EHR Is the Database of Healthcare

I’ve been regularly writing and thinking for the past few months about something I’ve branded as the “Smart EMR.” Basically, the EMR of the future won’t be a repository of documents and information like before. Instead, doctors will have an expectation that the EMR is smart and can do something valuable with all the health information that’s stored in the EMR. I love this subject. I should put together a presentation on it and start touring it around the country, but I digress.

While at HIMSS I had the pleasure of talking with Sean Benson, VP of Innovation at Wolters Kluwer Health. In our discussion, he said something that hit me like a ton of bricks. He suggested that EHR software is the database of healthcare. The implication being that EHR software is good at collecting healthcare data and storing that data. What they’re not good at doing is actually providing the smart layer that goes on top of that data.

I’m sure that many who know about Wolters Kluwer Health’s (WKH) software offerings might see Sean’s view as bias since WKH, as best I can tell, wants to be the smart layer that goes on top of EHR software. In fact, they showed me some really interesting technology they have for processing all the medical information out there into a really digestible format, but that’s a post for another day. Their interests and clinical decision support software aside, the idea of the EHR software being the database of healthcare seemed to resonate with me.

I’ve often described EHR software to date as a big billing engine. Some EHR are trying to break that mold, but that’s a hard mold to break since a big billing engine is what the market has asked them to create (for the most part). With that in mind, it’s certainly hard for an EHR software to develop a true Smart EHR platform.

I can see in my mind’s eye a product development team going into the EHR vendor executives office and pitching some amazingly smart and effective EHR software for improving patient care. The cynical me then sees the EHR vendor executive saying, “We can’t monetize that.” or a related “That won’t sell more EHR.” The sad thing is that the executive is probably right…at least today. The market hasn’t started demanding a Smart EHR and improved patient care. I’m hopeful that the new ACO model will help to shift that focus, but it’s still too early to tell if that will provide the impetus for change.

Another part of me hopes that a true entrepreneur will come along and build an EHR that provides such a stark contrast in how it provides patient care that doctors won’t be able to resist using it. Something impactful like the stethoscope, that if a doctor isn’t using it patients won’t go to that doctor. However, this line of thinking seems to push the concept of EHRs being the database of healthcare and not the All in One Smart EHR.

If I’m an entrepreneur with the vision of transforming patient care through smart use of EHR data, why would I want to build an EHR from the ground up when there are a number of very large EHR vendors that have APIs that allow me to build upon their data? If the data’s already been collected, then I’m likely to focus all of my energy creating innovative solutions with that data, not creating the mechanism to collect the data.

What’s a database? Tools to collect data, store data and then retrieve data. What’s an EHR today? Mechanisms to collect health data, store the data and then retrieve the data.

Ok, that’s a bit of an over simplification, but the analogy is there. You can see why so many EHR vendors are trying to become “the platform” of healthcare. Turns out that being the repository of data that everyone else builds cool stuff on top of is very valuable. However, building that platform requires a very different culture and focus than building Smart EHR solutions.

This is why I’m sure many EHR vendors will try to develop some Smart EHR solutions, but in the end EHR will be the Database of Healthcare that other Smart EHR applications connect into. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.