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Breaking News: Meaningful Use is Not Covering Costs

Posted on April 21, 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.

In one of my recent interviews with a healthcare IT consulting company, they revealed some breaking news for those of us in the EHR world. They told me point blank that:

Meaningful Use is Not Covering Costs

Ok, so that’s not really breaking news. Although, it seems that very few people want to actually articulate this point. It almost feels like heresy that someone would “complain” about the fact that the government is spending $36 billion on EHR incentives and that the money isn’t enough to cover the implementation of these EHR systems.

Actually, I should clarify that last point. The EHR incentive money is covering the costs to purchase the systems. It’s not covering the costs of implementing those EHR systems and then poking, prodding and otherwise cajoling end users to show meaningful use of that system (not to be confused with meaningfully using the system).

Let me also be clear that I’m not complaining about the EHR incentive money. I’ve done enough of that previously. What I’m just trying to acknowledge is something that everyone who deals with the EHR budget already realizes, but no one seems to want to say it. Organizations are spending more money on EHR and meaningful use than they’re getting from the government.

I think this is important for a couple reasons. First, many organizations didn’t budget any EHR money beyond what the EHR incentive money. You can certainly argue this was a mistake on their part, but that’s going to leave a bunch of organizations in a lurch. We’re already seeing the fall out of this as news reports keep coming out about hospitals systems in financial trouble due to the costs of their EHR system. Plus, in each of these cases, it seems their costs continue to balloon out of control with no end in sight. It makes me wonder if the compressed meaningful use timeline is partially to blame for a rushed implementation and poor EHR implementation and cost planning.

Second, there is still a swash of providers and organizations that haven’t yet implemented their EHR. If you can’t support the cost of EHR with government money, how does that bode for those who won’t be getting any EHR incentive money? One could make the argument that they’ll actually be in a better position since they won’t have to worry about meaningful use and can just focus on getting value out of their EHR. Hopefully that’s the case, but many of the meaningful use functions are now hardcoded into the EHR systems. Even if an organization isn’t planning on attesting to meaningful use, that doesn’t mean they won’t be forced by their EHR software to do a bunch of things they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

What are you seeing from your perspective? Is the EHR incentive money covering the costs of an EHR implementation? What are the impacts if it doesn’t?

Cost to Update to Meaningful Use Certified EHR Software

Posted on September 20, 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.

In my previous post about the EHR certification costs, a reader emailed me that I’d missed an important downstream cost. It’s not as much a cost for the EHR company as it is for the current user of an EHR system. It’s the cost for a current EHR user to upgrade their software to the latest and greatest version of the EHR software. You know, the one that is certified and allows you to show meaningful use of that EHR.

All EHR Will Need to Update
Lest you don’t think this is going to happen, I can pretty much guarantee that EVERY EHR company will need to upgrade their software to become a certified EHR and meet all the meaningful use requirements. The good thing is that most EHR users have a contract that provides them with all the upgrades free. Although, there might be some users that will incur a cost to upgrade.

Less Visible Update Costs
Beyond the potential cost to get the upgraded software, there’s also the cost to physically update your EHR software. There’s the very apparent cost of having to run a software install on all the computers in your clinic. This is pretty negligible for a small clinic with only a couple computers. However, in one clinic I supported we had 100+ computers and so the update process did take time.

However, more important than the actual software update is the process of preparing for the update. Certainly you could just update the software and go forward with it. Although, this is far from recommended and can be really problematic. I should cover this topic in a future blog post, but suffice it to say that the upgrade process goes much better when you 1. Look over the new features/changes to the EHR softare 2. Test the changes to see how they work 3. Train your staff on the new changes and how it will affect their workflow. These are all pretty academic steps, but they do take time.

SaaS EHR Vendors
Of course, the SaaS-hosted EHR vendors will all really enjoy this part of the process. They can easily update their EHR software to meet the guidelines with little interaction or work from the customer end. They still could cause the headache of an update to their EHR software affecting a clinic’s workflow. However, most SaaS EHR software companies are doing many regularly scheduled smaller updates as opposed to the large traditional client server EHR updates. These smaller changes generally cause fewer issues or at least spreads those issues out over time.

Even More Hidden Update Costs
I recently was aghast to learn of the EHR update requirements for a certain very popular EHR vendor. They’d told a clinic (or at least given them the impression) that in order to update their clinic to the latest EHR software that met the meaningful use and certified EHR guidelines (which is kind of silly since there still aren’t any officially recognized Certified EHR, but I digress) that the clinic would need to have computers that ran the Windows 7 Operating System. The sad news for this clinic was their current Windows XP machines weren’t powerful enough to run the Windows 7 operating system.

Let me translate what this means for the less tech savvy readership. The clinic would need to buy all new computers and the Windows 7 operating system (which should come on the new computers) in order to upgrade their EHR software to the latest meaningful use-certified EHR software. One could certainly argue that the clinic might need to upgrade these older computers anyway, but something doesn’t feel right about this being “forced” on a clinic. I personally still use Windows XP and don’t see much benefit to pay for a new computer with Windows 7. I will at some point, but there’s no compelling reason for me to move now. Why should clinics be forced into this expense by an EHR vendor?

Certainly Windows 7 and Windows XP are not ALL that different, but be sure that the change will cause some heartache in a clinic. Some mundane task that a user use to do easily in Windows XP will require a change to make it work in Windows 7. It’s easy to quantify the cost of new computers with Windows 7. It’s much harder to quantify the cost of this heartache.

Ongoing Update Costs
Many of these costs aren’t generally meaningful use specific. These costs or some variation are going to be part of the EMR update costs going forward. Unless your EMR vendor stops updating. Although, if your EMR vendor stops putting out updates, then you have a much different problem to deal with.