Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and HIPAA for FREE!!

Cerner, Leidos, and Accenture Win DoD EHR Project – $4.3 Billion

Posted on July 30, 2015 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.

All the news at the end of the day yesterday was around Cerner (and their major partners Leidos, Accenture) winning the DoD EHR project. We’d been told the decision would come by the end of the month and you knew a decision was close once the major news organizations started writing about what a waste the DoD EHR project will be before they’d even named the winner. That’s called priming the pump. Of course, the critics make some good points about the DoD EHR project dealing with today instead of the future, and they also suggested that “We’re going to make Epic or Cerner the Standard Oil of health IT. It will become a monopoly at a time when we need to be moving to solutions that allow everyone to participate.”

I guess now that we know that Cerner has won the DoD contract, does that make them the Standard Oil of Health IT?

What we do know is that Cerner, Leidos, and Accenture were awarded the $4,336,822,777 (Our government’s so precise they got a 10 year project down to the dollar?) EHR contract with it projected to be around $9 billion over the life of the 10 year contract. That’s massive by any terms. It’s also much less than the projected $11 billion that was previously discussed. I guess competition for the DoD EHR contract brought the price down? Although, how often does the government project the costs for a project and then they balloon over the life of the project. According to Healthcare IT News, they’ll be working on bringing their first sites live in the Pacific Northwest by the end of 2016 and 1000 sites by 2022.

A lot of people have been commenting how this is a big win for Cerner and a big loss for Epic. Of course, I wrote a little over a year ago that the best thing for Epic might be to NOT win the DoD EHR contract. You can be sure that many hospital systems won’t be selecting Cerner now that they’re going to be tied up with the massive DoD EHR contract. Who does that leave? In most cases, that will leave Epic. I can’t help but wonder how many Soarian users will now decide to go to Epic instead of Cerner as well because of the Cerner win. Cerner should start working on this potential perception problem.

You can imagine the celebrations happening at the companies that won this contract. HIStalk posted a great image that shows all the partners that will be involved in the bid:
DoD EHR Partners

While they may be celebrating the contract now, it reminds me of startup companies who do big celebrations when they raise a round of funding. Those celebrations are premature since it’s really the start of all the hard work to come.

I personally lean more towards G Gordon Liddie’s comment on the HIStalk post on this subject:

Cerner will do as good a job as Epic would have done…which won’t be great. The federal government can’t pull off something like this.

I think this shares many people’s fears of a project this size. Others might suggest, if the government can’t roll out an insurance exchange website without major issues, how are they going to make an EHR roll out which is much more complex a success. I’m sure Cerner, Leidos, and Accenture will be thinking about this every day for the next 5-10 years.

Other DoD EHR Coverage:
Healthcare IT News
nextGov
HIStalk
MedCityNews

HIM Departments Need More Support

Posted on July 16, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger 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.

As both a contributor to this blog, and an assertive, activist patient managing chronic conditions, I get to see both sides of professional health information management.  And I have to say that while health data management pros obviously do great things against great odds, support for their work doesn’t seem to have trickled down to the front lines.  I’m speaking most specifically about Medical Records (oops, I mean Health Information Management) departments in hospitals.

As I noted in a related blog post, I recently had a small run-in with the HIM department of a local hospital which seems emblematic of this problem. The snag occurred when I reached out to DC-based Sibley Memorial Hospital and tried to get a new log-in code for their implementation of Epic PHR MyChart. The clerk answering the phone for that department told me, quite inaccurately, that if I didn’t use the activation code provided on my discharge summary papers within two days, my chance to log in to the Johns Hopkins MyChart site was forever lost. (Sibley is part of the Johns Hopkins system.)

Being the pushy type that I am, I complained to management, who put me in touch with the MyChart tech support office. The very smart and help tech support staffer who reached out to me expressed surprise at what I’d been told as a) the code wasn’t yet expired and b) given that I supplied the right security information she’d have been able to supply me with a new one.  The thing is, I never would have gotten to her if I hadn’t known not to take the HIM clerk’s word at face value.

Note: After writing the linked article, I was able to speak to the HIM department leader at Sibley, and she told me that she planned to address the issue of supporting MyChart questions with her entire staff. She seemed to agree completely that they had a vital role in the success of the PHR and patient empowerment generally, and I commend her for that.

Now, I realize that HIM departments are facing what may be the biggest changes in their history, and that Madame Clerk may have been an anomaly or even a temp. But assuming she was a regular hire, how much training would it have taken for the department managers to require her to simply give out the MyChart tech support number? Ten minutes?  Five? A priority e-mail demanding that PHR/digital medical record calls be routed this way would probably have done the trick.

My take on all of this is that HIM departments seem to have a lot of growing up to do. Responsible largely for pushing paper — very important paper but paper nonetheless — they’re now in the thick of the health data revolution without having a central role in it. They aren’t attached to the IT department, really, nor are they directly supporting physicians — they’re sort of a legacy department that hasn’t got as clearly defined a role as it did.

I’m not suggesting that HIM departments be wiped off the map, but it seems to me that some aggressive measures are in order to loop them in to today’s world.

Obviously, training on patient health data access is an issue. If HIM staffers know more about patient portals generally — and ideally, have hands-on experience with them, they’ll be in a better position to support such initiatives without needing to parrot facts blindly. In other words, they’ll do better if they have context.

HIM departments should also be well informed as to EMR and other health data system developments. Sure, the senior people in the department may already be looped in, but they should share that knowledge at brown bag lunches and staff update sessions freely and often. As I see it, this provides the team with much-needed sense of participation in the broader HIT enterprise.

Also, HIM staff members should encourage patients who call to log in and leverage patient portals. Patients who call the hospital with only a vague sense that they can access their health data online will get routed to that department by the switchboard. HIM needs to be well prepared to support them.

These concerns should only become more important as Meaningful Use Stage 3 comes on deck. MU Stage 3 should provide the acid test as to whether whether hospital HIM departments are really ready to embrace change.

Meaningful Use EHR Adoption Charts – EHR Market Analysis

Posted on June 12, 2015 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.

ONC continues to push out more data when it comes to meaningful use, EHR adoption, RECs, and related areas. As a data addict, I could spend forever looking through and analyzing this data. So, I’ll probably do a series of posts across Healthcare Scene over the next couple weeks looking at the charts and data that ONC has made public about meaningful use and EHR adoption. I know some of the charts have been out for a while, but the analysis should still prove useful.

If you want to join in on the analysis of this data, I welcome you in the comments of each post. Plus, if you want to find your own nuggets to share, I’d suggest starting with their quick stats and dashboards pages.

First up in our look at the ONC EHR data is a look at the meaningful use participation chart for ambulatory EHR vendors (eligible providers if you prefer):
Ambulatory Practice EHR Adoption - Meaningful Use Participation
The most important part of this chart to me is that the two largest bars on the chart. The largest bar is the 749 “Other EHR Vendors” category at the bottom of the chart. It’s easy to miss this bar, but I believe it’s extremely important to note how big the long tail is when it comes to ambulatory EHR adoption. I’ve often said that it doesn’t take that many doctors to make yourself a decent EHR business. This chart illustrates how many EHR vendors are still in the game. There are only 3 EHR vendors that have over 40,000 providers. I know that many think that EHR vendor consolidation is bound to happen. Some certainly will, but I don’t see it happening at a massive scale in the ambulatory EHR world.

The second largest bar on the chart is the Epic EHR adoption. What’s important about this bar is that this totally represents that hospital owned ambulatory EHR adoption. Epic does not and will not sell Epic directly to a small ambulatory provider. All of these “eligible providers” for Epic are in hospital systems. I take away two important things from this. First, we see in plain sight how big the roll up of ambulatory practices is by hospitals. Second, this chart illustrates the opportunity that Cerner and Meditech have available to them. As you’ll see in the next chart, Cerner and Meditech have more hospital installs than Epic, but they’re much farther down on the ambulatory side. A look at history explains why they’ve had trouble penetrating the ambulatory market, but I believe it’s a huge opportunity for them going forward.

I’ll be interested to see how this chart continues to evolve over time. Will we doctors leaving hospitals to go back on their own shift the balance of power? Will we see massive EHR consolidation? I also can’t help but note that Mitochon Systems Inc shows up on the list and they don’t even sell an EHR to doctors directly any more. I assume this must be their white label business? I’ll have to follow up with them to get an update on their business.

Now let’s take a look at the chart for Hospital EHR vendors participating in the EHR incentive programs:
Hospital EHR Adoption - Meaningful Use Participation
This chart illustrates really well the 3 horse hospital EHR race which we’ve all known for a while. Although, given healthcare IT’s love affair with Epic (kind of like Apple in the IT world), I think some will be a bit surprised that Cerner and MEDITECH are both listed ahead of Epic. If you looked only at large hospital systems, I think the chart would look very different though.

It’s worth also mentioning the other horses in the race: McKesson, CPSI, MEDHOST, Healthland and Allscripts. They’ve all carved out their niche in the hospital space. We’ll see if they can continue to defend their territory. Hospital EHR switching is not easy.

My favorite observation from this chart versus the ambulatory chart is how well it illustrates the importance of secondary EHR vendors (the brownish gold color) in hospitals. I’ll never forget when Alan Portela of Airstrip told me that the EHR world will be a heterogenous environment. That absolutely resonated with me and this chart proves out what he said. Health systems are going to have multiple EHR vendors even if some EHR vendors would like it to be otherwise.

If you want to look at the potential disruptors in the world of EHR, I’d take a look at these secondary EHR vendors. Their foothold in hospitals provides them a really great opportunity to disrupt the status quo as we know it. Most of them won’t, but they’re all sitting on an opportunity. I’d start with the companies that make up the “Other Vendors” brownish gold bar. I bet there are some really interesting ones in that list.

I’d love to hear your observations from these charts in the comments. Anything I missed? Do you disagree with my observations? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

EHR Partner Programs

Posted on May 22, 2015 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.

Amazing Charts just announced a new EHR partner program. This isn’t something that’s particularly new for EHR vendors. They all have lots of partners. Some have formalized them into a program like athenahealth has done with their More Disruption Please (MDP) program. Others are much more quiet about the partners they work with and how they work with them.

What’s clear to me in the EHR industry is that an EHR vendor won’t be able to do everything. There are some that like to try (See Epic), but even the largest EHR vendor isn’t going to be able to provide all the services that are needed by a healthcare organization. This is true for ambulatory and hospitals.

Since an EHR vendor won’t be able to do everything, it makes a lot of sense for an EHR vendor to have some sort of partners program. The challenge for an EHR vendor is that a partner program comes with two major expectations. First, the partner has a high quality integration with the EHR software. Second, that the partner is something that the EHR vendor has vetted.

The first challenge is mostly a challenge because most EHR vendors aren’t great at integrating with outside companies. This is a major culture shift for many EHR vendors and it will take time for them to get up to speed on these types of integrations. Plus, these integrations do take some time and investment on the part of the EHR vendor. When there’s time and investment involved, the EHR vendor starts to be much more selective about which companies they want to be working with long term. They don’t want to spend their time and money integrating with a company which none of its users will actually use.

The second challenge is that EHR users assume that an EHR partner is one that’s been vetted by the EHR vendor. Even if the EHR vendor puts all sorts of disclaimers on their partner page, the EHR vendor is still associated with their partners. The written disclaimers might help you avoid legal issues, but working with shady partners can do a lot of damage to your reputation and credibility in the marketplace. I actually think this is probably the biggest reason that EHR vendors have been reluctant to implement partner programs.

I think over time we’ll see the first problem solved as EHR vendors work to standardize their APIs for partner companies. As those APIs become more mature, we’ll see much deeper EHR integrations and the costs to an EHR vendor will drop dramatically when it comes to new partner integrations.

The second problem is much harder to solve. My best suggestion for EHR vendors is to create a platform which allows your users to help you vet potential partners. Not only can they participate in the vetting process, but it can also help you know which partners would be useful to your users. Is there anything more valuable than user driven partnerships? It also puts you in a good position with potential partners if you already have users interested in the integration.

However, an EHR vendor shouldn’t just leave potential partnership requests to their users. Many of their users don’t know of all the potential partner companies. Users are so busy dealing with their day jobs that they often don’t know of all the potential companies that could benefit their practice or hospital. Certainly you should accept user input on potential partnerships, but an EHR vendor should also seed the potential partner feedback platform with a list of potential partners as well. The mix of an EHR vendor created list together with user generated partner lists is much more powerful than one or the other.

We’re just at the beginning of companies partnering and integrating with EHR vendors. I expect that over the next 5 years an EHR vendor will be defined as much by the organizations it chooses to partner with as the features and functions it chooses to develop itself.

My Prediction for the Epic App Store

Posted on March 5, 2015 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.

Today I was talking with a healthcare IT vendor which really needs to integrate deeply with an EHR to be valuable. Without that integration the product is not nearly as useful for doctors. Therefore we started talking about their current EHR integration and the potential for future EHR integrations. At that point he asked me what I thought about the coming Epic App Store (officially called the Epic App Exchange).

In case you missed it, I wrote about the Epic App Store over on Hospital EMR and EHR. I cover what’s been said about the Epic App Store (not much from Epic itself) and make some predictions. However, today’s conversation solidified my predictions.

Epic has always been open to working with their customers and a tech partner to integrate something with Epic. Basically, the customer is king and so if the customer wants the integration, Epic will provide the SDK that’s needed for the integration and make it possible for the customer to do what they need. Everyone’s known that if you want to integrate with Epic, then you need to work through a customer.

With this in mind, I believe the Epic app store is a way for Epic to allow for distribution of these apps that have been created by their customers (often with a tech partner) to other Epic customers.

Basically, this is in line with Judy’s focus on the customer. Some might say that this focus is great. Hard to argue with Epic’s success. However, this approach misses out on the opportunity of the Epic app store facilitating entrepreneurial innovators to build something on top of Epic that their customers didn’t even know they wanted yet.

Epics current strategy is more in line with staying the entrenched incumbent. Real transformation comes when you provide a platform for innovation that goes beyond yourself and your customers. I hope one day Epic sees this vision and really roles out an open app store. Until then, the Epic connected customer applications are going to have a bit of a monopoly selling their add on services to Epic customers.

Never Sell Your EHR Company – According to eCW Founder

Posted on January 16, 2015 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 recently came across an interesting article in Entrepreneur magazine authored by Girish Navani, CEO and Co-founder of eClinicalWorks. If you read this site, you know doubt are familiar with the quite popular eCW EHR software. In this article Girish gives some interesting insight into the future of eCW as a company:

After grad school, I set out to create my own version of my father’s bridge. After working many odd jobs developing software, I created credit check software for an acquaintance’s business. This made him a lot of money, which prompted me to ask (perhaps naively) for a share of the profit. I had developed a very successful facet of the company – didn’t I deserve it? His response surprised me, but I will never forget it. He said, “If you build something you like, don’t sell it.”

Twenty years later, I still remember my acquaintance’s advice. For that reason, my company, eClinicalWorks is, and always will be, a privately-held company. I have no interest in selling it, regardless of any offer I may get. In addition, we don’t use investor cash or spend money we don’t have.

This is not a philosophy that is unique to eCW. #1 on Epic’s list of principles is “Do not go public.” I imagine that Judy Faulkner (CEO of Epic) has a somewhat similar philosophy to Girish. There are certainly a lot of advantages to not going public and most of them get down to control. I’ll never forget when I heard one of the Marriott children talk about their decision to stay a private company. He said that Marriott would likely be a lot bigger if they had become a public company, but they would have lost a lot of the company culture if they’d chose to do so.

I imagine this is a similar feeling that Epic and eCW share. However, there’s also some accountability that comes with being a public company as well. It’s not easy for an organization to assess the financial well being of a private company. During the golden age of EHR which we just experienced, that hasn’t been an issue for either eCW or Epic. However, as we exit this golden age of EHR that was propped up by $36 billion in government stimulus money, the financial future may be quite different.

As in most things in life, there are pros and cons to staying private or going public. It’s interesting that two of the major EHR players (eCW and Epic) have made it clear that they have no interest in ever going public. We’ll see how that plays out long term.

Top 10 Google Searches in 2014 – What Would Be Healthcare IT’s Top Searches?

Posted on December 16, 2014 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.

Each year Google releases it’s top trending searches in the US and the world. This list isn’t the most frequently searched terms (according to Google the most popular searches don’t change) but is a year versus year comparison of what terms were trending in 2014.

US Trending Searches:
Robin Williams
World Cup
Ebola
Malaysia Airlines
Flappy Bird
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
ISIS
Ferguson
Frozen
Ukraine

Global Trending Searches:
Robin Williams
World Cup
Ebola
Malaysia Airlines
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Flappy Bird
Conchita Wurst
ISIS
Frozen
Sochi Olympics

Pretty interesting look into 2014. Also amazing that a mobile app (Flappy Bird) made the list for the first time. There’s two healthcare terms: Ebola and ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I wondered what this list would look like for healthcare IT. So, I decide to take a guess at what I think would be the trending healthcare IT terms of 2014:

ICD-10 Delay
EHR Penalties
Wearables
Meaningful Use Stage 2
Epic
Obamacare
FHIR
Cerner-Siemens
HIPAA Breaches
Patient Engagement

What do you think of the list? Would you order it differently? Are there terms you think should be on the list?

HL7 Backs Effort To Boost Patient Data Exchange

Posted on December 8, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger 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.

Standards group Health Level Seven has kicked off a new project intended to increase the adoption of tech standards designed to improve electronic patient data exchange. The initiative, the Argonaut Project, includes just five EMR vendors and four provider organizations, but it seems to have some interesting and substantial goals.

Participating vendors include Athenahealth, Cerner, Epic, McKesson and MEDITECH, while providers include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Intermoutain  Healthcare, Mayo Clinic and Partners HealthCare. In an interesting twist, the group also includes SMART, Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program’s federally-funded mobile app development project. (How often does mobile get a seat at the table when interoperability is being discussed?) And consulting firm the Advisory Board Company is also involved.

Unlike the activity around the much-bruited CommonWell Alliance, which still feels like vaporware to industry watchers like myself, this project seems to have a solid technical footing. On the recommendation of a group of science advisors known as JASON, the group is working at creating a public API to advance EMR interoperability.

The springboard for its efforts is HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources. HL7’s FHir is a RESTful API, an approach which, the standards group notes, makes it easier to share data not only across traditional networks and EMR-sharing modular components, but also to mobile devices, web-based applications and cloud communications.

According to JASON’s David McCallie, Cerner’s president of medical informatics, the group has an intriguing goal. Members’ intent is to develop a health IT operating system such as those used by Apple and Android mobile devices. Once that was created, providers could then use both built-in apps resident in the OS and others created by independent developers. While the devices a “health IT OS” would have to embrace would be far more diverse than those run by Android or iOS, the concept is still a fascinating one.

It’s also neat to hear that the collective has committed itself to a fairly aggressive timeline, promising to accelerate current FHIT development to provide hands-on FHIR profiles and implementation guides to the healthcare world by spring of next year.

Lest I seem too critical of CommonWell, which has been soldiering along for quite some time now, it’s onlyt fair to note that its goals are, if anything, even more ambitious than the Argonauts’. CommonWell hopes to accomplish nothing less than managing a single identity for every person/patient, locating the person’s records in the network and managing consent. And CommonWell member Cerner recently announced that it would provide CommonWell services to its clients for free until Jan. 1, 2018.

But as things stand, I’d wager that the Argonauts (I love that name!) will get more done, more quickly. I’m truly eager to see what emerges from their efforts.

Is Healthcare Missing Out on 21st Century Technology?

Posted on July 31, 2014 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.

This tweet struck me as I consider some of the technologies at the core of healthcare. As a patient, many of the healthcare technologies in use are extremely disappointing. As an entrepreneur I’m excited by the possibilities that newer technologies can and will provide healthcare.

I understand the history of healthcare technology and so I understand much of why healthcare organizations are using some of the technologies they do. In many cases, there’s just too much embedded knowledge in the older technology. In other cases, many believe that the older technologies are “more reliable” and trusted than newer technologies. They argue that healthcare needs to have extremely reliable technologies. The reality of many of these old technologies is that they don’t stop someone from purchasing the software (yet?). So, why should these organizations change?

I’m excited to see how the next 5-10 years play out. I see an opportunity for a company to leverage newer technologies to disrupt some of the dominant companies we see today. I reminded of this post on my favorite VC blog. The reality is that software is a commodity and so it can be replaced by newer and better technology and displace the incumbent software.

I think we’ve seen this already. Think about MEDITECH’s dominance and how Epic is having its hey day now. It does feel like software displacement in healthcare is a little slower than other industries, but it still happens. I’m interested to see who replaces Epic on the top of the heap.

I do offer one word of caution. As Fred says in the blog post above, one way to create software lock in is to create a network of users that’s hard to replicate. Although, he also suggested that data could be another way to make your software defensible. I’d describe it as data lock-in and not just data. We see this happening all over the EHR industry. Many EHR vendors absolutely lock in the EHR data in a way that makes it really challenging to switch EHR software. If exchange of EHR data becomes wide spread, that’s a real business risk to these EHR software companies.

While it’s sometimes disappointing to look at the old technology that powers healthcare, it also presents a fantastic opportunity to improve our system. It is certainly not easy to sell a new piece of software to healthcare. In fact, you’ll likely see the next disruptive software come from someone with deep connections inside healthcare partnered with a progressive IT expert.

Understanding Apple Health

Posted on June 17, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is CoFounder and CEO of Pristine, a VC backed company based in Austin, TX that builds software for Google Glass for healthcare, life sciences, and industrial environments. Pristine has over 30 healthcare customers. Kyle blogs regularly about business, entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare at kylesamani.com.

Apple recently announced Health and Healthkit as part of iOS 8, and initial responses have been mixed.

At one extreme, the (highly biased) CEO of Mayo Clinic called Apple Health “revolutionary.” At the other, cynical health IT pundits claim that Apple Health is a consumer novelty and won’t crack the enigmatic healthcare system. As a cynical health IT pundit myself, I’m more inclined towards the latter, but have some optimism about Apple’s first steps into healthcare.

For the uninitiated, Apple Health is a central dashboard for health related information, packaged for consumers as an iOS app. Consumers open the app and see a broad array of clinical indicators (e.g. as physical activity, blood pressure, blood glucose, sleep data). You can learn more about Health and Healthkit from Apple.

The rest of this post assumes significant understanding of modern health IT challenges such as data silos, EMPIs, HIEs, and an understanding of what Health and Healthkit can and can’t do. I’ll address what Apple Health does well, ask some questions, and then provide some commentary.

Apple Health does a few things well:

1) Apple Health acts as a central dashboard for consumers. Rather than switching between five different apps, Health provides a central view of all clinical indicators. In time, Health could help patients understand the nuances of their own data. By removing friction to seeing a variety of indicators in a single view, patients may discover correlations that they wouldn’t have observed before. With that information, consumers should be able to adjust behaviors to lead healthier lifestyles.

2) Apple Health provides a robust mechanism for health apps to share data with one another. Until now, health app developers needed to form partnerships with one another and develop custom code to share information; now they can do this in a standardized way with minimal technical or administrative overhead. This reduces app lock-in by enabling data liquidity, empowering consumers to switch to the best health app or device and carry data between apps. This is a big win for consumers.

Unanswered questions:

1) How does Apple Health actually work? Apple provided virtually no details. Does the patient need the Epic MyChart app on their phone? Is there custom code integrating iOS to Epic MyChart? Is there a Mayo Clinic app that is separate from Epic MyChart? If not, how does Apple Health know that the consumer is a Mayo patient? Or a Kaiser Permanente patient? Or a Sutter Health patient?

2) Does the patient give consent per data value, or is it all or nothing? How long does consent last? Must consent be taken at the hospital, or can the patient opt in or out any time on their phone? Who within the health system can access the consented data?

3) Given that there are hundreds of EpicCare silos and dozens of CareEverywhere silos, how does Apple Health decide which silo(s) to interface with? Does data go to an HIE or to an EMR? If to an HIE, can all eligible connected providers access the data with consent? If a patient has records in multiple HIEs and EMRs (which they likely do), how does Apple Health determine which HIE(s) to push and pull data from?

4) Does Apple Health support non-numerical data such as CCDAs? What about unstandardized data? For example, PatientIO allows providers to develop customized care plans for patients that can include almost any behavioral prescription. Examples include water intake, exercising at a certain time of the day, taper schedules, etc.

5) Can providers write back to a patient’s Health profile? Given that open.epic doesn’t allow Epic to send data out, how could Apple Health receive data from Epic?

7) How will Apple handle competing health apps installed on the same consumer’s phone? For example, if I tap “more diabetes info” in Apple Health, will it open Mayo Clinic’s app (and if so, to the right place in the Mayo Clinic app?) or the blood glucose tracking app that came with with my blood glucose meter? Or my iTriage or WebMD app?

8) Is Apple Health intended to function as a patient-centric HIE? If so, what standards does it support? CCDA? FHIR? Direct?

Comments:

1) The Apple-Epic partnership is obviously built on open.epic, which Epic announced in September of 2013. It’s likely that Apple and Epic reached an agreement around that time, and asked the public for ideas on how to shape the program to get a sense of what developers wanted.

2) The only way to succeed in health IT is to force the industry to conform to one’s standards, or to support a hybrid of hybrids approach. Early indicators show Apple (predictably) trending toward the former. Unfortunately, Apple’s perennially Apple-centric approach inhibits supporting the level of interoperability necessary to power an effective consumer health strategy. Although Apple provides a great foundation for some basic functions, the long term potential based on the current offering is limited. What Apple has produced to date provides for sexy screenshots, but appears to fall short of addressing the core interoperability and connectivity issues that plague chronic disease management and coordination of care.

3) In a hypothetical world at some indeterminate point in the future, there would be a patient-facing, DNS-like lookup system for provider organizations (Direct eventually?). Patients should be able to lookup provider organizations and share their data with providers selectively. Apple Health provides a great first step towards that dream world by empowering patients to see and, to some extent, control their own data.