Back to the Past with a New Exploding Market

What is the most closed hospital information system (HIS) system available today? Who are open vendors? Sunquest, Cerner, McKesson. Do they have a proprietary integration engine? No, they partner with vendor neutral solutions. Will they coexist with competitors solutions, or allow the hospital to make best in class and best in service choices without penalty?

Historically, open systems architecture and service philosophy has been the topic of many tradeshow seminars, not to mention the promise of most vendors in the HIS market today. It wasn’t always that way. Why? Their constituency wanted the ability to choose specific solutions that best fit their departmental or enterprise needs without bias.

It is a rare hospital that buys all of its IT from a single supplier. Many will argue that a single supplier just does not exist that can competently supply all. Therefore, their clients want a fundamental ability to simply choose and an ability to interoperate without bias. Popular terminology then and now includes ‘best in class,’ ‘best in suite,’ ‘best in service’ or ‘open architecture.’ Can you imagine all the hundreds of vendors trying to work out how to integrate with each other? This is just one of the reason HL7 gained adoption.

Users wanted their systems to work together efficiently, with full functionality and without the penalty of high costs of proprietary integration. From this desire or requirement, open tools were developed to promote this concept of open systems, called integration engines. These engines currently sit in the middle between systems to transfer data allowing all systems equal access and could even conformed to specific formatting requirements. They work very well within this environment and nearly all hospitals have one. They are the clinical, administrative, and ADT information highway within a hospital, and they are open to all applications capable of connectivity.

These engine vendors, not surprisingly, were and are NOT owned by the major HIS vendors. Why? It would be a clear and loud conflict of interest. Would a major HIS vendor be incented to invest in connectivity to its competitors? Absolutely not! An engine vendor that is vendor neutral is very incented; in fact, that is how they make money. It is fundamental to their value. So, many forward-thinking HIS vendors partnered with engine vendors, like McKesson, who used ITC or DataGate for example.

So what is happening now? It is sort of ‘Back to the Past!’ There is a new exploding market, with nearly 400 different ambulatory EHR vendors and growing. Market adoption is going from 20 to 80% in the near term future, an astounding rush to connect with suppliers of clinical information. So the value and promise of an EHR is gained, not to mention stimulus money, but the vendor tactics are as old as the hills!

It seems every vendor with a bias, or ax to grind, wants to control/own the information highway. EHR vendors are developing HIEs that work well with their EHRs but not with others. Big surprise, insurance companies are buying HIE companies. Now this is scary and service providers for laboratory are also trying to own the highway to the physicians EHR. How open are they going to be if they allow another laboratory service provider to play on their highway they lose money? It is fundamental.

But who loses the most? The physician receives one choice free and clear, however, the other choices, if available at all, will come at a penalty, of time, money availability or choice. To trade with other service providers, they will be strapped with multiple point-to-point interfaces that, when evaluated individually, may be cost prohibitive or the expense of operating on multiple highways, which is actually a lot harder than it sounds.

Even though the service providers, out of the goodness of their hearts, are offering to put their proprietary infrastructure in place, it may not be worth it. It reminds me of a Trojans bearing gifts. Don’t be fooled. A service provider who is recommending an open solution is listening and taking a broader view of the market. Look for suppliers who are promoting open systems architecture and mean it.

 

What is the Right Connectivity Strategy for My Outreach Program

and how about them U of A Wildcats; I think they have a real chance this year in the NCAA!

Let’s review the environment. In many areas of the country, the penetration rate of physician of EHR/EMRs will drive from a lowly 20% to nearly 80%. This adoption rate is fundamental to the changes necessary to drive more effective and efficient healthcare. But let’s also be honest, too; it is also driven by funding from good old Uncle Sam. These physicians and physician groups will also want to comply with meaningful use criteria to qualify for stimulus funding to underwrite their costs of entering the new electronic medical record and health record era.

Meaningful use criteria, as many already know, in stage one, two and three begin and then accelerate sophisticated use of these systems. Early stages mandate the storage of discrete data like lab which comprises nearly 80 to 90% of the potential data within an EMR. Let also not be modest; laboratory diagnostic data represents probably the largest data source for diagnostic efforts of physicians. No bias here! Later stages mandate Order Entry so drug-to-dug, drug-to-disease interactions can be checked, and – drum roll, please – laboratory ordering which eliminates errors, reduces manual data entry, (there is a solid ROI behind clean orders and getting paid, but that’s another blog) and promoting quality and efficiency across the spectrum of care.

It only makes sense. Reality check number one; there are at least 375 different EMRs out there that we know about. We are learning about new ones on the pace of a couple per month. It is the Wild West, and it sort of feels like a there is a stampede coming over the hill doesn’t it?

If you are one of the 75% of hospitals laboratories in America with an outreach program or are a reference lab, you could be facing this stamped and that’s actually not the worse part. The worst part is they are all DOCTORS!!!!! (By the way, I hope our Chief Medical Information Officer does not read this blog, but I couldn’t help throwing that analogy in. You should see him when he is mad; he turns all sort of funny shades of red and purple! Anyway…) So, you are facing the stampede and wondering what’s the right strategy. Okay, let’s start with the options.

Option 1. My IT department controls an Interface Engine. Why can’t I just connect my orders and results to it, and let them connect to all the different EMR’s? Sounds simple, right?

Here are a couple questions to ask yourself.  Does your IT department have a lot of extra time on their hands? Have they already completed the ICD9 to ICD10 and 4010 to 5010 conversions? Are they prepared to handle the stampede? Can they deal with 375 different EMR systems? Are they good with doctors?

Option 2. I could use the physician access system/portal vendor I am currently doing business with! Sounds good, doesn’t it? If you are using one of them, they probably already have some connections out there. You have used them for quite some time. You like them or maybe not.

Okay, here are a couple questions to ask yourself. Are they prepared to handle the stampede? Can they scale to the demand you have and all of their other customer’s needs, too? Is EMR connectivity a sideline or are they really in this business with both feet? How is there service now? What might it be like when things get really crazy?

Option 3. Use the local HIE. This one usually comes from corporate. “We don’t want you wasting time building interfaces to EMR’s, because we have that covered with this here strategic relationship with the state’s HIE!”

Okay, you have got my pattern figured out. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Who is faster at building interfaces to my clients’ EMR, the HIE or my competitor? Can you afford to wait? Does the HIE initiative take care of the special requirements and workflow of lab order and result processing? How are the specimens going to be received? Will I be able to get paid with the information they are sending? How will MRN, Event, Episode or Account Numbers be associated with the order when transmitted to the LIS? Will the physician be presented with ask-at-order-entry-questions? Will an ABN get printed, signed and will the transaction contain an indicator of same? Is the HIE technology biased in any way that might prevent it from interfacing really well to all my customers EMRs?

(Note to reader: some HIE technology vendors are also EMR vendors and may not play nice with other EMRs or heavily influenced by your competitor. You get the picture. Their goals may not coincide with your goals to protect and grow your business.  At the worst case, you might want your own strategy in place or at least a backup!)

Option 4. Find a vendor who does this for a living: just this.

Big Finish – I hope you find the rather weak attempts at humor and analogy not too distracting. There is merit within each option and other’s I haven’t mentioned, but I pick on each pretty hard for a purpose. There is a are large demand for connectivity now and we expect it to grow.  Your strategy and options deserve careful consideration and potentially a multifaceted approach. If you already have a strategy, great, what’s your back up plan? If you don’t have a strategy, it’s probably time to start the process.  I welcome any and all comments, thoughts, concerns as long as they are positive and constructive, for the rest I’d like to introduce you to our CMIO; he’d love to hear from you!!!!!

(Note to reader: Our CMIO, Dr. Gai, is actually an incredibly smart, nice, and visionary individual. His face doesn’t turn red when he gets mad either. I’ve never actually seen him mad, and I enjoy his company. I just made all this up to see if he would read my blog!)