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eClinicalWorks Settlement Hasn’t Led To Customer Defections, Yet

Posted on August 7, 2017 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.

Loyalty is a funny thing. You’d think that when a vendor let you down spectacularly, you wouldn’t do business with them anymore. But the truth is, when it comes to health IT it’s not that simple. In many cases, vendor-customer relationships are more like marriages than formal agreements. Even if things start to go south, customers have so much invested in their vendor relationship that backing out may not seem like a realistic possibility.

Yes, I’m pontificating here, but not without a point. What I’m responding to here is a recent KLAS survey which found that while many customers of the now-tarnished eClinicalWorks have lost confidence in the company, many are still on board for now.

As many readers will know, in May eCW settled a whistleblower suit against the company for $155 million. The suit, which was brought by the US Department of Justice, asserted that the vendor got certified for incentive payments by putting deceptive kludges in place.

After agreeing to pay a massive penalty to the feds and putting a “Coprrporate Integrity Agreement” in place, it’s little wonder that some customers don’t trust eCW anymore. But the reality of the situation is that they’re not exactly free to jump ship either.

The study, which was reported on in HIT Consultant, found that 66% of customers polled by KLAS said their perception of eCW had moderately or significantly worsened after the settlement. Meanwhile, 34% of current eCW customers plan to look elsewhere when they make their next health IT investment.

Another third of respondents said they felt stuck in their current eCW contract, though they would consider switching vendors when the contract expires or they have more resources to invest. Still, only 4% of KLAS respondents said they were leaving specifically because of the settlement.

Meanwhile, there’s apparently a subset of eCW customers who aren’t that worried about the settlement or its implications. One-third of respondents said that it had little impact on them, and some noted that eCW is probably just the first of many vendors whose meaningful use certification will be called into question.

The reality is that while eCW customers were a bit shaken by the settlement, it didn’t exactly come as a shock that the vendor was playing it close to the edge, with one-fifth noting that the settlement was “unsurprising.”

I would tend to side with the eCW customers who predict that this settlement is the tip of the iceberg, and that it’s likely to come out that other health IT vendors were gaming the certification process. The question is whether these settlements will merely inconvenience providers or lead to serious problems of their own. If the feds ever decide that providers should have known about faked certifications, the game will get a lot more complicated.

AMIA Shares Recommendations On Health IT-Friendly Policymaking

Posted on April 17, 2017 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.

The American Medical Informatics Association has released the findings from a new paper addressing health IT policy, including recommendation on how policymakers can support patient access to health data, interoperability for clinicians and patient care-related research and innovation.

As the group accurately notes, the US healthcare system has transformed itself into a digital industry at astonishing speed, largely during the past five years. Nonetheless, many healthcare organizations haven’t unlocked the value of these new tools, in part because their technical infrastructure is largely a collection of disparate systems which don’t work together well.

The paper, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, offers several policy recommendations intended to help health IT better support value-based health, care and research. The paper argues that governments should implement specific policy to:

  • Enable patients to have better access to clinical data by standardizing data flow
  • Improve access to patient-generated data compiled by mHealth apps and related technologies
  • Engage patients in research by improving ways to alert clinicians and patients about research opportunities, while seeing to it that researchers manage consent effectively
  • Enable patient participation in and contribution to care delivery and health management by harmonizing standards for various classes of patient-generated data
  • Improve interoperability using APIs, which may demand that policymakers require adherence to chosen data standards
  • Develop and implement a documentation-simplification framework to fuel an overhaul of quality measurement, ensure availability of coded EHRs clinical data and support reimbursement requirements redesign
  • Develop and implement an app-vetting process emphasizing safety and effectiveness, to include creating a knowledgebase of trusted sources, possibly as part of clinical practice improvement under MIPS
  • Create a policy framework for research and innovation, to include policies to aid data access for research conducted by HIPAA-covered entities and increase needed data standardization
  • Foster an ecosystem connecting safe, effective and secure health applications

To meet these goals, AMIA issued a set of “Policy Action Items” which address immediate, near-term and future policy initiatives. They include:

  • Clarifying a patient’s HIPAA “right to access” to include a right to all data maintained by a covered entity’s designated record set;
  • Encourage continued adoption of 2015 Edition Certified Health IT, which will allow standards-based APIs published in the public domain to be composed of standard features which can continue to be deployed by providers; and
  • Make effective Common Rule revisions as finalized in the January 19, 2017 issue of the Federal Register

In looking at this material, I noted with interest AMIA’s thinking on the appropriate premises for current health IT policy. The group offered some worthwhile suggestions on how health IT leaders can leverage health data effectively, such as giving patients easy access to their mHealth data and engaging them in the research process.

Given that they overlap with suggestions I’ve seen elsewhere, we may be getting somewhere as an industry. In fact, it seems to me that we’re approaching industry consensus on some issues which, despite seeming relatively straightforward have been the subject of professional disputes.

As I see it, AMIA stands as good a chance as any other healthcare entity at getting these policies implemented. I look forward to seeing how much progress it makes in drawing attention to these issues.

FHIR Product Director Speaks Out On FHIR Hype

Posted on June 6, 2016 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.

To date, all signs suggest that the FHIR standard set has tremendous promise, and that FHIR adoption is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, one well-connected developer I spoke with recently argues that FHIR will be integrated into ONC’s EHR certification standards by 2017, when MACRA demands its much ballyhooed “widespread interoperability.”

However, like any other new technology or standard, FHIR is susceptible to being over-hyped. And when the one suggesting that FHIR fandom is getting out of control is Grahame Grieve, FHIR product director, his arguments definitely deserve a listen.

In a recent blog post, Grieve notes that the Gartner hype cycle predicts that a new technology will keep generating enthusiasm until it hits the peak of inflated expectations. Only after falling into te trough of disillusionment and climbing the slope of enlightenment does it reach the plateau of productivity, the Gartner model suggests.

Now, a guy who’s driving FHIR’s development could be forgiven for sucking up the praise and excitement around the emerging standard and enjoying the moment. Instead, though, it seems that Grieve thinks people are getting ahead of themselves.

To his way of thinking, the rate of hype speech around FHIR continues to expand. As he sees it, people are “[making] wildly inflated claims about what is possible, (wilfully) misunderstanding the limitations of the technology, and evangelizing the technology for all sorts of ill judged applications.”

As Grieve sees it, the biggest cloud of smoke around FHIR is that it will “solve interoperability.” And, he flatly states, it’s not going to do that, and can’t:

FHIR is two things: a technology, and a culture. I’m proud of both of those things…But people who think that [interoperability] will be solved anytime soon don’t understand the constraints we work under…We have severely limited ability to standardise the practice of healthcare or medicine. We just have to accept them as they are. So we can’t provide prescriptive information models. We can’t force vendors or institutions to do things the same way. We can’t force them to share particular kinds of information at particular times. All we can do is describe a common way to do it, if people want to do it.

The reality is that while FHIR works as a means of sharing information out of an EHR, it can’t force different stakeholders (such as departments, vendors or governments) to cooperate successfully on sharing data, he notes. So while the FHIR culture can help get things done, the FHIR standard — like other standards efforts — is just a tool.

To be sure, FHIR seems to have legs, and efforts like the Argonaut Project — which is working to develop a first-generation FHIR-based API and Core Data Services specification — are likely to keep moving full steam ahead.

But as Grieve sees it, it’s important to keep the pace of FHIR work deliberate and keep fundamentals like solid processes and well-tested specifications in mind: “If we can get that right — and it’s a work in process — then the trough of despair won’t be as deep as it might.”

Bad Boy EMR List, EMR Apology Letter, and Direct Primary Care

Posted on August 3, 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 always liked the idea of a bad boy EMR list. I’ve called it a meaningful EHR certification before. Or an EMR naughty and nice list. It’s a hard thing to do well…especially if you want to make a business of it.


I’ve posted a number of images lie this before. It’s always interesting to see what they say. This one actually looks like it’s trying to help them meet their MU patient engagement requirements as much as it’s trying to explain the EHR implementation delay. I’ve seen quite a few of these signs in hospitals I’ve visited. Getting patients signed up on the portal is a challenging thing for hospitals.


I need to dig into the direct primary care model a lot more, but it’s one of the really interesting alternative care models that’s worth watching.

Eyes Wide Shut – Patient Engagement Pitfalls Prior to Meaningful Use Reporting Period

Posted on June 30, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a hardcore health data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, which she brings to her role as Dell Health’s Analytics Solutions Lead. She fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

July 1, 2015 – the start of the Meaningful Use Stage 1 Year 2 reporting period for the hospital facilities within this provider integrated delivery network (IDN). The day the 50% online access measure gets real. The day the inpatient summary CCDA MUST be made available online within 36 hours of discharge. The day we must overcome a steady 65% patient portal decline rate.

A quick recap for those who haven’t followed this series (and refresher for those who have): this IDN has multiple hospital facilities, primary care, and specialty practices, on disparate EMRs, all connecting to an HIE and one enterprise patient portal. There are 8 primary EMRs and more than 20 distinct patient identification (MRN) pools. And many entities within this IDN are attempting to attest to Meaningful Use Stage 2 this year.

For the purposes of this post, I’m ignoring CMS and the ONC’s new proposed rule that would, if adopted, allow entities to attest to Meaningful Use Stage 1 OR 2 measures, using 2011 OR 2014 CEHRT (or some combination thereof). Even if the proposed rule were sensible, it came too late for the hospitals which must start their reporting period in the third calendar quarter of 2014 in order to complete before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. For this IDN, the proposed rule isn’t changing anything.

Believe me, I would have welcomed change.

The purpose of the so-called “patient engagement” core measures is just that: engage patients in their healthcare, and liberate the data so that patients are empowered to have meaningful conversations with their providers, and to make informed health decisions. The intent is a good one. The result of releasing the EMR’s compilation of chart data to recently-discharged patients may not be.

I answered the phone on a Saturday, while standing in the middle of a shopping mall with my 12 year-old daughter, to discover a distraught man and one of my help desk representatives on the line. The man’s wife had been recently released from the hospital; they had been provided patient portal access to receive and review her records, and they were bewildered by the information given. The medications listed on the document were not the same as those his wife regularly takes, the lab section did not have any context provided for why the tests were ordered or what the results mean, there were a number of lab results missing that he knew had been performed, and the problems list did not seem to have any correlation to the diagnoses provided for the encounter.

Just the kind of call an IT geek wants to receive.

How do you explain to an 84 year-old man that his wife’s inpatient summary record contains only a snapshot of the information that was captured during that specific hospital encounter, by resources at each point in the patient experience, with widely-varied roles and educational backgrounds, with varied attention to detail, and only a vague awareness of how that information would then be pulled together and presented by technology that was built to meet the bare minimum standards for perfect-world test scenarios required by government mandates?

How do you tell him that the lab results are only what was available at time of discharge, not the pathology reports that had to be sent out for analysis and would not come back in time to meet the 36-hour deadline?

How do you tell him that the reasons there are so many discrepancies between what he sees on the document and what is available on the full chart are data entry errors, new workflow processes that have not yet been widely adopted by each member of the care team, and technical differences between EMRs in the interpretation of the IHE’s XML standards for how these CCDA documents were to be created?

EMR vendors have responded to that last question with, “If you use our tethered portal, you won’t have that problem. Our portal can present the data from our CCDA just fine.” But this doesn’t take into account the patient experience. As a consumer, I ask you: would you use online banking if you had to sign on to a different website, with a different username and password, for each account within the same bank? Why should it be acceptable for managing health information online to be less convenient than managing financial information?

How do hospital clinical and IT staff navigate this increasingly-frequent scenario that is occurring: explaining the data that patients now see?

I’m working hard to establish a clear delineation between answering technical and clinical questions, because I am not – by any stretch of the imagination – a clinician. I can explain deviations in the records presentation, I can explain the data that is and is not available – and why (which is NOT generally well-received), and I can explain the logical processes for patients to get their clinical questions answered.

Solving the other half of this equation – clinicians who understand the technical nuances which have become patient-facing, and who incorporate that knowledge into regular patient engagement to insure patients understand the limitations of their newly-liberated data – proves more challenging. In order to engage patients in the way the CMS Meaningful Use program mandates, have we effectively created a new hybrid role requirement for our healthcare providers?

And what fresh new hell have we created for some patients who seek wisdom from all this information they’ve been given?

Caveat – if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re not the kind of patient who needs much explaining. You’re likely to do your own research on the data that’s presented on your CCDA outputs, and you have the context of the entire Meaningful Use initiative to understand why information is presented the way it is. But think – can your grandma read it and understand it on HER own?

Lack of Rec Support Cause of Meaningful Use Stage 2 Slowdown?

Posted on May 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.

By now, I imagine that most of you have read about the meaningful use stage 2 delay and EHR certification flexibility. The details and interpretation are still going on, but it’s a big change to the current meaningful use program. Although, the biggest question I hear asked is if the change leaves enough time for organizations to change course. I think the rule has to be open for 60 days of comment before it becomes final. We’ll see if that leaves people enough time.

We’ll see if this change will provide some relief to a meaningful use program that I described as on the ropes. In response to that post, Deborah Sherl, BSN, RN, CHTS, CHPS, made an interesting comment on a possible cause of the meaningful use stage 2

@ John Lynn…. of course I am slightly biased on the topic of the rapid response & deployment of Stage 1 vs Stage 2. A great amount of Stage 1 success was ushered in with the amazing assistance of professional consultants across the country for those EPs & EHs that were willing to use us…. and we were called the Regional Extension Centers Health IT workforce.

Now that the federal grant is done (Feb.2014) Stage 2 implementations are possibly stalled not only by overburdened EMR vendors, but lack of project management forces that were provided by the RECS. Many RECs have built sustainable business models but are no longer “free” services as was perceived while under the HITECH grant.

I find this a very interesting hypothesis. I’m not sure that it accurately reflects why many organizations chose not to attest to MU stage 2, but it certainly didn’t help things. In fact, it adds one more log to the already burning fire. Think about what happens with MU stage 2. We’re going to pay them less incentive money, require them to do substantially more, and oh yeah…those “free” REC support resources are now gone too. Plus, your EHR vendor may or may not be ready either.

I think the changes to the EHR Certification requirements and delay of meaningful use stage 2 are good. Although, I’m hoping this is just the start of HHS blowing up meaningful use and making it dramatically simpler and more meaningful.

Did We Miss the Patient Engagement Opportunity with Meaningful Use?

Posted on May 2, 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.

One of the most controversial parts of meaningful use is the requirement that a certain percentage of patients engage with the office. The argument goes that the doctor shouldn’t be rewarded or punished based on the actions of someone (the patients) they don’t control. Regardless of the controversy, the requirement remains that doctors have to engage with a certain number of patients if they want to get the meaningful use money.

I’m personally a fan of patient engagement and think there’s a lot of value that will come from more engagement with patients. This reminds me of Dr. CT Lin’s presentation and research on patient engagement. We need to find more ways to make patient engagement an easy reality in healthcare.

The problem I keep running into with the meaningful use patient engagement requirement is that meaningful use requires a certified EHR to meet that requirement. There are a whole suite of patient engagement apps that provide a useful and logical engagement between doctor and patient. However, none of them can be used to meet the meaningful use patient engagement criteria. Yes, I know the patient engagement app could become modularly certified, but that’s really overkill for many of these apps. It really doesn’t make any sense for them to be certified. The software doesn’t get better (and an argument can be made that the software becomes worse) if they become modularly certified as an EHR.

Because of this issue, the requirement basically relegates EHR vendors to implement some sort of after thought (usually) patient portal. Then, the doctors have to try and force patients to use a patient portal just to meet a requirement. Plus, many are “gaming” this patient engagement number in the way a patient signs up and engages in the portal.

Wouldn’t it be so much better to allow the patient engagement to happen on a non-certified EHR? Why does this need to happen on a certified EHR? EHR vendors aren’t focused on patient engagement, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re not creating amazing patient engagement tools. Think about how much more effective the patient engagement would be if it happened on a software that was working and thinking every day about how they can make that engagement work for the patient and the provider.

I’d love to see ONC make an exception on this requirement that would allow patient engagement to occur on something other than the certified EHR. I imagine if they did this, they could even raise the bar when it comes to what percentage of patients they should engage with electronically. If they don’t, we’ll have a bunch of lame duck patient portals that are really only used to meet the MU requirement. What a terrible missed opportunity that would be.

Lack of 2014 Certified EHRs

Posted on April 11, 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 was asked recently by an EHR vendor about the disconnect between the number of 2011 Certified EHR and the number of 2014 Certified EHR. I haven’t looked through the ONC-CHPL site recently, but you can easily run the number of certified EHR vendors there. Of course, there’s a major difference in the number of 2011 certified EHR versus 2014 certified EHR. However, I don’t think it’s for the reason most people give.

Every EHR vendor that gets 2014 Certified likes to proclaim that they’re one of the few EHR vendors that was “able” to get 2014 Certified. They like to point to the vast number of EHR that haven’t bridged from being 2011 Certified to being 2014 Certified as a sign that their company is special because they were able to complete the “more advanced” certification. While no one would argue that the 2014 Certification takes a lot more work, I think it’s misleading for EHR companies to proclaim themselves victor because they’re “one of the few” EHR vendors to be 2014 Certified.

First of all, there are over 1000 2014 Certified EHR products on ONC-CPHL as of today and hundreds of them (223 to be exact – 29 inpatient and 194 ambulatory) are even certified as complete EHR. Plus, I’ve heard from EHR vendors and certifying bodies that there’s often a delay in ONC putting the certified EHR up on ONC-CPHL. So, how many more are 2014 Certified that aren’t on the list…yet.

Another issue with this number is that there is still time for EHR vendors to finish their 2014 EHR certification. Yes, we’re getting close, but no doubt we’ll see a wave of last minute EHR certifications from EHR vendors. It’s kind of like many of you reading this that are sitting on your taxes and we’ll have a rush of tax filings in the next few days. It’s not a perfect comparison since EHR certification is more complex and there are a limited number of EHR Certification slots from the ONC-ATCB’s, but be sure there are some waiting until the last minute.

It’s also worth considering that I saw one report that talked about the hundreds (or it might have been thousands) of 2011 Certified EHR that never actually had any doctors attest using their software. If none of your users actually attested using your EHR software, then would it make any business sense to go after the 2014 EHR certification? We can be sure those will drop out, but I expect that a large majority of these aren’t really “EHR” software in the true sense. They’re likely modularly certified and add-ons to EHR software.

To date, I only know of one EHR software that’s comes out and shunned 2014 Certified EHR status. I’m sure we’ll see more than just this one before the deadline, but my guess is that 90% of the market (ie. actual EHR users) already have 2014 Certified EHR software available to them and 99% of the market will have 2014 certified EHR available if they want by the deadline.

I don’t think 2014 EHR certification is going to be a differentiating factor for any of the major EHR players. All the major players realize that being 2014 Certified is essential to their livelihood and a cost of doing business.

Of course, the same can’t be said for doctors. There are plenty of ways for doctors to stay in business while shunning 2014 Certified EHR software and meaningful use stage 2. I’m still really interested to see how that plays out.

The EHR Market Isn’t Like Other Markets

Posted on March 18, 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.

Today at a healthcare IT meetup I attended in Dallas I ran into a former contact at an EHR vendor. He no longer works at that EHR company and has moved on to two other companies. In our discussion we had an interesting discussion about the market. Having moved on, he’d lost touch with the EHR market. He asked me, “Are there still 700 EHR vendors?” I told him there were probably 300, but I’ve contended that their have been 300 EHR vendors for a while. I’m not counting the hundreds of ancillary companies that are “certified EHR” but only perform 1-2 EHR related functions.

Over and over again I hear people talking about consolidation of EHR vendors. They say it’s going to happen and we’re going to get down to a really small number of EHR vendors. Some go as far as saying that there will be 2-3 EHR vendors after EHR consolidation happens.

I think this idea is ridiculous. At HIMSS, I figured out why I don’t think it’s going to happen. Someone told me, “Ambulatory healthcare is fragmented. It’s second only to florists when it comes to market fragmentation.”

This to me illustrates exactly why there can and will be so many EHR vendors. The ambulatory market is completely fragmented with thousands of really small businesses (ie. solo doc) doing just fine. Think about it. There are very few businesses that could survive at the size of a solo doctor practice. In every other industry, the businesses the size of a solo doc practice get eating up as the big boy competitors kill them with their buying power. The same can’t be said in healthcare. A solo doctor practice is a very viable business. Thus we see the market fragmentation and the plethora of EHR companies.

The above analysis does make you wonder why the solo doctor practice is still a viable business and if something in the future will make that option unreasonable from a business perspective. Although, that’s a subject for a future blog post.

Of course, when you think about the hospital EMR market there’s a much different story. We’ve seen EHR consolidation. The hospital market is much less fragmented and becoming less so every day. However, I’ll still be surprised if we go below 100 ambulatory EHR vendors.

Eyes Wide Shut: Meaningful Use Stage 2 Incentive Program Hardships

Posted on March 5, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a hardcore health data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, which she brings to her role as Dell Health’s Analytics Solutions Lead. She fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

In my January update on Meaningful Use Stage 2 readiness, I painted a dismal picture of a large IDN’s journey towards attestation, and expressed concern for patient safety resulting from the rush to implement and adopt what equates to, at best, beta-release health IT. Given the resounding cries for help from the healthcare provider community, including this February 2014 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, I know my experience isn’t unique. So, when rumors ran rampant at HIMSS 2014 that CMS and the ONC would make a Meaningful Use announcement, I was hopeful that relief may be in sight.

Like AHA , I was disappointed in CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner’s announcement. The new Stage 2 hardship exemptions will now include an explicit criteria for “difficulty implementing 2014-certified EHR technology” – a claim which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and may result in a delay of the penalty phase of the Stage 2 mandate. But it does nothing to extend the incentive phase of Stage 2 – without which, many healthcare providers would not have budgeted for participation in the program, at all, including the IDN profiled in this series. So how does this help providers like mine?

Quick update on my IDN’s progress towards Stage 2 attestation, with $MM in target incentive dollars at stake. We must meet ALL measures; there is no opportunity to defer one. The Transition of Care (both populating it appropriately, and transmitting it via Direct) is the primary point of concern.

The hospital EHR is ready to generate and transmit both Inpatient Summary and Transition of Care C-CDAs. The workflow to populate the ToC required data elements adds more than 4 minutes to the depart process, which will cause operational impacts. None of the ambulatory providers in the IDN have Direct, yet; there is no one available to receive an electronic ToC. Skilled resources to implement Direct with the EHR upgrades are not available until 6-12 weeks after each upgrade is complete.

None of the 3 remaining in-scope ambulatory EHRs have successfully completed their 2014 software upgrades. 2 of the 3 haven’t started their upgrades. 1 has not provided a DATE for the upgrade.

None of the ambulatory EHRs comes with a Clinical Summary C-CDA configured out-of-the-box. 1 creates a provider-facing Transition of Care C-CDA, but does not produce the patient-facing Clinical Summary. (How did this product become CEHRT for 2014 measures?) Once the C-CDA is configured, each EHR requires its own systems integrator to develop the interface to send the clinical document to an external system.

Consultant costs continue to mount, as each new wrinkle arises. And with each wrinkle, the ability to meet the incentive program deadlines, safely, diminishes.

Playing devil’s advocate, I’d say the IDN should have negotiated its vendor contracts to include penalty clauses sufficient to cover the losses of a missed incentive program deadline – or, worst case scenario, to cover the cost of a rip-and-replace should the EHR vendor not acquire certification, or have certification revoked. The terms and conditions should have covered every nuance of the functionality required for Stage 2 measures.

But wait, CMS is still clarifying its Stage 2 measures via FAQs. Can’t expect a vendor to build software to specifications that weren’t explicitly defined, or to sign a contract that requires adherence to unknown criteria.

So, what COULD CMS and the ONC do about it? How about finalizing your requirements BEFORE issuing measures and certification criteria? Since that ship’s already sailed, change the CEHRT certification process.

1. Require vendors to submit heuristics on both initial implementation and upgrades, indicating the typical timeline from kick-off to go-live, number of internal and external resources (i.e., third-party systems integrators), and cost.
2. Require vendors to submit customer-base profile detailing known customers planning to implement and/or upgrade within calendar year. AND require implementation/upgrade planning to incorporate 3 months of QA time post-implementation/upgrade, prior to go-live with real patients.
3. Require vendors to submit human resource strategy, and hiring and training program explicitly defined to support the customer-base profile submitted, with the typical timeframes and project resource/cost profiles submitted.
4. Require vendor products to be self-contained to achieve certification – meaning, no additional third-party purchase (software or professional services) would be necessary in order to implement and/or upgrade to the certified version and have all CMS-required functionality.
5. Require vendor products to prove the CEHRT-baseline functionality is available as configurable OOTB, not only available via customization. SHOW ME THE C-CDA, with all required data elements populated via workflow in the UI, not via some developer on the back-end in a carefully-orchestrated test patient demo script.
6. Require vendor products adhere to an SLA for max number of clicks required to execute the task. It is not Meaningful Use if it’s prohibitively challenging to access and use in a clinical setting.

Finally, CMS could redefine the incentive program parameters to include scenarios like mine. Despite the heroic efforts being made across the enterprise, this IDN is not likely to make it, with the fault squarely on the CEHRT vendors’ inability to deliver fully-functional products in a timely manner with skilled resources available to support the installation, configuration, and deployment. Morale will significantly decline, next year’s budget will be short the $MM that was slated for further health IT improvements, and the likelihood that it will continue with Stage 3 becomes negligible. Vendor lawsuits may ensue, and the incentive dollar targets may be recouped, but the cost incurred by the organization, its clinicians, and its patients is irrecoverable.

Consider applying the hardship exemption deadline extension to the incentive program participants.