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E-Patient Update: Sometimes Tech Gets In The Way

Posted on September 22, 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.

Being such an enthusiastic tech user, I tend to assume that adding technology to the healthcare equation is a plus in almost any situation. Why not automate scheduling?  Data gathering? Pharmacy?

To me, it’s always seemed like a no-brainer that tech adoption works to my advantage as a patient. The more I can avoid going through basic motions manually, the better processes work, giving me more time to spend with my clinicians. Right?

Apparently, not so right. When you take patients into account, sometimes doing transactions the old-fashioned way may actually be more efficient – or at least more flexible – than running things through an automated process. If nothing else, it may be easier to accommodate patients if you don’t have to run them through your workflow.

That, at least, is the lesson I’ve gleaned from studying the day-to-day flow at Kaiser Permanente, where I get all of my healthcare. After watching Kaiser employees work, and asking a few unobtrusive questions, I’ve come to believe that going offline may actually be better in some situations.

Tech-friendly, but not tech-dependent

Now, make no mistake: Kaiser isn’t in the stone age technically. For example, it seems to build most of its clinical operations around what is reputed to be the mother of all Epic installations. (Back in the day, it was rumored that Kaiser spent roughly $4 billion to roll out Epic, a massive sum even by national organization standards.)

Throughout my care process, the fact that clinicians and support staffers are all on Epic has played to my advantage, particularly given that I have a few chronic illnesses and see several specialists. I’ve also benefited from other Kaiser technology, such as kiosks which automate my check-in process for medical visits.

In addition, I’ve gotten a lot of benefits from using Kaiser’s robust web portal, which offers the capability to exchange email messages with clinicians, set appointments, pay premiums and co-pays, order and track prescriptions and check test results.

All that being said, I’ve encountered manual processes at many steps in my journey through the Kaiser system. While some of these processes seem wasteful – such as filling out a standard pre-visit form on paper – others turn out to be more useful than I had expected.

‘People forget their card’

One situation where technology might not be needed is taking people into the doctors’ suite for consults. In theory, Kaiser could set up an airport- or DMV-style ticker letting people know when their doctor was ready to see them, but having nurses yell last names seems to work fine. I’d file this under “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

The pharmacy is another area relying on a mix of low- and high-tech approaches. Interestingly, the pharmacy offers an airport-like board displaying the names of patients whose meds are ready. But when it comes to retrieving patient info and dispensing drugs, the front-line staffers enter the patient numbers by hand. I would have expected there to be a barcode on the membership card, but no dice.

According to one pharmacy tech, it has to be this way. “People forget their [Kaiser member] card all of the time,” she said. “We can’t assume members have It with them.”

These are just a couple of examples, but to me they’re telling. I may be missing something here, but it seems to me that Kaiser’s approach is practical. I’d still like to automate everything in my healthcare world, but obviously, that doesn’t work for everyone. Clearly, offline patient management models still matter.

DirectTrust, CHIME Deal Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Posted on September 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.

Recently, CHIME and DirectTrust announced a deal that sounded pretty huge on the surface. In a joint press release announcing the agreement, the two organizations said they had agreed to work together “to promote the universal deployment of the Direct Trust framework and health information exchange network as the common electronic interface for health information exchange across the U.S.”

Their plans include making the Direct exchange network available anywhere they can, including hospitals, medical practices, pharmacies, labs, long-term care facilities, payers, insurers and health departments, and to top it off, on applications. If things go the way they planned, you’ll hardly be able to kick a health IT rock without finding Direct under it.

As I noted earlier this year, DirectTrust is on something of a roll. In May, it noted that the number of health information service providers who engaged in Direct exchanges grew to almost 95,000 during the first quarter of this year. That’s a 63% increase versus the same period in 2016. The group also reported that the number of trusted Direct addresses which could share PHI grew 21%, to 1.4 million, and that there were 35.6 million Direct exchange transactions during the quarter, up 76% over the same period last year.

Sounds good. But let’s not judge this in a vacuum. For example, on the same day DirectTrust released its first quarter results, the Sequoia Project kicked out a press release touting its performance. In the release, Sequoia noted that its Carequality initiative was under full steam, with more than 19,000 clinics, 800 hospitals and 250,000 providers using the Carequality Interoperability Framework to share health data.

In considering the impact of Carequality, let’s not forget that late last year it connected with rival interoperability group CommonWell Health Alliance. I don’t know if you can say that interoperability effort can corner a market– the organizations using the rival health data sharing networks probably overlap substantially—but it’s certainly an interesting development. While the two organizations were both allied with a leading EMR vendor (CommonWell with Cerner and Carequality with Epic), the agreement has effectively brought the muscle of the two EMR giants together.

I guess it’s fair to say that the Carequality alliance and DirectTrust may own interoperabililty for now, rivaled only by the stronger regional HIEs.  That’s pretty impressive, I admit. Also, it’s interesting to see an accepted health IT organization like CHIME throw its weight behind Direct. I wouldn’t have expected CHIME to dive in here.

That being said, when you get down to it, none of the groups’ capacity for sharing health data is as great as it sounds. For example, if Epic’s Care Everywhere exchange only transmits C-CDA records, you have to ask yourself if Carequality is working at a higher level. If not, we’re in “meh” territory.

Bottom line, it seems clear that these organizations are winning the battle for interoperability mindshare. Both seem to have made a fair amount of progress. But between you and me in the lamppost, let’s not get excited just yet.

IT Leaders Question Allscripts Acquisition of McKesson EIS

Posted on August 31, 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.

Not long ago, I shared the results of a poll featured on HISTalk on the potential benefits of the Allscripts acquisition of McKesson EIS. The poll asked readers “Who will benefit most from the proposed acquisition of McKesson EIS by Allscripts?”

Roughly equal numbers of respondents said Allscripts customers would benefit (29%) and McKesson customers (27%). However, a new research report from Reaction Data suggests that many of their peers doubt that things will work out for McKesson customers or even do much to build Allscripts’ market position.

A number of health IT leaders quoted in the report say they’re fearful that McKesson solutions will get short shrift under Allscripts management. Others suggest that both vendors are behind the curve, especially McKesson, and that Allscripts is unlikely to spend enough money on it to catch up to current standards.

Their comments included the following observations:

  • I don’t see Allscripts as a major player in this space anymore and the acquisition will likely further stress the enterprise. Perhaps in combination they can cobble together a suite of tools, but integration will likely be clunky at best for some time.” – CIO
  • I do not see that McKesson brings anything beneficial to Allscripts, other than more users. McKesson’s products are very different from Allscripts’ current products and so will further dilute their efforts to bring quality product forward.” –CFO
  • McKesson is behind. Does not look like a smart choice moving forward.” –Director of IT
  • Just like Cerner buying Siemens, we were told they would support it and yada yada, here we are on Cerner after having to drop much more cash than we should have been required to.”—CIO

it’s worth noting, for the record, that all the feedback on the acquisition wasn’t negative. Positive comments included the following:

  • Combining Paragon, as the only true integrated, Microsoft SQL-based, hospital and ambulatory HIS on the market, with a solid vendor that focuses exclusively on HIT, is a win-win for the healthcare industry.” – CIO
  • “McKesson was losing and continues to lose ground on EHR systems to Epic and Cerner. They are withering on the vine. This acquisition will help them solidify their position in the market.”– Vice President of Finance

Still, most health IT leaders seemed to think the deal wouldn’t help either party that much. In particular, they were skeptical that McKesson’s high-profile Paragon solution was salvageable. “Paragon…is antiquated,” wrote one manager of information technology. “It will take a big bag of money and a lot of time to fix that.”

To summarize, while HIT execs conceded that the merger might buy Allscripts some customers and time, they felt it wasn’t likely to benefit their organizations. In fact, some argued that the deal could actually undercut the future of their McKesson systems: “Allscripts may focus on their own EMR and how those products I have with McKesson will interact with them rather than on McKesson products as a whole,” worried one director of information technology.

On top of everything else, the previous analysis by HISTalk doesn’t inspire much confidence that the acquisition will work on a corporate level. The analysis asserts that EMR vendors should be judged by the number of 250+ bed hospitals they have as customers, and points out that Allscripts controls only 6% of that market. (Epic, in contrast, has 20%, the article notes, citing HIMSS Analytics data.)

If I’m reading this right, it seems that Allscripts will take two mediocre and/or unfashionable solution sets and try to crossbreed them into a more popular set of tools, in the process scaring whatever loyal customers they have left. All sarcasm aside, I’d like to ask: Has this ever worked before?

Nurses Still Unhappy With EHRs

Posted on August 21, 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.

A new research report looking at nurses’ perceptions of EHRs suggests that despite countless iterations, many still don’t meet the needs of one of their key user groups. While the statistics included in the report are of some value, the open text responses nurses shared tell a particularly important story of what they’re facing of late.

The study, which was conducted by Reaction Data, draws on responses from 245 nurses and nurse leaders, 85% of whom work for a hospital and 15% a medical practice. Categories in which the participants fell broke out as follows:

* Nurses                                          49%
* CNOs                                            18%
* Nurse Managers                           14%
* Directors of Nursing                     12%
* Nurse Practitioners                       2%
* Informatics Nurse                         2%
* VP of Nursing                               2%
* Director, Clinical Informatics        1%

As with most other research houses, Reaction gets the party started by offering a list of vendors’ market share. I take all of these assessments with a grain of salt, but for what it’s worth their data ranks Epic and Meditech at the top, with a 20% market share each, followed by Cerner at 18%, Allscripts with 8% and McKesson with 6%.

The report summary I’ve used to write this item doesn’t share its stats on how the nurses’ ranked specific platforms and how likely they were to recommend those platforms. However, it does note that 63% of respondents said their organization wasn’t actively looking at replacing their EHR, while just 17% said that their employer was actively looking. (Twenty percent said they didn’t know.)

Where the rubber really hit the road, though, was in the comments section. When asked what the EHR needed to improve to support them, nurses had some serious complaints to air:

  • “Many aspects, too many to list. Unfortunately we ‘customized’ many programs, so they don’t necessarily speak to each other…” —Nurse Manager
  • “When we purchased this system 4 years ago, we were told that everything would be unified on one platform within 2 years, but this did not happen and will not happen.” –CNO
  • “Horrible and is a patient safety risk!” –RN
  • “Coordination of care. Very fragmented documentation.” –CNO

So let’s see: We’ve got incompatible modules, questionable execution, safety risks and basic patient care support problems. While the vendors aren’t responsible for customers’ integration problems, I’d find this report disheartening if I were on their team. It seems to me that they ought to step up and address issues like these. I wonder if they see these things as their responsibility?

In the meantime, I’d like to offer a quick postscript. The report’s introduction makes a point of noting – rightly, I think – that the inclusion of a high percentage of non-manager nurses makes the study results far more valuable. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

In fact, some of the vendors the firm met with said flat out that they only want to know what executives have to say – and that other users’ views didn’t matter to them.

Wow. I won’t respond any further than to promise that I’ll stomp all over that premise in a separate column. Stay tuned.

MUMPS and Healthcare

Posted on May 11, 2017 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.

Leave it to David Chou to point out how odd it is to work in healthcare IT. What’s shocking about the image David Chou shared above is that there are so many languages listed. However, despite the vast number of languages listed, MUMPS is so far off the radar of most tech people that they literally didn’t care about it enough to add it to the chart. That’s pretty sad for those of us who care about healthcare.

If you want to get another view about the challenge of so much of healthcare being run on MUMPS, check out this MUMPS thread on Hacker News. For those not familiar with Hacker News, it’s a site that was started by YCombinator and has grown into a community of some of the most progressive tech startup people in the world. The Hacker News thread is really long, so for those who don’t want to read it all the message is simple: MUMPS? What’s that? That’s awful!

To be fair, there were a few dissenting voices who commented on the great features of MUMPS. However, I have to admit that these people sound a little bit like those who espouse the benefits of the fax machine. Sure, it has some extremely beneficial features, but it’s downsides far outweigh the benefits described.

The reality is that we’re not going to get away from MUMPS in healthcare. When you realize that Epic, MEDITECH, Vista (VA), and Intersystems all use some form of MUMPS (or M as they prefer to call it now), you can see why MUMPS will be part of healthcare for a long time to come.

What’s more disappointing to me after reading the Hacker News thread was how people described the culture of the EHR vendors that use MUMPS. They really described it as uninterested in even exploring other more modern options that could help them better able to innovate their products and serve their customers.

Plus, it also hurts to hear so many programmers in the thread talk about how they shunned healthcare because they saw working on something like MUMPS as a career killer. I’m sure this is a common refrain for most developers out there. It’s disheartening to think that many EHR vendors will never benefit from the best developers as long as we’re on MUMPS.

I’m sure MUMPS was great in its day. It seems to have been a wise choice by Epic to start using it when I was born back in 1979. However, can you imagine the technical debt that’s accumulated all these years? Is it any wonder that innovation in healthcare works so slow?

The Government EHR Mess – Coast Guard Publishes EHR RFI – VA Looking to Replace Vista

Posted on May 1, 2017 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.

If you’re like me and enjoy a little inside baseball in the EHR world, then you have to watch what’s going on with EHR use in the government. In many ways, it’s like passing that car wreck on the freeway. There’s no way you can pass by without taking a look and seeing what’s gone on and what’s still going on. You want to know what’s happening.

A car wreck might be an apt comparison since we’re talking about the various government EHR situations. For those who haven’t followed this as closely, here’s a quick recap.

The DoD had the awful AHLTA EHR system. The VA had (and still has) their own homegrown VistA EHR system which most users seem to like. After a bunch of political jousting back and forth, the DoD did a $9+ billion RFP and finally selected Cerner EHR (although, Leidos was really the lead company and much of the $9 billion was going to them and not Cerner).

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard had selected Epic as their EHR. Long story short, things didn’t work out and the Coast Guard stopped implementing Epic and went back to paper. Yes, I said that right. They had to go back to paper.

Near the start of 2017, word came out that the VA was likely to replace their current VistA EHR with a commercial EHR replacement. That process is ongoing.

In the last week, the Coast Guard published their RFI to purchase an EHR. I guess that’s the final nail in the coffin for Epic at the Coast Guard.

I’m sure I’m leaving out some other government organizations that have EHR or are looking for an EHR. However, these are some of the high profile ones. As we sit here today, the question remains, which EHR will the VA and Coast Guard choose?

The obvious choice to everyone watching this is that the VA and Coast Guard and every other government organization that needs an EHR should go with Cerner. Interoperability between the DoD and VA has been awful and you’d think that having one EHR would help that situation. Plus, shouldn’t the VA be able to benefit from the experience the DoD has had implementing Cerner already? Not to mention, shouldn’t the VA and Coast Guard be able to get a discount from Cerner for bundling the purchase or does that not happen with $8 billion purchases.

The problem is that most of us (including me) don’t know all the politics at play. What seems completely obvious to us outside observers misses many of the political and cultural nuances at play in this situation. I’m not saying those nuances are right or accurate, but you can be sure that the EHR selection decision is going to have a lot of people chiming in with their own personal biases.

One simple example that’s easy to understand is you could see the VA making the case for why they should go with a commercial version of the VistA EHR that they’re already familiar within their organization. It’s hard for me to see them making this decision, but you can see why one could make a pretty solid argument for why choosing a commercial version of VistA would be a good idea.

When it comes to the interoperability potential I mentioned above, it’s sad to ask, but is having all of these organizations on the same EHR really that much better? We’re not talking about the government implementing a single instance EHR that’s shared across all organization. That would never happen, so even if the DoD and VA both buy from Cerner, they’re still going to need an interface between the systems. This should be presumably easier, but you can be sure it’s not going to be as turnkey as one might imagine it to be.

No doubt we’ll be watching to see what the Coast Guard and VA decide. Which EHR do you think they’ll choose? Which EHR should they choose and why? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.

HL7 Releases New FHIR Update

Posted on April 3, 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.

HL7 has announced the release of a new version of FHIR designed to link it with real-world concepts and players in healthcare, marking the third of five planned updates. It’s also issuing the first release of the US Core Implementation Guide.

FHIR release 3 was produced with the cooperation of hundreds of contributors, and the final product incorporates the input of more than 2,400 suggested changes, according to project director Grahame Grieve. The release is known as STU3 (Standard for Trial Use, release 3).

Key changes to the standard include additional support for clinical quality measures and clinical decision support, as well as broader functionality to cover key clinical workflows.

In addition, the new FHIR version includes incremental improvements and increased maturity of the RESTful API, further development of terminology services and new support for financial management. It also defined an RDF format, as well as how FHIR relates to linked data.

HL7 is already gearing up for the release of FHIR’s next version. It plans to publish the first draft of version 4 for comment in December 2017 and review comments on the draft. It will then have a ballot on the version, in April 2018, and publish the new standard by October 2018.

Among those contributing to the development of FHIR is the Argonaut project, which brings together major US EHR vendors to drive industry adoption of FHIR forward. Grieve calls the project a “particularly important” part of the FHIR community, though it’s hard to tell how far along its vendor members have come with the standard so far.

To date, few EHR vendors have offered concrete support for FHIR, but that’s changing gradually. For example, in early 2016 Cerner released an online sandbox for developers designed to help them interact with its platform. And earlier this month, Epic announced the launch of a new program, helping physician practices to build customized apps using FHIR.

In addition to the vendors, which include athenahealth, Cerner, Epic, MEDITECH and McKesson, several large providers are participating. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Intermountain Healthcare, the Mayo Clinic and Partners HealthCare System are on board, as well as the SMART team at the Boston Children’s Hospital Informatics Program.

Meanwhile, the progress of developing and improving FHIR will continue.  For release 4 of FHIR, the participants will focus on record-keeping and data exchange for the healthcare process. This will encompass clinical data such as allergies, problems and care plans; diagnostic data such observations, reports and imaging studies; medication functions such as order, dispense and administration; workflow features like task, appointment schedule and referral; and financial data such as claims, accounts and coverage.

Eventually, when release 5 of FHIR becomes available, developers should be able to help clinicians reason about the healthcare process, the organization says.

Epic and other EHR vendors caught in dilemmas by APIs (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on March 16, 2017 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 first section of this article reported some news about Epic’s Orchard, a new attempt to provide an “app store” for health care. In this section we look over the role of APIs as seen by EHR vendors such as Epic.

The Roles of EHRs

Dr. Travis Good, with whom I spoke for this article, pointed out that EHRs glom together two distinct functions: a canonical, trusted store for patient data and an interface that becomes a key part of the clinician workflow. They are being challenged in both these areas, for different reasons.

As a data store, EHRs satisfied user needs for many years. The records organized the data for billing, treatment, and compliance with regulations. If there were problems with the data, they stemmed not from the EHRs but from how they were used. We should not blame the EHR if the doctor upcoded clinical information in order to charge more, or if coding was too primitive to represent the complexity of patient illness. But clinicians and regulators are now demanding functions that EHRs are fumbling at fulfillling:

  • More and more regulatory requirements, which intelligent software would calculate on its own from data already in the record, but which most EHRs require the physician to fill out manually

  • Patient-generated data, which may be entered by the patient manually or taken from devices

  • Data in streamlined formats for large-scale data analysis, for which institutions are licensing new forms of databases

Therefore, while the EHR still stores critical data, it is not the sole source of truth and is having to leave its borders porous in order to work with other data sources.

The EHR’s second function, as an interface that becomes part of the clinicians’ hourly workflow, has never been fulfilled well. EHRs are the most hated software among their users. And that’s why users are calling on them to provide APIs that permit third-party developers to compete at the interface level.

So if I were to write a section titled “The Future of Current EHRs” it could conceivably be followed by a blank page. But EHRs do move forward, albeit slowly. They must learn to be open systems.

With this perspective, Orchard looks like doubling down on an obsolete strategy. The limitations and terms of service give the impression that Epic wants to remain a one-stop shopping service for customers. But if Epic adopted the SMART approach, with more tolerance for failure and options for customers, it would start to reap the benefits promised by FHIR and foster health care innovation.

Epic and Other EHR Vendors Caught in Dilemmas by APIs (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on March 15, 2017 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 HITECH act of 2009 (part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) gave an unprecedented boost to an obscure corner of the IT industry that produced electronic health records. For the next eight years they were given the opportunity to bring health care into the 21st century and implement common-sense reforms in data sharing and analytics. They largely squandered this opportunity, amassing hundreds of millions of dollars while watching health care costs ascend into the stratosphere, and preening themselves over modest improvements in their poorly functioning systems.

This was not solely a failure of EHR vendors, of course. Hospitals and clinicians also needed to adopt agile methods of collaborating and using data to reduce costs, and failed to do so. They’re sweating profusely now, as shown in protests by the American Medical Association and major health care providers over legislative changes that will drastically reduce their revenue through cuts to insurance coverage and Medicaid. EHR vendors will feel the pain of a thousand cuts as well.

I recently talked to Dr. Travis Good, CEO of Datica that provides data integration and storage to health care providers. We discussed the state of EHR interoperability, the roles of third-party software vendors, and in particular the new “app store” offered by Epic under the name Orchard. Although Datica supports integration with a dozen EHRs, 70% of their business involves Epic. So we’ll start with the new Orchard initiative.

The Epic App Store

Epic, like most vendors, has offered an API over the past few years that gives programmers at hospitals access to patient data in the EHR. This API now complies with the promising new standard for health data, FHIR, and uses the resources developed by the Argonaut Project. So far, this is all salutary and positive. Dr. Good points out, however, that EHR vendors such as Epic offer the API mostly to extract data. They are reluctant to allow data to be inserted programmatically, claiming it could allow errors into the database. The only change one can make, usually, is to add an annotation.

This seriously hampers the ability of hospitals or third-party vendors to add new value to the clinical experience. Analytics benefit from a read-only data store, but to reach in and improve the doctor’s workflow, an application must be able to write new data into the database.

More risk springs from controls that Epic is putting on the apps uploaded to Orchard. Like the Apple Computer store that inspired Orchard, Epic’s app store vets every app and allows in only the apps that it finds useful. For a while, the terms of service allowed Epic access to the data structures of the app. What this would mean in practice is hard to guess, but it suggests a prurient interest on the part of Epic in what its competitors are doing. We can’t tell where Epic’s thinking is headed, though, because the public link to the terms of service was recently removed, leaving a 404 message.

Good explained that Epic potentially could track all the transactions between the apps and their users, and in particular will know which ones are popular. This raises fears among third-party developers that Epic will adopt their best ideas and crowd them out of the market by adding the features to its own core system, as Microsoft notoriously did during the 1980s when it dominated the consumer software market.

Epic’s obsession with control can be contrasted with the SMART project, an open platform for health data developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School. They too offer an app gallery (not a store), but their goal is to open the repository to as wide a collection of contributors as possible. This maximizes the chances for innovation. As described at one of their conferences, control over quality and fitness for use would be exerted by the administrator of each hospital or other institution using the gallery. This administrator would choose which apps to make available for clinical staff to download.

Of course, SMART apps also work seamlessly cross-platform, which distinguishes them from the apps provided by individual vendors. Eventually–ideally–FHIR support will allow the apps in Orchard and from other vendors to work on all EHRs that support FHIR. But the standard is not firm enough to allow this–there are too many possible variations. People who have followed the course of HITECH implementation know the history of interoperability, and how years of interoperability showcases at HIMSS have been mocked by the real incompatibilities between EHRs out in the field.

To understand how EHRs are making use of APIs, we should look more broadly at their role in health care. That will be the topic of the next section of this article.

Switching EHRs, The Trends And What To Consider

Posted on September 8, 2016 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.

The following is a guest blog post by Winyen Wu, Technology and Health Trend Blogger and Enthusiast at Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Winyen Wu - Stericycle
In recent years, there has been a trend in providers switching Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems: according to Software Advice, the number of buyers replacing EHR software has increased 59% since 2014. In a survey by KLAS, 27% of medical practices are looking to replace their EHR while another 12% would like to but cannot due to financial or organizational constraints. By 2016, almost 50% of large hospitals will replace their current EHR. This indicates that the current EHR products on the market are not meeting the needs of physicians.

What are the reasons for switching EHRs?

  • Complexity and poor usability: Many physicians find that it takes too many clicks to find the screen that they need, or that it is too time consuming to fill out all the checkboxes and forms required
  • Poor technical support: Some physicians may be experiencing unresponsive or low quality support from their EHR vendor
  • Consolidation of multiple EHRs: After consolidating practices, an organization will choose to use only one EHR as opposed to having multiple systems in place
  • Outgrowing functionality or inadequate systems: Some current EHRs may meet stage 1 criteria for meaningful use, but will not meet stage 2 criteria, which demand more from an EHR system.

Which companies are gaining and losing customers?

  • Epic and Cerner are the top programs in terms of functionality according to a survey by KLAS; cloud-based programs Athenahealth and eClinicalWorks are also popular
  • Companies that are getting replaced include GE Healthcare, Allscripts, NextGen Healthcare, and McKesson; 40-50% of their customers reported potential plans to move

What are providers looking for in choosing an EHR?

  • Ability to meet Meaningful Use standards/criteria: In September 2013, 861 EHR vendors met stage 1 requirements of meaningful use while only 512 met stage 2 criteria for certification, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Because stage 2 criteria for meaningful is more demanding, EHRs systems are required to have more sophisticated analytics, standardization, and linkages with patient portals.
  • Interoperability: able to integrate workflows and exchange information with other products
  • Company reliability: Physicians are looking for vendors who are likely to be around in 20 years. Potential buyers may be deterred from switching to a company if there are factors like an impending merger/acquisition, senior management issues, declining market share, or internal staff system training issues.

Is it worth it?
In a survey conducted by Family Practice Management of physicians who switched EHRs since 2010, 59% said their new EHRs had added functionality, and 57% said that their new system allowed them to meet meaningful use criteria, but 43% said they were glad they switched systems and only 39% were happy with their new EHR.

5 Things to consider when planning to switch EHRs

  1. Certifications and Compliance: Do your research. Does your new vendor have customers who have achieved the level of certification your organization hopes to achieve? Does this new vendor continually invest in the system to make updates with changing regulations?
  2. Customer Service: Don’t be shy. Ask to speak to at least 3 current customers in your specialty and around your size. Ask the tough questions regarding level of service the vendor provides.
  3. Interoperability: Don’t be left unconnected. Ensure your new vendor is committed to interoperability and has concreate examples of integration with other EHR vendors and lab services.
  4. Reliability and Longevity: Don’t be left out to dry. Do digging into the vendor’s financials, leadership changes and staffing updates. If they appear to be slimming down and not growing this is a sign that this product is not a main focus of the company and could be phased out or sold.
  5. Integration with Current Services: Don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out to your current providers (like appointment reminders) and ensure they integrate with your new system and set up a plan for integrating the two well in advance.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms