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Eyes Wide Shut – Inflicting Agile On The Waterfall World of Healthcare

Posted on October 8, 2013 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a hardcore health data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, which she brings to her role as Dell Health’s Analytics Solutions Lead. She 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.

In a recent hangout with John Lynn discussing Healthcare Big Data and Meaningful Use Challenges, he asked me why incorporating more agile development practices into healthcare software and business practice is so hard. In my fumbling attempt to articulate a pithy answer, and I bumbled into an insight: health IT mandates are inflicting agile methodology onto the waterfall world of healthcare, and demanding adoption at an unprecedented pace. It’s creating an uncomfortable, and in many ways untenable, situation for the healthcare system as a whole.

For quick reference, here’s a diagram explaining the difference between the traditional waterfall approach to software development, and the newer agile methodology.

waterfall_v_agile

What immediately jumped out at me about this visualization of waterfall versus agile: doesn’t this inverse-triangle comparison look a bit like a diagram of the “flipped clinic”? “Flip the clinic”, as defined by the Robert J. Woods Foundation project, has become a rallying cry to reinvent the patient-provider interaction, empowering patients and providers to increase the value of each encounter through technology-enabled improved engagement opportunities.

flip_clinic

This “flipping” approach is considered a disruptive concept, with great power to accelerate insights and empower patients. However, currently, it is far from mainstream, and likely to take a decade or more to enjoy widespread adoption.

Health IT mandates are, effectively, demanding that healthcare “flip the systems”: move from a conservative, quality-deliverable “plan-driven” model to an aggressive, loosely-defined-deliverable “vale-driven” model – on an ambitiously aggressive schedule, on a massive scale.

As an industry, healthcare follows a very slow progression through the Waterfall development cycle. A commonly-cited statistic states that it takes 17 years for a single clinical discovery to become commonly applied practice. In the beginning, there is an idea with fixed requirements: a specific clinical trial is designed, with narrowly-defined scope to control variables and insure the highest quality results. The results of the trial are analyzed, published, considered for expansion. Patents are pursued. FDA approval is obtained. Over a decade later, the discovery makes its way into accepted treatment protocols, and eventually becomes part of the attending’s lecture to residents on rounds.

Contrast that slow progress through development and adoption with what’s happening under ACA, specifically with Meaningful Use objectives.

cms_mu_timeline

Now, if it takes 17 years for a clinical discovery to make it to mainstream practice, and that specific type of clinical function is what the healthcare industry is designed to DO, does anyone else see anything wrong with the schedule presented here? Notice there are only 11 years on that timeline, from inception of the certification program to the last year to receive an incentive payment? Only 5 years between program inception and penalties for non-conformance?

Another key differentiator between Agile and Waterfall: the criticality of quality. Quality is defined as “conformance to requirements”. Because Waterfall methodology places emphasis on explicitly-defined requirements, it also demands high-quality deliverables; there is traceability between each requirement and the specific feature/function that is designed to meet that need. Agile methodology places emphasis on flexible deliverables, as requirements are not clearly defined prior to starting work; the scope of the feature/functions that will be delivered varies, according to the results of the development effort and the time left to execute.

In one of my first posts on EMRandHIPAA.com, “Yes, Healthcare IT Adoption is Expensive AND Painful”, I ranted:

Haven’t we all heard the adage, “You can only have things done two of three ways: fast, cheap, or well”? Considering that the “thing” we’re trying to do is revolutionize the healthcare industry, the effects of which may be felt in each and every one of our lives at some point, don’t you want to include “well” as the bare minimum of what is required? After all, this is YOUR electronic health record, YOUR data, YOUR treatment plan and effectiveness measurements. So, what’s the other way we want this “thing” done: fast or cheap?

Now that I’ve spent more time working in the trenches with clinicians, detailing the operational challenges they’re facing with the rate of change the health IT mandates are demanding they absorb, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was wrong.

Health IT adoption must ONLY be done well. No other constraint matters.

Quality is of the utmost importance. Arbitrary deadlines are only increasing the cost required to implement half-baked product and process solutions that meet only the bare minimum “letter of the law” stipulations of the mandates.

The current focus on adopting health IT fast is only incenting corner-cutting measures from both IT vendors and healthcare providers. As a patient, I’m not ready to sign off on User Acceptance Testing of the nationwide implementation of Meaningful Use.

Develop Your Own EMR – You’re Still Crazy!

Posted on July 1, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of my favorite posts ever I created back in May 2006. It was titled, “Develop Your Own EMR – Are You Crazy?” In the post, I make a couple of high level observations about why you shouldn’t develop your own EMR. The first is the sheer volume of EMR features you have to create. All of the individual modules are quite easy, but when you add up all of the functions that are required in an EMR, the volume is overwhelming. The second is the need to continually add new features to the EMR. The EMR development is never over and if you stop developing your own EMR, you get behind really quickly.

7 years later, you’re still crazy to develop your own EMR. Certainly the technology is better today than it was back then. However, the volume of features and functions you need in your EMR has grown exponentially. If you decide to develop your own EMR, you’re going to be even farther behind.

I understand why it’s really tempting for a clinic to want to develop their own EMR. It’s a beautiful idea to think about creating a piece of software that perfectly matches your workflow. Of course, if you’re in a practice with more than one provider, then you’ll have to start making compromises with your colleagues to match their workflow as well. Not an easy task. If you ask 6 doctors to describe their clinical workflow, you’ll get 36 answers. That’s a developers nightmare.

My previous post also asserts that there are a lot of good EMR companies out there. I think this is even more true today than it was back then. In fact, back then was just the start of the EMR pricing revolution. Today the challenge is more a paradox of choice as opposed to a lack of good options.

Turns out, there are still plenty of crazy people out there that are willing to start developing their own EMR. In fact, many of the EMR software we see in existence today was because a crazy doctor decided he wanted something better. I’m sure many more will continue this trend.

I would offer one time where you might not be as crazy to develop your own EMR. If you’re crazy enough to eschew Medicare, Medicaid and insurance, then you might be wise to develop your own EMR. Once you take out the complexity of reimbursement and instead focus on patient care, the EMR becomes much simpler. Plus, no EMR vendor has focused their EMR on patient care instead of billing. Plus, the advanced features that you might need, will also be available from third parties. For example, if you want ePrescribing, you can integrate it with a third party company. This will be true for more and more advanced EMR features.

Many people have asked me why I haven’t developed my own EMR. My question to them is, “do you think I’m crazy?” I’m actually afraid to hear the answer.

EMR and Health IT Development – Interview with Chetu

Posted on April 25, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Craig Schmidt - Chetu
Craig Schmidt is the Director of Global Sales for Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals at Chetu. Craig’s focus at Chetu is understanding the top healthcare industry challenges, creating relationships with HIT leaders and developing Information Technology solutions to address those challenges. Craig has, for over 15 years, held a variety of Sales and Sales Management positions with increasing responsibility in the Healthcare and Information Technology Industries.

Tell us more about Chetu and your work in the healthcare market.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Chetu has experience in nearly every section of Healthcare IT. In our 13 years we have developed solutions for Providers, Payers, HIT Vendors and others. Just a few of the things with which we have helped customers include: complete EMR and Practice Management design and development, ePrescribing, Drug Database integration, Revenue Cycle Management (835/837 & 270/275 engines).

When does someone in healthcare look to Chetu versus doing the work in house?

The two main reasons are: they do not have the particular HIT experience in-house & they do not have enough “bandwidth” to develop in-house and do not want to hire and train permanent staff.

What’s the most challenging thing about developing applications in healthcare?

Healthcare in general and Healthcare IT are bound by many Federal, State and other rules and regulations, e.g., Meaningful Use, Affordable Care Act, HIPAA, etc. There are also a variety of standards for interoperability such as HL7, CCD/CCR.

Do you mostly do one off projects or long term contracts with your clients?

We strive to be the “Back End, Long-term” IT Partner for our clients. We offer complete solutions from application development and support to maintenance and management of applications and systems. In Healthcare we have many (over 60%) clients that have been working with Chetu for multiple years. Many of these have been with Chetu for over 5 years – which is very long-term in this market

What’s your view on SaaS vs. in house client server applications? Do you have a preferred technology stack? What do you see being used most in healthcare?

For the past several years organizations have been rapidly moving to the “Cloud.” And, there are obvious advantages for being cloud based. However, client server applications have advantages of speed and stability that can’t always be achieved with SaaS. We are now seeing a slight movement to applications that are hybrids – combining the best of both approaches.

In healthcare, there is no clear preferred technology stack. It is all over the place. We have worked in .NET, HTML5, Java, PHP, Native Mobile Apps (iOS, Android), Python, C++, Foxpro, VB, Mirth. Cobol, MUMPS and many more. Healthcare IT has traditionally seen a very fragmented approach. Chetu has the great advantage of being agnostic. We can and will work with nearly any platform or tool.

EMR usability (or lack thereof) has been a major topic of discussion. How do you manage this with your EHR clients?

We have had the opportunity to work with dozens of different EMRs; ambulatory and hospital based. Many of these EMRs are the product of individual physicians or physician groups that are unhappy with their current EMR and have not seen any existing EMRs that meet their usability needs. They have come to us with their ideas about developing an EMR from scratch. We have developed ENT, Ophthalmology, Plastic Surgery and other specialty focused EMRs stemming from this issue.

What are you seeing happening with mobile in healthcare?

There is a tremendous rush to mobile in Healthcare right now. Over the past several years our Healthcare mobile development has grown tenfold. There are many, many great mobile applications developed with patients, physicians, nurses, home health providers and others in mind. These apps have been and will continue to make providers, payers and patients lives easier and make delivering healthcare more efficient and productive.

You’ve worked with a lot of the various healthcare standards. How do they compare to the standards you work with in other industries?

There really is no parallel to the standards that guide healthcare in other industries. From my limited experience I would say that the Banking/Financial industry comes closest. But even then the amount and complexity of the standards are a fraction of what is found in Healthcare and Pharma.

Tell us about some of your work on the major hospital platforms like Siemens Soarian, Meditech and Epic. Is it a challenge working with these large companies?

These large companies have invested millions of dollars building and improving the very complex systems. So, they are rightfully concerned and selective about how and who is allowed to work in their systems. It can be a challenge, but not impossible to work with these companies. An added challenge comes from the hospitals themselves. There is the attitude that these systems are so unique that only company trained personnel have the capability to work in them.

Chetu, having worked in the Soarian, Meditech, Epic, Cerner, McKesson and other hospital platforms understands that the underlying technology in all of these systems are the same or very similar. Although each system may have unique capabilities – we recognize that the goal is the same for each. And, in getting past the UI or getting “under the hood” so to speak, we see mostly the same technologies at work.

What are the most innovative healthcare IT projects you see out there that you like working on?

Right now we are seeing a rush to capitalize on the tremendous amount of data that EMRs are generating. Data analytics using this great resource is helping pharmaceutical companies, scientists and researchers, Accountable Care Organizations – nearly everyone on the healthcare continuum provide better and less expensive patient care. This is an area that is in its infancy but we see growing rapidly.

What types of data analytics projects have you done in healthcare? Do you do just the programming component or can you do every part of a data analytics project?

Chetu has been involved in numerous healthcare analytics projects. We have helped our customers with data warehousing, data mining, OLAP, business analysis, automated report generation, multi-dimensional information “cubes”, custom reporting solutions using tools like Informatica, DTS / SSIS, Datastage and SSRS, SSAS, Cognos, Microstrategy, Crystal, OBIEE.

We have developed solutions across the complete data analytics process. From data mining and ETL to data cube and data modeling and report generation we have the experience and the people that can handle nearly any healthcare analytics project.

Full Disclosure: Chetu is an advertiser on EMR and HIPAA.

More EMR Software On the Way

Posted on November 27, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of my all time favorite posts I’ve done was called “Develop Your Own EMR….Are you Crazy?” Hard to believe that was back in May of 2006. I should go back and check out the content of that post, but the title still rings very true to me. Of course, every entrepreneur that I know is a little bit crazy, so it should come as no surprised that I’m hearing all the time about new EMR software getting ready to hit the market.

Today’s encounter has to be one of the most unique. I was going to church in another state (visiting family for the Holidays) and I ran into one of my high school friends at church. We caught up and I learned that he’s the owner of a software development company. Then, as he learned what I was doing he just mentioned off hand that they were developing an EMR.

After I picked myself up off the floor, the meeting at church started so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him. Since he’s my friend on Facebook (you know, a real friend that I know in real life type of Facebook friend), I sent him a message and hopefully we can connect. I’m really intrigued that his software development house is doing an EMR for someone. Obviously, now I have a ton of questions for him about the project. He did say before the meeting started that “it’s a BIG project.”

Of course, the message here is that there are a lot of people out there that are crazy (no offense intended) enough to start building another EMR. The problem is that there are so many doctors that are dissatisfied with the EMR software that’s out there, I’m sure until that’s resolved we’ll see more and more EMR software entrants. Oh, if only these brave souls knew what they were getting themselves into. I guess maybe that’s the beauty and key to entrepreneurship and why I love it so much.

Reasons Why EMR Efforts Are Proceeding So Slowly

Posted on May 18, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

David Swink wrote an interesting comment on my previous post in which he lists a number of reasons why he thinks the EMR effort is proceeding so slowly. Since many of you don’t read all the comments on this site (I’ll forgive you this time), I thought I’d highlight his comments here to see what people think of his comments and what more they might add to the list.

Thought on why the EMR effort is proceeding so slowly:

1) EMR is much more complex than a simple inventory control system. The “human resources” apps probably come closest to the mark, but there are hundreds of separate HR apps out there, but they don’t have to talk to other HR apps.

2) Government is not good at organizing complex efforts. The government-sponsored HDTV effort took some 30 years to implement, and the results were largely irrelevant in that we’d moved beyond the concept of “broadcast”.

3) The medical community has no “IEEE” standards group to represent their interests and get various vendors to pull together towards a well-defined goal. The AMA could maybe assume this role, except that it is mostly a political organization, with only 17 percent participation by physicians.

4) Large medical groups are not likely to encourage mutual cooperation in EMR development. To them, small physician groups are competition. (Likewise, Sarbanes-Oxley works to the benefit of large corporations who can afford the accounting red tape, to the detriment of Mom-n-Pop organization, where red tape is a meaningful expense.)

I think David missed a number of other important reasons. Like the 300+ EMR and EHR vendors for a start. What else do you think is slowing the EMR effort? And more importantly, what can be done to overcome these challenges?

Building an EMR Without Special Interests

Posted on February 12, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I came across a little bit older article from the Health Care Blog that asks the question, “What if I Had to do HIT All Over Again?

I must admit that I was pretty struck by the thought of what could be done with an EMR that was built from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I still think you’re crazy to develop your own EMR. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be done differently today knowing what we know about EMR now and the technology advances that have been made.

My mind then drifted off to think about what it would be like to build an EMR without any special interests. For example, you were building an EMR that focused on improving patient care. You were building an EMR that focused on improving doctor productivity. You were building an EMR that made everyone’s lives easier.

Contrast this with an EMR vendor who develops their software in order to sell more product. There’s a wide gap between the two methodologies. Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many stories of EMR vendors focused on building their EMR software to sell more of it. In the short term, this might be a great business strategy. Long term it will catch up with them.

How does someone selecting an EMR vendor identify this in the company?

Managing EMR Software Enhancement Requests

Posted on October 15, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of the huge challenges that an EMR software vendor has is the long lists of enhancement requests that they receive from end users. Managing these requests has got to be one of the most challenging jobs of any EMR vendor’s development and support teams.

An EMR vendor has so many often conflicting motivations related to which enhancement requests they add to their product. I won’t go into all the details of their job here, but let’s just say they’re walking a very small tight rope. On one side, they want to be able to create enhancements that will sale more product. On another they want to keep their current users satisfied. On the other, they don’t want to make their product to specific to one area, region, specialty (unless it’s specialty specific), insurance plan, provider type, etc etc etc. Another side wants to be able to keep innovating the product in ways that weren’t suggested by the end users. Then of course each EMR vendor wants to keep some of their enhancement plans private as part of their “competitive advantage.”

Honestly, none of this is new to software or EMR. We’ve been dealing with this for a long time. However, I don’t know of any EMR company that really manages this process well. That said, I’d love to hear about other EMR vendors approaches to collecting, managing and implementing software enhancement requests.

Here are just a few of the components that I think a good EMR software enhancement request system should have:

  • Simple, but complete method for requesting ehancements
  • Translation of the enhancement request into actionable enhancement (this is also important for helping to filter out repeats and other such noise)
  • Feedback to the end user of what was done with their request
  • System for users of the EMR to see all the enhancement requests
  • Method for users to be able to support enhancement requests that are already made (this helps an EMR vendor prioritize the requests)
  • Method for users to provide comments on already created enhancement requests (ie. refine and improve the existing requests)
  • Internal enhancement plans are part of the system
  • Completed enhancement requests are noted for those interested in following the progress

As I was listing these things I think that my view of enhancement request is partially clouded by open source projects (maybe there’s an open source EMR that does the above well?). However, I think that a number of open source projects do a really good job of managing enhancement requests. The non open source software world can learn a lot from open source software in this area.

I think one of the key things I’d love to see an EMR vendor do well is involving the “crowds” of EMR users (coined “crowdsourcing”) in the prioritizing and planning of future enhancements. Users of an EMR have a wealth of knowledge related to the product and I’ve yet to see an EMR vendor tap that knowledge really well.

I think doing the above would solve a common phrase I’ve heard after doing an EMR software update: “Why did they add that feature?” followed by the question “Why don’t they add this?”

The Right Open Source (Free) EMR Model

Posted on January 27, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve had a huge interest in the open source EMR and Free EMR movement.  Turns out my readers are just as interested in a Free EMR as I am.  However, we probably have different reasoning.  I think the power of open source is in having a crowd of people that are all contributing and sharing in the software development.

The problem I’ve had with most open source EMR projects is that I haven’t seen any that have had a large and committed enough community to really sustain development.  Granted, it’s been a few months/years since I’ve really looked into most of the open source EMR packages, so please correct me if there are some open source EMR communities that I should consider looking at again, but I digress.  My point is that without a strong developer community, open source is not a very good alternative.

I recently came across elementalClinic which I believe is using the open source EMR development model correctly.  I’ve never used the elementalClinic EMR so I can’t comment on its featureset (although it looks like it’s a mental health EMR), but what I do find interesting is how their funding development of their open source EMR.

In a recent comment on EMR and HIPAA, Alex said that elementalClinic has 150 paying customers that are using the software with somewhere around 500 people downloading the software.  This seems like the perfect model for developing an Open Source EMR.  150 paying customers that provide a solid foundation development team for the open source project.  Now, I think that 500 is a rather small number of downloads, but is a good start to creating a vibrant community of open source developers that will build on top of the foundation 150 paying customers.

Many would wonder why the 150 paying customers would fund everyone else downloading it for free.  There are a number of different reasons as far as premium support, custom features, etc that they might be paying to receive.  However, the best reasons is because by leaving it open source they can utlize the development and feedback from those using the free, open source download of the EMR.

Plus, having the license be open source means that any one of those 150 paying customers could decide to take the code from their current EMR install and take it in another direction.  In open source they call it a fork in the development.  How easy would it be to create a foundation EMR with a fork for every specialty: pediatrics, oncology, urology, etc.  Would be pretty neat and a great reason to do open source.