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Decommissioning Legacy EHRs

Posted on November 5, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sudhakar Mohanraj, Founder and CEO, Triyam.

Every product has a lifecycle. The lifecycle of Electronic Health Record (EHR) software begins when it is implemented at your facility and ends when it’s no longer in use. When a facility decides to move to a new EHR, it’s natural to focus planning around the new software system.  However, not considering the legacy EHR can leave you wondering what should happen to all of the historical patient financial and medical data. You have many choices. This article will discuss some of the challenges and options that will influence your cost, legal compliance, and stakeholder satisfaction.

Three common mistakes to avoid when moving to a new EHR

  1. Hanging on to the legacy EHR

Some say: “we will worry about shutting down the old system later after the new EHR is up and going.” Taking that path is risky and expensive.

Consider the cost. Until you get all your historical data off the legacy system, you need to pay vendors licensing and support fees. You may infrequently be using the old system, which makes these fees particularly unwarranted.  In addition, you continue to pay your employees to operate and maintain the old system.

To learn more about retiring Legacy EHRs register for this free live webinar. Industry experts will share Key lessons and Best Practices on data management strategies for EHR system replacements. You can also get answers to your questions about any specific requirements.

Some say, “I will stop paying my old vendor.  I don’t need any more updates or support.” However, sooner or later, hardware and software will break or become incompatible to newer technology. Older systems are an easy target for hackers and thieves.

Over time, your employees will forget passwords, how to navigate the old system or leave for other jobs. Then, when you, a patient, or your boss needs some report from the old system, you are caught short. Over time, data retained on an old, unsupported, infrequently used system increases the risk of being lost, stolen, corrupted, and not accessible by newer technology.

Bottom line: keeping an old, infrequently used system will needlessly eat up your time and money.

  1. Migrating all historical data from the legacy system to the new EHR

Some facilities are surprised to learn that the new EHR vendor will not convert all the historical data to the new computer system.

The new system is organized differently than the legacy system with different data elements and structures. There is never a one-to-one match on data mapping between the old and new systems.

It is difficult to validate the accuracy and completeness of data you want to import from the old system. The new EHR vendor doesn’t want to risk starting with an inaccurate database.

This is a golden opportunity to start with a clean slate. For example, you can take this time to reorganize, re-categorize, re-word codes, and tables. Now is the time to set up master files properly, and to make the system more efficient.

The new EHR vendor will lobby for you to start with a clean slate and populate the new database with only current patients, current balances, and current information.

  1. Ignoring Legal Compliance Requirements

Federal and state laws require healthcare facilities to retain medical and financial reports for 5 to 15 years and make these reports available to patients and others upon request. Keeping these records will help to avoid penalties, fines, and loss of certifications. Consult your compliance office, accountant, and HIPAA director to know Federal, IRS, and state-specific requirements.

Use this Data retention tool to find the retention requirements for your state.

Why data archival is an excellent choice

What are the best practices to deal with historical data? Data from the old system needs to be organized in a safe, secure place so that the information can be found and made readily available to those who need it in a timely fashion. In other words, it needs to be archived.

An archive is a separate system from your new EHR. It contains all your historical data and reports. When users sign into the archive program, depending on their user rights, they may see all or some of the historical reports. The most common functions of the archive system include:

  • Search and query clinical and financial data for “Continuity of Care.
  • Download, view, print, and share reports for “Release of Information.

Archival is a new concept. KLAS research is creating a new product category for this.  Listen to this on-demand webinar from the head of EHR Archive studies at KLAS Research.

In the archive, you can see all patients and their previous charts, medications, treatments, billings, insurance claims, payments, and more.  You will also see the historical vendor, employee, and accounting records.

What type of data goes to the archive? All sorts. You can retain discrete data or non-discrete data, structured data (like SQL, XML, CCDA), or unstructured data that is logically grouped and presented in a human-readable form like pdf reports, Excel spreadsheets, CCD, jpeg, or mp3 files.

Mergers and data consolidation

Archival is essential even when there isn’t a transition to new EHR. During a merger, the new entity frequently wants to consolidate patient financial and clinical data from multiple legacy systems into a common platform. Data archiving may be the best solution for dealing with multiple EMR/EHRs. Archival is less expensive than complex conversion and transformation efforts. Besides lower costs, it allows users to research on consolidated data using business intelligence and analytics tools running on one common unified database.

Outsourcing and vendor selection

Outsourcing has become an increasingly popular option for archival solutions for three reasons – cost, experience, and convenience. IT managers are already stretched to limits of time, resources, and budget.  Outside vendors can save the day by offering services for less cost.

When searching for an archival vendor, consider the following:

  • Experience in extracting data from your legacy systems which are no longer supported
  • Complete turnkey solutions – planning, pilot testing, data conversion, user acceptance, and decommissioning
  • Archival product features and ease of use
  • Great customer references
  • Cost of archiving should only be a fraction of the cost of retaining legacy system

The number one failure when implementing a new EHR is procrastinating the archival of legacy data. Hopefully, you can use a few of these ideas to maximize the benefits of your historical data, minimize costs, and best serve your user constituents.

About Triyam
Triyam delivers expert solutions in EMR / EHR Data Conversion and Archival.

Triyam’s data conversion services help hospitals and clinics to freely migrate from one EHR vendor to another without losing any historical patient data. Triyam’s EHR archival product, Fovea is a vendor neutral, innovative and intuitive platform to store all your legacy data. Fovea includes a powerful search engine and extensive reporting for Business Intelligence and Analytics. Triyam is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Number Of Health Data Breaches Grew Steadily Over Last Several Years

Posted on October 5, 2018 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.

New research has found that while the number of patient records exposed per breach has varied widely, the number of health data breaches reported grew substantially between 2010 and 2017.

The study, which was conducted by researchers with Massachusetts General Hospital, was published in JAMA. Its aim was to look at the changes in data breach patterns as EHRs have come into wider use.

The authors analyzed 2,149 reported breaches over the previous seven years. The number of records breached for incident varied from 500 to almost 79 million patient records.

Researchers behind the study put breaches reported in three categories: those taking place at healthcare provider sites, within health plans, and at business associate locations.

One thing that stuck out from among the data points was that over that seven-year period, the number of breaches increased from 199 the first year to 344 in 2017. During that period, the only year that did not see an increase in incident volume was 2015.

Another notable if unsurprising conclusion drawn by the researchers was that while 70% of all breaches took place within provider organizations, incidents involving health plans accounted for 63% of all breached records.

Overall, the greatest number of patient records breached was due to compromised network servers or email messages. However, the top reasons for breaches have varied from year-to-year, the analysis found.

For example, the most common type of breach reported in 2010 was theft of physical records. The most commonly breached type of media that year was laptop computer data storage, followed by paper and film records.

Meanwhile, by 2017 data hacking or other information technology incidents accounted for the largest number of breaches, followed by unauthorized access to or disclosure of patient data. In addition, a large number of breaches could be attributed to compromised network servers or email messages.

The number of patient records exposed differed depending on what media was breached. For example, while the total of 510 breaches of paper and film records impact about 3.4 million patient records, 410 breaches of network servers affected nearly 140 million records.

Healthcare AI Could Generate $150B In Savings By 2025

Posted on September 27, 2018 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.

Is the buzz around healthcare AI solutions largely hype, or can they deliver measurable benefits? Lest you think it’s too soon to tell, check out the following.

According to a new report from market analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, AI and cognitive computing will generate $150 billion in savings for the healthcare business by 2025.  Frost researchers expect the total AI market to grow to $6.16 billion between 2018 and 2022.

The analyst firm estimates that at present, only 15% to 20% of payers, providers and pharmaceutical companies have been using AI actively to change healthcare delivery. However, its researchers seem to think that this will change rapidly over the next few years.

One of the most interesting applications for healthcare AI that Frost cites is the use of AI in precision medicine, an area which clearly has a tremendous upside potential for both patients and institutions.

In this scenario, the AI integrates a patient’s genomic, clinical, financial and behavioral data, then cross-references the data with the latest academic research evidence and regulatory guidelines. Ultimately, the AI would create personalized treatment pathways for high-risk, high-cost patient populations, according to Koustav Chatterjee, an industry analyst focused on transformational health.

In addition, researchers could use AI to expedite the process of clinical trial eligibility assessment and generate prophylaxis plans that suggest evidence-based drugs, Chatterjee suggests.

The report also lists several other AI-enabled solutions that might be worth implementing, including automated disease prediction, intuitive claims management and real-time supply chain management.

Frost predicts that the following will be particularly hot AI markets:

  • Using AI in imaging to drive differential diagnosis
  • Combining patient-generated data with academic research to generate personalized treatment possibilities
  • Performing clinical documentation improvement to reduce clinician and coder stress and reduce claims denials
  • Using AI-powered revenue cycle management platforms that auto-adjust claims content based on payer’s coding and reimbursement criteria

Now, it’s worth noting that it may be a while before any of these potential applications become practical.

As we’ve noted elsewhere, getting rolling with an AI solution is likely to be tougher than it sounds for a number of reasons.

For example, integrating AI-based functions with providers’ clinical processes could be tricky, and what’s more, clinicians certainly won’t be happy if such integration disrupts the EHR workflow already in existence.

Another problem is that you can’t deploy an AI-based solution without ”training” it on a cache of existing data. While this shouldn’t be an issue, in theory, the reality is that much of the data providers generate is still difficult to filter and mine.

Not only that, while AI might generate interesting and effective solutions to clinical problems, it may not be clear how it arrived at the solution. Physicians are unlikely to trust clinical ideas that come from a black box, e.g. an opaque system that doesn’t explain itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of healthcare AI and excited by its power. One can argue over which solutions are the most practical, and whether AI is the best possible tool to solve a given problem, but most health IT pros seem to believe that there’s a lot of potential here.

However, it’s still far from clear how healthcare AI applications will evolve. Let’s see where they turn up next and how that works out.

Going from Paper-Based Consents to eConsents in Healthcare

Posted on September 24, 2018 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.

For years we’d talk about the “paperless office” that would be created by the adoption of EHR software. Years later, that paperless office still doesn’t exist. One of the big reasons this hasn’t come to fruition is because EHRs can print massive reams of paper with the click of the button. Another reason the paperless office still alludes us is paper-based consents.

For years, there wasn’t a good way to replace paper-based consents with eConsents. However, that’s not the case today. To help us move towards the paperless office and to learn about adoption of eConsents in healthcare, I interviewed Robin McKee, MS, RN, Director of Clinical Informatics Solutions at FormFast. In this interview, Robin offers a lot of great insights into consents in healthcare and the value of healthcare organizations moving towards eConsents.

What are the main reasons people are still doing paper-based consents?

I see two big reasons for this. First, it’s a case of “it’s what we’ve always done.” When EHRs were first implemented, mobile was not a part of the strategy. This meant that getting a consent in front of a patient still meant paper and a clipboard. Today, the informed consent workflow is difficult if you don’t have a mobile solution.

Another reason is the sheer magnitude of the project. Over the years, each department, even each surgeon, may have their own version of a paper form, adding up to hundreds of variations of paper consent forms stuck in drawers of offices and nurse’s stations. It is a daunting task to try and tackle the conversion, standardization, and consolidation of the plethora of paper consents without a concrete path forward.

FormFast addressed both of those issues with our mobile eConsent solution.  We digitize all of the organization’s consent forms and make them available in an online eForms library.  The forms are delivered at the point-of-care on a mobile tablet for the patient to review and sign.  Once completed, they’re automatically archived in the EHR.  It’s a much more streamlined process.

Are electronic consent forms as legally binding and effective as paper-based consents?

Yes. When you take the stylus and sign your name and submit it, an eConsent electronically dates and time stamps your signature. It also locks the content on the form to prevent it from being modified post signature.

Are there ways that electronic consents are more effective than paper-based consents?

Definitely. In addition to the benefits I mentioned in the previous question, there are several more to add.

From a maintenance standpoint, you have one form to modify and it is instantly available to all staff. Templates can be created to ensure standardized statements on all consents and provide the means to add procedure specific content. Clinicians cannot submit consent forms that have required fields left incomplete. This helps guide the process and ensure consents are completed.

Our eConsent forms also allow for links to your organization’s educational content, right on the form, so it’s easy to link out to approved content for further education while having the informed consent discussion.

What are the biggest misconceptions around electronic consents?

What I have seen most often with our customers has been the idea that the consent is not modifiable, that it is a fixed document. We provide dynamic content based on procedure selection, or editable fields, as well as areas to add content via free text or speech recognition.

Our customers appreciate having a combination of standardized, dynamic, and free text content. Every patient is unique; providers must be able to account for the specific risks, benefits, and alternatives of any procedure for each patient.

What are the costs and savings associated with implementing eConsent?

We see both direct and indirect impact on B organization’s financial landscape. The direct impact is, of course, the savings from eliminating paper. We’ve seen estimates from $3 – 6 per page due to the following factors:

  • Supplies – paper, ink, etc.
  • Materials – copiers, scanners, faxes as well as maintenance on the hardware
  • Staff – to perform printing scanning and indexing functions
  • Storage of paper records
  • Secure shredding of scanned documents

More indirect costs include the loss of productivity of procedures or operating rooms, due to the delays caused by missing or incomplete paper consent forms. A JAMA Surgery article estimated over $500K per year is lost simply on this factor. Also, while less common, malpractice claims that site a lack of informed consent comprise 2/3 of total claims, opening organizations to costly legal proceedings.

One also needs to consider the value of better forms, workflow and communication via eConsent which improves both patient and clinician satisfaction.

Many of the consents are needed in the EHR.  What’s the process for integrating eConsent into the EHR?

Electronic consent forms are superior to paper in this regard. While paper consents get lost or have to be carried around in a paper chart until they are scanned into the EHR, eConsent forms are instantly archived into the EHR. This ensures the document is archived correctly every time.  Plus it is easy to access the form in pre-op, as well as confirm in the OR during timeout. We utilize a variety of methods, including HL7 and FHIR, to integrate with any EHR or document management system.

Are eConsent forms secure and trusted?  Could a digital signature be inappropriately replicated?

There are a couple of ways we prevent signatures from being inappropriately or inaccurately added.

When a clinician chooses to digitally sign a consent form, the login user’s name is applied. Additionally, our solution provides audit logs to track who has been in the system.

We also require that the patient sign each signature field.  This helps ensure that their informed consent is accurately documented.

What are you looking at next when it comes to eConsent?

FormFast recently introduced a great feature that launches and pre-populates the right consent form for the patient by scanning the patient’s wristband.  It’s another way that we’ve tried to make the consent process more streamlined.

We continue to refine our eConsent solution based on customer feedback. No one knows better than the end users what a successful solution should look like, what it should contain, and what makes for an optimal workflow.

We look toward updates, such as enhanced notification processes, more OS compatibility, and further improving the user interface, that will continue to improve clinician and patient satisfaction.

About FormFast
With over 25 years exclusively focused on healthcare needs and 1100+ hospital clients, FormFast is recognized as the industry leader in electronic forms, eSignature, and document workflow technology. FormFast’s enterprise software platform integrates with EHRs and other core systems to automate required documents, capturing data and accelerating workflows associated with them. By using FormFast, healthcare organizations achieve new levels of standardization and operational efficiency, allowing them to focus on their core mission – delivering quality care. Learn more at formfast.com.

FormFast is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Will The Fitbit Care Program Break New Ground?

Posted on September 21, 2018 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.

Wearables vendor Fitbit has launched a connected health program designed to help payers, employers and health systems prevent disease, improve wellness and manage diseases. The program is based on the technology Fitbit acquired when it acquired Twine Health.

As you’ll see, the program overview makes it sound as the Fitbit program is the greatest thing since sliced bread for health coaching and care management, I’m not so convinced, but judge for yourself.

Fitbit Care includes a mix of standard wearable features and coaching. Perhaps the most predictable option is built on standard Fitbit functions, which allow users to gather activity, sleep and heart rate data. However, unlike with individual use, users have the option to let the program harvest their health data and share it with care teams, which permits them to make personalized care recommendations.

Another option Fitbit Care offers is health coaching, in which the program offers participants personalized care plans and walks them through health challenges. Coaches communicate with them via in-communications, phone calls, and in-person meetings, targeting concerns like weight management, tobacco cessation, and management of chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and depression. It also supports care for complex conditions such as COPD or congestive heart failure.

In addition, the program uses social tools such as private social groups and guided workouts. The idea here is to help participants make behavioral changes that support their health goals.

All this is supported by the new Fitbit Plus app, which improves patients’ communication capabilities and beefs up the device’s measurement capabilities. The Fitbit app allows users to integrate advanced health metrics such as blood glucose, blood pressure or medication adherence alongside data from Fitbit and other connected health devices.

The first customer to sign up for the program, Fitbit Care, is Humana, which will offer it as a coaching option to its employer group. This puts Fitbit Care at the fingertips of more than 5 million Humana members.

I have no doubt that employers and health systems would join Humana experimenting with wearables-enhanced programs like the one Fitbit is pitching. At least, in theory, the array of services sounds good.

On the other hand, to me, it’s notable that the description of Fitbit Care is light on the details when it comes to leveraging the patient-generated health data it captures. Yes, it’s definitely possible to get something out of continuous health data collection, but at least from the initial program description, the wearables maker isn’t doing anything terribly new.

Oh well. I guess Fitbit doesn’t have to do anything radical to offer something valuable to payers, employers and health plans. They continue to search for behavioral interventions that actually have an impact on disease management and wellness, but to my knowledge, they haven’t found any magic bullet. And while some of this sounds interesting, I see nothing to suggest that the Fitbit Care program can offer dramatic results either.

 

Open Source Software and the Path to EHR Heaven (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on September 20, 2018 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The previous segment of this article explained the challenges faced by health care organizations and suggested two ways they could be solved through free and open source software. We’ll finish the exploration in this segment of the article.

Situational awareness would reduce alert fatigue and catch errors

Difficult EHR interfaces are probably the second most frustrating aspect of being a doctor today: the first prize goes to the EHR’s inability to understand and adapt to the clinician’s workflow and environment. This is why the workplace redounds with beeps and belches from EHRs all day, causing alert fatigue and drowning out truly serious notifications. Stupid EHRs have an even subtler and often overlooked effect: when regulators or administrators require data for quality or public health purposes, the EHR is often “upgraded” with an extra field that the doctor has to fill in manually, instead of doing what computers do best and automatically replicating data that is already in the record. When doctors complain about the time they waste in the EHR, they often blame the regulators or the interface instead of placing their finger on the true culprit, which is the lack of awareness in the EHR.

Open source can ease these problems in several ways. First, the customizability outlined in the first section of this article allows savvy users to adapt it to their situations. Second, the interoperability from the previous section makes it easier to feed in information from other parts of the hospital or patient environment, and to hook in analytics that make sense of that information.

Enhancements from outside sources could be plugged in

The modularity of open source makes it easier to offer open platforms. This could lead to marketplaces for EHR enhancements, a long-time goal of the open SMART standard. Certainly, there would have to be controls for the sake of safety: an administrator, for instance, could limit downloads to carefully vetted software packages.

At best, storage and interface in an EHR would be decoupled in separate modules. Experts at storage could optimize it to improve access time and develop new options, such as new types of filtering. At the same time, developers could suggest new interfaces so that users can have any type of dashboard, alerting system, data entry forms, or other access they want.

Bugs could be fixed expeditiously

Customers of proprietary software remain at the mercy of the vendors. I worked in one computer company that depended on a very subtle feature from our supplier that turned out not to work as advertised. Our niche market, real-time computing, needed that feature to achieve the performance we promised customers, but it turned out that no other company needed it. The supplier admitted the feature was broken but told us point-blank that they had no plans to fix it. Our product failed in the marketplace, for that reason along with others.

Other software users suffer because proprietary vendors shift their market focus or for other reasons–even going out of business.

Free and open source software never ossifies, so long as users want it. Anyone can hire a developer to fix a bug. Furthermore, the company fixing it usually feeds the fix back into the core project because they want it to be propagated to future versions of the software. Thus, the fixes are tested, hardened, and offered to all users.

What free and open source tools are available?

Numerous free and open source EHRs have been developed, and some are in widespread use. Most famously is VistA, the software created at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and used also by the Indian Health Service and other government agencies, has a community chaperone and has been adopted by the country of Jordan. VistA was considered by the Department of Defense as well, but ultimately rejected because the department didn’t want to invest in adding some missing features.

Another free software EHR, OpenMRS, supports health care in Kenya, Haiti, and elsewhere. OpenEMR is also deployed internationally.

What free and open source software has accomplished in these settings is just a hint of what it can do for health care across the board. The problem holding back open source is simple neglect: as VistA’s experience with the DoD showed, institutions are unwilling to support open source, even through they will pay 10 or 100 times as much on substandard proprietary software. Open Health Tools, covered in the article I just linked to, is one of several organizations that shriveled up and disappeared for lack of support. Some organizations gladly hop on for a free ride, using the software without contributing either funds or code. Others just ignore open source software, even though that means their own death: three hospitals have recently declared bankruptcy after installing proprietary EHRs. Although the article focuses on the up-front costs of installing the EHRs, I believe the real fatal blow was the inability of the EHRs to support efficient, streamlined health care services.

We need open source EHRs not just to reduce health care costs, but to transform health. But first, we need a vision of EHR heaven. I hope this article has taken us at least into the clouds.

Open Source Software and the Path to EHR Heaven (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on September 19, 2018 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Do you feel your electronic health record (EHR) is heaven or hell? The vast majority of clinicians–and many patients, too, who interact with the EHR through a web portal–see it as the latter. In this article, I’ll describe an EHR heaven and how free and open source software can contribute to it. But first an old joke (which I have adapted slightly).

A salesman for an EHR vendor dies and goes before the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter asks him, “Would you like to go to heaven or hell?”

Surprised, the salesman says, “I didn’t know I had a choice.”

Saint Peter suggests, “How about this. We’ll show you heaven and hell, and then you can decide.”

“Sounds fair,” says the EHR salesman.

First they take him to heaven. People wearing white robes are strumming harps and singing hymns, and it goes on for a long time, till they take him away.

Next they take him to hell. And it’s really cool! People are clinking wine glasses together and chatting about amusing topics around the pool.

When the EHR salesman gets back to the Pearly Gates, he says to Saint Peter, “You know, this sounds really strange, but I choose hell.”

Immediately comes a clap of thunder. The salesman is in a fiery pit being prodded with pitchforks by dreadful demons.

“Wait!” he cries out. “This is not the hell I saw!”

One of the demons answers, “They must have shown you the demo.”

Most hospitals and clinicians are currently in EHR hell–one they have freely chosen, and one paid for partly by government Meaningful Use reimbursements. So we all know what EHR hell look like. What would EHR heaven be? And how does free and open source software enable it? The following sections of this article list the traits I think clinicians would like to see.

Interfaces could be easily replaced and customized

The greatest achievement of the open source movement, in my opinion, has been to strike an ideal balance between “let a hundred flowers bloom” experimentation and choosing the best option to advance the field. A healthy open source project encourages branching, which lets any individual or team with the required expertise change a product to their heart’s content. Users can then try out different versions, and a central committee vets the changes to decide which version is most robust.

Furthermore, modularization on various levels (programming modules, hooks, compile-time options, configuration tools) allows multiple versions to co-exist, each user choosing the options right for their environment. Open source software tends to be modular for several reasons, notably because it is developed by many different individuals and teams who want control over their small parts of the system.

With easy customization, a hospital or clinic can mandate that certain items be highlighted and that safe workflow rules be followed when entering or retrieving data. But the institution can also offer leeway for individual clinicians and patients to arrange a dashboard, color scheme, or other aspect of the environment to their liking.

Many of the enablers for this kind of agile, user-friendly programming are technical. Modularity is built into programming languages, while branching is standard in version control systems. So why can’t proprietary vendors do what open source communities routinely do? A few actually do, but most are constrained in ways that prevent such flexibility, especially in electronic health records:

  • Most vendors are dragging out the lifetime of nearly 40-year old technology, with brittle languages and tools that put insurmountable barriers in the way of agile work styles. They are also stuck with monolithic systems instead of modular ones.
  • The vendors’ business model depends on this monolithic control. To unbundle components, allow mix-and-match installations, and allow third parties to plug in new features would challenge the prices they charge.
  • The vendors are fundamentally unprepared for empowered users. They may vet features with clinically trained consultants and do market research, but handling power over the system to users is not in their DNA.

Data could be exchanged in a standard format without complex transformations

Data sharing is the lifeblood of modern computing; you can’t get much done on a single computer anymore. Data sharing lies behind new technologies ranging from the Internet of Things to real-time ad generation (the reason you’ll see a link to an article about “Fourteen celebrities who passed out drunk in public” when you’re trying to read a serious article about health IT). But it’s so rare in health care–where it’s uniquely known as “interoperability”–that every year, reformers call it the most critical goal for health IT, and the Office of the National Coordinator has repeatedly narrowed its Meaningful Use and related criteria to emphasize interoperability.

Open source software can share data with other systems as a matter of course. Data formats are simple, often text-based, and defined in the code in easy-to-find ways. Open source programmers, freed from the pressures on proprietary developers to reinvent wheels and set themselves apart from competitors, like to copy existing data formats. As a stark example of open source’s advantages, consider the most recent version of the Open Document Format, used by LibreOffice and other office suites. It defines an entire office suite in 104 pages. How big is the standards document for the Microsoft OOXML format, offering roughly equivalent functionality? Currently, 6,755 pages–and many observers say even that is incomplete. In short, open source is consistently the right choice for data exchange.

What would the adoption of open source do to improve health care, given that it would solve the interoperability problem? Records could be stored in the cloud–hopefully under patient control–and released to any facility treating the patient. Research would blossom, and researchers could share data as allowed by patients. Analytical services could be plugged in to produce new insights about disease and treatment from the records of millions of people. Perhaps interoperability could also contribute to solving the notorious patient matching problem–but that’s a complicated issue that I have discussed elsewhere, touching on privacy issues and user control outside the scope of this article.

The next segment of this article will list three more benefits of free and open source software, along with an assessment of its current and future prospects.

Epic to Hold Startup Competition at App Orchard Conference

Posted on September 14, 2018 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 know it’s Friday and we usually do a Fun Friday post, but while this might look like a joke I assure you it’s not. Epic has recently announced to their App Orchard community that they’ll be doing a startup competition. The prize is $5k and “an opportunity to share their pitch with a senior Epic executive to get feedback and advice, and bragging rights.”

The startup competition is being held at the Epic App Orchard Conference happening Oct 24-26th at Epic’s headquarters in Verona. For those not familiar with App Orchard, it’s basically Epic’s partner program. The Founder or CEO of the startup is required to be there to be part of the Startup Pitch competition.

The contest is a little confusing because all tiers of App Orchard members are eligible to participate. However, companies don’t have to have to have an app in the app store yet. This would have been even more interesting if they opened it up outside the App Orchard community as well. However, given the short time frame to submit and then be on stage at the conference, I have a feeling this was a kind of last minute idea that they’re making happen and so they wanted to keep it simple.

Who would have thought that Epic would hold a startup competition? Is Epic finally seeing that there’s a lot of value to them and more importantly to their customers to have a more open approach to working with partners? Ok. A startup competition is a small step, but it feels like a huge one for Epic given past history.

The deadline to apply for the competition is Sep 28th, so it might be tight for companies that aren’t already a member of App Orchard to become a member and take part, but I’d be interested to hear if any company tries. I’ll be interested to hear what companies choose to take part in the competition and what ideas they pitch. Epic is currently displaying 111 apps in their App Orchard gallery.

Times are a changing at Epic. What’s next for Epic? They’re going to start acquiring companies? Let’s not get too crazy.

Are EHR Companies Difficult to Work With?

Posted on September 10, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

There is an entrenched myth that EHR companies are difficult to partner with – more interested in up-front partner fees and revenue sharing than actually collaborating with 3rd party companies. Two companies are working hard to be different.

Early in the spring, I had a lengthy conversation with a group of vendors at HIMSS18 about partnering with EHR companies. I had stopped at a booth and somehow we got onto the topic of collaborating with EHR companies as a way to accelerate product development and sales. The person I was speaking with was very frustrated at the lack of response from three of the larger EHR companies. I’m paraphrasing, but her statement was essentially this: “All they want is to charge me their 5K partnership fee and then take 10% of everything I sell to their customer base. It’s ridiculous.”

At that point, several representatives from surrounding booths joined in our conversation. All of them had similar frustrations and shared similar stories of being shunted to the partnership team – which in their opinion was just a sales team in disguise – where they were told about all the wonderful benefits they would receive in return for an upfront partnership fee. I’m sure many Healthcare Scene readers can identify with these vendors.

This conversation stuck with me and over the spring and summer, I decided to dive deeper into the world of EHR partnerships. I wanted to know if the myths were true and I wanted to see if there were any companies that were operating differently. Over the past several months at every conference I have attended, I have made it a point to find out as much as I could about the various partnership programs and spoke with dozens of vendors who were proudly displaying partnership badges on their booths.

The good news is that there are at least two companies working hard to build a thriving partner ecosystem. The bad news is that many EHR companies do not have a well-defined partnership strategy and many vendors do not feel they are getting full value for their participation in EHR ecosystems.

One of the key things I learned is that there is a distinct difference between working with an EHR company on interoperability vs being part of their partner ecosystem. There have been many articles over the past few years about the difficulty of extracting data from EHRs in order to share it with other organizations involved in the care for patients. Headlines like “How disparate EHR systems, lack of interoperability contribute to physician stress, burnout” are common.

Many of the EHR companies I spoke with separate their interoperability efforts from their partnership programs. The ability to share data with others, they said, was not related to how well/not well they worked with 3rd party companies. So while it may be true that EHR companies have a lot of work to do on interoperability, partnership for some is something a few companies are doing well.

One company is Allscripts.

After HIMSS18, I had the opportunity to drop in on the fourth annual Allscripts Developer Summit in Chicago. I honestly did not know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised at how intimate the event was. The rooms were smaller and had people sitting at round tables listening to presenters and asking lots of questions. The level of interaction between the speakers and the developers at the tables was refreshing to see.

Most of the attendees at the Summit were developers and product managers from companies that were Allscripts partners. Most of the discussions in the sessions and in the hallways centered around the latest APIs and FHIR initiatives.

The Summit is part of Allscript’s Developer Program (ADP). Allscripts recently announced that its ADP partners have together processed more than 4 Billion API data exchange transactions since the company started tracking it in 2013. In the announcement Tina Joros, VP and General Manager, Open Business Unit at Allscripts had this to say:

“We are trying to create a new mentality of innovation for our clients so that they view innovation as a path to improve overall workflows and connect with patients. We have made our API platform easily accessible and cost-effective for developers to use so that they can develop and test their solutions. This includes the ability for developers to use our FHIR APIs to meet regulatory requirements for our shared clients at no cost.”

I had the chance to sit down with Joros during the Summit and she shared with me that Allscripts does more than just provide access to their APIs. “We help companies with sales and marketing as well,” said Joros. “We coach partners that are new to the space how to ‘talk healthcare’. We help them craft and tell their stories to their target buyers. We spend a lot of time on the phone and in the field with our ADP partners. Our goal is to reduce the risk for clients to adopt new technology.”

With more than 8,000 registered developers in ADP, I asked Joros why so many companies had joined. “One of the key differentiators is the ADP Integrator tier of our program; most competitors have programs that make it easier to sign up for the FHIR APIs but they also have a vetting process in place to review companies for partnership,” said Joros. “In our ADP Integrator tier, however, companies can sign up immediately to access all our FHIR and proprietary API functionality – there is no wait or vetting by Allscripts and no fee to get started. The pricing model is designed so that companies only pay Allscripts when they are ready to go to market via a testing fee and usage-based fee. The ease of signing up and no fee to get started are unique in the industry.”

One company that has been very successful at working with Allscripts is Relaymed – a company that makes connectivity software that sends point-of-care test results directly into EHRs. RelayMed has been part of ADP for four years and had nothing but good things to say about the program.

“Many EHR companies have rigid cultures that actually bias them against partnerships – the ‘not invented here’ syndrome,” commented Neil Farish, CEO of Relaymed who spoke with me over the phone. “Allscripts isn’t like that. They had a vision of an open and vibrant ecosystem. That vision is ingrained into their culture and there is support right from the top. It’s become part of their DNA. If anything, senior management at Allscripts has been paying even more attention to partners this year. They are present. They interact with us. Help from their marketing & sales teams has been easy to get and really welcomed.”

The team at Relaymed has been working with the Allscripts team to tighten and improve the level of integration between their two systems. As well, the companies together are looking at ways to expand the breadth of devices that connect to Allscripts through Relaymed.

Another company that has invested in their partnership program is Cerner.

Cerner takes a different approach when working with partners. Although they have a centralized team that helps on-board partners (legal, contracting, etc), the ongoing relationship with partners is handled directly by the team/department that works most closely with that partner. Sometimes that is the Cerner sales team. Often times it is the product team. It just depends on where most of the interactions will occur.

“No partnership looks the same,” John Gresham, Senior Vice President, DeviceWorks & Interoperability at Cerner told Healthcare Scene. “So we have to ask the key question – How does that partnership bring differentiated value to the customer? We will work with partners the way that works best for our customers. That may mean embedding someone else’s solution within our solutions, co-market their solution as part of a bundle or we may simply go-to-market together.”

It was surprising to learn that a company as large as Cerner did not have a cookie-cutter approach to partnering with 3rd parties. It would have been easy for them to put in a rigid framework but instead they adapt themselves to best suit the partnership. DellEMC, Kofax and Nuance were cited by Gresham as examples of Cerner partnerships that were flourishing.

“Customers want something seamless and not just in terms of Cerner being a systems integrator for them,” continued Gresham. “They want everything to be smooth and simple – buying it, contracting it, deploying it, integrating it and supporting it. Cerner is willing to do all those things, something that isn’t common in the EHR space.”

During our conversation, Gresham repeatedly referenced Cerner’s laser focus on delivering better patient care and better outcomes – and how that focus guided their partnership decisions. In fact, that is key to attracting the attention of an internal champion at Cerner: a clear line from the product or service being offered to customer or patient benefit.

That is exactly what happened with Goliath Technologies, a provider of IT operations software that enables IT Teams to anticipate, troubleshoot and prevent infrastructure performance issues. The team at Goliath had successfully implemented their solution at a Cerner customer. That customer spoke about their experience at a Cerner event and Jay Savaiano, Senior Director of Business Development at Cerner took notice.

“It was because of Jay and his vision that Goliath got into the program,” explained Thomas Charlton, Chairman and CEO at Goliath Technologies. “He was the first person we had a conversation with and from there everything went smoothly. He was with us every step of the way and we’re still working with Jay today. But it all started because we were able to demonstrate a clear positive impact on a Cerner customer.”

“Once Cerner decided that Goliath would benefit their customers, the process of formalizing the relationship was very straightforward and smooth,” continued Charlton. “They moved really fast. They have a fantastic team of people, very competent and focused. Everyone from contracting to legal to sales was great to work with.”

Because of the success, they have enjoyed with Cerner, Goliath has begun to put a lot of focus on their partnership with Cerner. They have begun working with Cerner developers to refine and tune their combined solutions and Goliath recently hired a new VP of Corporate Development who had left Cerner a few years ago, to help strengthen the relationship [side note the VP was referred to Charlton by people at Cerner]

“Cerner brings healthcare knowledge to Goliath,” said Charlton. “They know patient care and healthcare systems management. That deep understanding of healthcare has helped us with product development. Cerner has really helped to reshape our thinking on healthcare, patient care and Healthcare IT Operations management.”

*****

It is interesting to note that neither Relaymed or Goliath were put forward by Allscripts or Cerner respectively as example partners to speak with. Both Relaymed and Goliath were referred to me by different people who are not affiliated with either EHR company.

So if you are a software provider that is looking to partner with an EHR company what can you do to attract their attention? All four individuals I spoke with offered sage advice.

Neil Farish (Relaymed): “Avoid the transactional models of partnership where it is just an exchange of $$$. Look to the value that you as a partner are getting, the value the EHR company is getting and the value you can provide together to their end-customers. If there is value all around then the fees should be dwarfed by the value. If not, then you seriously have to rethink that potential partnership.”

Thomas Charlton (Goliath): “Have a very clear understanding of how your product or service helps deliver better care to patients. Can you show a direct line to customer or patient benefit? If you can’t then you need to figure that out before approaching an EHR company looking for a partnership. Also, joint customers are important. The more joint customers you have the more momentum you will get behind the initiative.”

John Gresham (Cerner): “The key to making partnerships work is mutual respect. That’s the starting point. Next comes a key question – do you have a ‘what’s best for customers’ mindset. If you have that then we have a foundation for conversation. I would strongly encourage companies to build solutions for the highest possible reliability, scalability and security.  Cerner customers expect that. Oh, and you have to have proof points to back that up.”

Tina Joros (Allscripts): “Be persistent. Come talk to us at conferences. Connect with us online. I would encourage any company signed up for the program and does not feel like it is providing value, to speak with a member of our team and let us know.  In some cases, we can find a tier that is a better fit for the company or make introductions to other associates at Allscripts, so additional areas of the business can evaluate their solution.”

Myth busted.

Does NLP Deserve To Be The New Hotness In Healthcare?

Posted on August 30, 2018 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.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot more talk about the benefits of using natural language processing technology in healthcare. In fact, when I Googled the topic, I turned up a number of articles on the subject published over the last several weeks. Clearly, something is afoot here.

What’s driving the happy talk? One case in point is a new report from health IT industry analyst firm Chilmark Research laying out 12 possible use cases for NLP in healthcare.

According to Chilmark, some of the most compelling options include speech recognition, clinical documentation improvement, data mining research, computer-assisted coding and automated registry reporting. Its researchers also seem to be fans of clinical trial matching, prior authorization, clinical decision support and risk adjustment and hierarchical condition categories, approaches it labels “emerging.”

From what I can see, the highest profile application of NLP in healthcare is using it to dig through unstructured data and text. For example, a recent article describes how Intermountain Healthcare has begun identifying heart failure patients by reading data from 25 different free text documents stored in the EHR. Clearly, exercises like these can have an immediate impact on patient health.

However, stories like the above are actually pretty unusual. Yes, healthcare organizations have been working to use NLP to mine text for some time, and it seems like a very logical way to filter out critical information. But is there a reason that NLP use even for this purpose isn’t as widespread as one might think? According to one critic, the answer is yes.

In a recent piece, Dale Sanders, president of technology at HealthCatalyst, goes after the use of comparative data, predictive analytics and NLP in healthcare, arguing that their benefits to healthcare organizations have been oversold.

Sanders, who says he came to healthcare with a deep understanding of NLP and predictive analytics, contends that NLP has had ”essentially no impact” on healthcare. ”We’ve made incremental progress, but there are fundamental gaps in our industry’s data ecosystem– missing pieces of the data puzzle– that inherently limit what we can achieve with NLP,” Sanders argues.

He doesn’t seem to see this changing in the near future either. Given how much money has already been sunk in the existing generation of EMRs, vendors have no incentive to improve their capacity for indexing information, Sanders says.

“In today’s EMRs, we have little more than expensive word processors,” he writes. “I keep hoping that the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world will quietly build a new generation EMR.” He’s not the only one, though that’s a topic for another article.

I wish I could say that I side with researchers like Chilmark that see a bright near-term future for NLP in healthcare. After all, part of why I love doing what I do is exploring and getting excited about emerging technologies with high potential for improving healthcare, and I’d be happy to wave the NLP flag too.

Unfortunately, my guess is that Sanders is right about the obstacles that stand in the way of widespread NLP use in our industry. Until we have a more robust way of categorizing healthcare data and text, searching through it for value can only go so far. In other words, it may be a little too soon to pitch NLP’s benefits to providers.