zoeticx. They need to connect with the other EHR vendors. Although, my guess is that once they get enough momentum behind what they’re doing, then they can provide an API for EHR vendors and other software vendors to create a gateway to Zoeticx. Then, they’ll have something really powerful.

It’s still early for Zoeticx. We’ll see how they do at attracting third party applications to their platform. We’ll see how their gateways to EHR vendors go and how they’re able to scale up the number of EHR vendors they work with. However, their vision gave me some hope that we could have a simple model for entrepreneurs that want to connect their health IT software with multiple EHR software with one integration.

February 6, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 5000 articles with John having written over 2000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 9.3 million times. John also recently launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

The Good News About Patient Portals …

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I recently wrote that it’s not clear whether patient portals do much to improve health care.

Now a new study suggests they help in at least one area: medication adherence.

The research involved diabetic patients who were using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and had registered for online portal access. Among those who started using the system’s online refill function as their only method of getting the medication, “nonadherence” dropped 6 percent.

LDL or “bad” cholesterol also decreased.

The researchers concluded that “wider adoption of online refills may improve adherence.” No decline in nonadherence was seen in patients who didn’t use the online refill function.

The Kaiser Permanente study was published in the journal Medical Care.

The study included plenty of subjects — 8,705 people who used online refills and 9,055 who didn’t. But if there’s a cause-effect relationship at work in this study, you have to wonder in which direction it might run. Might the people who tend to take their medicine as prescribed be more likely to sign up for online refills in the first place?

Still, the study is an intriguing hint that patient portals might be worth at least some of the attention they’re getting. Nonadherence to medication regimens is a huge issue for health care because of both the human toll it takes and the inefficiency it fosters in the system.

Typical nonadherence rates are in the 30-60 percent range, depending on the condition, the medication and other factors, according to Medscape. It’s especially easy to slack off when symptoms disappear.

The study builds on another piece of good news for health IT. Researchers recently found that EMRs can make diabetes care better by rendering care coordination more efficient, as Katherine Rourke wrote here at EMR and HIPAA.

Portals are, of course, experiencing tremendous popularity because they help health care providers to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 patient-engagement requirements. But, as I wrote earlier, in a review of 46 studies related to portals, researchers didn’t find evidence for much in the way of patient benefits.

Physicians have a major job ahead of them if they’re to make full use of patient portals and receive the available federal incentives. Perhaps this study, modest as its results are, suggests that their efforts will have some benefit for the patients they serve.

 

January 14, 2014 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

Vendors Way (Seriously, Way) Behind In ICD-10 Readiness

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While providers are well aware that the consequences of failing to be ready for ICD-10 in time can be dire, that hasn’t kept them on track. In fact, according to a new report, providers have fallen further behind with ICD-10 milestones that they did back in February, reports Healthcare IT News.

But as you will see, it’s not necessarily the providers’ fault. In fact, if I were a provider, and my vendor was as behind as some apparently are right now, I would be beside myself.

Research from the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange found that some 50 percent of providers have completed the ICD-10 impact assessments. And about 50 percent of providers expect to begin external testing in the first half of 2014, Healthcare IT News notes.

But the study concludes that about 80 percent of healthcare providers will fail to complete their business changes and testing ICD-10 before 2014.

This may not be their fault. According to WEDI, 20 percent of vendors surveyed said they were halfway there or less developing products to support ICD-10. Even worse, 40 percent indicated they wouldn’t even have a finished product available until sometime in mid-2014, a situation which could create enormous problems for providers. (Wondering vendors are addressing the changeover? Here’s how one vendor has been handling the  problem.)

According to WEDI, the top three barriers to vendors completing their ICD-10 upgrades were customer readiness, competing priorities and other regulatory mandates. Personally, I’d argue that vendors have had plenty of time to get the ICD-10 act together. And I wouldn’t find any of those excuses compelling given the impact these delays are likely to have on my operations – - specifically, that special part of operations known as getting paid.  (But hey, maybe you’re a more forgiving type than me.)

With vendors falling behind on ICD-10 software updates and patches, providers are left having to wait — way too long — to begin tests of the downstream functions to come after testing, Judy Comitto, CIO at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in New Jersey, told Healthcare IT News: “I’m a bit disappointed, having reached out to these vendors that they are certainly not there yet.”  Sadly, I think more disappointment is yet to come.

December 23, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

ROI for EMR: Does It Even Make Sense Now?

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There’s a new data point to add to the debate over EMR return on investment.

Norton Healthcare Inc. in Louisville, Ky., has experienced a $12 million increase in federal reimbursement since it started using Epic, Louisville Business First reported. The health system, which operates five hospitals and a network of outpatient sites, is three years into a five-year, $200 million implementation.

Sounds like the beginning of some pretty good ROI. Or does it?

It’s hard to say.

ROI for records systems is notoriously hard to pin down. The word is that many hospitals don’t even try. And they might be onto something.

A revenue boost is a good sign. It’s often a result of improved coding and lower claims denial rates, as Colin Konschak of health care consulting firm Divurgent and Garrett Blair of Norfolk, Va.-based health system Sentara Healthcare recently wrote. And of course, there are the federal incentives for using an EMR — for hospitals, as much as $11 million over four years.

There’s also the rise in productivity that EMRs are expected to cause. At first, an EMR can slow down clinicians’ workflow and cost them and their organization money. But in time, the system could increase productivity.

But revenue is only part of the equation. Cost savings are the more important — and harder to calculate — factor.

Here are a few ways, as described by Konschak and Blair, that EMRs can help hospitals to save:

  • Less need for transcription.

  • Reduced use of staff time for copying and filing.

  • Reduced — often by 50-70 percent — use of preprinted forms.

  • Potentially lower malpractice premiums because of more complete documentation.

Many other potential benefits are probably real but are even less straightforward to measure. Features such as clinical decision support and electronic medical administration records, for example, could lead to reductions in medical errors — the types of mistakes the federal government no longer pays for. But measuring the money you saved from the errors you didn’t make is fairly abstract.

Many hospitals do little if anything to measure the return on their EMR investment, according to a study released by Beacon Partners last year. Healthcare Scene’s John Lynn wrote a few months ago that CIOs likely view the systems as a “necessary requirement of being a hospital today,” somewhat like cleaning supplies. So they don’t see the need to measure ROI.

To me, the “investment” part of ROI suggests that you have a choice. You put money into something now with the hope — but no guarantee — of a payoff later.

Building an imaging center on the edge of town or buying a surgical robot would probably be considered investments. Maintaining your buildings or upgrading your phones would not.

Doing something the government is making you do is not an investment. Given the reimbursement penalties that will eventually kick in for organizations that stick with paper, it’s hard to imagine that many hospital executives see EMR adoption as a matter choice.

The idea of ROI for EMR is probably outdated, a holdover from the days when having a system was optional. Hospital leaders are shopping for EMRs with an eye toward getting the best value for their money — just the way they shop for cleaning supplies, furniture or legal services.

You could say that as a society we’ve invested in the idea of EMRs and that we’re hoping for a payoff in terms of better outcomes and lower costs. But that doesn’t predict much about whether any particular hospital or doctor will see a dollar-and-cents ROI.

At Norton in Louisville, it sounds like they’re happy just to be recovering some of what they’re spending.

“It really does improve the continuity of care,” Norton’s chief medical officer, Dr. Steve Heilman, told Business First.

For now, it sounds like Norton is on track.

(Note: I work for Business First as a freelancer but didn’t write the story linked here.)

December 20, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

It’s Not The Health IT You Choose, But The Way You Talk About It

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With system upgrades taking shape across the country, IT is no longer just another another department in the hospital. More than ever, it’s integral to how healthcare organizations work and get paid.

But you don’t always see this shifting landscape reflected in hospitals’ leadership structures or practices.

That’s unfortunate. Getting the most out of  the billions being spent on health IT will require clear vision and skillful communication at the top levels, according to a December article in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association.

Doctors, nurses and other team members “must understand the nature of the changes—what the result of the changes will be, how their roles and work will be different, and why change is important,” author Tiankai Wang wrote.

Thoughtful language can go a long way toward minimizing staff resistance and making an implementation successful, explained Wang, a professor of health information management at Texas State University.

Leaders should practice “framing” by promoting the benefits of the technology, such as improved outcomes, lower costs and greater efficiency, Wang wrote. They should also use “rhetorical crafting” by using stories, analogies and other devices to make their message resonate.

Rhetorical crafting, according to Wang, “leverages a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to frame leaders’ message in a form that will connect more easily with staff and help them to embrace the possibilities of the coming change.”

He also advises using words such as “we” and “should” rather than “you” and “must” when talking about IT changes.

At a more fundamental level, though, IT leadership isn’t always valued in healthcare to the extent that other roles are. In 2013, average total cash compensation for chief information officers was eighth-highest of all hospital titles at about $316,000, Modern Healthcare reported.

And despite the growing importance of health IT, it’s also uncommon for hospital CIOs to be promoted to the roles of chief operating officer, president or CEO.

It does happen, though, as David Raths wrote in Healthcare Informatics. In perhaps the best known example, Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, which operates several hospitals, earlier this year named Yousuf Ahmad, who had previously served as CIO, to the chief executive role. Ahmad had also held other management roles, including president of the system’s physician group.

It’s likely a sign of the front-and-center role that IT is now taking at healthcare organizations everywhere.

December 13, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

EHR Helps Researchers Find Genetic Connections To Disease

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A group of researchers have completed a study which found new links between patients’ genetic profile and specific diseases by mining EMR data, reports a story in iHealthBeat.

The research, which was conducted by the Electronic Medical Records and Genomics Network, a consortium of medical research institutions including the Mayo Clinic and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, analyzed data from about 13,000 of EMRs.

The participants then grouped about 15,000 billing codes contained in the EMRs into 1,600 disease categories. Next, they looked for links to diseases in EMRs which contained DNA data.

The researchers, whose study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, found  63 new genetic links to diseases, ranging from skin cancer to anemia, iHealthBeat said.

The EMR study method, which is known as a phenome-wide association study, is a departure from the 13-year old genome-wide association model, which has been used to search for common mutations in the DNA of patients of people with the same diseases.

Co-author Joshua Denny, a biomedical informatics researcher at Vanderbilt, says that the newer method can help link seemingly unrelated symptoms, detect potentially harmful side effects of a drug, and help find new uses for drugs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg where translation medicine and EMRs are concerned. Using EMRs to conduct genomic research is becoming an increasingly popular exercise, cutting across a wide range of clinical disciplines.

And it’s not just institutional academic research houses getting into the act. For example, this summer a large northern Virginia hospital announced that it had struck a deal with a Massachusetts analytics firm to see if data mined from EMRs can better predict the risk of preterm live birth.

Now, genomics research is not for just any hospital — it’s obviously a major undertaking — but I think it’s likely more hospitals will get into the game. By this time next year I think there will be a crop of interesting new genomics projects mining EMRs. Although, it will be interesting to see how the 23andMe FDA battle impacts this as well.

December 5, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Are Patient Portals Really Helping Patients?

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One thing’s for sure about patient portals: They’re a hot commodity.

What’s less clear is how much good they’re doing for health care.

The popularity of patient portals stems from Meaningful Use Stage 2 patient-engagement requirements. The market for the products is expected to approach $900 million by 2017, up from $280 million in 2012, according to a report from Mountain View, Calif.-based research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Patients like at least one aspect of the portals — the ability to access their own medical records. In a recent Accenture study, more than 40 percent of consumers who can’t access their own records online said they’d consider switching doctors in order to get access.

But several recent studies suggest that currently available products have a way to go before they can consistently improve care, reduce costs or perhaps even increase patient engagement.

In a review of 46 studies, researchers found little evidence that portals were helping much of anything. The doctors from Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and other institutions wrote that it’s “unlikely that patient portals will have substantial effects on utilization or efficiency, at least in the near term.”

Some of the limitations of the products, they wrote, included “disparities in who accesses these portals and instances of suboptimal patient attitudes of their worth.” The portals typically gave patients options such as looking at their test results, refilling prescriptions and communicating with doctors.

Patient portals likely are most beneficial, the authors wrote, when they’re part of a more comprehensive quality-improvement strategy.

Another study also found that patients, in many cases, fail to see the value of a portal — or at least some parts of it. In questions about hypothetical features, consumers showed interest in “back-office” tasks such as seeing their own medical records. But clinical digital communication capabilities, such as online video consultations with doctors, failed to impress.

The bottom line was that patient portals “may act as a complement to health-care service delivery, while substitution for clinical in-person interactions may not be viewed positively.” In other words, most people just don’t seem to be ready to give up face time with their primary-care physician.

When MU2 starts on Jan. 1, physicians will be required to give their patients electronic access to their health records. The requirement went into effect for hospitals in October.

The U.S. health care system is, with government prodding, investing a huge sum in patient portals. The idea sounds empowering for patients. But given the lack of solid evidence for a benefit at this point, it’s concerning to think the money might be better spent on something else. Let’s hope that vendors and providers are soon able to turn portals into something with tangible benefits for quality care.

December 4, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

Epic Builds Lab Installations At Oregon University

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Epic Systems has agreed to build two lab installations of its EpicCare EMR at the Oregon Health & Science University, one to be used for medical informatics education, and the other giving the school access its source code on the research side, reports Healthcare IT News.

Though the school’s OHSU Healthcare system already runs EpicCare for its hospitals and clinics, students and teachers have had to rely on a basic installation of the open-source VistA system for OSHU’s EMR laboratory course.

According to HIN, this is Epic’s first partnership with an academic informatics program, and potentially an important turning point for the company, which has conducted research and development almost exclusively on its Verona, Wis. campus. (It does release its source code to commercial customers.) And the agreement didn’t come easily; In fact, the school spent several years persuading Epic to participate before it agreed to commit to an academic partnership, Healthcare IT News said.

In a press statement, OSHU notes that the EpicCare research environment should allow students to delve into usability, data analytics, simulation, interoperability,  patient safety and more. The school also expects to prepare prototypes of solutions to to real-world healthcare problems.

Students in both OHSU’s on-campus and distance learning programs will pursue coursework based on the Epic EMR, with classes using the live Epic environment beginning March 2014. Work students will undertake include learning to configure screens, implementing clinical decision support and generating reports.

While this isn’t quite the same thing, this agreement brings to mind a blog item by John in which he describes how prospective programmer hires at Elation are required to shadow a physician as part of their hiring process. In both cases, the people who will be working with the software are actually getting an idea of how the product is used in the field before they’re out serving commercial clients. Sadly, that’s still rare.

I think this will ultimately be a win for both Epic and OSHU. Epic will get a fresh set of insights into its product, and students will be prepared for a real world in which Epic plays a major part.

November 27, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

CA EMR Adoption Up, But Other Health IT Use Is Behind

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While California providers are stepping up their use of EMRs, they’re still behind on some other measures of health IT adoption, according to a new report by the California HealthCare Foundation.

First, the positives. California physicians who use EMRs grew from 37 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2013. The report also concluded that 50 percent of California hospitals used EMRs in 2012, compared with 13 percent in 2007, and that 65 percent of community health centers used EMRs in 2011, compared with 3 percent in 2005.

All that being said, California providers are behind when it comes to Meaningful Use. While 58 percent of them said in 2012 that they planned to participate in Meaningful Use, only 30 percent of California providers with EMRs had a system that met all of the program’s 12 objectives, notes iHealthBeat.

What’s more, California hospitals’ use of clinical support systems fell from 77 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2012, a pretty low number given that the national average of 97 percent use of such tools. Also, the state ranks 49th in the country for e-prescribing rates.

The researchers also note that providers seem less interested in health IT than consumers. The 57 percent of state residents who had access to their EMRs  used them to view their health records, e-mail physicians and schedule care appointments, iHealthBeat reported.

All told, the report comes as something of a surprise, given that over time, California has traditionally been at the leading edge of many healthcare industry trends. And it suggests that many California providers are missing out on increasingly well-documented opportunities to improve productivity. So let’s hope that traditionally cutting-edge providers take the nudge provided by this report seriously.

November 18, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Atlanta Hospital Sues Exec Over Allegedly Stolen Health Data

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In most cases of hospital data theft, you usually learn that a laptop was stolen or a PC hacked. But in this case, a hospital is claiming that one of its executives stole a wide array of data from the facility, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

In a complaint filed last week in Atlanta federal court, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta asserts that corporate audit advisor Sharon McCray stole a boatload of proprietary information. The list of compromised data includes PHI of children, DEA numbers, health provider license numbers for over 500 healthcare providers, financial information and more, the newspaper reports.

According to the Children’s complaint, McCray announced her resignation on October 16th, then on the 18th, began e-mailing the information to herself using a personal account. On the 21st, Children’s cut off her access to her corporate e-mail account, and the next day she was fired.

Not surprisingly, Children’s has demanded that McCray return the information, but as of the date of the filing, McCray had neither returned or destroyed the data nor permitted Children’s to inspect her personal computer, the hospital says. Children’s is asking a federal judge to force McCray to give back the information.

According to IT security firm Redspin, nearly 60 percent of the PHI breaches reported to HHS under notification rules involved a business associate, and 67 percent were the result of theft or loss. In other words, theft by an executive with the facility — if that is indeed what happened — is still an unusual occurrence.

But given the high commercial value of the PHI and medical practitioner data, I wouldn’t be surprised if hospital execs were tempted into theft. Hospitals are just going to have to monitor execs as closely they do front-line employees.

November 1, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.