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How Do We Really Move the Needle in Healthcare IT?

Posted on March 21, 2016 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.

Lately, I’ve become more and more interested in what will really move the needle in healthcare IT. Plus, I’ve been thinking through how most health IT companies approach their solutions and how the methods we’ve been using for years are failing so many patients in healthcare. As part of this analysis I’ve been discovering a need for healthcare IT companies to spend more time and focus on the behavioral side of things than they do today.

Much of my thinking has been influenced by Melissa McCool and her work creating her company, STI Innovations. Plus, this thinking was extended in a number of conversations at HIMSS including my meeting with Wanda Health. While Wanda Health uses things like machine learning and healthcare analytics, I was most interested by their efforts to actually influence the behaviors of patients. These companies are making efforts to understand the unique needs of each patient and their situation so they can engage them in a way that will actually achieve the desired result.

This type of approach is dramatically different than so many healthcare IT companies out there. I believe most healthcare IT companies currently take 2 approaches to building a company: Process Automation and Trial and Error.

Process Automation Companies
This class of healthcare IT company is one that wants to use technology to make a healthcare process more efficient. That’s not to say that they do make that process more efficient. Just that their goal is to make the process more efficient. Sometimes all that they actually do is make the process electronic. They don’t necessarily achieve the efficiency goal. However, the best ones do make healthcare more efficient. Most EHR vendors fit into this category of company, but there are hundreds of other health IT companies that just want to use technology to make your life a little more efficient.

There’s nothing wrong with these companies. More efficiency is a great thing that can have all sorts of great tangential impacts. However, this is very different than a company that’s focused on actually improving the care that’s provided patients. What happens sometimes with process automation companies is that they back their way into doing more than just process automation. Their main goal when they start isn’t to improve patient care, but they often back into that goal as their system matures. We all hope this is what will happen with EHR vendors. It’s happening with some of them already, but not nearly as quick as most of us would like.

Trial and Error Companies
A trial and error healthcare IT company is one that believes some use of technology will improve care, so they build a product and try it out and see what happens. This type of company has been extremely successful in the general silicon valley startup world. They create a hypothesis, try it out, adjust their hypothesis, try it out again, and so forth.

The trial and error style company will sometimes back into something that’s clinically relevant. As they go through this trial and error process, they’ll discover that whatever they were doing might improve things for 20% of people in their trial. So, they double down on those 20% and see how they can expand that 20% to 30% by tweaking what they were already doing.

What’s usually missing with the trial and error approach is that once they find the 20%, they just try and suck the life out of that 20%. They don’t worry about the other 80% that didn’t respond. 20% (or whatever the specific number) is enough for them to improve the status quo and so they build a business around that 20% improvement and generally don’t think about the other 80%.

Once again the Trial and Error companies may back themselves into a solution that works well for patients. Sometimes they hit magical numbers, but they’re usually backing into the solution rather than really working to understand the problem and creating a solution that fixes the wide variety of problems that exist across the majority of patients. This category of companies is likely why someone came up with the term pilotitus on Twitter to describe healthcare’s propensity to do lots of pilots, but stop there.

Really Moving the Needle
I’ve become more and more convinced that if we really want to move the needle on healthcare, we have to take a different approach than the two described above. Sure, the new approach will include some process automation and there will be some trial and error involved. However, to really move the needle in healthcare I think we need to do a much better job understanding the unique patient needs and why the 80% of patients aren’t responding to the technology and methodologies that are currently being thrown at them.

I can say this with some authority since I am a techguy by background (and on Twitter). In technology we often get pretty lazy and don’t dive into the details of why the technology’s not helping. This requires a deep understanding of behavioral science that most tech people don’t want to tackle. It’s much easier to just automate something or to try something and see if it works. It’s much harder to understand the underpinnings of patient and provider decision making so you can craft a product that actually improves that decision making.

I’ll make the reverse analogy. If you’re a programmer, you know that not all programmers are created equal. You have the newbie programmers that make something work and you have the expert programmers that design something in such an elegant way that it can handle anything that’s thrown at it with incredible efficiency. Right now our technology solutions in healthcare feel like a bunch of newbies that make something work. We need more tech companies to dive into the deep and become experts on behavior change if we want to see healthcare IT companies taking things to the next level. Otherwise, like in programming we’re going to have so much accrued technical debt that it’s going to be hard to unravel the situation.

One final word of caution. While we need more companies that invest in this type of deep understanding of healthcare’s challenges, we also need healthcare organizations that are willing to buy and work with these companies. That takes some bravery from both the companies who want to solve hard problems and the healthcare organizations that aren’t just looking for the quick fix.

My Overall View of Healthcare IT After HIMSS15

Posted on April 17, 2015 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.

As I fly home from HIMSS15 (literally), I’ve been thinking how to summarize my annual visit to the mecca of healthcare IT conferences we know as HIMSS. I’ve seen a bunch of numbers around attendance and exhibitors and I believe they’re somewhere around 43,000 attendees and 1300 exhibitors. It definitely felt that massive. The interest in using technology to improve healthcare has never been higher. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone. When I look at the path forward for healthcare, every single scenario has technology playing a massive role.

With that in mind, I think that the healthcare IT world is experiencing a massive war between a large number of competing interests. Many of those interests are deeply entrenched in what they’ve been doing for seemingly ever. Some of these companies are really trying to dig in and continue to enjoy the high ground that they’ve enjoyed for many years. This includes vendors at HIMSS, but also many large and small healthcare organizations (the small entrenched healthcare organizations weren’t likely at HIMSS though) who enjoyed the status quo.

The problem with this battlefield is that they’re battling against a massive shift in reimbursement model. They can try and stay entrenched, but the shift in healthcare business model is going to absolutely force them to change. This is not a question of if, but when. This doesn’t keep these organizations from bombing away as they resist the changes.

If you’re a healthcare startup company entering the battlefield (to continue the analogy), you’re out in the open and absolutely vulnerable. You’re very rarely the target of this major entrenched players, but sometimes you get impacted by collateral damage. As the various organizations throw bombs at each other you have to work hard to avoid getting in their way. This is a tricky challenge.

Even more challenging to these startup companies is they don’t have a way to access many of the entrenched companies so they can work together around a common vision. Most of the startups would love to work with the entrenched healthcare companies, but they don’t even have a way to start the conversation.

The mid size healthcare IT companies are even more interesting. They’ve started to carve a space for them in the battle and many of the entrenched healthcare IT vendors are scared at what this means for them. They’re using every means possible to disrupt the competition. At HIMSS I saw the scars from many of these battles.

Certainly this description is true of many industries. Welcome to economic competition and capitalism. Although, this year at HIMSS I found the battle to be much more intense. In the past couple years meaningful use opened up new territories to be “conquered.” There was enough “land” to go around that companies were often working to capture new territories as opposed to battling their competitors for the same opportunities. That’s why I think we’re in a very different market today versus the past couple years.

The great thing is that in periods of turmoil often comes the most amazing innovations. I believe that’s what we’re going to see over the next couple years. Although, I predict that most of these innovations are going to come from places we don’t expect. It’s just too hard for companies to innovate themselves out of business. There are a few exceptions in history and we might see a few exceptions in healthcare. However, my bet is on the most successful companies being those that choose to obliterate as opposed to automate.

What’s most exciting to me is that healthcare organizations and patients seem to be ready for change. There are varying degrees of readiness, but I believe I’ve seen a groundswell of change that’s coming for healthcare. As a blogger this of course has me excited, but as a patient it has me excited as well.

What were your thoughts of HIMSS 2015? What do you think of the analogy?

While the battle is on in healthcare IT, the best part of HIMSS is always the people. Every industry has some bad apples, but for the most part I’m always deeply impacted by the good nature of so many people I meet at HIMSS. They are sincere in their efforts to try and improve healthcare for good. We certainly have our challenges in healthcare, but similar to what George Bush said in his keynote, I’m optimistic that the good people in healthcare will be able to produce amazing results. The best days of healthcare are not behind us, but are ahead of us.

Healthcare IT Companies That Shouldn’t Do Social Media

Posted on April 24, 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.

As I posted previously, I’m a very big proponent of healthcare IT companies using social media. Plus, as I mention in the column, I think you have to be careful to ensure that the voice of the company is involved in the social media efforts. Otherwise, you’ll lose your authentic voice and your social media efforts will be a fail. The best way to do this is through good training of your staff with smart outsourcing of certain aspects of your social media.

I believe that every healthcare IT and EHR company could benefit from social media, but I don’t think all healthcare IT and EHR companies should do social media. In fact, the company with the wrong culture will see bad results if they start using social media. Here are some issues a company might have that would make them not want to do social media:

Those Who Can’t Commit – If you can’t commit to social media, then don’t start. It’s better to do nothing then to have something laying their half done. For example, a blog should have at least 1 post a week. Anything less and you lose momentum and lose your audience. Twitter should be updated multiple times a week, but more importantly you need to make sure you respond to any relevant @ replies that you receive on Twitter. Don’t underestimate what I call the content beast. No matter how much you think you’re ahead, you’ll be surprised when it needs to get fed again. Be ready to commit to feed it regularly.

Those Overwhelmed by Their Email – This is partially related to the first point, but I think that your ability to manage your email is a good sign of whether you’ll be able to handle social medial or not. Starting into social media ends up adding more and more channels of information to be processed. If you have trouble managing one channel, email, then you’re likely going to feel extremely overwhelmed adding in multiple social media channels. Plus, most of those social media channels leverage email to some extent as well, so it will just make your email abyss even greater.

Those Who Don’t Care About Their Customers – This is a hard one for someone to understand and realize, but a few are self aware enough to realize it. The point is that if you don’t care about your customers to your very core, it will be seen in your communication on social media. I’m sure that most companies will wonder how this is possible because they’re so focused on the customer, but trust me they exist.

Those Who Suck – Sorry I couldn’t think of a better word, but it’s the only one that I think describes these companies. If your company has bad support, a poor sales process, and other related issues you don’t want to be found on social media. Imagine the questions that you’ll get if this is the case and your inability to properly respond to them. It makes for an ugly situation.

Those Who Can’t Take Heat – Some companies can’t take any sort of criticism. Instead of learning from the comments, they get confrontational. Sure, there will be some in social media who may make outlandish statements. Some people can’t resist the urge to start a confrontation. I’m certainly not perfect in this regard, but the best healthcare IT companies are humble in their approach to it. They correct when needed, but appreciate feedback from those who might see the world different than they do. A lot of good can come out of frank social media discussions. It’s not always about being right.

Those Who Drank the Kool-aid and Are Afraid of Those Who Haven’t – I must admit that these people always give me a good laugh. You might know the type of person I’m talking about. They’ve only worked for one company in healthcare IT (or maybe only one company ever) and they’ve been to one too many Ra Ra company meeting where all that they’ve heard is the good side of the story. I actually think social media is great for these people since it will help them to expand their mind. They just shouldn’t be the face of the company social media. I should probably add the other extreme: the long term jaded healthcare IT professional. I actually love these people on Twitter since they provide incredibly valuable insight. Although, you have to be careful having them as the face of the company.

I’m sure we could look at other characteristics that would prevent a company from deciding to participate in social media. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this subject. Some stories would be quite interesting as well.

7 Tips for Marketing a Physician Practice Online and Healthcare IT Social Media

Posted on April 5, 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.

I was recently invited by Michelle McNickle of Healthcare Finance News to talk about tips and suggestions for marketing a physician practice to patients. Looking at the article on Healthcare Finance News I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I think there’s some really good information in the article for those looking to market their practice online. Here are the 7 tips for those who don’t want to read the entire article:

  1. Develop a Social Media Plan
  2. Remember, the Goal is to Connect
  3. Understand Your Community
  4. Take Control of Your Online Presence
  5. Start Your Own Blog
  6. Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes
  7. Find a Good Partner

I’d love to hear what other suggestions people have to market a practice online. Turns out I’m doing lunch with a local Las Vegas company that does this for the physician and dentist markets. I’ll be interested to hear their thoughts. Plus, I have another project which partially touches this space as well and will be a nice extension to Influential Networks. More on that in the future.

Healthcare IT Social Media
At HIMSS 2012, I found I was talking all the time about healthcare IT social media. I was on a Meet the Bloggers Panel, answered questions at the Social Media Genius Bar, participated in the #HITsm chat, hosted the New Media Meetup, etc. While I certainly enjoyed each of these events, I must admit that one of my favorite healthcare IT social media things I did at HIMSS was talking one on one with a company about social media.

It was funny how it happened too. The PR person had setup a meeting for this company to talk about whatever news they had coming out at HIMSS. I can’t remember what news, because when we sat down to chat they said they wanted to tell me about the news and they also wanted to pick my brain about blogging and healthcare social media. We probably should have taken the chat in that order, but we started discussing blogging and an hour or so later time was up.

From this experience I learned a couple important things. First, I have quite a bit of knowledge and skills I can share with healthcare IT companies interested in social media and blogging in particular. I also really enjoyed the one on one format where I was talking with one company about their social media and blogging needs. While you can certainly generalize a lot of points, there’s always some slight variation which helps a company better understand what they should really do.

I’ve actually gotten a number of requests from companies interested in assistance with their company’s social media efforts. I’ll admit that I’ve never felt comfortable with the right way to approach these requests. Can I see value for these companies to do social media? In 99% of cases, yes. Should all of these companies have a social media presence? I’d say in 75% of cases they could and should. What about the other 25% of companies? While I think pretty much all companies could benefit from social media, there’s some share of companies (I put it at 25%) that don’t have the company culture to make it happen. It’s kind of like trying to force an EHR down a 4 physician practice where none of those physicians wants EHR. The same goes for a healthcare IT company that doesn’t want social media.

As I considered all of these things, I wondered how I could help out companies interested in healthcare social media since there’s a big demand for it now. My biggest problem is that I have a hard time seeing outsourced social media working well for most healthcare IT companies. If you’re a billing or ICD-10 company how are you going to find someone who can really be authentic in your social media presence? At the core of good social media is authenticity.

Sure, you can outsource a well designed one off social media campaign, but I think this falls apart for long term social media efforts. Some of the best social media brings out the culture of the company and how can someone outside that culture effectively communicate it? It’s possible, but much harder and can often fall on its face. Plus, this doesn’t even take into account the scam/sham/joke companies out there that use all the buzz words, but do little to benefit the company.

For me, healthcare IT social media is best done by the company. Some ancillary services can compliment what the company is doing, but the voice of your social media should be people in the company. Then, you can use other outside services to amplify that voice.

How then do you “train” your company so that social media is just a part of what the company does? I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head. It seems the best way would be to have an expert come for a day seminar with your company to talk about social media and your company. There would be prep done before the seminar to understand the needs of the company, the current social media footprint and make sure the company is ready to run. It makes no sense for an expert to train a company that’s not interested in running or that isn’t ready to dive into social media. Plus, I’ve been writing an online resource for blogging that I’ve been thinking about adapting for use by healthcare IT companies. It could serve as the “handbook” for the seminar.

What do you think of this idea? Do you think that social media can be outsourced for a healthcare IT company?

My gut feeling is that many healthcare IT companies are lost in the ocean of social media. They need help knowing how to focus their energies. Many see the need to engage in social media and have the desire to be part of it, but aren’t sure what to do and where to start. However, most would be better served to learn how to swim in the social media waters as opposed to buying a ticket on the boat which drops them off back where they started.