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Eyes Wide Shut – Patient Engagement Pitfalls Prior to Meaningful Use Reporting Period

Posted on June 30, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a healthcare IT consultant and a hardcore data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, who fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

July 1, 2015 – the start of the Meaningful Use Stage 1 Year 2 reporting period for the hospital facilities within this provider integrated delivery network (IDN). The day the 50% online access measure gets real. The day the inpatient summary CCDA MUST be made available online within 36 hours of discharge. The day we must overcome a steady 65% patient portal decline rate.

A quick recap for those who haven’t followed this series (and refresher for those who have): this IDN has multiple hospital facilities, primary care, and specialty practices, on disparate EMRs, all connecting to an HIE and one enterprise patient portal. There are 8 primary EMRs and more than 20 distinct patient identification (MRN) pools. And many entities within this IDN are attempting to attest to Meaningful Use Stage 2 this year.

For the purposes of this post, I’m ignoring CMS and the ONC’s new proposed rule that would, if adopted, allow entities to attest to Meaningful Use Stage 1 OR 2 measures, using 2011 OR 2014 CEHRT (or some combination thereof). Even if the proposed rule were sensible, it came too late for the hospitals which must start their reporting period in the third calendar quarter of 2014 in order to complete before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. For this IDN, the proposed rule isn’t changing anything.

Believe me, I would have welcomed change.

The purpose of the so-called “patient engagement” core measures is just that: engage patients in their healthcare, and liberate the data so that patients are empowered to have meaningful conversations with their providers, and to make informed health decisions. The intent is a good one. The result of releasing the EMR’s compilation of chart data to recently-discharged patients may not be.

I answered the phone on a Saturday, while standing in the middle of a shopping mall with my 12 year-old daughter, to discover a distraught man and one of my help desk representatives on the line. The man’s wife had been recently released from the hospital; they had been provided patient portal access to receive and review her records, and they were bewildered by the information given. The medications listed on the document were not the same as those his wife regularly takes, the lab section did not have any context provided for why the tests were ordered or what the results mean, there were a number of lab results missing that he knew had been performed, and the problems list did not seem to have any correlation to the diagnoses provided for the encounter.

Just the kind of call an IT geek wants to receive.

How do you explain to an 84 year-old man that his wife’s inpatient summary record contains only a snapshot of the information that was captured during that specific hospital encounter, by resources at each point in the patient experience, with widely-varied roles and educational backgrounds, with varied attention to detail, and only a vague awareness of how that information would then be pulled together and presented by technology that was built to meet the bare minimum standards for perfect-world test scenarios required by government mandates?

How do you tell him that the lab results are only what was available at time of discharge, not the pathology reports that had to be sent out for analysis and would not come back in time to meet the 36-hour deadline?

How do you tell him that the reasons there are so many discrepancies between what he sees on the document and what is available on the full chart are data entry errors, new workflow processes that have not yet been widely adopted by each member of the care team, and technical differences between EMRs in the interpretation of the IHE’s XML standards for how these CCDA documents were to be created?

EMR vendors have responded to that last question with, “If you use our tethered portal, you won’t have that problem. Our portal can present the data from our CCDA just fine.” But this doesn’t take into account the patient experience. As a consumer, I ask you: would you use online banking if you had to sign on to a different website, with a different username and password, for each account within the same bank? Why should it be acceptable for managing health information online to be less convenient than managing financial information?

How do hospital clinical and IT staff navigate this increasingly-frequent scenario that is occurring: explaining the data that patients now see?

I’m working hard to establish a clear delineation between answering technical and clinical questions, because I am not – by any stretch of the imagination – a clinician. I can explain deviations in the records presentation, I can explain the data that is and is not available – and why (which is NOT generally well-received), and I can explain the logical processes for patients to get their clinical questions answered.

Solving the other half of this equation – clinicians who understand the technical nuances which have become patient-facing, and who incorporate that knowledge into regular patient engagement to insure patients understand the limitations of their newly-liberated data – proves more challenging. In order to engage patients in the way the CMS Meaningful Use program mandates, have we effectively created a new hybrid role requirement for our healthcare providers?

And what fresh new hell have we created for some patients who seek wisdom from all this information they’ve been given?

Caveat – if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re not the kind of patient who needs much explaining. You’re likely to do your own research on the data that’s presented on your CCDA outputs, and you have the context of the entire Meaningful Use initiative to understand why information is presented the way it is. But think – can your grandma read it and understand it on HER own?

One Platform to Connect to All EHR Software

Posted on 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 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 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 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.

The Good News About Patient Portals …

Posted on 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.

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.

 

ROI for EMR: Does It Even Make Sense Now?

Posted on 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.

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.)

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

Posted on 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.

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.

EHR Helps Researchers Find Genetic Connections To Disease

Posted on 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.

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.

Are Patient Portals Really Helping Patients?

Posted on 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.

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.

Is Your EMR Compromising Patient Privacy?

Posted on November 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.

Two prominent physicians this week pointed out a basic but, in the era of information as a commodity, sometimes overlooked truth about EMRs: They increase the number of people with access to your medical data thousands of times over.

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin said in a Wall Street Journal video panel on EMR and privacy that she dropped out of the Yale Medical Group and Medicare because she didn’t want her patients’ information to be part of an EMR.

She gave an example of why: Minkin, a gynecologist, once treated a patient for decreased libido. When the patient later visited a dermatologist in the Yale system, that sensitive bit of history appeared on a summary printout.

“She was outraged,” she told Journal reporter Melinda Beck. “She felt horrible that this dermatologist would know about her problem. She called us enraged for 10 or 15 minutes.”

Dr. Deborah Peel, an Austin psychiatrist and founder of the nonprofit group Patient Privacy Rights, said she’s concerned about the number of employees, vendors and others who can see patient records. Peel is a well-known privacy advocate but has been accused by some health IT leaders of scaremongering.

“What patients should be worried about is that they don’t have any control over the information,” she said. “It’s very different from the paper age where you knew where your records were. They were finite records and one person could look at them at a time.”

She added: “The kind of change in the number of people who can see and use your records is almost uncountable.”

Peel said the lack of privacy causes people to delay or avoid treatment for conditions such as cancer, depression and sexually transmitted infections.

But Dr. James Salwitz, a medical oncologist in New Jersey, said on the panel that the benefits of EMR, including greater coordination of care and reduced likelihood of medical errors, outweigh any risks.

The privacy debate doesn’t have clear answers. Paper records are, of course, not immune to being lost, stolen or mishandled.

In the case of Minkin’s patient, protests aside, it’s reasonable for each physician involved in her care to have access to the complete record. While she might not think certain parts of her history are relevant to particular doctors, spotting non-obvious connections is an astute clinician’s job. At any rate, even without an EMR, the same information might just as easily have landed with the dermatologist via fax.

That said, privacy advocates have legitimate concerns. Since it’s doubtful that healthcare will go back to paper, the best approach is to improve EMR technology and the procedures that go with it.

Plenty of work is underway.

For example, at the University of Texas at Arlington, researchers are leading a National Science Foundation project to keep healthcare data secure while ensuring that the anonymous records can be used for secondary analysis. They hope to produce groundbreaking algorithms and tools for identifying privacy leaks.

“It’s a fine line we’re walking,” Heng Huang, an associate professor at UT’s Arlington Computer Science & Engineering Department, said in a press release this month “We’re trying to preserve and protect sensitive data, but at the same time we’re trying to allow pertinent information to be read.”

When it comes to balancing technology with patient privacy, healthcare professionals will be walking a fine line for some time to come.

China’s EMR Market

Posted on October 30, 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.

Last week I wrote about what’s not happening in China: American firms getting a slice of the EMR market.

This time I thought it’d be interesting to look at what is happening with health IT in the world’s most populous country.

As I mentioned, that’s often easier said than done. The healthcare system has peculiarities, and the government doesn’t necessarily say what it’s planning. Some research firms have shied away from reporting on China’s EMR scene altogether.

But a case study released over the summer provides some fascinating market intelligence. The work by Arthur Daemmrich, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, follows Shanghai Kingstar Winning Software Co. Ltd. as its founder seeks to increase its growth rate.

Three options that Zhou Wei was considering as the first quarter of 2013 drew to a close included continuing to grow organically, merging with another company and expanding into other geographies, including South Asia or even the United States.

Points worth noting:

  • Winning, with 1,000 employees, competed for hospital IT projects with five other large firms. A few hundred smaller companies provided more specialized offerings.
  • The government owned more than 90 percent of the country’s hospitals.
  • Winning had achieved 50 percent revenue growth in 2012 and expected the same in 2013, but Zhou was not satisfied. He felt that even more rapid growth was needed.
  • In 2008, 1 percent of China’s hospitals were using EMRs. By 2012, about 32 percent of higher-ranked hospitals — tier-II and tier-III institutions — had EMRs.
  • Medical record-keeping in China came nearly to a halt during World War II and the country’s civil war. Many leftover records were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The country then began rebuilding its records infrastructure. Daemmrich wrote, “Outpatient visits and prescriptions were recorded on small booklets that patients kept and brought with them to the hospital or other specialized clinic. Most hospitals issued their own booklets, so patients could end up with several different sets of medical records at home.”
  • Zhou’s firm undertook a project at an 850-bed Chinese traditional medicine (TCM) hospital. At such institutions, treatments such as acupuncture and therapeutic massage are common. The company’s R&D director, Ma Wei Min, explained, “The interfaces of western medicine and TCM EMR systems are alike, because the patient flow paths at both kinds of hospitals are almost the same. But going back to the software writing stage, TCM EMRs required a different logic and very different terminology.”

It’s easy to get immersed in the health IT considerations of our own country and forget that other regions are undertaking similar efforts. In China, the goals of the EMR push are largely the same as they are in the United States, but it’s interesting how much local flavor comes into play. The fact that Winning’s founder was seeing 50 percent revenue growth but still expected more was amazing and speaks to the country’s pace of economic development. And the background on China’s record-keeping shows that the country’s task is not just to digitize processes that have long been in place, but to define exactly what a medical record is and how it should work.

4 Reasons U.S. EMR Firms Won’t Try China

Posted on October 23, 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.

If you have something to sell, chances are you’ve thought about selling it in China.

With a population of 1.35 billion, it’s become an attractive market for U.S. companies pushing everything from athletic shoes to light trucks to Tide. Given the natural limits of their home market, you’d assume that American EMR firms would eventually size up China’s nascent health IT scene.

And it’s likely they have. In a report a few years ago, 100 percent of vendors surveyed told the consulting firm Accenture that they saw global markets as an opportunity in the long term.

But health IT doesn’t export quite as easily as Pringles and KFC. I’ve seen China’s healthcare system up close several times, and if you ask me, making headway in the world’s most populous nation will be beyond difficult.

China, which is in the midst of its own health care reform, could certainly be tempting for companies such as Epic, McKesson and Cerner. As Benjamin Shobert wrote for Forbes, the country in 2009 extended basic health coverage to 97 percent of its citizens. It also promised to build 31,000 hospitals, upgrade 5,000 existing ones and train 150,000 new primary-care doctors.

McKinsey & Co. last year said health care spending in China would grow to $1 trillion in 2020 from $375 million in 2011.

Meanwhile, U.S. EMR companies are going to need new markets to conquer. Estimates of how much growth potential is left are many and varied. But no matter how you look at it, at some point every American healthcare organization of any size will have an EMR. Millennium Research Group last month predicted declining EMR-industry revenue from this year on because of “market saturation.”

Of course, plenty of IT firms, including Oracle and IBM, have a major presence in China. But the China market won’t happen in a significant way for U.S. health IT companies any time soon, and here’s why:

  • China’s healthcare is different. The private physician’s office that Americans are used to is more or less nonexistent. You go to a hospital-based clinic and see the doctor who’s available. Patient privacy hasn’t taken hold, so there could be other clinic-goers and family members milling about near — or in — your exam room. Chinese traditional medicine is practiced alongside the “Western” variety. Even with insurance, you typically pay up front and get reimbursed later. A U.S.-centric EMR would not map neatly onto China’s workflows. There’s an overview of China’s system here. I’ve written about a Chinese dental clinic here.
  • No one understands China’s health IT. OK, I’m sure some people do, and I hope they comment. But it’s a challenge. The health information firm KLAS Enterprises isn’t even attempting to cover China. A KLAS executive vice president, Jared Peterson, told Modern Healthcare, “The Chinese market, that’s a big mystery.” Meanwhile, Accenture omitted China from its 2010 report “Overview of International EMR/EHR Markets” because of “conflicting opinions of overall EMR maturity.”
  • The language barrier will be formidable. Epic CEO Judith Faulkner told Modern Healthcare how her company had adapted its system for another language. “We’ve only done it once, for Dutch,” she said in January 2012. “It’s a lot of mapping. It’s a task, but it hasn’t been that bad of a task.” But Dutch is not Chinese, and Chinese doesn’t use the Roman alphabet. I’m betting that when you throw Chinese characters into the mix, the conversion will be “that bad of a task” and then some.
  • Cloud-based systems could raise security issues. Some experts expect cloud-based services to play a significant role as health IT spreads to developing countries. But according to a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report, “Regulations requiring foreign firms to enter into joint cooperative arrangements with Chinese companies in order to offer cloud computing services may jeopardize the foreign firms’ information security arrangements.”

It’s worth mentioning that three years ago, China was mentioned as Cerner announced plans to develop global markets. It wanted to get into emerging regions before its U.S.-based competitors did.

There’s not much sign of life now in any China-related plans the company might have had, though. According to a message from Chad Haynes, managing director for Cerner Asia, on the firm’s website: “We look forward to improving the health of communities in ASEAN, China, and beyond.”

In the case of China, that could be a while.