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Are Client Server EHR Holding Back Healthcare?

Posted on December 19, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The number one topic of debate on this blog has definitely been Client Server EHR versus SaaS EHR. There are staunch parties on both sides of this aisle. No doubt both sides have a case to make and we’ll see both in healthcare for a long time to come. Although, I think that long term the SaaS EHR will win out.

As I was thinking about this recently, I realized that while client server EHR can do everything a SaaS EHR can do, it definitely makes a lot of things much harder to accomplish.

It’s much harder to create an API that connects to 2000 client server EHR installs.

It’s much harder to make 2000 client server EHR installs interoperable.

It’s much harder to evaluate data across 2000 client server EHR installs.

I’m sure I could keep going with this list, but you get the point. Even though something is possible, it doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to do it. In fact, if it’s hard to do, then it takes extreme pressure for them to do it.

All of this has me begging the question of whether client server installs are holding back the EHR industry. Up until now, many of the things I mention above haven’t been that important. Going forward I think that all three of the things I mention above are going to be very important.

The good thing is that I see many client server EHR moving to some kind of hosted EHR solution. That solves some of the problems mentioned above. At least if it’s a hosted EHR solution, they can control the environment and more easily implement things like API access and interoperability. That’s much harder in the client server world where if you have 2000 EHR installs, you have 2000 unique setups.

Of course, as soon as a large SaaS EHR has a massive breach, healthcare will go running after the client server EHR. The battle lines are drawn and each side knows each other very well. Although, I think the SaaS EHR have the high ground right now. We’ll see how that continues over time. Client server EHR have done an amazing job battling.

The Future of Electronic Health Records in the US: Lessons Learned from the UK – Breakaway Thinking

Posted on December 17, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Carrie Yasemin Paykoc, Senior Instructional Designer / Research Analyst at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Carrie Yasemin Paykoc
With 2014 coming to a close, there is a natural tendency to reflect on the accomplishments of the year. We gauge our annual successes through comparison with expected outcomes, industry standards, and satisfaction with the work done. To continue momentum and improve outcomes in the coming years we look for fresh ideas. For example, healthcare organizations can compare their efforts with similar types of organizations both locally and abroad. In the United States, looking beyond our existing borders toward the international community can provide valuable insight. Many other nations such as the UK, are further down the path of providing national healthcare and adopting electronic health records. In fact, the National Health Service (NHS) of UK has started plans to allow access of  Electronic Health Records (EHR) on Smartphones through approved health apps. Although healthcare industry standards appear to be in constant flux, these valuable international lessons can help local healthcare leaders develop strategies for 2015 and beyond.

By the year 2024, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) aims to improve population health through the interoperable exchange of health information, and the utilization of research and evidence-based medicine. These bold and inspiring goals are outlined in their 10 Year Vision to Achieve Interoperable Health IT Infrastructure, also known as ONC’s interoperability road map. This document provides initial guidance on how the US will lay the foundation for EHR adoption and interoperable Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) systems. ONC has also issued the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020. This strategy aims to improve national interoperability, patient engagement, and expansion of IT into long-term care and mental health. Achieving these audacious goals seems quite challenging but a necessary step in improving population health.

EHR Adoption in UK
The US is not alone in their EHR adoption and interoperability goals. Many nations in our international community are years ahead of the US in terms of EHR implementation and utilization. Just across the Atlantic Ocean, the United Kingdom has already begun addressing opportunities and challenges with EHR adoption and interoperability. In their latest proposal the NHS has outlined their future vision for personalized health care in 2020. This proposal discusses the UK’s strategy for integrating HIT systems into a national system in a meaningful way. This language is quite similar to Meaningful Use and ONC’s interoperability roadmap in the United States. With such HIT parallels much could be learned from the UK as the US progresses toward interoperability.

The UK began their national EHR journey in the 1990s with incentivizing the implementation of EHR systems. Although approximately 96 percent of all general provider practices use EHRs in the UK, only a small percentage of practices have adopted their systems. Clinicians in the UK are slow to share records electronically with patients or with their nation’s central database, the Spine.

Collaborative Approach
In the NHS’s Five Year Forward View they attempt to address these issues and provide guidance on how health organization can achieve EHR adoption with constrained resources. One of the strongest themes in the address is the need for a collaborative approach. The EHRs in the UK were procured centrally as part of their initial national IT strategy. Despite the variety of HIT systems, this top-down approach caused some resentment among the local regions and clinics. So although these HIT systems are implemented, clinicians have been slow to adopt the systems to their full potential. (Sarah P Slight, et al. (2014). A qualitative study to identify the cost categories associated with electronic health record implementation in the UK. JAMIA, 21:e226-e231) To overcome this resistance, the NHS must follow their recommendations and work collaboratively with clinical leadership at the local level to empower technology adoption and ownership. Overcoming resistance to change takes time, especially on such a large national scale.

Standard Education Approach
Before the UK can achieve adoption and interoperability, standardization must occur. Variation in system use and associated quality outcomes can cause further issues. EHR selection was largely controlled by the government, whereas local regions and clinics took varied approaches to implementing and educating their staff. “Letting a thousand flowers bloom” is often the analogy used when referring to the UK’s initial EHR strategy. Each hospital and clinic had the autonomy of deciding on their own training strategy which consisted of one-on-one training, classroom training, mass training, or a combination of training methods. They struggled to back-fill positions to allow clinicians time to learn the new system. This process was also expensive. At one hospital £750 000 (over $1.1 million US) was spent to back-fill clinical staff at one hospital to allow for attendance to training sessions. This expensive and varied approach to training makes it difficult to ensure proficient system use, end-user knowledge and confidence, and consistent data entry. In the US we also must address issues of consistency in our training to increase end-user proficiency levels. Otherwise the data being entered and shared is of little value.

One way to ensure consistent training and education is to develop a role-based education plan that provides only the details that clinicians need to know to perform their workflow. This strategy is more cost-effective and quickly builds end-user knowledge and confidence. In turn, as end-user knowledge and confidence builds, end users are more likely to adopt new technologies. Additionally, as staff and systems change, plans must address how to re-engage and educate clinicians on the latest workflows and templates to ensure standardized data entry. If the goal is to connect and share health information (interoperability), clinicians must follow best-practice workflows in order to capture consistent data.  One way to bridge this gap is through standardized role-based education.

Whether in the US or UK, adopting HIT systems require a comprehensive IT strategy that includes engaged leadership, qualitative and quantitative metrics, education and training, and a commitment to sustain the overall effort.  Although the structure of health care systems in the US and UK are different, many lessons can be learned and shared about implementing and adopting HIT systems. The US can further research benefits and challenges associated with the Spine, UK’s central database as the country moves toward interoperability. Whereas the UK can learn from education and change management approaches utilized in US healthcare organizations with higher levels of EHR adoption. Regardless of the continent, improving population health by harnessing available technologies is the ultimate goal of health IT.  As 2015 and beyond approaches, collaborate with your stakeholders both locally and abroad to obtain fresh ideas and ensure your healthcare organization moves toward EHR adoption.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.

The Many Faces and Facets of EHR Interoperability

Posted on December 5, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx, Inc.
Thanh Tran, CEO, Zoeticx
Interoperability is the ability to make sub-systems and organizations work together (inter-operate) for attainment of a common goal. In healthcare, implementation and connection of EHR systems and the data they collect allows for us to impact patient care to become a value-driven one for all patients.

The opposite of interoperability is not the lack of connecting EHR systems, but instead the failure of healthcare systems and organizations to collaborate in an efficient, effective, safe and consistent way to support patient care. To better understand the ecosystem of healthcare, we need to look at this redefined concept of interoperability in greater depth while also considering the needs of various stakeholders and their views of the system.

Care Providers Want Care Continuum

Care Providers are not a single entity whose needs can be fulfilled with a single solution. The focus of all providers is on the patient care continuum and their role in it. The lack of EHR interoperability is fundamentally defined as the inability to share patient medical records across this continuum.

Each provider brings a unique view and delivers specialized, customized care to the patient over different time periods. The care delivered by each provider is interdependent on other providers taking care of the patient for a current encounter. To deliver care, healthcare providers must have the ability to access not only summary information about a patient, or the outcome of a prior intervention, but also be able to drill down into the specific data where they can provide meaning and insight for the patient and the rest of the care team.

Collaborative healthcare, care delivered by specialized and focus teams of providers, has become standard in medicine. Access to the information and meaning provided by various providers is essential. It must be delivered in near time, to the proper provider on the team.

For care providers it is about the ability to see the whole care spectrum; to drill into details with on-demand and near time access.

IT Pros Need Information Flow

With healthcare IT pros, interoperability begins with patient medical information flow.  As the patient transits through healthcare facilities, they are treated by different care providers using different systems. Care providers depend on the above medical flow to ensure effective and quality care delivery. Proprietary patient medical records from diverse EHR systems prohibit that flow, leaving healthcare IT crippled, along with care providers, in enabling a seamless workflow across the system.

Healthcare IT organizations impacted by merger and acquisition face the lack of EHR interoperability under another major challenge, IT integration of disparate EHR systems. Rip and replace is a costly solution to achieving integration and overcoming EHR interoperability among diverse EHR systems.

Furthermore, healthcare IT faces the continued demand for solutions to patient care effectiveness, efficiency and improving patient care quality. However, healthcare IT application developers have been bogged down by the lack of EHR interoperability as well. The EHR agnostic environment is required to seal off applications from the EHR infrastructure. Without this layer, the development would be focused on addressing infrastructure challenges instead of innovative solutions for care providers.

As any other IT organization, healthcare IT faces the challenge of doing more with less. EHR systems share a number of characteristics as its siblings, enterprise applications from other IT industries. EHR systems form the backbone of healthcare systems, but they are also complex, slow to react to care providers’ requirements and costly to maintain. That cost is already in place, leaving healthcare IT with a smaller budget to address the lack of interoperability. Any solutions to EHR interoperability must be low total cost of ownership, lightweight to deploy and portable to a variety of healthcare IT applications.

Administrators Require Compliance and Data Protection

Healthcare administration is charged with complying with patient privacy requirements (HIPAA). Solutions for EHR interoperability with additional copies of patient medical records are not optimal since they represent additional compliance activities and agreements (such as Data Service Agreement) between the data source and destination. These additional compliance activities represent complexity, cost and risk of non-compliance that would result in potential penalties, legal and IT maintenance costs. For healthcare administration, simplicity and practicability of the solution are critical.

Patients Suffer Most

The greatest impact to all stakeholders in EHR interoperability is on the patient. Being at the center of the healthcare delivery model, patients must be brought into the interoperability equation. A vital component for gaining control of increasing healthcare expenditures is engagement of patients.

Not only do we need patient engagement, but patients are demanding security and control over who accesses their medical data. These two are not independent, but are intimately connected. Without control and understanding of who accesses the data, patients will lose trust in the system leading to disengagement and disempowerment.

Patient control over medical record access must be dynamic, secure and able to occur in near time. Above all, patients have full control of who has the full access of their medical records. Current concepts of Opt-In or Opt-Out choice for medical data duplication does not address these dynamic and secure requirements and give patients the control of who has access.

The Optimal EHR Interoperability Solution

EHR systems are database oriented. To address EHR interoperability by creating an additional centralized database layer is not an optimal approach, let alone the failure to satisfy the stakeholders impacted.

The next wave of healthcare challenges needs to be addressed by innovative applications aimed at supporting care providers. The best approach is a middleware infrastructure, supporting open architecture for healthcare, capable of performing data switching and value added data redistribution capabilities from various EHR systems. The middleware solution must be lightweight, embedded as part of healthcare applications supporting on-demand, near time access to diverse EHR systems. It is where interoperability must be implemented.

Thanh Tran is CEO of Zoeticx, Inc., a medical software company located in San Jose, CA. He is a 20 year veteran of Silicon Valley’s IT industry and has held executive positions at many leading software companies. Zoeticx offers a middleware infrastructure supporting on-demand, near time access to diverse EHR systems.

A Look Back on My 2012 Christmas Wish List

Posted on December 26, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Last year, I posted a healthcare IT Christmas Wish list. A year later, I thought it would be fun if I got what I wanted for Christmas last year or not (yes, it takes healthcare at least a year to grant wishes).

Here’s the list and my thoughts on how far we’ve come on each wish:

1. Open EHR Systems – We’re certainly not there yet, but I think there has been a sea change when it comes to opening up EHR software. I’m sure some could appropriately argue that we still have a long way to go, but let me give you some examples from Epic that give me cause for hope. First, this Epic Interoperability chart that Judy shared. Second, Kaiser joined the Epic network. Third, the Epic API.

It’s fun to use Epic as a proxy for openness because they’ve been so closed for so long. Judy Faulkner was after all the one that suggested that open EHR was an issue for patients. I’d love to see EHR more open, but I’m excited by the possibilities of open EHR. I believe this will have to happen and vendors who fight against it will be left behind.

2. Remove Healthcare’s Perverse Incentives – Sadly, I’ve seen almost no change to this yet. One area where I think this could be starting to change is around price transparency. There’s been a strong push to make healthcare pricing more transparent. As more and more patients have high deductible plans (like me), we start to shop around a lot more and be more interested in price. When we’re footing the bill, that price translates to our cost. This will cause companies to change how they do business.

3. Beautiful EHR User Interfaces – I’ve seen very little change in this regard. Sure, a few have rolled out an iPad interface, but I think they’ve missed out on the iPad Opportunity. Although, I recently saw the Modernizing Medicine iPad interface again in person. It’s so fundamentally different than every other EHR interface I’ve seen. While it demonstrates well the opportunity, it’s so fundamentally different that I’m not sure any existing EHR vendors can replicate it. I ask myself if we’ve spent billions of dollars on EHR user interfaces that can’t be what they should become.

4. More Empowered and Trusted Patients – I’m sure we’ll be battling this one for a long time to come. Although, the empowered patient is happening. Health information is available to everyone at the click of the mouse or a swipe of the finger. This shift is going to happen. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it. It’s more a question of whether people will embrace it or “kick against the pricks.”

Overall I’d say that we’re generally trending towards my wish list, but as is usually the case there is plenty more to do. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above items.

One Government EHR for All of Healthcare

Posted on August 26, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Over and over I hear some doctor or EHR industry person say, “Why doesn’t the government just provide one EHR for all of healthcare?” Usually this is followed by some suggestion that the government has invested millions (or is it billions?) of dollars in the Vista EHR software and they should just make that the required national EHR.

You can see where this thinking comes from. The government has invested millions of dollars in the Vista EHR software. It’s widely used across the country. It’s used by most (and possibly all) of the various medical specialties. Lots of VA users love the benefit of having one EHR system where their records are always available no matter where in the VA system you go for health care. I’m sure there are many more reasons as well.

While the idea of a single EHR for all of healthcare is beautiful in theory, the reality of our healthcare system is that it’s impossible.

I’ve always known that the idea of a single government EHR was impossible, but I didn’t have a good explanation for why I thought it was impossible. Today, I saw a blog post called “Health IT Down the Drain” on Bobby Gladd’s blog. The blog post refers to the $1.3 billion over the last 4 years (their number) that has been spent trying to develop a single EHR system between the Department of Defence (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). Congress and the President have demanded an “integrated” and “interoperable” solution between the two departments and we yet to see results. From Bobby’s post comes this sad quote:

“The only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it has taken so long to get this done,” said Miller, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee…

The government can’t even bring together two of its very own departments around a single EHR solution. Imagine how it would be if the government tried to roll out one EHR system across the entire US healthcare system.

I hope those people who suggest one government EHR can put that to bed. This might work in a much smaller country with a simpler healthcare system. It’s just never going to happen in the US.

HIMSS Analytics Clinical & BI Maturity Model

Posted on March 14, 2013 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.

While the theme of HIMSS 2013 may have been, “How Great Is Interoperability,” the effectiveness of the many facets of interoperability are only as good as the actionable value of the shared data. The clinical insights that should be enabled by Meaningful Use Stage 2+ are expected to drive market trends in myriad areas of the healthcare system: chronic disease management, targeted member interventions, quality measures. In order to assess organizational readiness to capitalize on the promise of Meaningful Use, HIMSS Analytics began measuring the implementation and adoption of EMR and clinical documentation using a maturity model called EMRAM.


But, in analytics terms, EMRAM’s results are simply targeted foundational reporting, answering the question, “WHAT happened with Meaningful Use EMR adoption criteria.” So, you’ve got your clinical data in an EMR. Now what are you able to DO with it?

In 2013, HIMSS Analytics is taking a broader approach with the introduction of a new Clinical Business Intelligence maturity model, creating a framework to benchmark participating providers’ analytics maturity level.

I’ve been fortunate to know James Gaston, Senior Director of HIMSS Analytics Clinical & Business Intelligence, for many years, going back to his days with Arkansas Blue Cross. His appreciation for BI initiatives is matched only by his enthusiasm for the first day of turkey hunting season. When I ran into him at TDWI’s BI World summit in Orlando in November, he acted like a kid on Christmas morning, telling me about the brave new world of clinical data management that he was about to tackle. The excitement continued to build in the months leading up to HIMSS. James was practically glowing when we spoke about the upcoming C&BI Maturity Model release.

“Our customers are interested in not just understanding how to deploy IT applications, but how effectively they’re using those applications to support clinical business intelligence, as well as analytical pursuits,” James said. “So, HIMSS Analytics partnered with IIA to create and present a Clinical & BI Maturity Model that helps healthcare organizations measure that level of effectiveness.”

Sarah Gates, the VP of Research for IIA (the International Institute of Analytics), elaborated. “The HIMSS Analytics C&BI Maturity Model leverages the Competing on Analytics DELTA model, developed by Tom Davenport, which measures not only how well you’re using data and technology, but how well you’re building an analytical organization.” There are 5 core competency measurements in the DELTA model that will inform the HIMSS Analytics C&BI analysis: Data, Enterprise, Leadership, Targets, and Analysts. The methodology is holistic, touching on the cultural aspects of the organization as well as the technical, allowing a longitudinal view of the organization’s analytics program. A yardstick value from 1-5 will be assigned to each respondent based on Davenport’s criteria for each core competency.

Although HIMSS Analytics will eventually offer Level 1-5 certification program for those organizations with observed results for analytics, James and Sarah agreed that it is not appropriate for every provider to reach for the Level 5 gold star. Per Sarah, “Healthcare is an industry just starting to discover analytics. We’re expecting to see lots of practitioners that are emerging in use of analytics, so we believe it (survey results) will be heavy on the lower end of the maturity scale. Data warehouse capabilities and staffing career paths for data analysts will be key differentiators for mature programs.” Not all providers have the resources – financial, human, and/or technical – to attain advanced analytics nirvana, and James wants to insure that these providers don’t feel as if they’ve “failed”; the goal is to baseline against the peer group, identify opportunities for improvement, and focus on what is possible for each individual organization, working within their constraints.

What can we expect to see at next year’s C&BI survey results presentation? James said, “We want to be able to talk about benchmarking the industry as a whole, helping healthcare find its way with clinical business intelligence and begin to understand how important it is, and where opportunities lie Everyone’s talking about clinical and BI – it is the opportunity to realize savings in healthcare, to use information to empower people to make better decisions.”

So, it’s up to you, providers and technology partners. You’ve implemented your EMR, achieved a high adoption rate across your organization’s core clinical processes, attested to Meaningful Use Stage 2, achieved Stage 7 on the HIMSS EMRAM scale, perhaps even participated in multi-HIE CCD medical records sharing with other provider networks. You’ve got the data in-house and availabe. It’s time to see how ready you are to rise to the analytics challenge and maximize your return on those EMR and HIE investments.

Attempt to beat your previous Doug Fridsma long jump.

Note: for the complete HIMSS 2013 Leadership Survey Results, please download PDF here.

Interoperability: The High Jump and The Long Jump with ONC’s Doug Fridsma

Posted on March 5, 2013 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.

I’ll admit, I was incredibly nervous about interviewing Dr. Doug Fridsma, the Chief Science Officer for the Office of the National Coordinator and the face of both the Standards and Interoperability (S&I) Framework and the Federal Health Architecture initiative. Not only do I consider him a key luminary, but his overarching responsibility for the future of interoperability and standards-based programs is incredibly alluring. I swoon over those who have the power and desire to effect meaningful, positive change on a grand scale. I wasn’t disappointed.

Doug explained his philosophy towards fulfilling the promise of interoperability with a sports metaphor: the high jump and the long jump.

“I don’t like high jumps,” he said. “High jumps, if you knock down the bar, you’re done and you get no points. Long jumps, you get points for each increment. The high jump for interoperability is ubiquitous data liquidity. The long jump is Meaningful Use.”

The S&I Framework project is tracking progress towards standardization and standards adoption across 5 areas of Meaningful Use and interoperability:

  1. Meaning – shared vocabularies across continuum of care
  2. Structure of messages shared across continuum of care
  3. Transport of messages
  4. Security of transport and messages
  5. Services for accessing messages

All of these categories are exemplified in the flagship project for Meaningful Use and interoperability: the Automate Blue Button Initiative, affectionately known as ABBI. For those not familiar with ABBI, do an experiment: ask your primary care provider whether you can visit a patient portal and download your medical records by clicking the “Blue Button.” If your PCP can provide you the website link to request the download, you should be able to receive your entire medical record (from that provider) in a vaguely huma-readable format (Excel, Word, PDF, etc.). The medical and clinical jargon may not make a lot of sense; however, it’s certainly an incremental hop in the long jump towards interoperability and standards adoption. The standard vocabularies, structure, transport mechanism, security protocol, and web-enabled access are foundational building blocks which enable the Blue Button program’s adoption.

Doug’s goal with the ABBI program was three-fold: get it OUT there, have providers and patients start USING it, and structure it so that it can be repeatable and scalable. Patient engagement advocates across the Twittersphere applaud the sentiment that we, patients, should have ownership of our health data, and many recognize the ONC’s efforts as instrumental in turning the tide for patient access. Several notable bloggers have covered the ABBI project in detail, analyzing its value to healthcare IT development professionals, providers, and patients, including:
Keith Boone @motorcycle_guy – the ABBI Pitch, with a quick overview of the goals for the program, and humorous insight into providers’ qualms about adoption

Greg Meyer @greg_meyer – Scalable Trust and Trust Bundles, with developer-focused details on the structure and transport categories of interoperability

For the next incremental long jump beyond ABBI and Meaningful Use Stage 2, Doug Fridsma and the ONC have several new initiatives tackling the atomic-level data governance and quality of clinical information. In order to communicate between disparate EHR systems, across multiple facilities and potentially multiple payers, it isn’t just the structure of the container and transport of the message that must be consistent: it’s the individual data elements, themselves, which comprise the meat of the message that must be standardized.

The ONC recently announced the Structured Data Capture Initiative with the goal of creating a technical infrastructure to support “structurally sound” standard data elements with support for “unique semantics”, to capture EHR and supplemental clinical data for use across the continuum of care. This effort officially kicked off the week of HIMSS 2013; its progress will be instrumental in broadening the effectiveness of interoperability and Meaningful Use.

So, as I walk the Interoperability Showcase at HIMSS13, watch the use case demonstrations, and ask the participants the tough questions like, “How are you incorporating the use case development you’re exhibiting here into consideration for your next product full release,” I’ll be taking note of those organizations that seem focused on the next incremental jump towards patient-centric, data-driven healthcare systems. And I’ll be wondering what Doug Fridsma and the ONC will do to get to the next incremental jump on the way to the nirvana of ubiquitous data liquidity.

…I’ll also be kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to get a fan photo with Doug while I had the chance.

CommonWell Health Alliance – The Healthcare Interoperability Enabler?

Posted on March 4, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The biggest news that will likely come out of HIMSS was the big announcement that was made about the newly formed CommonWell Health Alliance. They’ve also rolled out a website for the new organization.

This was originally billed as a Cerner and McKesson announcement and would be a unique announcement from both the CEO of Cerner and McKesson. Of course, the news of what would be announced was leaked well before the press briefing, so we basically already knew that these two EHR companies were working on interoperability.

In what seemed like some final, last minute deals for some of the companies, 5 different software products were represented on stage at the press event announcement for CommonWell Health Alliance. The press event was quite entertaining as each of the various CEOs took some friendly jabs at each other.

Of course, Jonathan Bush stole the show (which is guaranteed to happen if he’s on stage). I think it was Neal Patterson who called Jonathan Bush the most articulate CEO in healthcare and possibly in any industry. Jonathan does definitely have a way with words.

One of Jonathan’s best quote was in response to a question of whether the CommonWell Health Alliance would just be open to any health IT software system, or whether it was just creating another closed garden. Jonathan replied that “even a vendor of epic proportions” would be welcome in the organization. Don Fluckinger from Search Health IT News, decided to ask directly if Judy from Epic had been asked about the alliance and what she said. They adeptly avoided answering the question specifically and instead said that they’d talked to a lot of EHR vendors and were happy to talk to any and all.

Although, this is still the core question that has yet to be answered by the CommonWell Health Alliance. Will it just be another closed garden (albeit with a few more vendors inside the closed garden)? From what I could gather from the press conference, their intent is to make it available to anyone and everyone. This would even include vendors that don’t do EHR. I think their intent is good.

What I’m not so sure about is whether they’ll put up artificial barriers to entry that stop an innovative startup company from participating. This is what was done with EHR certification when it was started. The price was so high that it made no sense for a small EHR vendor to participate. They could have certified as well, but the cost to become certified was so high that it created an artificial barrier to participation for many EHR vendors. Will similar barriers be put up in the CommonWell Health Alliance? Time will tell.

With this said, I think it is a step forward. The direction of working to share data is the right one. I hope the details don’t ruin the intent and direction they’re heading. Plus, the website even says they’re going to do a pretty lengthy pilot period to implement the interoperability. Let’s hope that pilot period doesn’t keep getting extended and extended.

Finally, I loved when Jonathan Bush explained that there were plenty of other points of competition that he was glad that creating a closed garden won’t be one of them. I hope that vision is really achieved. If so, then it will be a real healthcare interoperability enabler. Although, artificially shutting out innovative healthcare IT companies would make it a healthcare interoperability killer.

Additional EMR Regulations – Good or Bad?

Posted on January 15, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Suppose the DMV added 1000 new rules to driving. Would that make driving saver? Would that help the police write better tickets? It would help the regulatory bodies better split hairs. It would allow more and bigger DMV offices.

I got the above comment emailed to me by Paul Lund who subscribes to the EMR and HIPAA email list. It’s an interesting comment and EMR and healthcare can likely learn from the rules of the road. I think the biggest challenge is that we seem to all understand about driving and the issues related to driving. In healthcare, we all think we know about the challenges of healthcare, but it’s often much more complex.

As I think of the analogy of driving to EMR, I agree with the general idea that less EMR regulation is better than more EMR regulation. For example, have we seen a measurable benefit from all of the EHR certification or meaningful use regulation>? I have yet to see it, but could point to plenty of areas where the EHR certification and MU regulations have caused a negative to healthcare.

However, just like in driving, I don’t think there should be no regulation at all of EMR and EHR software. As usual, I have a much more nuanced view. Can you imagine driving with no rules? The odd thing is that in some ways that’s what it feels like in EMR today.

A simple example is having a true standard for EMR interoperability. I’ve long wished that the EHR incentive money focused exclusively on this challenge. It’s a place where an adopted and supported standard for EHR data could really benefit the community. Plus, holding EHR vendors, hospitals, HIEs, and physician offices to that standard could be a real benefit. Right now every EMR seems to be doing what they want. Yes, we have CCD, but try transferring a CCD from one EMR to another right now. It’s a mess of multiple versions and challenging delivery. Works great in the HIMSS interoperability showcase, but somehow isn’t getting translated to real work.

Is it too much to ask for meaningful EMR regulation and nothing more?

EHR Vendors and ONC Need to Rebrand CCD

Posted on April 18, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

A really interesting point came out of the discussion in the comments of my post titled “What Information an HIE Should Pass?” Here’s one of my responses:

I think what you describe is that the branding of the CCD isn’t right for doctors. Instead of saying that they can get a CCD document from a doctor which sounds technical and scary they need to hear that they’re going to get an “Electronic Note” transferred from a doctor. If in reality that’s a CCD document that gets converted into a beautifully displayed “note” for the doctor, they don’t really care. That’s semantics which don’t matter to them. Your “football” naming goes towards these same lines, but I think that actually naming it a “football” will confuse doctors more. It works great as a way to describe what’s happening, but they’d get lost wondering how football had to do with a note. I actually think this is an important point that’s worthy of its own blog post.

Of course this discussion is really about branding and communication. It’s not about the technical details of a CCD (Continuity of Care Document) document (That’s a topic for another discussion). I believe the problem probably lies in the fact that most of the technical people I know behind standards like CCD are more worried about the technical details and don’t realize the importance of how those technical details translate for those not entrenched in the standards creation.

Most of them know the ins and outs of CCD so well that many probably don’t realize that those outside of the standards creation really don’t have a clue of the realities of what CCD will do for them. Even just saying the name CCD starts the confusion for many. Certainly there are exceptions to this, but most doctors couldn’t care less about the standards details.

Here’s something a physician understands:
Your physician notes are being transferred to another doctor.
You’re receiving physician notes from another doctor.

What they have a hard time processing is:
You can send a CCD document to another doctor.
You’ve got a CCD document from another doctor.

Sure, there are subtle nuances between physician note and CCD, but those can be communicated as well. Maybe physician note isn’t the exact right word either, but I think it gets closer to communicating what’s really happening then saying a CCD document.

Regardless, we need to do a better job communicating what’s happening. I know a lot of doctors that would love to transfer a physician note. I don’t know many that care about CCD documents.