A Waste of Physicians’ Money and Vendors’ Time

A Waste of Physicians’ Money and Vendors’ TimeEHR vendors are facing the arduous task of programming as many as 125 clinical quality measures (CQMs)—in addition to the development challenges presented by all the other new meaningful use requirements for Stage 2—and to do this in a relatively short period of time. To compound matters, the calendar is rapidly advancing and the specifications for these quality measures are not even available yet.

Is there a better way to approach quality measure reporting? I think so—and it seems so obvious to me! EHRs should not be doing all of the analysis—they should simply collect and report the data, and CMS or its designate should provide the analytics. A centralized approach would be much more efficient and would produce more consistent and reliable data.

Think of the time and resources being wasted. Why should each of the 472 vendors offering certified EHRs have to program the same 125 clinical quality measures—that’s the programming of a total of 59,000 measures—when they should not have to program any at all? This unnecessary cost will ultimately be passed on to physicians. And what about the effect on standardization and comparability of the data produced? Despite the certification requirements for each of the quality measures, minor variances in calculations are inevitable, and this compromises the value of the data for comparative purposes. Centralization would also allow changes to be implemented in a nimble and timely manner. With a centralized registry, new measures could be introduced, and changes to measure specifications that result from new research could be programmed and released immediately, without having to wait what could be years for each of the 472 vendors to develop, upgrade, and deploy the changes to the hundreds of thousands of physician-EHR users.

A model already exists for such an approach, and the infrastructure for data exchange is in place using one or more of the standards that are accepted in the industry today. Registries are already analyzing clinical data and identifying areas for quality improvement. It is critical that we think outside of the box to find opportunities like the above that eliminate unnecessary duplication of effort and free vendors to focus on areas of keen interest—like EHR usability and physician productivity.

The EHR Bubble Will Pop – To the Victor Go the Spoils

Like the dot-com bubble, the EHR bubble—nurtured by the government incentives—will not last. As I look at what’s happening in the market, it becomes apparent that at some point in the not-too-distant future, the EHR bubble will pop and many vendors will face financial challenges that will lead to their demise.

Several market factors will come into play, including:

  • Physician dissatisfaction with their choice of EHR, which likely was selected in haste to meet the government’s incentive timetable and was delivered by an overwhelmed vendor;
  • Physician disenchantment with the EHR Incentives Program, as financial rewards decrease while requirements intensify;
  • An overabundance of EHR vendors  competing in a market dominated by a small number of major players. (Currently there are 472 EHR vendors offering certified “Complete EHRs”)

To understand how these factors will affect EHR vendors, it is important to understand how such companies typically raise money and what kind of “hockey-stick” growth projections they made to attract investors.

EHR Revenue

Missed growth projections; continued expenses for implementation, support, and ongoing upgrades; and diminishing government incentives will leave many companies unable to find investors willing to fund their future growth.

There will be market consolidation, and financially strong companies will acquire distressed companies for pennies on the dollar.

…To read the full story, see HIStalk Readers Write.

100% EHR Success – A Clinical Approach

Last week’s EMR Straight Talk post, “Are EHRs Being Oversold,” hit a nerve, judging by the number of readers and the volume and intensity of comments submitted by physicians. Sadly, for every one of the physicians who took the time to write, there are scores of others enduring similar experiences. The following excerpts from their comments are reflective of their frustrations:

  • We are a year into [EHR] implementation and it has been horrible and costly. What little efficiencies gained have been lost to a decrease in productivity.
  • I now require a scribe to maintain the [same] patient flow that was seen four years ago we began using the system.
  • The trouble with most EMRs is the horrible user interfaces that are designed by committees who have no concept of ease of use for ophthalmologists.
  • The programs are user unfriendly in the extreme, cumbersome and inflexible. The learning curve is seriously long and even when mastered takes a terrific amount of time away from the patient.
  • The joy-killer was encountering the endless barriers to putting my own ideas to work.
  • Training is lengthy, expensive, and markedly disruptive in an office.

Every one of these stories breaks my heart as a staunch EHR proponent—particularly since the situations could have been easily avoided.

The Root of the Problem

The problem lies in the EHR selection process. When it comes to dispensing medications, for example, no physician prescribes without knowing the success rate for that particular drug for that particular type of patient and problem being addressed. Yet, typically, physicians do not make EHR purchase decisions in the same way that they make clinical decisions—using empirical evidence and data to predict outcomes.

I’d wager that for each of the disillusioned physicians above, the EHR selection process was nearly identical:

  1. The group chose 5 to 7 vendors for consideration;
  2. Each vendor demoed their product in front of an EHR selection committee whose task was to narrow down the field to 2 or 3 finalists;
  3. The finalists performed one or more demos to a wider group of physicians and staff;
  4. The vendors each provided 2 or 3 practices as references, with specific contact names;
  5. One or two physicians and staff members spent a day visiting one reference site for each of the vendor finalists; and
  6. They selected an EHR.

Why does such an exhaustive and time-consuming selection process so often lead to failed EHR implementations?

Preventing an EHR Failure in Your Practice

To prevent an EHR failure in your practice, the flawed selection process must be altered. The first thing to understand is that the rosy experience of one or two handpicked vendor references will not guarantee a similar experience for you and your colleagues. If a vendor has sold its EHR to 100 practices and has as few as 5 successful implementations, you will be referred to one of these 5 practices. A visit to 1 or 2 of these 5 successful practices may leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling and the expectation that, because they were successful, your success is virtually assured. In this case, however, your real probability of success would only be 5%.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

So how do you quickly eliminate vendors with lackluster success records before you and your staff waste hours watching slick sales demonstrations of sexy software with “must-have” features? Separating the wheat from the chaff is simple—just ask all your initial set of EHR vendors for lots of references. If a vendor cannot produce at least 2 references for each year they have been in business, run the other way. Do not accept any excuses for being unable to provide you with the number of references that you seek. (A common excuse is that the vendor wishes to protect the privacy of its clients.) If they had lots of references, they would give them to you in a heartbeat—happy customers are always willing to show their successes to others.

Many of the initial vendors chosen will not be able to produce a satisfactory number of references. This should narrow down the number left for you to consider, and it will save a tremendous amount of valuable physician and staff time.

Statistically Significant Reference Checking

At this point, your list of vendors will likely include just the one or two that have provided you with a meaningful reference list. You may have to accept the bias created by the fact that the references are carefully handpicked by the vendor(s), but it is imperative that you do not limit your inquiries to the specific physicians identified by the vendor. Typically, these are the practice administrator and one or two physicians who had spearheaded the EHR purchase for the practice; as a matter of pride, they are more likely to paint a rosy picture of the EHR than to acknowledge its shortcomings. The only way to avoid this trap is to speak with other physicians at the reference practices. This is easy to do. When you get the reference list from an EHR vendor, ask them to include the practice websites, then randomly choose physicians to call from the physicians’ bio pages. These physician-to-physician calls should be short (only 10 minutes each) and you should ask specific questions about cost, efficiency, and number of patients seen.

  1. When did you install your EMR?
  2. How long was the installation/implementation process?
  3. How would you describe the installation/implementation process?
  4. Was the system as user friendly as the demonstration by the salesperson?
  5. How many patients per hour/per day did you (and your partners) see before the installation/implementation of your EMR?
  6. How many did you see after?
  7. Approximately how much more time do you devote to entering exam data into your EMR now compared to how you documented exams before you began using an EMR?
  8. How do you like the quality of the EMR-generated exam notes?
  9. Have you had to hire scribes to enter data for you? If so, how many and what is their annual cost?
  10. Has your EMR completely eliminated the paper charts in your practice?
  11. Given your practice’s experience with your EMR, would you recommend it to a similar practice?

How much of your time should this type of random reference checking take? Not much! Ten 10-minute calls (less than 2 hours of time) to randomly chosen physicians will yield more valuable data on your chances of success than having a slew of vendors demo their products to your doctors and staff for hours on end. Only after having conducted the due diligence described above will you be able to derive real value from spending your time seeing demos—because you will only be seeing demos of the one or two EHRs that you now know are likely to deliver success.

EHRs: AAO Keeps Its Eye on the Ball

I’ve written frequently about the unique needs of specialists and how these have been overlooked by the government and by EHR vendors. Since many ophthalmologists are heading off this week to the AAO (American Academy of Ophthalmology) Annual Meeting in Orlando, I thought it appropriate to comment on the proactive advocacy and advisory role that this particular professional society has adopted on behalf of its members, and to encourage other academies to step up their efforts similarly.

EHRs: AAO Keeps Its Eye on the BallAAO has been quite active on the meaningful use front. This week’s HIT Policy Committee’s Meaningful Use Workgroup meeting focused on how make meaningful use more meaningful for specialists in Stage 3. AAO was one of only two specialty societies represented in the public comments at the end of the meeting—the Academy’s representative pleaded that measures irrelevant to ophthalmology be replaced with those that would add value for these specialists, and offered the Academy’s assistance to accomplish this.

In addition to providing its members with otherwise unavailable, ophthalmology-specific direction on how to meet meaningful use, AAO has also offered much-needed guidance regarding the selection of an appropriate EHR for ophthalmologists—meaningful use aside. Recognizing that their unique specialty-specific workflow and data needs are not effectively addressed by most EHRs—because of the typical primary-care focus—AAO charged its Medical Information Technology Committee with the identification of a set of ophthalmology-relevant EHR specifications. A group of authors led by Michael Chiang, M.D., identified a set of features and attributes that ophthalmologists would find particularly valuable, and published their recommendations in an article titled “Special Requirements for Electronic Health Record Systems in Ophthalmology.”

While features and functionality are important, feedback from colleagues who actually use the EHRs is even more critical. The advice that AAO has given its members on how to make the most out of site visits will serve all physicians well, regardless of their specialty, and I am therefore sharing it with you below. It is reprinted from the publication “Electronic Medical Records: A Guide to EMR Selection, Implementation, and Incentives.”

ASK COLLEAGUES THE RIGHT QUESTIONS:

  1. When did you install your EMR?
  2. How long was the installation/implementation process?
  3. How would you describe the installation/implementation process?
  4. Was the system as user-friendly as the demonstration by the salesperson?
  5. How many patients per hour/per day did you (and your partners) see before the installation/implementation of your EMR?
  6. How many did you see after?
  7. Approximately how much more time do you devote to entering exam data into your EMR now compared to how you documented exams before you began using an EMR?
  8. How do you like the quality of the EMR-generated exam notes?
  9. Have you had to hire scribes to enter data for you? If so, how many and what is their annual cost?
  10. Has your EMR completely eliminated the paper charts in your practice?
  11. Given your practice’s experience with your EMR, would you recommend it to a similar practice?

EHRs are here to stay, and will play an increasingly important role in medical practices. A major investment, EHRs can dramatically impact practice operations and productivity—positively or negatively. It is my hope that, like AAO, the medical academies will use their clout and speak out more aggressively to protect the interests of their members.

From EHR Vendors: New Facts or More Fiction?

Meaningful use is complex enough without having to sort fact from fiction when it comes to the rules, regulations, and requirements. It irks me when I hear the misinformation being disseminated by some EHR vendors in their attempts to sell their products to physicians who are not fully steeped in the nuances of the program.

The distribution of meaningful use misinformation for marketing purposes is not new. I wrote an EMR Straight Talk post titled “From EMR Vendors: Fact or Fiction?” on exactly this subject almost two years ago, when the program was still in its formative state. Sadly, unsavory marketing tactics remain the same—only the purported “facts” have changed.

The following are what I consider the most notorious misstatements about meaningful use:

  • It is not true that “You must demonstrate meaningful use in 2011 to qualify for the full $44,000 in incentives.”
    As the incentives chart illustrates, physicians can earn the full $44,000 over a 5-year period even if they start meaningful use in 2012. In fact, there are compelling reasons not to start in 2011. The first is that physicians can maximize their total revenue by focusing on earning the 1% ePrescribing bonus in 2011 and postponing meaningful use to 2012. Unfortunately, few vendors are alerting physicians that because they cannot collect both ePrescribing and EHR incentives in 2011, they would be leaving money on the table by pursuing meaningful use this year. The second advantage of waiting until 2012 is that physicians will not have to advance to the more stringent requirements of Stage 2 meaningful use until 2014 (instead of 2013), allowing more time to implement required upgrades.
  • It is not true that If you wait until 2012, you will have to report on a full year’s data, rather than only 90 days.”
    The 90-day reporting period applies to the individual physician’s first payment year—it is not tied to calendar years. Therefore, physicians can actually start as late as October 1, 2012 and still earn the maximum incentives.
  • It is not true that “Providers have already received money for meaningful use of an EHR.”
    No one has yet demonstrated meaningful use. The incentive money distributed so far has been awarded under Medicaid, which provides first-year incentives for A/I/U (Adoption, Implementation, or Upgrading of EHR technology) and does not require the demonstration of meaningful use. In fact, although the first potential 90-day reporting period concludes at the end of March, the attestation portal (through which providers document meaningful use) will not be operational until April 18th.
  • It is not true that “Generating a structured, point-and-click, templated note is the only way to capture meaningful use data.”
    Most EHRs are built on a note-driven platform, where the design of the software traps physicians into capturing meaningful use data through over-engineered, click-heavy templates. It is disingenuous of the sales representatives of these vendors to suggest that a structured note is a requirement of meaningful use. When all you own is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Caveat Emptor!

Government EHR Program: Potentially Harmful Unintended Consequences

I am really intrigued by the latest creation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Last week, HHS announced a contract to set up a group of experts to identify and attempt to fix any “undesirable” and “potentially harmful unintended consequences” that result from the stimulus legislation’s EHR incentives. According to the announcement, which was posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website: “Historical experience, as well as mounting evidence of unexpected problems, demands that we consider potential downsides.”

My curiosity is piqued! What are the unexpected consequences the government anticipates, and why is HHS so concerned? Awaiting the report from the panel of experts, I started thinking—and it didn’t take me long to create a list of my own.

My top three unintended consequences are the following: (If you’d like to suggest other potential unanticipated consequences—positive or negative—please submit a comment at the bottom of this page.)

  • There will be more EHR failures than successes, particularly among high-performance specialists.
  • “Certification” will stifle innovation.
  • Productivity and physician-focused EHRs will lead the market among high-performance physicians.

More EHR Failures:

After an initial peak in implementations, long-term EHR adoption will slow—particularly among high-performance specialists—and the current failure rate will escalate. Many factors will contribute to this: (1) Some physicians will rush into EHR purchases without conducting proper due diligence. (2) Products that were overly complex and did not work in busy specialists’ practices in the past will surely not succeed now, particularly since these same products must now be used in an even more structured and demanding way. (3) Sorely needed implementation and training will be provided by inexperienced and rushed implementation teams, further reducing the likelihood of success with providers, many of whom are less technologically savvy than the early adopters. (4) Where there was never a convincing economic justification in the past, the addition of data-collection requirements will further lessen the economic feasibility of traditional, point-and-click EHRs. (5) Physicians will try to transfer data entry tasks to scribes and other lower-cost employees (assuming that the regulations allow CPOE to be done by other than the ordering provider), but this strategy will not make economic sense, either, since the additional costs will outweigh the government incentives. The result? The high failure rate will leave physicians “holding the bag” after investing large sums of money, failing to earn the anticipated incentives, and owning a system that doesn’t meet their needs.

“Certification” will stifle innovation:

Innovation will suffer, as it did in the past when many EHR vendors devoted all their development resources to complying with the long list of CCHIT-certification requirements. Forcing all vendors seeking certification to meet the same criteria will surely sap the drive for innovation. As vendors burn through precious development resources to meet evolving government standards instead of improving their core product, they will fail to respond to the interests of their customers, i.e., the physicians. Sales and marketing will drive physicians’ choices, rather than the EHR products themselves. Large companies, which have the largest sales organizations and marketing budgets, will be successful in the short term. Smaller vendors who follow the herd instead of their entrepreneurial and innovative instincts will be driven out of the market.

Productivity and physician-focused EHRs will lead the market:

The good news is that innovation will triumph in the end. Alternative solutions—like the hybrid EMR—will prevail as high-performance physicians find success with products that focus on their needs and enhance their productivity. It will take 4 to 5 years for physicians who have experienced government-program EHR failures to reapproach the market after amortizing their losses. These physicians will seek products that focus on clinical-workflow efficiency and physician productivity. The long-term winners in the EHR market will be those vendors who resist the temptation to chase the “windfall” stemming from the stimulus legislation, and instead focus on improving their products to deliver these benefits.

Please share your thoughts on other possible unintended consequences by submitting a comment below.