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Is Healthcare IT Hiring Part of the Problem with Healthcare?

Posted on July 10, 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.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about hiring in healthcare IT since Healthcare IT Central joined the Healthcare Scene family. Recently I started thinking about the way we hire people in healthcare IT. Here are two facets of what we hire in healthcare:

  • We hire those who know healthcare.
  • We hire those who know old technologies.

When you think about the health IT software world it includes things like MUMPS, Fax Machines, and lots of client server. Where else in technology do you find that combination of old technology. Or as I read on Twitter today, “Why do we think that client server is going to survive in healthcare? Didn’t Microsoft show us how that was a failed long term strategy.” Ok, that wasn’t an exact quote, but you get the gist. Plus, I don’t want to dwell on client server vs cloud systems here either (I’ve got a great post coming where we can do that). I just want to illustrate that healthcare is home to a lot of old technology (see the pager if you need added evidence).

Now think about the people we have to hire to work on these old technologies. Do the innovators and creators of the world want to work on old technologies? Of course, they don’t. Sure, there are some exceptions, but they are exceptions. As a rule, the really innovative, creative thinkers are going to want to work on the latest and greatest technology.

This tweet from Greg Meyer (@Greg_Meyer93 if you prefer) highlights the divide really well:

The reality of healthcare is that we have an industrial workforce and industrial products. Should we expect creative results? Maybe we need to switch up how we think about hiring and how we approach technology if we want to really disrupt healthcare. Or maybe healthcare will just get so bad and so far behind that it will create a gap that will allow someone from outside healthcare to enter and disrupt it all.

Five Guest Blog Posts On EHR and HIT Workflow, Usability, Safety, Interoperability and Population Health

Posted on June 9, 2014 I Written By

Chuck Webster, MD, MSIE, MSIS has degrees in Accountancy, Industrial Engineering, Intelligent Systems, and Medicine (from the University of Chicago). He designed the first undergraduate program in medical informatics, was a software architect in a hospital MIS department, and also VP and CMIO for an EHR vendor for over a decade. Dr. Webster helped three healthcare organizations win the HIMSS Davies Award and is a judge for the annual Workflow Management Coalition Awards for Excellence in BPM and Workflow and Awards for Case Management. Chuck is a ceaseless evangelist for process-aware technologies in healthcare, including workflow management systems, Business Process Management, and dynamic and adaptive case management. Dr. Webster tweets from @wareFLO and maintains numerous websites, including EHR Workflow Management Systems (http://chuckwebster.com), Healthcare Business Process Management (http://HCBPM.com) and the People and Organizations improving Healthcare with Health Information Technology (http://EHRworkflow.com). Please join with Chuck to spread the message: Viva la workflow!

John Lynn is taking a well-deserved week off to attend a family function. He asked if I was interested in five EHR workflow guest blog posts, a blog post a day this week, on EMR and HIPAA. Of course I said: YES!

Here’s the outline for the week:

I blog and tweet a lot about healthcare workflow and workflow technology, but in this first post I’ll try to synthesize and simplify. In later posts I drive into the weeds. Here, I’ll define workflow, describe workflow technology, it’s relevance to healthcare and health IT, and try not to steal my own thunder from the rest of the week.

I’ve looked at literally hundreds of definitions of workflow, all the way from a “series of tasks” to definitions that’d sprawl across several presentation slides. The one I’ve settled on is this:

“Workflow is a series of tasks, consuming resources, achieving goals.”

Short enough to tweet, which is why I like it, but long enough to address two important concepts: resources (costs) and goals (benefits).

So what is workflow technology? Workflow technology uses models of work to automate processes and support human workflows. These models can be understood, edited, improved, and even created, by humans who are not, themselves, programmers. These models can be executed, monitored, and even systematically improved by computer programs, variously called workflow management systems, business process management suites, and, for ad hoc workflows, case management systems.

Workflow tech, like health IT itself, is a vast and varied continent. As an industry, worldwide, it’s probably less than a tenth size of health IT, but it’s also growing at two or three times the rate. And, as both industries grow, they increasingly overlap. Health IT increasingly represents workflows and executes them with workflow engines. Workflow tech vendors increasingly aim at healthcare to sell a wide variety of workflow solutions, from embeddable workflow engines to sprawling business process management suites. Workflow vendors strenuously compete and debate on finer points of philosophy about how best automate and support work. Many of these finer points are directly relevant to workflow problems plaguing healthcare and health IT.

Why is workflow tech important to health IT? Because it can do what is missing, but sorely needed, in traditional health IT, including electronic health records (EHRs). Most EHRs and health IT systems essentially hard-code workflow. By “hard code” I mean that any series of tasks is implicitly represented by Java and C# and MUMPS if-then and case statements. Changes to workflow require changes to underlying code. This requires programmers who understand Java and C# and MUMPS. Changes cause errors. I’m reminded of the old joke, how many programmers does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but in the morning the stove and the toilet are broken. Traditional health IT relies on frozen representations of workflow that are opaque, fragile, and difficult to manage across information system and organizational boundaries.

Well, OK, I’ll steal my own thunder just a little bit. Process-aware tech, in comparison to hardcoded workflows, is an architectural paradigm shift for health IT. It has far reaching implications for interoperability, usability, safety, and population health.

BPM systems are ideal candidates to tie together disparate systems and technologies. Users experience more usable workflows because workflows are represented so humans can understand and change then. Process-aware information systems are safer for many reasons, but particularly because they can represent and compensate for the interruptions that cause so many medical errors. Finally, BPM platforms are the right platforms to tie together accountable care organization IT systems and to drive specific, appropriate, timely action to provider and patient point-of-care.

The rest of my blog posts in this weeklong series will elaborate on these themes. I’ll address why so many EHRs and health IT systems are so unusable, un-interoperable, and sometimes even dangerous. I’ll argue that modern workflow technology can help rescue healthcare and health IT from these problems.


Is MUMPS the Major Healthcare Interoperability Problem?

Posted on November 11, 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.

Jeremy Bikman from KATALUS Advisors wrote this interesting comment on a LinkedIn discussion I was participating in:

Perhaps there is a place for MUMPS but only if healthcare continues to thumb its nose at the prevailing technology trends. It’s hard for me to envision healthcare to continue to embrace a technology that doesn’t like to play nicely with other non-MUMPS systems. If there were real advantages to it you would see a fair number of high tech firms utilizing it (Facebook, salesforce.com, Twitter, Spotify, etc).

If your goal is to have an enterprise system with a database that has some scale to it and certainly has good speed, and you don’t really care about interoperability with other systems, then MUMPS is certainly a good viable option. But IMO, the days of healthcare IT being insular, and moving out of phase with the rest of the tech world, are numbered.

I found this comment incredibly interesting. Mostly because I’ve never personally believed that the fact that many of the larger healthcare IT and EMR systems are built on MUMPS was any part of the reason why healthcare entities aren’t interoperable. I’m a tech guy by background, but I’ve never worked on a MUMPS software system myself so I don’t have first hand knowledge of MUMPS in particular. However, it seems wrong to “blame” MUMPS on the lack of healthcare data interoperability.

I guess the way I look at it is that no matter which database back end you have, you’re always going to need some front end interface to take care of the transport of the healthcare data to another system. Is this any harder with MUMPS than another SQL or even NOSQL database? From my experience it shouldn’t matter. I’d love to hear if there are reasons why it is harder.

I also don’t want to give the impression that Jeremy is trying to say that MUMPS is the only reason that healthcare IT has been so insular and closed. I’m pretty sure he agrees with me that a lot of other factors that have stopped healthcare from sharing data. I just don’t believe that MUMPS is one of those reasons.

Of course, the question of whether MUMPS should continue in healthcare is a different question. In fact, I wrote about MUMPS in healthcare IT and EMR here.

What are your thoughts? Is MUMPS the problem with healthcare interoperability? What are the other reasons stopping healthcare interoperability?

Update: Jeremy Bikman provided the following clarifying comment in the comments of this post:
Good points John. I really should have clarified. MUMPS is not really the issue (although I still stand by my assertion that if it was such a superior technology you’d see it all over Silicon Valley, RTP, etc). The main issue is really with the walled garden (w/ razor wire and machine guns along the top) approach of the major EMR/HIS vendors that have it as their foundation.

The more control you exert over your clients and the harder you make it to connect with other systems, the more money you can make…at least in the short-term.

John’s thought: I still look forward to the discussion around MUMPS and interoperability and healthcare interoperability in general.

Healthcare IT on Stack Exchange

Posted on November 6, 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.

I’m always on the lookout for new online communities around Healthcare IT. I test drive them for a little while and then decide how I’m going to incorporate them into my daily routine. I evaluate what benefits I get from participating. Sometimes the benefits of participating are just helping someone out. There’s something really satisfying about doing something for someone else.

My latest test drive has been the Healthcare IT Question and Answer site on Stack Exchange. I’ve used Stack Exchange a bunch before when I needed some programming help. However, I’m guessing that most people in healthcare IT (unless you’re a programmer) probably aren’t that familiar with Stack Exchange. Well, they created such an interesting community around question and answers that they got a whole bunch of VC funding and they’ve been growing their network into all sorts of new niches. Thus, the launch of the Healthcare IT Stack Exchange community.

You can go and check out my techguy profile on the HIT Stack Exchange site if you want to see what I’ve done. I’ve already got a reputation of 46 (whatever that means). I’ve already answered 9 questions on the site and a few people have been nice enough to vote up my answers.

For example, if you are a MUMPS lover, you can see my answers on this MUMPS replacement question and this NoSQL in Healthcare IT one. I couldn’t resist answering a question about CCHIT. I also took a swing at the PHR question, but I’m sure I could have dug a little more on that one to mention some other PHR software. Instead, I opted for the two most popular ones. I even hopped in the chat room, but it wasn’t that exciting since I was the only one there. You can check out the chat room, but you won’t be able to chat until you have enough reputation. Keeps out spammers, but makes for a boring chat room until you get some critical mass.

Of course, the real challenge with any site like this is the standard chicken and egg problem. You need a large number of people to ask and answer questions. However, in order to get a large number of people asking and answering questions, you need a lot of good questions and answers. I guess we’ll see how it evolves over time. The sidebar of the site says they’ve had 113 questions, 241 answers, 319 users and 147 visitors/day. A pretty small community, but a pretty good response rate considering the number of users. I just wish there was more discussion of EMR & EHR on the site since that’s what interests me most.

Let me know what you think and if you see any good questions or answers on the site that you think I should see. I’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how the community develops. I’d hate to have my 46 reputation points go to waste.

Analysis of MUMPS in Healthcare & EMR

Posted on October 18, 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.

Just the other day I was at a local Vegas Tech event and happened to run into a government contractor that worked in IT. As we got talking I told him about my work with EMR and EHR. Once he heard those terms he started to recount his experience evaluating a contract position where he was to work at connecting the VA system with another government entity. He then said, did you know that the VA software runs on something called MUMPS?

Of course I’ve heard all about MUMPS and so I told him how a huge portion of healthcare IT is run on the back of MUMPS (My understanding is that Epic uses MUMPS as well). Obviously, MUMPS has its benefits since it’s gotten us this far. I even remember some past threads where people have argued some of the advantages of MUMPS over newer database technology. However, I still stand in the camp that wonders how we’re going to get off MUMPS so we can enjoy the benefits of some newer, more innovative technology.

Something called the Axial Project basically asked this same question back in March 2011 when they posted about how to Architect Vista for 2011 (which is possible since Vista is open source). They provided a really insightful look into why MUMPS has done well in healthcare and what current technologies could replace it. Here’s that section:

So if I were starting a Healthcare IT company would I invest in building on Mumps/M? No. There might be some business in supporting legacy applications, but very little innovation. I am not attacking Mumps/M from a technical perspective, I am trying to be pragmatic as a business person. So we need find an alternative. So you probably think I am going to say MS SQL Server or Oracle thinking I want that 100/hr price tag. Thanks, but no thanks. So I am not in it for the money, I must go the other way. PostgreSQL or MySQL. Intriguing, but still a no go. I have learned over the past 18 months that Healthcare data has very little integrity. One of the reasons I believe Mumps/M has excelled. Storing objects vs Storing relationships in normalized structures is not valuable to this market. Too many views of the data are required depending on your role you play in the system. I would try to use a NoSQL database like MongoDB, Cassandra, or CouchDB. My preference would be MongoDB because there are drivers for Ruby, Java, .NET, and Python. Also, these systems are truly data entry/reporting tools at their core. I need strong query support which MongoDB has through it’s BSON data structures without a ton of map/reduce requirements. So let’s go back to finding some resources that can help.

The part that struck me was when it said, “I have learned over the past 18 months that Healthcare data has very little integrity.” That makes a lot of sense and explains why a NoSQL solution could work well.

Turns out, Axial Exchange has brought on the previous COO of RedHat, Joanne Rohde, to work on the project. Check out Axial Exchange’s presentation at Mogenthaler’s DC to VC 2011:

Looks like Axial has shifted from redesigning Vista, but they’re working on some interesting stuff.

What do you see as the future of MUMPS in healthcare?

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if….

Posted on June 7, 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.

Many long time readers of EMR and HIPAA will know I like to call big, bulky, old EMR software systems, Jabba the Hutt EMR. I think comparing these old legacy EMR software to Jabba the Hutt is a great comparison. For those that don’t know Star Wars that well (and I’m no expert), Jabba the Hutt was a very powerful figure. Although, over time he’d grown so big that he wasn’t very nimble (to say the least). So, despite his power and prestige, there was little to admire about him.

Does that sound a bit like some legacy EMR software? They’re big and powerful figures in the industry. However, their software has grown to the point that it’s clunky and not very nimble. Getting something changed on it is difficult and it’s built on a platform that makes it hard to add new features. Thus, they are Jabba the Hutt EMR.

Without naming names, here’s a list of things that will help you identify the Jabba the Hutt EMR software.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
your interface looks like it’s from the 80’s.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
you use a non SQL database.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
you’re better at marketing than programming.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
you cludged together your PMS that you bought from someone else.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
your interface looks more like DOS than Windows.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
your diagnosis description is restricted to 50 characters.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
your EMR salespeople don’t know your EMR developers who don’t know your EMR customer service people.

You might be a Jabba the Hutt EMR if…
iPad interface….what’s that?

I think it’s worth noting that having one or two of these things doesn’t absolutely mean an EMR vendor is a Jabba the Hutt EMR vendor. Although, the more of the above characteristics an EMR vendor has, the more you should look into it.

I hope others will add to this list in the comments.

Wall Street Journal Talks About Open Source EMR and Vista

Posted on May 4, 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 number of people ask me my thoughts on this Wall Street Journal article which talks about open source EHR and in particular the open source EHR developed by the VA hospitals called Vista.

I must admit that I’ve been enamored by the concept of free EMR. One of my most popular blog posts was this guest post about Free EMR by Medicare. Turns out that Vista is one of those open source (free) emr software that keeps popping up. I imagine it will continue to pop up for a long time to come.

Let me offer three points that I keep hearing over and over when I hear people talk about open source Vista.

1. (We’ll start with the good) Those that go to the VA are quite happy that no matter what VA hospital they go to, they have their information available. I’ve heard this on multiple occasions. I’m not sure if people are saying this because they’ve actually experienced it (which is likely considering the transient nature of veterans) or because they’ve had the concept drilled into their head. Either way, this is the major perception and considering it’s all one nice package I’m inclined to think it’s a huge advantage of Vista in the VA hospitals. I’d love to hear someone address how this “EHR interoperability” using Vista would work in commercial hospitals.

2. The users of Vista really don’t like using the program. It’s clunky, unwieldy and not the friend of the user. I’ve heard this multiple places and not just from doctors, but also from nurses and the IT people supporting the software.

3. The “database” that Vista uses, MUMPS, is a piece of junk and a major anchor on what could be an otherwise interesting open source project. I’m sure there’s some really interesting history behind the VA’s decision to use this MUMPS “database” system instead of one of the current SQL based database systems. Unfortunately, I’ve seen numerous people talking about the pains of MUMPS and the problem it creates for the future of open source EHR Vista.

I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on Vista, but I’m just telling you about the common themes I’ve read over and over again. Any other ones we should know about or other perspectives on Vista EHR?