To this point in the meaningful use experiment, Phil Suiter, CEO of digiChart, has had the privilege of sitting at the front of one of healthcare’s greatest movements. From his place, he’s watched the market act and react, and has seen colleagues seek solutions to corner their respective markets all in the name of providing the best service for the most people.
Suiter, however, may have a view of the current health IT landscape like no other. Leading a specialty only provider of electronic health records and practice management systems, digiChart serves only OBGYNs.
Long before healthcare reform and the thought of meaningful use, digiChart created and built solutions solely for this space, and, unaplogoetically, will continue to serve the space. Plans for expansion may one day include moving into the pediatrician market, which seems to be a safe bet given the connection between the two specialties, but according to Suiter, that’s not a plan actively being pursued.
What’s interesting about digiChart’s position, as Suiter tells it, is that even though meaningful use is vitally important to digiChart and the company has helped many physician achieve stage 1, OBGYNs have not voraciously jumped aboard the program.
What this means, he says, is that it’s a clear sign that the OBGYN market continues to live up to its reputation as a fiercely independent group of healthcare providers. Suiter said that only 20 percent of all digiChart’s clients have chosen to pursue meaningful use. Apparently, the other 80 percent have chosen to overlook the federal incentives and go at it alone.
From conversations he’s had with clients, they’re just are not seeing the benefit of meaningful use, especially for all of the work required with the only benefit is $44,000 over five years.
“At this particular point, they don’t realistically see a flip side in changing. In some practices, some have decided that they are better off without changing,” Suiter said. “Practices have determined that they can survive and be profitable if they are efficient and continue doing what they are doing, especially in the OBGYN space.”
Being profitable means they’ll ultimately forego Medicare patients to avoid the federal penalties levied against them for not meeting meaningful use. In many cases, they don’t see enough Medicare and Medicaid patients to make all the effort worth their while, Suiter said, so the work required simply is not worth the effort.
And, frankly, the question remains: Is the federal money going to still be available as stage 2 progresses? And, what happens in February 2013, should a new administration take office?
Despite the answers to these questions and whatever happens with the election in November, Suiter sees plenty of change ahead for the market. For example, EHR vendor contraction is coming after a period of great anticipation.
He predicts the market will dramatically shrink from more than 400 companies to less than 100, many fewer of them actually viable and sustainable long term.
At the same time, he believes hospital’s appetite for buying and owning private practices will disintegrate as soon as 12 months from now.
“I think we’ll see a disgorgement of practices by hospital systems within the next 12 to 18 months,” Suiter said, marking the end of a repeat performance last seen in the mid-1990s (1995, ’96 and ’97, he said specifically).
Hospitals have been voraciously trying to align themselves with private practice to capitalize on funds generated from meaningful use; however, they don’t seem capable of effectively managing private practices and their employees as they seem to be able to do with their internal systems and hospital employees, he said.
Private practices are too independent, for the most part, he said; especially, OBGYNs.
The fiercely independent group of physicians might have all the leverage they need to withstand outside pressure for adopting new technologies or changing the way they run there businesses at this point in their careers.
The average physician in the OBGYN space is 62 years old. At this point in their careers, they are not particularly interested in becoming hospital employees and if they are not interested pursuing meaningful use, which seems to be the case, they’ll either retire or go their own way.
Clearly, the technology used in healthcare will gain greater acceptance as new doctors enter the space. As colleges begin to implement the systems to train their residents (which they are not readily doing now), perhaps the appetite within the space will change. Clearly, there’s room for more adoption in the market Suiter serves.
But, digiChart is positioned well, serving a market it, and Suiter, understand, and know they’re place – as leaders – in it. There are very few vendors that can represent the specialty space well, especially in the land grad market of one-size-fits-all solutions penetrating the market. DigiChart and Suiter seem to understand that sometimes it’s better not to be the jack of all trades, but a master of one.
When I go to the doctor for a check up of another ailment, I understand that the record kept regarding my care is ultimately mine. Not because I’m told, not because I’ve asked (though I have on some occasions), but because the information collected comes from me. Without my providing it, my physician would not have it to keep it.
Maybe it’s my make up, but I pride myself on knowing what others often consider trite and trivial. For most, knowing who owns their health record is exactly that, trivial.
Interestingly, though, is that for every person with a health record, there are the same number of people with a care provider to tell them that the record is theirs. So why then doesn’t everyone know that their health record is theirs?
I don’t think the answer to this question lies in the patient apathy or the population’s potential indifference toward their health outcomes. Innately, I believe people do care.
The point I’m making here is that I think the ONC’s latest effort to market direct-to-consumer (DTC) information is well intentioned but perhaps the burden for doing so is misplaced.
Do we think physicians and their practice colleagues should be spending their time doting on the ownership of their patient’s health record? Is anything other than patient health and outcomes a priority they should be focused on? The ONC thinks so, and given meaningful use and the increased pressure providers face to record and provide results of meaningful health outcomes, physicians are being arm twisted to ensure this level of grassroots marketing provides the ends to the ONC’s means.
Certainly, we as consumers must continue to receive information and education to keep us informed about the world of health IT. It’s true that very few actually understand just how far back healthcare technology is from the mainstream in regard to use of technology. But, as I’ve said before in this very forum, should all of the responsibility for this lie on the providers’ shoulders?
Not so, in my opinion. Sure, physicians and care givers can be advocates to consumer enlightenment, but more of the responsibility really should go to the health IT vendors. After all, they are the ones selling the products to the physicians. It behooves them, and enriches them, the educate consumers to the value of the systems’ worth and how help improve health outcomes.
Sending this message to consumers, and helping to educate them of the benefits of these systems, will go a long way toward convincing them that their physicians need the systems. If consumers find value of these systems, they’ll let their wallets do the talking and give their business to physicians and practice that employ health IT.
And, if the physicians are truly going to be “the sales force for health IT,” perhaps it’s time the vendors started incentivizing these walking billboards the ONC wants them to be.
In speaking with a CEO of a major EHR/PM vendor recently, the conversation about the future of health IT kept coming back to money. Not necessarily the money saved by practices because of the implemented technology, but the money being flushed into the space by the government.
Though the money is flowing and the incentives are pouring into the economy and getting freely spent, there are obviously some still inside the vendor (and probably the practice) space that remain concerned about the viability of the government’s financial involvement in health IT in the long term.
The federal government’s money has created the structure of what we now know as health IT. Because of the push – the money, or the carrot and the stick, if you will – there’s now a deeper foundation set; there are studs and rafters in place, and even a few pieces of siding in some cases.
With roughly half (being generous) of the ambulatory market currently using some sort of an EHR, ground has obviously been gained in the market. It would have come eventually, the advancements, but the federal incentives no doubt hastened the proliferation of the technology. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say the federal money drives up or is re-appropriated. What happens then? Where does that leave the market, as my CEO colleague hypothesized?
I hadn’t exactly thought of it that way, especially now at this late stage in the program. But the man does pontificate an interesting point.
Given all of the money flowing into the health IT market, it’s one of the few booming economic segments, and given the number of parties staking claim to it hoping to make monumental returns on their investment, the scenario actually brings another very similar boom to mind.
From early 2004 though 2005, the profits were record breaking. Ad sales were way up, circulation was expanding into new markets and staffs were being bumped up to counter efforts made by the competition.
However, by late 2006, as a cautionary note, hiring slowed and expansion stopped. At the beginning of 2007, the layoffs began. Reporters, editors and production staff were cut. The newspaper chain I wrote for shuttered offices and cut more costs. Another round of employees was let go. Ad revenue hit the floor; newspapers stopped circulating, the market shrank and even more people were laid off. The business entered a tailspin that even now, five years later it hasn’t recovered from.
It never will.
The boom times went bust, and for newspapers, caught up in the seemingly never ending flow of cash from advertisers, who happened to be home builders and contractors, little planning for the future was done and any thoughts of a rainy day fund seemingly were little more than thoughts.
In Florida, at the time, you couldn’t spit or throw a stone without hitting a new housing development or condo conversion. There were housing starts everywhere. Houses, in all phases of development, were being erected. The building was constant. There was no end in sight. Contractors were hiring employees everyday, banks were lending, people were fighting, literally, over houses that were for sale.
When the boom was booming, everything even peripherally related to the market was booming. But when the housing market busted, well, I don’t need to tell you about how that affected each one of us.
So, my friend the CEO asks an interesting question. One that was probably asked thousands of times during the great housing bubble of the middle of the 21st century’s first decade: What happens if, God forbid, the money suddenly runs out of Health IT?
Come down to South Florida and see. I’m sure you could get yourself a pretty good deal on one of the thousands of properties sitting half built and empty.
Sure, they’ve got a good foundation, walls, rafters and, in some cases, a bit of siding, but they sure aren’t much to look at much less much better to live in.
For example, video tape and video stores are virtually gone already. Watches, paper maps and newspaper classifieds are on their way out; and perhaps newspapers, too.
Wired phones are hard to find (though my children will probably see a land line in my house because of their benefit in hurricanes and other natural disasters.)
Printed encyclopedias (some of the last were printed this year) and, likewise, encyclopedia salesmen are history. Printed phones books I still get, and use, but they will one day stop coming to the door; CDs, film and fax machines are all but obsolete, though, there are still enterprises trying to make their livings peddling their wares to help organizations send secure faxes.
I don’t consider myself to be old by any means; just part of a transitional generation. I remember paying $1 for a gallon of gasoline and I remember protestors picketing gas stations in Southern California when the prices topped $1.50 a gallon.
I was introduced to the web via dial-up Internet and wondered when its value would be achieved, as it was difficult to imagine a life lived through the web one AOL minute after another.
Now, the Internet is considered one of the most innovative advancements of all time. Healthcare, and nearly every other business sector, will never be what it once was because the technology allows for continuous advancement and the development of tools like EHRs, patient portals, HIEs and mobile devices.
Why all the reminiscing, then, about all of the gadgets that my children will never know?
Simple. My primary care physician uses paper charts. She has no plans to change and is unapologetic about it. Her patients sometimes ask her why and she shrugs it off like it’s not important, an overly hyped issue. One that she’d rather not discuss and one she might wish went away.
The wall of charts behind the reception desk is a symbol of her success. They represent patients she’s treated, conditions faced by the people she cares about, meetings with those of us she’s counseled. Perhaps that wall of record is her trophy case, a testament to her professionalism, outstanding demeanor and nature, and the trust she’s earned with all of us.
She doesn’t want to be forced into any kind of decision that affects her business – that’s how she sees her practice, as a business — even if she’s ultimately penalized because of it.
Though she’s got the paper to sift, she claims to be organized and just as efficient as any machine could make her. The notes enclosed are her own and won’t be shared with anyone. The only incentive for paper these days is the recycle bin.
But, she carries on. For now.
In the end, though, she’ll probably close shop, shred the records and move on to retirement if her decision not to implement an electronic health record means she can’t continue to do what she loves – practice medicine and provide care.
She has that luxury. She’s of a certain age. She remembers things that many of us have never experienced. She grew her business on typewriters, dial telephones and paper records.
And soon, she will become one more thing my children will never know.
In an effort that could revitalize the EHR space (at least the mainstream market), the Veterans Affairs Department’s classic and still heavily used VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) system is getting the open source EHR treatment.
In a move that is revolutionizing other technology sectors — like manufacturing, gaming and the device world and because of the success of such sites as Kickstarter (I know because I represent clients in this space and have seen their success first hand), which is a haven for open source projects, allowing volunteer programmers who are passionate about code and perhaps even passionate about healthcare, is really a pretty swell idea.
From the VA’s perspective, how else could it possibly bring a beleaguered and somewhat bemoaned product like VistA to the modern area after more than 30 years in use? Certainly, the government didn’t seem to have the funds or the necessary experience to overhaul the system by itself.
According to Rick Baker, chief information officer for the VA, even though there is a contract with a firm to make changes to VistA’s code to make it less complex and more readable, the open source community will be involved directly, day to day, with the EHR’s refresh.
The success of involving the open source community in healthcare, and in the development and maintenance of EHRs, is showcased at Oroville Hospital in Northern California, which recently passed on some of the mainstream vendors like McKesson and Meditech for a personalized, customer version of its.
Leaders at the hospital wanted the flexibility to make changes to its EHR system, and they wanted to ensure they received the attention they felt they deserved from their vendor of choice. Ultimately, they wanted total control over the hospital’s electronic health record.
The best solution to the problem for the hospital? Build its own EHR.
In addition to gaining every advantage over the creation and implementation of the home-grown system, Oroville Hospital plans to save a bunch of money by not purchasing a commercial system even though it is building a complete EHR soup to nuts.
The hospital chose to build the system with the help of the same open source folks who are working on the VistA system; the same folks the VA is using to update VistA. Once done, Oroville Hospital’s EHR was even certified for meaningful use and the hospital received more than $5 million in meaningful use incentives.
What all of this seems to suggest is that custom solutions are viable options in a sea of corporate technology offerings. With open source now breaching the professional world of electronic health records, this may only just be beginning of a wave of technology innovation, especially as hospitals and practices seek more efficient solutions and more control of their EHR technology.
Given the time, patience and buy in of leaders, healthcare facilities may be closer to independence than we’re used to in the regulated and oversight-driven world that has become healthcare.
The adoption of electronic health records continues as more physicians and practice leaders either realize the benefit of the technology or chase meaningful use in an effort to secure some cash or to avoid the soon-to-be enforced penalties for those without the systems.
However, adoption of the systems isn’t without its roadblocks nor is it as simple as plugging and playing as some might like us to believe.
In an insightful entry featured on EHR Intelligence, Dr. Kyle Murphy nicely summarizes what he labels as the top 10 reasons EHR adoptions stall, according to interviews and conversations he’s had with other physicians.
Some of the reasons cited are what we might expect. For example, at the top of his list is cost. Few can afford the cash required and the initial investment. Practice leaders know that to do it right, they have to buy the right system, as well the training, support and other required bells and whistles.
Two and three on the list are time and preparation, respectively. Typically, implementing an EHR takes a good deal of time and a great deal of preparation. Without the proper commitment, neither will come out right, which can result in less than desirable outcomes for practices.
According to Murphy, practices fear the downtime that can come with an implementation and they know that any good transformation requires total buy in from everyone at the practice. Perhaps the top concern for physicians, concerns that I’ve heard personally, has to do with the EHR implementation preparation.
Next, at No. 4 on the list, is “rollout strategy.” Ah, the choices: to implement all at once or one piece at a time. To each his or her own, but the decision remains and it’s a hard one for many to make while remaining un-conflicted.
At No. 5, is availability of vendors, or lack there of. More specifically, he recommends taking greater ownership of the process and not giving every crucial part of it to your vendor partner. Like everyone else, they are taxed and their resources spent, especially now as the rush to get in on full meaningful use reimbursements is upon us.
At six and seven are training and communication. Do away with one and you’ll likely do away with the other.
Interoperability comes in at No. 8. The system must work with the practice’s other systems. They’ve got to speak the same language and work together. Easier said than done, but at the heart of it, practice leaders are asking, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Skipping ahead to No. 10, data migration rounds out the list. The system, according to Murphy, must do more than its paper-based predecessor. It has to do more than replicate the past, but help power the future.
Perhaps the most important, and somewhat obvious, hurdle practices face, though, lies at the heart of the practice: its culture.
Culture, at No. 9, truly affects every aspect of the implementation. For example, if the culture of the practice is one that embraces change or technology, there’s a greater likelihood that finding the cash to make the investment will happen. Likewise, preparing for the change and developing a rollout strategy will seem much easier with buy in versus having to fight most of the employees who have their heels buried in the sand in resistance to the change.
Finally, with the right culture in place the practice is much more likely to get the most out of its training, even if it’s only a small amount, because there is more acceptance and will to learn on the practice employee’s part. They are more likely to communicate with all partners – vendors, consultants, even patients – because they want to ensure the greatest, most successful process from start to finish.
When the culture of a practice is one of a winner, the list of hurdles faced during this or any other change is greatly reduced and nearly everything, at that point, can be accomplished.
Those who conceived and brought meaningful use to life can apparently chalk up another victory, according to a new survey conducted by Accenture.
As told by For the Record, patients overwhelming want access not only to their medical records and personal health information through connected devices (mobile or otherwise), but they also want direct electronic access to their physicians.
By “access to their physicians,” I mean they want to interact with their caregivers through web portals and email. Actually, respondents of this survey (88 percent) said they want to receive email appointment reminders from their physicians, while 76 percent of survey takers said they want the option of email consultations directly with their physicians.
Enter the patient portal. Secure, web-based portals that, for most EHR systems, allow patients the opportunity to interact directly with their physicians, view lab results (in certain non-overly sensitive cases), schedule appointments and make payments, among other things. The same patient portals that are required ingredients of meaningful use certified EHR systems.
Despite the arguments over the benefits or lack thereof of meaningful use, the requirement that EHRs contain patient portals so patients and their caregivers can interact with each other seems to be giving the patients exactly what they want.
In the very least, at least according to the results of this survey, patients are more likely to engage with physicians and take greater ownership of their care if they are simply allowed to communicate with their doctors electronically.
And given the seemingly current lack of patient engagement that’s prevalent in our healthcare community, anything that sparks interest in patients should be considered a welcome sign to every healthcare professional. After all, patient engagement will continue to become more popular as consumers take greater ownership of their care as they discover that their healthcare providers are actually easier to access because of electronic health records and patient portals.
Unfortunately, however, the average patient doesn’t know whether his physician offers a practice portal or if the practice uses an EHR as fewer than half of the 1,100 survey participants in the Accenture study didn’t know whether they had access to such systems.
Despite this minor detail, there’s plenty in this survey to celebrate. Specifically, patients clearly want to access their health records electronically and they want to be able to connect with their physicians when they want or need through any connected device wherever they are in the world.
The other good news here, for practice professionals anyway, is that there is plenty of room for and an abundance of opportunity to educate patients about a practice’s internal technology systems. Patients clearly want to know more about the technology their physicians are using in their practices.
If you don’t currently have these systems in place, engaging patients is a great way to find out what they might like to see from you in the future and, if nothing else, the information gathered helps you build and develop your practice and tailor it to your customer’s needs.
In conflicting reports recently released by two separate healthcare publications, the benefits and success of meaningfully using EHRs is debated with one publication citing its success while the other notes EHRs alone do not improve care, though, if certain steps are taken by providers, outcomes could be better.
The conflicting data from each report really comes as no surprise. What is a bit surprising, though, is that each report provides valid and tangible information that seems to support a similar conclusion.
For example, according to Becker’s Spine Review’sarticle featuring the report, “Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Record Systems and Process Quality of Care,” meaningfully using electronic health record improves hospital care quality.
In fact, citing the report again here, “hospitals with primitive or limited IT that upgraded to an EHR system satisfying Stage 1 meaningful use objectives saw a significant improvement in healthcare delivery.”
The study was designed to report whether hospitals that implemented and used EHRs meaningfully actually saw improved healthcare outcomes. Apparently, they did, at least in quality measures for heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care infection prevention.
The study’s findings seem to tell a somewhat stunning story, frankly: “Hospitals transitioning to EHR systems to meet the meaningful use Stage 1 requirements saw statistically significant improvements in the outcomes for conditions of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. The improvements varied depending on hospital baseline quality performance, with low-quality hospitals seeing the largest improvements in quality.”
So, in other words, healthcare systems implementing EHRs saw the greatest improvement from their previous systems, which I assume is paper.
But wait; let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. According to The Health Care Blog’s piece “EHR Adoption Alone Does Not Guarantee Quality Care,” adopting a meaningful use EHR system does not automatically improve care. The ability to house the data is important, but it’s obviously just the first step in a long process. Perhaps with some work, desired (but not guaranteed) results may be achieved.
According the authors the THCB piece, to fully engage an EHR in the care process and improve health outcomes, more pre-visit work is needed to understand all of a patient’s potential health needs then care givers must take what’s learned, plant it in the system to better serve the patient in the future. Pretty basic, but true, I assume, since the EHR isn’t going to do it by itself.
The next step, according to the blog, is to encourage practice leaders to sub-categorize patients into groups with like conditions to track their health within the population. This should allow for physicians and practice leaders to see how the health among specific populations of the practice is improving or declining. Again, simple enough, and something easily enough done with virtually any EHR currently on the market.
Other advice offered by the blog’s authors to physicians is to participate in local, national and regional care quality measures and initiatives, and compare best practices and care outcomes with other professionals to continue honing their crafts and learning new initiatives and providing innovate care.
Finally, and most importantly (and I agree with THCB on this one), involve patients in their care. Engage patients from the beginning and draw them into their care plans and they’ll likely engage in their health for life.
So, ultimately, the differing points of view from these two reports seem to support the same argument: meaningfully using an EHR allows for the potential of better healthcare outcomes, but achieving better outcomes doesn’t necessarily come from simply having the system.
Additional work is required to get the most of out of the data that goes into it, even if that means committing more to the actual care process, connecting with peers and colleagues to employ innovation and involving patients to ensure what goes into the EHR is everything it should be: meaningful, useful and helpful.
The numbers don’t lie. The meaningful use incentive program is working, at least as far as awarding stimulus funds is concerned. The incentive program awarded “761 hospitals and 56,585 professionals a total of approximately $2.3 billion for 2011; $1.3 billion to hospitals and $1 billion to eligible professionals,” according to Healthcare IT News.
The median payment to hospitals was $1.7 million. According to the same publication, in a recent interview with National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Farzad Mostashari, his top concern is how hospitals and practices embrace the spirit of the rule and use their technology to successfully engage patients.
From dollars to sense. Without patient engagement, meaningful use is meaningless. Without applying the patient information to the population served and working to improve outcomes and offering education and guidance – perhaps creating support groups for smokers wanting to quit or practice-sponsored nutrition plans for obese and diabetic populations – to patients, meaningful use is nothing more than a government-run plan to collect information about its citizen’s health.
Incentives aside, healthcare providers should wish to do no harm and use the information available to fully commit to embracing change through the technology and data available and do what they do best: care for and help provide health education to their patients, their customers.
In other words, to borrow a line from Mostashari, “If you treat meaningful use as work, you won’t get much out of it.”