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HIStalk Interviews Bill Anderson, CEO, Medhost

March 17, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Bill Anderson is chairman and CEO of Medhost of Franklin, TN.

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Tell me about yourself and the company. 

I’ve been in business a long time, more than 40 years now. This is my first foray into the healthcare IT business. My background has generally been in the financial area and financial technology. I was about 20 years in consulting, went to be CFO of a large public company, and ended up doing the Internet with a company called Bankrate.com. As I got into technology, I got more and more interested in different types of technology and ended up in healthcare.

We’re a diversified technology company, an HCIT company with enterprise software and some innovative new products. We’re just finishing up our audit, but we think we’ll be around $180 million this year. We’re really proud of the fact that we’ve grown in excess of 20 percent a year over the last five years. We have about 1,000 customers, about 60 percent of in general acute care, but with significant market share in some specialty areas like LTACs, inpatient behavioral, and inpatient rehab.

 

Even experienced industry people were confused about HealthTech’s multiple product brands until the names were changed to Medhost in December. What took so long to consolidate?

We realize the importance of consistent branding. We had a couple of choices, and so we had to sort through the situations where we could actually get good title to names as well as having the URLs and all the other type of connectivity that you’d like to have. We settled upon the fact that Medhost was the best choice for us. We’ve been very happy with the reception from that so far.

 

I don’t think I ever noticed HealthTech’s booth at previous HIMSS conferences, but with the Medhost name this year, it was a nice presence and the booth had a lot of activity every time I went by. Did you notice a change?

We did, and thank you for the compliment on the booth. I think that many HCIT buyers did not realize what a comprehensive line we had. When we pulled our different product lines together in the Medhost booth and did some promotion around the new branding, we got some much higher response rates or levels of interest than we had in the past. We were very pleased with the HIMSS conference.

 

I would assume most people know the company from the EDIS product line that provided the company’s new name. But you have a variety of products, many of them from acquisitions. How do you portray the company’s identity now and how hard is it to support a fairly diverse and extensive product line?

We do have a diverse and extensive product line. It’s come about principally through acquisition, but also some significant organic growth.

We acquired a company called HealthCare Management Systems, which was an enterprise software business, because two of the most important departments in a hospital are the perioperative and the ED. We acquired a company called Acuitec, which essentially was selling the Vanderbilt surgery and anesthesia system. And Medhost, with EDIS.  Today we think we’ve got leading products in these very important areas. Those came in by acquisition, as three pieces.

There are also two product lines that you may have noticed that we’ve built internally. One being our YourCareCommunity platform with our first app that runs on that platform, which is our patient portal. Also, our profitability solutions.We call those solutions because they’re a combination of our patient flow product, our business intelligence product, and a consulting group. We have the full range of the products necessary to deliver a higher profitability to our customers.

 

Is there sales synergy across these products or do they each have to be sold on their own?

Oh, absolutely. You know, we view ourselves as a distribution company. One of the things that has characterized Medhost is that about 60 percent of our customers are associated with a multi-facility organization. Over the years, we’ve demonstrated an ability to distribute products into our customer base, who are growing rapidly themselves. We have tried to tailor our products — acquisitions and the parts we’ve developed — to meet the needs of that customer base. That’s been a successful strategy for us.

 

Who are your biggest competitors and what advantages do your products offer?

We view our sales as being a middle market provider in the HCIT business. I would say our principle competitors in the general acute care space would be McKesson’s Paragon and probably Meditech. We obviously see Cerner, who comes down into the middle market with a hosted solution, as well as CPSI, who comes up market with their product line. But as far as direct competitors, we would probably identify those two as the most directly comparable.

 

What are you seeing as the key drivers of the decisions made by that market?

In our customer base, we think we’ve got customers for which ROI really makes a difference. We have a heavy concentration in the for-profit healthcare business. What we view is that for our customers, a combination of market-appropriate features plus ease of use results in a low total cost of ownership. As a result of that, that’s what differentiates us in the marketplace.

 

It’s always interesting that for-profit hospitals buy and deploy differently than the not-for-profits. Why do you think that is?

Our customers are not only good at delivering healthcare, but they are very good at running businesses. As a result, I think they’re looking for the effectively the right product for the facility they have. In many cases, we’re in customers that have segmented their bases, and we tend to be in the hospitals and other facilities where our features match up  with what that facility’s doing. And again, we offer what we believe is a low total cost of ownership.

 

Where does the company’s future lie?

We’re pretty happy with our menu of products for the inpatient world right now. We think we’ve covered bases with that. We would like to do additional acquisitions, because we think our customers have needs, and we’d like for them to be able help serve those needs.

We would be looking at areas like post-acute care. Many of our customers are going to be more and more involved in dealing with patients outside the four walls of a hospital. Also in services, because again those are becoming more and more important to both our corporate customers and our standalone customers. Things like revenue cycle outsourcing, some other types of services like that, we think are going to be very important to these customers as margins are squeezed and they need to be able to control their costs.

Probably the biggest area that we are interested in either building products or acquiring products or partnering with customers is in this YouCareCommunity platform. Essentially what we’ve done is combined an HIE with an enterprise master patient index to allow people to pull records from both ambulatory and inpatient EHRs into the cloud. Using that platform, we’ve launched some initial applications, being our patient portal, and we’re working on a disease management product and some other products. But we’re also looking for partners and acquisitions that add additional applications to that platform.

 

Is this product the answer to the HIMSS buzz around population health management or analytics, or do you have other strategies or do you even want to be in those markets?

Yes, we absolutely want to be in that market. This would be the platform that we use to address the needs of our customers in that marketplace. 

Population health has a number of different facets. The really important thing, though, would be to help manage the patient, or even better to help the patient manage themselves, to prevent things like readmission, disease management, things of that nature. We think that with our cloud-based platform and our strategy to engage the patient on a regular basis, even when they are not currently in the hospital or have recently been in the hospital, will allow our customers to help affect their downstream cost on those customers.

 

What are your customers telling you about their state of readiness or state of interest in Meaningful Use and ICD-10?

Everyone is very focused right now on the Meaningful Use program. I think that’s been a challenge, particularly to our smaller, standalone customers. They’re interested in trying to attest as quickly as possible and move on to other things, one of those things being ICD-10.

We view this as being a very difficult transition for many of our customers, and one that we hope we’ll be able to assist them with. We believe we have the right tools in place for them to do that, but it will be a significant change in training and how a facility has to deal with some of their billing and coding issues.

 

Evidence suggests that smaller hospitals may be walking away from Meaningful Use money after the first couple of years. Do you see that happening?

That’s going to be difficult to do. There will be some in the very small end of the hospitals. We have less than a 100 critical access hospitals in our more than 1,000 customers, and with many of those really small facilities, the economics are not going to work for them.

The cost of attesting and maintaining the Meaningful Use progression is going to be more than the potential penalties or the rewards. That is going to be an issue globally for healthcare, because it is in the best interest of the healthcare delivery system in general for those customers — our customers — of that size to participate, as well as other facilities of that size. That will be an issue that ultimately the government will have to address — how to pool those customers into the system. Because it is going to be difficult.

 

You are emphasizing a touchscreen user experience in the keystroke-heavy world of healthcare. Do you think that is the market changing to now accept and even demand a touchscreen experience?

Absolutely. While we think of our users as healthcare professionals, they’re also consumers. Every day they use mobile platforms. They use consumer software. Healthcare professionals, like other consumers, are going to be more demanding about the quality of their software.

As a result, we’re making and are continuing to make significant investments in things like workflows, usability of the product, and making it mobile agnostic. Our belief is that tablets will be very important in the medical area. We do have some phone apps and some others that are in process, but inherently the phone apps or smartphone apps are going to be more difficult to use.

Tablets, however, will give the clinician much better access to data and the ability to kind of process data without being tied to a particular workstation or having to sign in and sign out. The convenience and the ability to increase productivity will make that important for all software providers.

 

Many of the early claims vendors made about mobile access involved Citrix running a desktop session on an iPad. How is the industry is progressing in creating a true mobile experience?

 

The industry in general has had a lot of demands upon it and has been distracted from some of the work flow and ease-of-use type of objectives that I think are shared by most vendors. Everyone will have to cycle back to that.

Almost four years ago now, we started a renovation of our enterprise systems to put an HTML 5 interface layer on top of it. The reason for doing that is that the combination of wanting to have a more inexpensive hosting solution as well as being mobile agnostic. You can do that an HTML 5 interface as long as you’re paying attention to form factors and how you design a page. Then the same page I can view on a computer, I can view on my tablet and get a very satisfactory experience. Those types of solutions are going to be very important in the future.

 

What are you priorities for the company in the next three to five years?

Our priorities are to continue to grow our base and our enterprise business, but also at the same time, to take these new product lines that we have in our profitability solutions and YourCareCommunity and to try to meet more the needs of our customers in those areas.

We think in particular, our ability to provide a patient portal in both the ambulatory and inpatient area that is certified and can pull together the care community is going to be a really important thing. We are out trying to talk to as many of our customers as we can about the advantages of being able to build this community in terms of improving patient care, giving the patient better ability to manage their own care, as well as keeping revenues within the network.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

There’s a lot of changing coming and has been coming in both the healthcare provider industry and in the healthcare IT industry. With change, there’s always opportunity. Our goal is to try to take advantage of that opportunity and return as much benefit to our employees and shareholders as we can.

HIStalk Interviews Mark Bakken, CEO, Nordic Consulting

March 12, 2014 Interviews 3 Comments

Mark Bakken is CEO of Nordic Consulting and an investor in several healthcare IT startups.

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How’s Nordic’s business these days?

Our business is booming, like everybody else in healthcare IT right now. We’re doing a lot with optimization, helping a lot of Epic customers as they figure out how to leverage their investment in Epic and the EMR to not only improve care, but reduce costs at the same time. 

It’s been pretty fun to be able to send in experts to quickly do an assessment and say, hey, if you enabled all these features and other things, you could most likely make your co-workers very, very happy by saving them some time, and at the same time, get better results or hone in on a cure a little faster, leverage the technology you have while at the same time get more done with less. It’s like the equivalent of robots for manufacturing. It’s fun to do these. 

These organizations are so large. Nobody likes to eliminate positions or let people go if they don’t have to. But since most of them are so big, they can reduce the number of staff they need relative to them growing. If they do acquisitions and mergers, they don’t need to hire as many. The net effect is their efficiency gets better from a cost perspective, or they could do it through attrition if they say we no longer have to do registration, for example. Customers and patients are doing it automatically, so we need a lot of people. That person can then take a new career opportunity within a healthcare organization.

It’s fun to be on the forefront, to see organizations starting to leverage their initial investment into that second wave.

 

The company just moved to a new headquarters location. Epic is known for some interesting and fun buildings. What’s yours like?

[Laughs] It’s nowhere near as Disney or Google-like as Epic’s, but it’s nice and open and airy. We pride ourselves on transparency. We made it nice and professional looking, but within reason, I would say.

 

What’s the overall state of healthcare IT innovation and the business climate in Wisconsin?

Obviously with Epic in Madison — and I’m in Madison — there’s a lot going on here. There’s a lot of really sharp people that either come to the University, work at Epic, and then they have some ideas. Epic’s road map isn’t going to get around to building those into their core products for a few years, so they say, hey, maybe I can do it, grab some friends, and give it a shot at the new American dream — starting your own company and making it big some day. There’s a lot of that going on.

There’s a lot of support around that from the investment community here. Madison, Wisconsin was one of the leaders in the whole biotechnology wave that started taking off with stem cell research and everything else. Not to mention all the providers in Wisconsin were some of the early adopters, especially with Epic in our back yard, where they tried some things and are benefitting from some of those early advances with healthcare IT. We’ve got a lot of the good raw ingredients here.

 

Neither you nor Judy Faulkner would have fit my mental model of what education a founder would have since you both have degrees in computer science. Is there something different about being educated at University of Wisconsin or does Epic just create things that are like Epic?

It is interesting because usually that isn’t the background. We’ve taken different paths. Judy has been at it obviously for a long time. Trying to figure out the right mix and perseverance is a big piece of it and you do find that in computer science people that gravitate towards that. There’s always a problem you’re trying to figure out and there’s many different ways to go about it. 

Maybe there’s something to that. Who knows? It might just be coincidence or maybe it is one of those things, as computers and technology are becoming much more relevant in a services-based economy, where you can use computers to automate things. That’s a good question.

 

What are you doing with your investing and what kinds of things you look for in companies?

What I look for, like most people, is a great management team, leadership, and passion. People that can inspire people, whether it’s people that follow them or just believe in their vision and their dream, whether it’s customers, or potentially investors. Then other employees that have the same desire or vision to do that. 

With healthcare and IT and everything going on right now, all the pressure and all the change and everything else, there’s lots of ways you can use technology to not only get the patient more engaged and more accountable and figure out how to do that from the Fitbits, smart scales, to the whole continuum of care that say, it’s all about responsibility. It’s not just the physician, it’s not just the healthcare organization. Let’s all try to leverage technology to be healthier and live longer and find things sooner so we can find a cure.

Learn from each other. I heard a stat that says something like an average 40 percent of physicians’ initial diagnoses are incorrect. If that’s true, we can definitely do better than that by leveraging data. If we can leverage technology, leverage data to find things, to hone in on things sooner before they’re uncurable or unfixable, that ends up being a good thing. That’s basically what you look for. 

Epic, Cerner, athena, Meditech, McKesson, AllScripts — the list goes on and on. They’ve got a really good platform and a good foundation, but healthcare and driving down costs and improving care is much more than just the clinical data. You got to take everything into account and there’s lots of different ways to do that. There’s a lot of bolt-ons.

I saw a ton of this with the whole Microsoft wave and revolution in 1990s and early 2000s where Microsoft has a platform, and then there’s lots of other companies out there like, hey, we can build on it and we can make something better for what you specifically need. The thing is, the bigger the companies get, they can’t come out with that specific module or niche. It might take them three to five years, and by the time they come out with it, the market may have moved on. They might have a different need or something else came up. 

Young, small startups that are agile and can get things done quickly … it’s fun to be part of that.

 

What are some companies you’re investing in?

I would probably start with Catalyze.io. They’re creating repeatable platforms for healthcare IT. It’s HIPAA compliant. Instead of reinventing the wheel, there’s a lot of things that we could learn from each other. We can share that framework to do quick custom development stuff.

Forward Health is a great analytics company, population health, medical intelligence organization. Great way to slice and dice information easily. Not just clinical data, but when you look at RX data, claims data, consumer data, or anything else that you need in order to make better decisions faster for actuaries and statisticians as well as physicians.

Wellbe.me is another organization. Patient engagement before they come in for a surgery or when they leave, making sure they do all the things ahead of time and they fill out all the forms and all the checklists. They do it in a very easy way that’s a nice wraparound any of the EMR programs out there. Very affordable, works very, very well. Lots of interest from everybody to say, hey, when you come in, if you do all these things ahead of time, the odds of you not having to be readmitted greatly increase. Then afterwards, make sure you do all the follow-ups. It makes it easier for a healthcare organization to manage tons of people before they come in and after they come in and leverage their social network to do so.

Moxe Health, which is the connection and interfaces. Just think of all the different things you have to connect out there. Instead of paying someone to customize all those at the end of the day, maybe there’s 50 different systems that someone has to connect to, why do you have to custom build all those things over and over and over again? They’re making reusable app store type connectors out there.

Healthfinch is another one that makes a great way to save physician time. That’s their whole goal in life is to reduce the number of clicks. Right now there’s a lot of frustration on the physician side saying, hey, I just want to do what I do. Trying to find the best use of their time, finding that right mix without making them all hire scribes to follow them around. There’s some clever things they’ve done with prescription refills, which is interesting. On average, physicians spend seven percent of their time doing that. They have a way they can get it down to one percent. For every 100 physicians, if you can free up six physicians’ time doing things that could be automated, that’s a good thing for everybody.

 

What’s your vehicle for investing? Do you just make a personal investment or do you have a fund of some sort?

It’s all new territory for everybody. It’s either go to friends or family, which is tough because you don’t want to mix friends and family. It’s to try to do a round, or do a convertible note is what they would call it, where you can do a loan and then down the road, if they raise money, once they have more customers and more success than the valuation.

The trick is, you want to make sure the people actually doing the work have some substantial stake in the outcome and some motivation to make sure they can create something that’s creating value out there. If they do, they benefit and that would be good for me, too.

I just am a huge, huge fan of entrepreneurs. I know how tough it is to get going. You need the right mix of everything. You need the stars to all align and a little bit of guidance from “don’t do this” or “how do you do that?” Everywhere from how do you work with large organizations, how do you contract with them, how do you get insurance, how much insurance, to payroll, to taxes, to a lot of little things that everybody needed despite what they’re doing. If I can help point them in a direction that will save them a bunch of time so they can focus on what they really are good at, then I think that’s a good thing.

 

Is there a way the average person can invest now that some of the rules have loosed up, such as for crowd funding, for instance?

Not as easily as you would hope yet. You read all about the crowd funding. Some of the laws in Wisconsin, thankfully, have changed. You can actually get them some equity instead of some kind of token gift or something. It’s going to be easier without having to be accredited and all this other stuff and all these hoops. 

There’s some other things I’m looking at personally trying to do. Change the business lending laws to be more in line with America’s economy, which is more of a services-based economy. The business lending laws that were set up 70 years ago were based on America being a manufacturing-based economy. You need inventory, you need all these other things, assets, you need buildings that a bank could repossess in order to get a line of credit or a loan. If we can make that easier for people so they don’t have to spend a bunch of time trying to get people to invest in their idea and everything else, I think that would be a good thing. It would be good for them, good for America.

 

What do the companies you’re investing in need most, other than money?

They need a mixture of things. You’ve got to have a customer that is willing to work with you, to at least do the pilot, to work out the kinks, to figure out how to price it, how to package it, how to deliver it. That’s one.

They need mentors from every angle, from lawyers, from LLCs or S corp to C corp to some other structure, and then all the other mentor types around like that. In Madison, we have something called 100health, which is geared towards helping people figure out where they can go for different resources and packages to get their idea off the ground in the most efficient manner.

I do have to say, there is a lot of other interest in investment in healthcare IT right now from the venture capital community, even down to the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, whether they’re from Chicago or all over the country. I just was in an advisory board meeting where they said that VC funding has more than doubled in the last four years in healthcare IT space. The rest of the world’s starting to take notice, to say, hey, I think there’s something to this whole EMR and healthcare IT technology wave that will be good for everybody.

 

Money comes at a price and companies give away their equity too early or get taken in a direction that seems to be the quickest path to profitability and not really what their vision was. Do you see that as a challenge?

Yes, absolutely. There are strings attached. Part of it is finding the right way to do that. Typically in Wisconsin and other states around the country, there’s a lot of older money. They don’t quite understand this new world economy; the Silicon Valleys and WhatsApp be worth $18 billion, not to say healthcare IT is going to go that kind of crazy.

It is basically trying to find that right balance. That’s why I think I can, because I know the healthcare IT space. Me personally making some kind of investment of faith at some kind of valuation to at least set the bar that is fair. Then other people can piggyback on that and do things at the same ratio with the entrepreneurs and the people doing all the work feel like, OK, that’s fair, I don’t feel like I’m getting held over a barrel.

 

What are the start-ups most naive about?

Most of them really, really get excited about their idea and their program or whatever they’re going to do without 100 percent going to the market and knowing are people willing to pay for this, and if so, how much, and is it enough where they can actually make a good living by providing that value to a customer. People can think great thoughts, but if the market isn’t ready, if there isn’t a budget, if it really doesn’t make sense, if it’s a nice to have instead of a need to have, then it’s one of those lessons learned type things.

 

How do you think healthcare IT will look different than it does today in five years?

It will be hugely different in a very, very good way. There was another study that came out like one in eight hospitals had an EMR back in 2009, five years ago. Five years from now, I think almost everybody will. With that, hopefully we’ll be able to analyze that data to be able to find other Patients Like Me type thing, where physicians, nurses, everybody in the healthcare world can use that data to hone in on a cure faster or to diagnose something before it’s unsolvable. I think we really, really, really will be using data a lot more so to make care better so people can live longer, healthier, happier lives.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

It’s pretty fun to be part of it right now, the whole healthcare IT revolution that’s going on. The one thing I look at is saying roughly 18 percent of our economy is spent on healthcare and it’s basically flying blind. We’re using data for everything else, so it would be nice to actually use this data to make care safer and better. It’s fun to be part of it.

HIStalk Interviews Regina Holliday, Patient Advocate

March 10, 2014 Interviews 11 Comments

Regina Holliday is a Washington, DC-based patient advocate and artist known for painting a series of murals depicting the need for clarity and transparency in medical records. After her husband’s death from kidney cancer in 2009, she painted "73 Cents," a mural showing her husband dying in darkness surrounded by inaccessible technological tools in a closed data loop. The title refers to the cost per page charged to patients to obtain their medical records in the state of Maryland.

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Give me some background about what you do and what The Walking Gallery is.

Almost five years ago, my husband had cancer. He was in the hospital for 11 weeks. We had very little access to his electronic medical record. He died in the 12th week. I  decided I would do everything in my power — speaking, painting, writing — to try to change healthcare and make it become where the patient’s story is front and center, and within hospitals, you can get to your medical record in real time.

That’s why I paint giant murals and that’s why I started a movement called The Walking Gallery, where people have paintings on the back of their business suit jackets and the goal of the patient’s story is front and center.

 

You just spoke at the HIMSS conference. Did you leave it feeling that patient engagement and advocacy are really taking hold or is it just a few folks hoping that it is while the rest are indifferent?

I’ve spoken now at several different informatics societies. I’ve been excited to see how much HIMSS is embracing patient advocacy in a real way. It doesn’t seem to be token and it’s growing every year, which is real exciting to see. I’m sure it’s incredibly frightening for them to watch it take off.

 

HIMSS tries to serve two factions, high-paying vendors who want to sell products and providers who are their prospects and users. But usually absent from those discussion are the patients all of that technology affects.

Before I worked in healthcare, I came from the toy industry. I’m very familiar with Toy Fair, which is gigantic trade show. There’s a lot of similarities, because just like in that world, you’re focused on sales, high-dollar items, and what’s going to move that year. But you’re also really focused on the fact that your customers are children. There’s this wonderful, youthful spontaneity to that product line, the concept of selling toys.

In healthcare, we have somewhat distanced ourselves from the end user, which is patients. I’ve been wanting to see the realization come back that when you’re a vendor, when you’re a provider, whoever you are at HIMSS, inside of you, you are a patient. It’s been really exciting to see people flip and relate to themselves as their patient self before they relate to themselves as their vendor-provider self.

 

Will patients ever have that kind of power where they’re like a customer in any other industry?

Yes. It’s coming. The beautiful thing that happened to medicine was social media. The ability for patients, regular folks who have no organization behind them, to have an equal voice to a company.

While I was at HIMSS, they had trouble getting my hotel room. I was tweeting about it, and within less than two hours, I was talking to Hilton, the national channel. Later that day, I was talking to Hyatt, the national channel. That kind of power didn’t exist before — the ability as an individual to communicate with large organizations. It’s changing everything.

 

Do you think that’s really the case? At Hilton or Hyatt, you’re paying the bill, and if you’re unhappy, you stop using them. But in healthcare, you don’t necessarily get to choose where you receive your care or control what you pay for …

I disagree with that. The model of care is rapidly changing. With the Affordable Care Act and a lot of consumers becoming high-deductible plan payers, they’re determining where they’re getting their care. The ability to make choices about where you’re going to get your care affects the bottom line in institutions. With things like HCAHPS scores, patient satisfaction scores, now being publically available, with transparency in pricing becoming more and more demanded, you have an end-user consumer that’s actually becoming very empowered.

 

What do you see as the impact of the Affordable Care Act?

Major major groundswell change. People becoming very interested in the fact they have choices in policies. 2008 really hurt a lot of this country. People were wedded to a location, a job, and insurance that came with that job. Which meant that, unfortunately, a lot of people who should have been able to move so they could economically better themselves found themselves not in a position to do so.

Affordable Care Act comes on the stage. Now all of a sudden we are getting the ability to untangle our health life from our job life. That allows for a whole bunch of people to work at different organizations, start new businesses, go the freelance, self-employed contractor route when they thought they couldn’t do that before because they couldn’t get insured. That allows us to have a looser economy.

Honestly, when it comes to Americans, we are spectacular at innovation and creativity. Those things are squashed if you’re forced to stay in a job that you don’t want to be in any more. For a long time, the way we set up our insurance in this country, you were forced in that position.

 

Inpatient demand is dropping, so hospitals are using their money and clout to buy physician practices to shore up their protected markets. Will they be able to end run the trend that would place them less at the center of the healthcare universe?

Not if we do a really good job with transparency exposure in social media. You’re opening people up to what’s really going on and then make different decisions. Also, we need to get in the world view wonderful facilities that are the future of healthcare.

I just toured Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis. It’s a safety net public hospital. It’s astounding. They get it. They get where the future’s heading, which is a health and wellness hub where the community is still going to the hospital, but they’re not going to the hospital for the same reasons they used to go.

Hospitals that get it, that see the future as the way it is coming, are going to succeed. The hospitals who don’t get it, there’s a really good chance they’re going to go down.

 

It’s rare anything takes root in healthcare unless someone makes money from it. The right thing to do doesn’t always win. Does patient involvement have a strong business case?

Yes. We in the past have not looked at the potential the facility has. We were all about, “Fill the beds, fill the beds.” That’s not necessarily the future way people are going. 

Videoconferencing, mobile technologies, people wanting to have a health community. Patient communities are really, really skyrocketing. You have to think in a different way. It’s more of like a library hub direction with wellness activities and physical activities. Why can’t there be sick child care? I was in Lawrence, Kansas back when they were doing that back in the 1990s.

There’s different ways that you can make money that are wonderful, legitimate ways to make money that actually helps citizens, as opposed to the system that we’ve had that were incentives for failure. There were incentives for person getting an infection and staying longer. We have to flip that matrix to where healthiness is the incentive.

 

Putting patients at the center of healthcare is, unfortunately, a big change. For those overwhelmed by the long-term vision, what would be some short-term goals you would settle for?

I often look at the intersection of health and art. That’s one of my focuses. We need way, way more realistic visuals of care. Less stock photography, more painting. More involving regular people into the life of your hospital. 

I would like to see patients — not just a patient advisory council at hospitals, which a lot of them have — on every board and council throughout the entire facility. I’m talking like EMR workflows as well as M&M reports. We need to be part of the conversation. Because what is absolutely beautiful if you do this is that patients can say things that staff can’t. Staff may be thinking it, but politically they’re put in a position where they can’t say it. Their job can be affected. We don’t want to rock the boat. 

Patients, not in a bad way, can say the words, since we’re not hired by the institution, that everybody might be thinking but don’t feel the power to say. Once we’ve said it, all of a sudden things break open. Doors break open and pathways change. 

One of the major things I would love to see is truly embracing us as part of the team. Not a token. Don’t have us design your lobby again. But really, seriously involve us in decision-making processes and get our feedback. That’s a great short-term goal, very doable by next week.

 

What do you think would happen if you bought a random patient a HIMSS conference badge and said, “Tell me what you think about what you saw there?”

I think that would rock. We should totally do that next year. Let’s have a scholarship fund. We’ll call it the HIStalk Scholarship Fund. We will just take random people and send them to HIMSS. Let’s do it.

 

I think they would not only feel uncomfortable there, they might actually be angry to see all the machinations that go on behind the scenes that affects them but doesn’t involve them. 

I think you’re right. There’s some people who would be very freaked out. I would recommend a cross section throughout the United States. Since I speak nationally, I do find there’s major regional differences in the way people talk to folks, strangers in crowds and things like that. If we had a good cross section — West Coast, Midwest, South, East — attend HIMSS, that would be spectacular. Since it’s in Chicago this coming year, it can be an entire concept since that’s the middle of the country. I would totally be behind you on that.

 

Did you see any technology in the exhibit hall that excites you in being able to allow patients to get more involved in their care and see their own information?

This year I felt HIMSS wasn’t showing a lot of new product. I thought HIMSS was truly embracing the stuff they were introducing as new products a few years ago. Now mobile health wasn’t like this weird new thing of will it work, but pretty much an accepted reality, which that was really great to see.

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I don’t know if you saw my painting, HIMSS and HERS, that I painted at the event. I was still frustrated by the way larger demographic that is male than female at HIMSS. I even went by a booth where the women were complaining about their heels. I said, “Why don’t you just wear sensible shoes?” They were like, “Well, you know, we have to wear nice clothes because somebody could come to the booth and see us not dressed appropriately.” Whoa, is this the 1950s? Do you really think you have to be a booth babe when you’re just as competent at technology as all these guys that are in the space?

 

I heard that HIMSS had some resistance to bringing you this year because of cost even though they’ve helped you out in years past.

Well, they invited me to attend. They said they had no funding for travel or lodging.

 

You’re self-funded, right?

Yes. I don’t have an organization behind me. I started a Gittip fund, a crowdsourcing, sustaining model which is pretty cool. I was very excited. I had never seen that before. To help pay for me being at HIMSS. 

Between my babysitting fees and going there, I spent close to a thousand dollars just getting there. As patients, we aren’t being paid back by our business to be there because there isn’t one. It is one of those things that can be a hardship. That’s why I was really excited to see Chicago’s coming up, because at least it’s in the middle of the country and it’s easier to fly there so it’s not so much of a hardship to be part of the experience.

 

Not that your role wasn’t substantial this year because they at least did put you on the patient engagement stage, but what do you see as your involvement next time?

Hmm. I’d love to be on a main stage. That would totally be great. That hasn’t happened yet. My goal is one day to keynote at HIMSS. I’m sure it will happen. It’s just a matter of time.

 

How did you feel that the opening keynote, the most important speaking slot at HIMSS, went to an insurance company CEO?

It was sort of an odd choice. I think it might have been partially because of the Affordable Care Act kind of year. They thought that talking to someone from the industry, especially the insurance industry, would make a lot of sense in this timeframe.

I tend not to judge necessarily so much where a person comes from, what business they come from, but whether they are they an amazing speaker. Do they get the space and do they inspire people? I was really excited when Eric Topol’s keynote last year because he gets it. He understands the space. He understands how to inspire.

When people come to a convention or a conference, they’re not just coming there for the most current information and to get the good vendor deals. Those are really important things. But they’re also going there to recharge, to have the energy to go into next year and be better than they were the year before.

At times, it seems that HIMSS has lost sight of this. Why don’t we just stay home? We can get good deals from home. We go to an event to network with people and to recharge our soul. I look forward to embracing that more deeply in the future.

 

What would you say to healthcare software vendors?

I want you to think of your parent in that bed or your child or your wife or your husband when you’re designing software. I want you to think of them. Because every single thing you do should be to make sure they get the best possible care. God, I hope you get to that point before it happens in your very own life. If I can do anything or say anything to get you to emotionally that point where you’re thinking about them while you’re designing, then I’ve done my job.

 

An article called you the Rosa Parks of healthcare.

Because I’m a regular person. I was a teacher, a special needs mom, and a wife. I worked in a toy store for 16 years. I was normal. I decided that as a normal, regular person, I’m going to stand up to injustice. That’s what Rosa Parks did. I didn’t come from healthcare, but I will do everything I can to make it better for folks who live within it.

 

What are your thoughts for the future?

One of my major goals is that when we get to Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, we have real-time access to the medical record – nurses’ notes, progress notes, doctors’ progress notes, all labs, all information. That should be available to the hospitalized patient just as much as the discharged patient because the hospitalized patient is spending the most money and they need that information in the most timely fashion. That’s my overarching goal and everything I do is toward that overarching goal.

 

Any concluding thoughts?

This has been absolutely delightful. I look forward to us putting together the HIStalk Scholarship Fund for next year.

 

That would be fun. Unfortunately, it’s become somewhat predictable in how conferences handle patients on the podium. The person tells a moving, compelling story about a something bad that happened to them, everybody in the audience feels embarrassed and gives them a standing ovation, then they just wipe the tear from their eye and go  back to what they were doing before that allowed the problem to occur. The emotional tug is there, but nobody can figure out how turn it into something useful.

Years ago, I was a motivational speaker before lunch at a CMIO boot camp. They said, would you like to stay for lunch? I said yes, I’d love to stay for lunch, so I ate lunch with them. Then they said, now we’re going to go into our work sessions and there was that quiet pause moment. I said, can I go to the work session, too? They said, uh, well, yes, it’s going to be very technical, but you’re welcome to come. 

I sat in this giant hall with 40 CMIOs. They were talking about a specific vendor system that I had actually seen. I had gone to the company and seen it person. They were talking about problems with files where they didn’t know who the person was, like recognition of the correct patient. I said, I’m confused, you’re using so-and-so’s system and I know they have the ability to have a visual avatar. Every field can have a picture of the patient right there on the field. Why are you having this problem?

They said, no, it doesn’t, it doesn’t have that feature. I said, yes it does. The only way it doesn’t have it at your hospitals is that somebody turned it off. Everyone’s head turned to the front of the room where the man was standing in the front who’d been speaking and was in charge of these all of these facilities. He said, yeah, I just turned it off because I thought nobody would want that. 

What was so cool about that moment was that I may have been the motivational speaker of the morning, but I had information to give those individuals that they didn’t have prior to that. That’s the beauty of involving patients. They can often be that little hinge pin that can change things.

 

Did you ever consider developing a checklist of how to make an EMR more patient friendly?

We’ve talked within the Society for Participatory Medicine about concepts like that. I don’t think there’s a uniform thing yet, but it’s definitely something to put on the list of things we need to do.

There’s things about standardization at work and then there’s some things that don’t work regionally, so you want to have an overarching checklist that you can work with. But the really thing that’s important to remember is every institution works a tiny little bit differently. It’s important to catch their unique differences. That’s one of the things that overarching standards often miss.

 

What do you think about the Open Notes project?

Love it! I was on Twitter back in 2010 complaining about not having open doctor’s notes when the Robert Wood Johnson foundation tweeted to me. I was like, what are you doing? They said, we’re just holding. We’re doing this amazing study. Watch what we’re doing for the next two years. And I did. 

I was so excited at the 2012 press conference when they talked about it. I was there. It was really exciting to paint about it and talk about it. I went to Tom Delbanco and was like, you know, your whole concept made me think of the open note within music, the whole note, the patient is everything, it’s part of the communication with the provider. And Tom Delbanco said you know, it really is that. I’m a musician. The whole concept behind Open Notes was a musical note.

Isn’t that beautiful? It’s one of those things that’s the idea of all of us as provider and patient working together in the totality of ourselves.

HIStalk Interviews Shane Adams, CEO, Sagacious Consultants

February 17, 2014 Interviews 14 Comments

Shane Adams is Founder and CEO of Sagacious Consultants of Lenexa, KS.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I have to start by giving Epic a lot of credit. It is where I met my wife, but also was the catalyst for starting my company, Sagacious Consultants. They do a lot of things exceptionally well. I wanted to take that and apply it to the consulting industry. 

We focus on our culture and treating everyone like family. I don’t just say that because both of my brothers and my wife works with me, but we put our employees first and they put our clients first. In turn, both our employees and our clients are number one.

 

Epic has a strong reputation for its culture, which is geared around the demographic of employees they hire. Do you have to compete with that or can you take what you learned from Epic and extend it?

No, I don’t think we compete with that much. They obviously have a lot of great benefits. Some of the benefits we offer are extensions of what Epic offered. We took the things they did well and we tried to do even better. We took the things that maybe we didn’t think were the best for our culture and we flipped those and thought of some new things we could do.

 

What’s the secret to getting and keeping the best quality Epic certified and experienced people when everyone is looking for them?

We have a team of people that focuses on retention. I worked at Epic. My wife worked at Epic. Our first employees were friends of ours that worked at Epic. It’s really building a team of A players. 

When we recruit people, they know we’re number one in KLAS and they know we have an amazing culture. They want to be a part of that. They want that work-life balance that we’re able to offer. Frankly, a lot of the other firms out there are just after making the difference between their bill rate and the rate they pay their consultants.

 

What does the Epic consulting market look like and how is it changing?

We see a lot of the market moving from simple staff augmentation to more strategic consulting services. With all the federal stimulus money over the past several years … that was money that was being thrown at these organizations to implement Epic and other EMRs as quickly as possible. 

Now since some of that money is a little bit harder to obtain, organizations are using their own money. They need to see an ROI out of that. They’re now just trying to realize the benefits of an EMR system and squeeze out every dollar that they can. A lot more of our focus is moving from staff augmentation to realizing those benefits through efficiencies, through cost savings, and better use of the system.

 

Do you think Epic itself will run into a more mature market where the implementation work will taper off and optimization will be the most-demanded service?

I see two things happening. Domestically here within the US, I think the services for the clients already live on Epic will be more the maturing type of client for Epic. But there’s a big market for the smaller organizations, the ones where Epic is indirectly expending via their Connect model. We’ve been getting a lot of interest from smaller organizations who are looking to either partner with a bigger institution to obtain Epic or we’ve been working directly with an organization that has Epic to serve as a vendor themselves to extend to these smaller community hospitals their Epic solution. 

The second part is overseas. There’s still not much market penetration for EMRs. I believe that’s where Epic’s major focus is going to be in the coming decade.

 

What’s the market pressure been on consulting rates over the last year or two?

I would say they’ve been fairly stable. There is definitely an influx of consultants, so there’s more supply there. But there is also an uptick in demand over the past couple years. Overall, we’ve seen rates stabilize and we think they’ll probably be in this spot for at least the foreseeable future.

 

Epic limits the consultant supply by who it certifies and by its non-compete agreements. Can they turn out enough supply to meet the demand?

I think they can. There has been an uptick in supply. Epic is getting bigger, therefore there’s more certified people. But there’s also some people with a little bit lower of a skill set who may be credentialed or just have experience. We’ve been seeing a lot of those people turning into consultants. Initially, those are putting downward pressure on the rates. But I believe over the past year or two, clients are starting to realize what it means to have somebody who has that industry knowledge and that Epic certification, that Epic experience.

Over the past couple years, KLAS has noticed that clients are now more interested in engaging with consulting firms that have that direct Epic experience, not just generalists out there. The consultant’s experience really does make a difference.

 

What’s your reaction to Epic going into consulting?

That’s been something I’ve talked with Epic about over the past several months. They’ve done it on and off over the past few years. 

I believe Epic is most focused on the proliferation of their software. They’re most focused with getting Epic out in as many hands as possible. I like to think of it similar to the Google approach — getting the Android platform out to as many mobile phone users as possible. Because what they’re really interested in is their software and the licensing fees, just like Google is with their ad revenue. 

Epic’s interest and our interests are very aligned. All we do is Epic, so we want Epic to remain the best EMR out there and that’s Epic’s same interest. If Epic were to jump into the consulting, I think it would be more of a partnership with firms like us than a direct competition.

 

They haven’t said why they’re doing it, but it sounds like one motivation is that they are losing people who quit, sit out their non-compete, and then make more money by going to work for a consulting company. Do you think that will limit your supply of quality candidates?

No, I don’t, for the simple fact of, if we were to just recruit half a percent of the people that leave Epic, we would still be growing like crazy. There are just so many people that have that experience that I don’t think that will limit our growth. I think that the people that are looking to leave Epic, it’s for a number of reasons. The majority of people do not leave Epic to become a consultant.

 

What do they do after they leave?

I would say the majority of people who leave Epic get into another industry. As you know, Epic hires most of their people directly out of college. They hire without discrimination towards a certain degree. The people who join Epic have various backgrounds. 

Epic’s a great point to get your feet wet in the professional world and use it to launch a career into whatever you might decide to pursue, whether that’s going back to school to get your master’s degree or whether that’s going into another industry that might not be as highly paying. Now you’ve done some time at Epic and you were able to save up some money.

 

Consulting runs in cycles where the companies that rise to the top get bought. None of the Epic-only consulting companies that have sold to a big firm yet, right?

Not that I know of. The way that we’re trying to prepare ourselves is, we want to be agile, but we also have to be in the lean in the way we conduct business. Whether there’s pressure from competition, tightening up our budget and tightening up our processes, or there’s pressure from an industry level with rates going down or if Epic were to start losing some market shares. 

We’re just concerned about continuing to offer relevant services to our clients, broadening out besides just staff augmentation, and looking to the future what our clients are going to need from a consulting partner three, five and ten years down the road.

 

You’ve said that you want to create a brand and not just a consulting company. How do you see that happening?

It starts in-house with the culture, with the people we recruit. We recently won Best in KLAS, but prior to that, we also were listed as one of the best places to work in healthcare. We focus on our employees, and making Sagacious a long-term career option for them and by making sure that everybody shares the same vision as Sagacious, which is to become that brand. It’s lining up our interests with our employees’ interests and our clients’ interests. It’s establishing that long-term partnership with our clients, and ensuring no matter what their need is when it comes to Epic — whether it’s staff augmentation, clinical optimization, AR reduction — we are the first vendor they call for support.

 

How do you see an Epic ecosystem building?

Epic announced that they were going to open up some of their software to outside developers. We see that eventually third-party players that are more so integrated with Epic may start becoming prevalent. We also see a second area is the adoption of the smaller organizations, under 500 beds, adopting Epic via the Connect relationship. We see services such as working with these organizations to increase revenue and decrease AR days. That’s a mix of not just optimizing Epic, but also optimizing their business processes and their operational work flows.

The same thing on the clinical side. Big data is a term similar to what cloud was two or three years ago. Big data is really about, now we have this data within Epic and these organizations have this data at their disposal, how are you going to leverage that to better patient care, better patient outcomes, and to increase your revenue so that you can provide patient care to the community? Those are the areas that we think will be where the industry is moving in the coming years.

 

How do you see analytics playing out for Epic customers?

We’re going to start seeing a lot more of revenue spent on analytics. The first stage of this EMR life cycle is adoption. We’ve seen that in the US, a lot of big institutions now are on an EMR such as Epic. 

The second phase of that is leveraging the EMR to increase your bottom line and improve patient care. You can’t do that without analytics. We think as an industry that healthcare is far behind retail such as Amazon and Google. They are very far ahead when it comes to leveraging that data and using it for predictive ordering or predictive shipping, which Amazon might be getting into. 

We think that the industry as whole has a long ways to go. We think that will be a big market for Epic and the other EMRs in the coming years.

 

What do you want the company to be in the next two to five years?

I see Sagacious transforming to more than simply staff augmentation and taking on more of those strategic-level partnerships with our clients. Going into organizations and assessing them from top to the bottom and seeing where there are inefficiencies. These are things that they may know about themselves, but there’s a lot of inertia when it comes to these projects. They’ve been doing things the same way they’ve been doing them for years. They might have gone live on Epic 10 years ago and taken some upgrades, but have they really leveraged the most they can out of that system? 

We’re that outside driving force. We want to come in, provide them with an independent third-party assessment, and determine what are areas where they could strengthen themselves. What are those opportunities to drive patient care and drive their revenue metrics? That’s where I see Sagacious continuing to advance. I see our partners, our clients continuing to go down that path of optimization.

 

Do you have any concluding thoughts?

As an industry, a lot of people may think that we’re at the peak right now because so many organizations within the US have adopted an EMR and a lot of clients now are live on Epic. But the truth is, that’s just one piece of the overall business cycle. Adoption is just the beginning of it. Next is leveraging the data analytics to optimize. Then, finally, it’s using that data to predict patient outcomes and to make business decisions to drive revenue. 

That’s what I’m most excited about. That’s what we’re most excited about at Sagacious — continuing to partner with our clients and figure out where the future is and help them set some long-term goals to take it to the next stage.

HIStalk Interviews Justin Dearborn, CEO, Merge Healthcare

February 12, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Justin Dearborn is CEO of Merge Healthcare of Chicago, IL.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in enterprise software for approximately 16 years, all at public companies. I joined Merge in June 2008.

Merge has been around since the late ‘80s to early ‘90s. I gave a range because it was a much smaller company that merged with another company a few years after it started and formed what Merge is today. It has been focused on the radiology solution space since its inception.

 

Imaging has become unbundled over the years, with modalities separate from the image storage and software separate from both. How will that play out?

It has. Part of what has driven that is corporate purchasing groups. On the GPO schedules we are on, everything gets line-itemed out and identified separately. The days of bundling an MRI with a PACS solution can still happen, but those are mostly in the past. Purchasing groups want to see what they’re being charged for — each line item. The software’s not free. If it is free, then it’s not worth much. So it has been unbundled.

We’ve integrated with 65 different PACS companies even though we’re a PACS company. We’ll be in multi-vendor situations as well. With the state of integration, that’s not much of a challenge. It used to be a little more challenging, but with standards and with the integration across the board where it is today, doesn’t pose much of a problem. 

We do see buyers looking for best-of-breed across the board. Most hospitals, even if they’re an Epic or a Cerner shop, so to speak, still have numerous, numerous other best-of-breed clinical applications they will plug in.

 

Describe a vendor-neutral archive and how Merge addresses that market demand.

It’s not a very creative name, but pretty descriptive. We would go into a situation and our ROI is to be an essential repository for all imaging. Not imaging data, but heavily the values in imaging data and DICOM data, DICOM being the format of medical imaging.

We would pull in DICOM data. If it wasn’t DICOM data, we’d wrap it in a format that stored it as such. We would be able to pull in from many different styles in a hospital — cardiology, radiology, dermatology, pathology. They can all be local PACS systems in that siloed environment from different vendors and we could pull in all that data, normalize it, and keep track of it. Make it available in a unified format to any other groups within or outside the four walls of the hospital.

That’s been accelerated a little bit. There have been stops and starts in the market, but interoperability and then being able to share information tying into some of the ACO payment models and some other new bundle payment models, and the overall pop health management buzz you hear — it’s all about sharing data and having a vendor-neutral archive that allows for that to happen much easier than if you’re pulling data from six or seven different siloed environments within a single hospital.

 

How important is interoperability to customers and what are the advancements that could be coming that now that it’s available?

It’s very important, but there have been other things in the last few years that have taken budgetary priority, ICD-10 being one of them right now. But putting that aside, there’s always a few speed bumps in healthcare, but interoperability is on every CIO’s road map. They’re being asked to share information with additional constituents. Early on, sometimes it was just to consolidate the data with any hospital or the hospital network. Now it’s making sure the data’s available in a secure, HIPAA-compliant manner to partners. Everybody in every hospital is partnering with outpatient groups and being required to share data and pull data in from other sources. 

Interoperability is extremely important through our vendors that of course just focus on the data flow. We focus on that, but shine in situations where there’s imaging involved. Your file format’s a little more sophisticated routing and that’s where a Merge solution would excel.

Part of that also is not only having the data, but making it available. We make it available in two formats. We can just make the image itself available in a hosted manner, so with any Web browser, a user could log in and access an image and they would just be accessing a piece of the image or the slice that they need to view at that time. Or we can make it available to download. There are different privacy concerns and security concerns. Every hospital has their own policies around that. But either format allows the referring physician or the patient to access a DICOM quality or a diagnosis quality image. 

It is becoming more relevant, absolutely. Where it started as just a way to make the hospital itself more efficient internally because it was fairly siloed, now it’s external or partner facing. Most hospitals and most large groups have these issues. Some of the vendors, the bigger EMR vendors, have solved it if you’re 100 percent on one solution, but we haven’t run across too many situations where it’s Epic everywhere. If it were, they have a nice solution for that. But any other partners you share or other data you’re pulling in, you need to be able to look at in a vendor-neutral manner.

 

Once people have moved their data and images that you described into a vendor-neutral archive, what patient care improvement opportunities are available?

Everyone would agree that having a full patient record, and by that I mean all the priors — and we would focus on the imaging priors, of course – but all the priors, all the radiology reports, all the special reports. We are involved in radiology, cardiology, ophthalmology, and orthopedics. Having all that information available for the next visit is incredibly important. 

As you think about the ACO models and a provider willing to take on total financial and clinical responsibility for a patient, they’re going to want to know everything about that patient, have access to all the prior data, even down to the simple thing — if you had an MRI last year out of network or out of this particular payer’s network, that payer is going to want to grab that and not reimage you.

Part of it is around patient safety as well. If it’s a CT scan, you’re obviously exposed to radiation, so you can limit that. Limit the duplicate imaging that goes on. There’s no ill intent there right now, but there’s a lot of duplicate imaging that goes on in this country because there’s not access to the prior images. I’ve seen the number as high as 30 billion dollars and that’s not lost on the federal government. There are going to be some new restrictions around paying for duplicate imaging. I’m not sure if Medicare or Medicaid will be driving that or the payers themselves, but it’s a hot topic and it’s one that’s the most easily solved. There are solutions to help solve that. Technology will not be the barrier.

 

What technical steps can help prevent over-ordering of images and making sure that previous images are available at the time new ones are being considered?

A couple of items. There’s one self-serving comment. We have a solution called the iConnect network that we rolled out last month. This solution will store images in the cloud. Always assuming proper security and authorization, we will have an archive of all the images that go through our network in a cloud solution, easily accessible from a technology perspective. Once that gets populated, we think that will be pretty powerful. 

There will be constituents that want to query that before they approve the next MRI or the next CT scan. They’ll be going out and asking that question of multiple repositories. Merge iConnect network will be one. The state or local health information exchange. One of the goals of the HIE is to have all the patient data available. There’s different adoption levels there across states and regions, of course. But ultimately, that was one of the goals of the federal government handing out the money — to make patient data available to those authorized to receive it. Between an HIE once it gets up and running. 

There might be a local ACO that has put some tools in place from vendors like us or other vendors that just focus on HIE-like technology or the iConnect network. It will be easy to go and query those and pull in all the prior results because it’s better at clinical care, but also if you did have an MRI or a simple X-ray within a reasonable amount of recent history, grab that, look at that. It helps with the comparisons, as well as it might alleviate the need to have another image.

 

How do you see consolidation, both hospitals buying each other and buying medical practices, changing your business?

Positive and negative. The negative side would be when you’re working with a group and the communication goes silent. M&A is a sensitive topic, so nobody likes to speak about it. Of course they typically don’t share that with the vendor, so we’ll find out about it after the fact. There’s been some fairly significant, large IDN transactions. I’m sure there were a lot of things in the works a year before those big deals were announced and probably filled in a lot of gaps and blanks we had as to why communication ended in some of those. So it’s disruptive.

It’s impacting the hospitals, but it’s more impactful on the outpatient or the ambulatory side because you’re dealing with owner-operators of businesses and it’s very meaningful to their lives. With hospitals, there are incentives to do acquisitions with other hospitals, but it doesn’t hit home as much as when you own the practice. They’re all facing reimbursement constraints and figuring out how to operate more efficiently. Traditional M&A rules apply – synergy, bigger is better, and build better relationships with vendors, and in this case, with payers. It’s impacting sales cycles for sure.

On the positive side, when those do transpire, there are opportunities. There’s a lot of integration and interoperability opportunities, because rarely do the large groups go in and rip and replace the existing systems. They need to be able to connect to it and share information. It plays into the VNA strategy and our iConnect network strategy. But absolutely disruptive on the front end. Again, it’s usually something that they’re not at liberty to share with you for obvious confidentiality reasons. But it does create some opportunities for us. There’s always going to be M&A in this space.

 

What do you see as the market’s biggest opportunities and threats?

Opportunities … I don’t want to keep pointing to the iConnect network, but we think we’ve solved a real problem in report delivery and order delivery. It’s handled pretty rudimentarily right now. We think we’ve solved a real problem in the space. Anything that can help work flow. 

Our core business is around radiology, ophthalmology, and orthopedics. Those are practices that rely on referrals and need to focus on ease of doing business on top of the clinical care they provide. But in addition to that, they are reliant on primary care physicians for referrals right now. It is about ease of doing business and generating additional volume and then having the tools to be able to improve work flow, which we do with our solutions. I think we play into the work flow efficiency. 

Everyone in healthcare’s trying to figure out how to do more with either the same or less. We have solutions that play to that. It’s a trend that’s unfortunately hit radiology probably earlier than a lot of other specialty areas. We started to see it in 2007-2008. Some of the cuts, the results from the Deficit Reduction Act, hit radiology a little harder than other practice areas. Unfortunately, the industry’s conditioned for further reimbursement cuts and I think those are coming. 

It is about doing more volume with the same team you have, and I don’t know of any other way but technology to do that. We have solutions that enable teleradiology in a positive manner. If you own 10 physical sites, you can have less than 10 physicians covering those by using teleradiology. It’s a simple example of how you can handle the volumes more efficiently with software solutions.

 

Merge has had challenges with financial results and share price. You’ve been on the job since last summer. What is the plan and the priority going forward?

Good question. I’ve been at Merge for about five and a half years in different roles. Our challenge over the last few years has been relying on large enterprise license transactions.

We have struggled to change our pricing model. We have per-transaction pricing model and we can deliver our solutions in a hosted manner, but hospitals are not buying that way right now and I don’t know when that will change, if it will change. I think it’s because of the capital budgets. All budgets are tight, but capital budgets are a little bit easier, I believe, so they’re still buying a perpetual license. Pay once, then pay annual maintenance. That leads to lumpy quarters if we have a miss. 

When we’ve had poor quarters, it’s been the result of three, four, five opportunities we thought were going to close in the quarter that pushed out a quarter or two. It looks dramatic because the last deals are usually heavy software, good margin. When you look back over three or four years when we’ve had really good quarters, I could point to three or four deals each quarter and say, those are the deals that really moved the top line and all that dropped to the bottom line.

We have been challenged. We went out with a per-study pricing and transaction model. It didn’t take at all. So with our new solution, iConnect network, we’re only going to price it in a transaction fashion. That has been well received. We’re going to continue to do that. That’s going to build recurring revenue. 

That’s been the issue for the company. We only have about 60 percent recurring revenue. That means every quarter we have to go find 40 percent. If there’s any pauses in the market driven by the sequester or some employer mandate pushed off or what have you that causes a pause in the market for a quarter, we’re left holding the bag. It’s tough to operate that way. The companies that are performing really well have high recurring revenue — and I point to athenahealth as probably the best at that right now — have done a great job and been very disciplined on how they go to market. They built a nice recurring revenue model. 

We’re to some degree emulating that. The market’s accepting of charging to deliver an order and to deliver a report. There’s small fees that will add up due to the size of our installed base. That’s what we talked about quite a bit on our earnings call. We’ve done a couple of great press releases around relationships with athena, Surescripts, and the largest imaging group in the country for the solutions. 

That’s where we need to get to as a company to increase performance. Once we start executing that, the stock price will follow. Obviously we’re cognizant of it, but doesn’t drive the decisions right now. We think we’ve really landed on a great white space opportunity for the company and we’re focused on executing on that.

 

What are your priorities for the next one to three years?

On top of continuing to improve upon on our enterprise solutions, I’ll say non-iConnect network, which we’ve done and we’ve actually overspent in the industry, I feel like sometimes we’re on the bleeding edge, so sometimes we’ve been ahead on MU for radiology and that didn’t really buy us much. But we were out there evangelizing, making sure radiology qualified, making sure our solution was MU1 certified. We were the first one for full certification. Then it quickly became table stakes. 

We’ll continue to do that, to take care of our installed base. We were just named by KLAS as number one in cardiology and number one in hemodynamics. We’re a few percentage points ahead of our competition, we think, in investment on the R&D side. We’ll continue to do that. To grow the business in a repeatable, scalable manner, the recurring revenue has to be there. 

The iConnect network leverages a lot of the technology we’ve built and leverages our installed base. It all plays hand in hand. Growing that recurring revenue stream is the future of the business. Number one product in cardiology according to KLAS, which we do think is a great, great report card. They beat us up when appropriate. They’re very objective, as you know. With the number one product, we didn’t grow that business that much last year. We’ve outgrown the market a few times and a few quarters, but you can’t do that consistently. 

What do you next? We think we’ve innovated a really, really interesting, compelling solution and we’ll continue to invest in those core solutions because they bring the customers and there’s the opportunities for those customers then to participate in the iConnect network. But it’s really driving the transaction revenue of the business. The next one to three years, seeing that 60 percent number I gave you approaching and then eclipsing 70 percent. That makes it a lot easier to run a business when you have a little more predictable revenue.

HIStalk Interviews Mike Merwarth, CEO, Aperek

January 31, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Mike Merwarth is CEO of Aperek of Raleigh, NC.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

My dad was a physician. He went to Duke. My mom was a nurse. She went to Duke. My wife was a nurse. She’s still my wife, but she’s no longer practicing. My older daughter is getting her RN degree in May. My younger daughter is taking the MCAT this Thursday. All of which is to say, I have been immersed literally since the minute I was born over at Duke in a healthcare’s aura. It affected my life and continues to affect my professional life as well.

I was diagnosed with adult onset type 1 diabetes at 41 out of the blue. Every quarter I go over to Duke to see an endocrinologist. Between that and customer visits, I’m in hospitals a lot. The potentially strange thing about that is I feel at home in hospitals. That’s why I bring the level of commitment and passion I do to Aperek.

Aperek is focused on the healthcare supply chain. We do not offer services or product to any other industry other than healthcare, which distinguishes us from some of the other vendors. We changed our name from Mediclick to Aperek this past November.

 

Who’s buying your systems and why do they choose Aperek instead of non-healthcare specific vendors?

In the ‘90s when we were still part of Global Software and in the the early 2000s after we had spun off and formed Mediclick, hospitals were buying ERP solutions. General ledger, accounts payable, fixed assets, payroll, human resources, and last and unfortunately least, materials management. That would be the typical package.

It was largely a financially-driven decision process. The materials management system was what we call in this industry a drag-along, in many cases. In other words, they would — not throw it in for free, that’s a little strong – but they would offer it as part of the package at effectively no additional charge.

It’s also interesting that two of the companies that now have significant market share brought a distribution system into healthcare from non-healthcare markets or industries — specifically distribution and retail — and added some capabilities like par management. Frankly, they were the only game in town and they did an admirable job of capturing market share.

Those systems were OK for a number of years – let’s call it a decade — where the fundamental job was to manage a perpetual inventory of stock items, replenish the par levels on the nursing floors, and do the purchasing. All the clinical areas largely did their own buying.

That limitation of focus on the scope of what they needed to do for the hospital was  fine. Today, it’s not fine because now there’s a cost crisis. There’s a bunch of crises we could talk about, but there’s certainly a crisis of getting costs out of the system. One of the remaining ways to do that is in the supply chain. These systems and companies are not adamantly and singularly focused on doing that, at least in the way I think they should be.

 

In hospitals, the real experts and professionals in materials management are buying tissues and bedpans, while people with no training are buying the most expensive items that represent most of the overall cost.

That’s the irony or tragedy, pick your word. Roughly 80 percent of dollar value is purchased in the clinical areas. These multi-million dollar systems that were painful to install preside over only 18 percent, give or take, of the dollar value of the product that comes in the door. That’s a general statement and there are exceptions, but you are absolutely right.

 

How does your system control those higher-cost items that clinicians buy?

Technically, there are capabilities in these products to manage multiple inventories. You can have pars up in the OR, for example, and they could theoretically be managed by the decent systems out there. But there’s a significant usability issue that comes with the the necessary interaction at certain points with the clinicians. They rightfully resist anything that unnecessarily distracts them from their main job, which is taking care of patients. That’s where the usability of the traditional materials management functionality falls completely apart.

The reason I would advocate buying Aperek supply chain solutions would be, number one, there’s merit to focus. We live and breathe healthcare, specifically the acute care market but we also have several clinics as clients. Our clients span from single 200 bed-hospitals up into the 20- and 30-hospital IDNs.

Second, we recognize that the 80 percent that is spent on the clinical area is where the focus needs to be. I have referred to it as the Wild West, with stories about OR nurses hiding product up in the ceiling tiles and the bottom desk drawers. I know; I’ve actually seen that. It happens because they ran out one time and there are negative consequences to that. Maybe it’s just the surgeon yelling at them. But for whatever reason, they’re not going to run out again. There are millions of millions of dollars of inventory in the clinical areas that, if properly managed, does not need to be there.

Fundamentally, what this company is working very hard to complete is a set of capabilities that allow the supply chain professionals to do their job in the clinical areas. That requires some new tools that aren’t available from most vendors. Most importantly, it allows the clinicians to do the supply chain management they need to do in as non-disruptive a way as possible. We’re obsessively focused on the user experience here in what we’re developing right now.

A specific example is a product that we’re just now installing in two initial sites called Pulse. It’s implant tracking. It’s on the iPad. In my 25-plus years in this business, I have never bonded with clinicians like I have in the last year because of this product. I have never been so gratified by the excitement that I see that they have a visceral attraction to the ways that we allow them to record product.

With another company in the industry, it’s all barcode driven. We’ve got a Bluetooth barcode capability. It’s great. It reads all the bar codes and it’s intelligent and can discern what lets you go where. But the nature of implants is that there are screws and plates, thousands of parts. Those parts are not going to have bar codes associated with them in the near future. It’s going to take a new and cheaper technology to either embed or somehow associate those with a bar code that could be read, or RFID or whatever it is.

Those are three-figure to four-figure items relative to cost. They have to be recorded. Today, they’re often recorded on sheets of paper. They’re recorded on sleeves of surgical gowns. They’re yelled out to the surgical nurse to hand write.

What we have provided is a multitude of ways that they can quickly record the usage of the product that doesn’t have a bar code. Once the tension of the case is over, you can quickly come back and resolve the identity of the product that’s been used. You can have a little Bluetooth headset on and speak a description and the translation software in the iPad writes it out. You can go in and scribble it and hand write it. You can take a picture of it. You can do a combination of those things and move on, but you know you’ve got enough data such that when the case is over, you can come back and capture it.

 

Hospitals that are trying to cut costs, which is pretty much all of them, usually look at labor and then try to do something with patient utilization. Do they pay less attention to supply chain other than just trying to negotiate favorable pricing? Are they missing something?

Tragically, yes. I’m not sure I understand why. It’s not simple,  but it’s doable and it’s a progression. Nobody’s going to reach perfection in my lifetime. It’s going to take some naming standards like GS1 to come into fruition before perfection can even be approached. But there’s a lot of things that can be done.

If you think about the flow of product in the OR, it’s largely driven by physician preference cards, the list of stuff that they want on the case card that goes into the room. Those physician preference cards are maintained in the OR system, when in fact they’re the key to standardization. Elimination of product that goes up the clean elevator and down the dirty elevator every day. Basically 50 percent of the product on case carts is never used. It’s put on there just in case.

There are so many opportunities to reduce SKUs, to standardize on the implant products that cost thousands of dollars, and to lower the cost of the inventories that are managed in these areas if it’s put in the hands of people whose job it is to do that. You can’t expect the clinicians to do it. They’ve got their hands full already. Everything we’re doing is devoted to that.

 

Are hospitals looking at choices they didn’t find politically expedient before now that they’re under the margin gun, such as perpetual inventory and true cost accounting?

Sophistication in areas like cost accounting will continue to be looked at and be increasingly pertinent. But the example that immediately comes to mind is in product standardization. For example, you’ve got five orthopods who use three different knee implants, three different companies, because that’s what they were trained on in school. If they get together and realize that the outcomes of all three are virtually identical and the cost of one of the three is significantly less than the other two, and either through competitive motivation or collaborative motivation they agree to standardize, they’ve certainly simplified inventory management.

But from a purchasing perspective, and this is our product called Ellipse, you can standardize to say a single vendor for total knees. Then you can commit unprecedented volume to that particular supplier. That means a tremendous amount to them and you’ll get better pricing. There are those types of things that can be done with the right tools. The good news is for us, selfishly speaking for the growth prospects of Aperek, it hasn’t been done.

 

As hospitals acquire practices and also each other and take on financial risk, how do you see that dynamic changing supply chain and contract management?

The surgeons clearly have a direct interest in improving outcomes, standardizing outcomes, standardizing treatment protocols, and standardizing product. It’s in their self interest because in the ACO environment, to the degree that ever takes real hold, they will be getting paid out of the pot of money that is left over when the costs are subtracted from the reimbursement.

 

What are the priorities for the company in the next one to three years?

We’ve got a supply chain system today, as well as a GL and AP, that are ranked number one by KLAS and MD Buyline. They’ve been number one for five years. We’ve got that spend analysis tool that I mentioned that can show you volume and market share. We’ve got the Pulse product going in to its initial sites. That Pulse product will in the next six months be expanded into full product capture so you can get a full product cost per case.

As we progress into that, I’d like to take control of the preference cards and manage those. Put those capabilities in the hands of the supply chain professional. Along the way, I want to optimize the management of product inventory in the clinical area. I can do that with much of my existing supply chain system logic.

We’ve got a lot of the pieces, but we want to bring — you could say best practices — harmony, if you will, into the clinical arena and cut significant, millions of dollars out of the expenditure that’s taking place there today. Not just by reducing the price of things, but by standardization of products and standardization of treatment protocols.

HIStalk Interviews Dean Sittig, PhD, Professor, UTHealth

January 30, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Dean F. Sittig, PhD is professor of biomedical informatics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a co-author of the SAFER (Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resilience) Guides that were developed for the Office of the National Coordinator.

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Describe the SAFER Guides and their purpose.

Following the IOM report in 2012 on patient safety and health IT, ONC promised that they would create some guidance to help organizations improve the safety and utility of their EHRs. The SAFER Guides were their attempt to do that. They contracted with us to develop them.

 

What do the Guides contain and  how would you recommend that a hospital or health system use them?

There are some complex organizational structures, but mostly the Guides have about 10 to 25 recommended practices that are very general. Something like, “You need to back up your mission-critical hardware and software.” The Guides also have examples to help people understand what that means, so for a backup, that ought to be an encrypted, offsite backup taken on a daily basis.

There is also a rationale to help people understand why they would do that particular practice. There are a lot of references to link people to different aspects of the scientific literature from where those ideas came from. If the items on the list were either from the HIPAA guidelines or the Meaningful Use guidelines, we link those to give people a renewed emphasis on why they need to do certain aspects.

As to the answer to how an organization would use them, we think that in a large organization, you would convene a multidisciplinary team with someone from IT, some clinical people, some nursing, some of the ancillary services, maybe medical records people. Try to bring all those stakeholders together. Some people know the answers to certain questions and know the nuances of those. In smaller organizations, you’d probably have to contact your EHR vendor or your IT consultant that’s helping you to get the answers to these questions.

 

It looks like some of the items could be incorporated into an RFP.

While we were doing this, we started out going to a lot of different healthcare provider organizations and talking to them about what they were doing and trying to understand what things were working and weren’t. Some of them, we realized that the EHR vendor really has to do these things. 

When we say something like, “The patient’s name should be on every screen and maybe it should have a picture of the patient,” the EHR vendor has to make that capability available. Then the organization has to implement that capability. You’re right; some of these things are very particular and only the vendors can do them.

 

How do you think the average hospital would do? Are these stretch goals, or would a hospital that’s competent in IT do fine?

Of the leading organizations — I think about the Scottsdale Institute members, for example, IHC, Mayo Clinic, and Partners in Boston, those kind of places –  I would expect they’re doing between 50 and 75 percent of the recommended practices. Of the 25 percent that they’re not doing, probably half of them they’ve consciously decided not to do them for one reason or another.

Some of these things are still a little bit controversial in terms of whether they’re really a good thing to do or whether an organization can really do them. For example, not allowing a user to open more than one chart for a patient on the same computer terminal. Most people would agree that that’s a good safety measure and would reduce wrong patient orders. But most clinicians would say, “I can’t survive if I can’t look at two charts at once.” 

Then it becomes a push-pull at the organizational level of whether the organization’s administration is going to make that kind of a proclamation to make that happen. If you look at a company like Epic, for example, they limit you to only opening five charts on one screen, but that’s a user-configurable parameter. You could say only one chart is allowed to be open on one screen.

 

A parallel would be hiring an external auditor to do a hospital IT audit. They evaluate their checklist of things that are important. You don’t have to do all of them, but since the report goes to your management, you would at least justify why you don’t. Would a rational use of the SAFER Guides be not necessarily checking every box, but at least recognizing that you should have a good reason for not checking them knowing they affect patient safety?

That’s a good way to say it. You need an explanation. If I were a CEO reading over the results and you were the IT person that came to me, I would want an explanation for why you think you should open more than one chart on it. You can say that the clinicians disagreed and we’ve decided to limit it to two. We could talk about that and decide whether that was reasonable or not. 

Intelligent people who are safety conscious could agree to disagree on certain of these items. But it’s something you definitely need to think about and understand why you’re doing it.

 

The beauty of an external IT audit report is the accountability. It seems as though like the audience that would be most interested, from an exposure from a patient care or legal liability standpoint, would be a hospital’s CEO.

I agree completely. We are really hoping that that’s the way they’re used. Either insurance companies will pick these up and ask organizations whether it’s doing this, or someone like the Joint Commission might take these up. 

We’re hoping that this is something that starts a conversation between what I’ll call the clinician, the EHR vendors, and leadership within your organization. That conversation is the key to improving the safety.

 

The IOM’s To Err is Human brought a lot of activity with regard to medical errors. The IOM’s EHR patient safety report was the genesis of the SAFER Guides. Will that make the idea easier to sell?

I would think that reasonable people would agree with these recommendations. The problem is that these recommendations generally are going to cost some extra money and some extra time.

Right now, with everyone thinking about Meaningful Use Stage 2 and ICD-10 coming up, I’m sorry to say that I think patient safety has been pushed to number three on the list. That is going to be the biggest struggle with these Guides and trying to get patient safety moved up to a high level of awareness within an organization.

 

Meaningful Use gets you a check, ICD-10 makes sure you keep getting checks, and patient safety doesn’t get you anything except possibly a lawsuit avoided. Is ONC going to market this like they do their other programs?

We’re hoping they’re going to do that. If they can keep their focus on this, I think that will happen. But like you said, this is really a cost avoidance thing. The organizations that seem to do the best in terms of meeting most of the recommended practices are those organizations that have had the biggest accidents. It’s like you don’t get religion until you need the religion.

In some of the organizations here in the Texas Medical Center after Hurricane Ike, they really got some newfound impetus to make sure they had better backup systems in place. They were ready for bad weather. It was Hurricane Alison that was like around year 2000 where we realized we couldn’t have our data centers in the basements any more in Texas Medical Center when they all flooded. It turned out the first floor of our buildings flooded, too. Now all of the hospitals in Texas Medical Center have their data centers at least on the third floor. 

It was interesting to me that when they had Hurricane Sandy in New York City that New York City still hadn’t learned that lesson about putting data centers and power generators and backup systems in the basement. Because when there’s a really big flood, the basements flood. It seems like we should be able to learn those things from other organizations. You shouldn’t have to experience them yourself. But for some reason, people always think that it couldn’t happen here. Like, do they think that New Orleans was a one-off, Houston was a one-off, and now you think New York City was a one-off? The important points are that these things can happen to anyone, anywhere.

 

What kind of resources would be required to complete the series and come up with a conclusion for an individual hospital?

It depends what you start with. We’ve had some pushback when we mentioned that you ought to have all your hardware systems backed up and you ought to have duplicate hardware. Sometimes that means two servers running in parallel and another one sitting off to the side, so when one of those that are running in parallel breaks, you have one to replace it. Some people say, “We can’t afford to have three of them on site all at one time.” We hear them say, “Our vendor promises 24-hour delivery.” A lot of it are those kinds of expenses and there are a lot of examples in the contingency planning about warm site backups, for example.

That’s just a matter of how much money you want to spend to get the kind of response and get the kind of availability that you think you need. You can always spend way too much money on any aspect of your process. You’ve certainly got to balance the amount of money you spend with the safety that you need. That’s a hard question to answer. 

The other way to answer it is, there are some other guides that would recommend that, for example, when you’re doing physician order entry that you ought to have all of your orders go through the physician order entry system. This idea of trying to get 30 or 60 percent of your orders through the order entry system — we think that sort of partial implementation of CPOE is a real danger because then you have some orders on paper and some on the computer system. 

That’s not really a cost in terms of money. That’s a cost in terms of the political capital of the leadership of the organization, of how much pressure they can put on the physicians — those final holdout physicians who aren’t using it. How much pressure can you put on them to incentivize them to use the system? There’s cost, both financial cost as well as a political cost.

 

If a hospital downloads the Guides, how much effort does it take for them to get far enough into the process to know where they stand?

In our preliminary evaluations, if you have either a very knowledgeable person or a group of knowledgeable people together, you can go through a Guide in under 30 minutes. There are nine Guides, so we’re talking four or five hours. If you took a half day, you could go through and get a pretty good feel for where you stood on these different items.

 

The obvious question without an obvious answer is that the government is paying incentives to get people use electronic health records. Now the government has issued a set of guidelines that says, “This is how you keep them safe,” and yet those factors are not tied to any incentive. Who’s supposed to run with this?

We’re not really sure right now what’s going to happen with them. Like I said, I’m placing my bets on insurance companies. The payers are the ones that can really enforce this. 

In one sense, the federal government is a payer. You could imagine CMS incorporating some of these recommendations in their Conditions of Participation and then making the Joint Commission responsible for looking at them. You could imagine public health departments saying something like this, or insurance companies saying, “We’re not going to approve this, or maybe we’ll incentivize you to use the SAFER Guides and give you a little more money if you have completed the SAFER Guides.”

We’re in the midst of negotiating with a lot of different organizations to try to get them to see who will step up and say, “This is a good idea. The people  we are working with ought to explain to us why they are or aren’t doing these kinds of things that are in the Guides”.

 

Are there other phases planned?

We have work planned, but we don’t have funding to do the work. Most of the criticisms we get fall into two categories. One is that there’s too much stuff on the Guides and they need to be shorter. The other criticism is, you left something out. When they say that we’ve left something out, they say, “We really need a Gguide for clinical documentation that would help people to understand how much copy-and-paste is allowable in a document.”

There’s also a lot of people who have been talking about a Guide for how to do  the patient engagement aspects of it — how should you configure your personal health record and what policies and procedures should go around the patient portal and their access to information. We certainly know there are at least two more Guides that would be very well received and are needed, but right now there’s no funding to develop them.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

I would strongly encourage organizations to take a look at these Guides. They can really help an organization understand where they are and understand what the issues are.

A lot of people think that they’re unique and that things that they hear about don’t apply to them. When they see these Guides, they’ll realize that a lot of people are going through and struggling with these same issues. The leading organizations have pretty well come together and decided that backups are a good idea, for example, or physician order entry is a good idea. An organization would learn a lot by going through the Guides and seeing where they stand.

HIStalk Interviews Alan Rosenstein, MD, Disruptive Physician Behavior Consultant

January 27, 2014 Interviews 1 Comment

Alan Rosenstein MD, MBA is an educator and consultant in disruptive physician behavior. He welcomes contact by email.

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Tell me about yourself and what you do.

I’m a physician. I also have an MBA. I still do a clinical practice in internal medicine a couple of days a week. I do a lot of consulting work around care management.

One of my other positions is being medical director for a company called Physician Wellness Services, which is in Minneapolis, although most of my career has been involved on getting physicians around best practice care.

 

You’ve done a lot of work with disruptive physician behavior. How is that defined or evidenced?

I got into this as vice president and medical director for the VHA West Coast. We would always look at how we could help the medical directors focus on the issues that they think are important. The usual span of issues are quality of care, cost of care, and physician relationships with the hospital. 

I started noting that they were putting down disruptive behavior as one of their key issues. This really got exacerbated during the nursing shortage. That’s when I started the original survey on what is disruptive behavior? Are you witnessing it? Who’s doing it? Where is it occurring? That led to all the research about how significant an issue it is and then what we can do about it.

We describe disruptive behavior as any inappropriate behavior that can negatively impact patient care. That’s the simplest definition.

 

When you look at other professions, are physicians more likely to be disruptive, or it just more easily perceived because of the work environment they practice in?

It’s a combination of both. There are certain personality traits that lead people to go to medical school. It’s very competitive. They’re very ego-centric. During the medical school process, you’re taught very autocratic, independent, autonomous types of behavior. Physicians give orders. There is that personality that’s built in. 

Healthcare is a very hierarchical system. Physicians are on top of the totem pole. They’ve usually had their free way in giving orders and not taking any responsibility for their actions, although their actions are really aimed at best patient care. 

That in combination with the fact it’s a really stressful environment. In fact, if you look at where disruptive behaviors occur most frequently, it’s in either stressful areas — such as surgery, the emergency room, or OB — or in very stressful situations where the patient is having a negative outcome or the severity is increasing and they’re taking a turn for the worse and the physician needs to get involved. Sometimes they don’t do that in the most cordial manner.

 

In my experience , physicians who staff perceive as problematic and prone to explosive tempers are often respectful to their patients and even have great bedside manner.

I’m not sure they have great bedside manner with the patients. I think their intent is 100 percent, “I want to do the best for you, and in a crisis situation, I’m the one who knows best and I really need to take control.” That’s all appropriate, but many of these physicians are not good. 

in our research and others, we’ve shown that three to five percent of physicians — and nurses, actually — are truly disruptive. This can have a significant impact on the organization. But what we also found is that 40 to 45 percent of them are ineffective communicators. If you go back to that medical school, you’re trained in technology, you’re trained in knowledge competency, but you’re not trained in personal skill development. 

Now with healthcare being so complex, there’s many physicians in on a case, many other providers who are not physicians. The physician needs to better communicate and coordinate with them and also to present it effectively to the patient. 

I’m not sure that they have the best bedside manner, but they certainly are doing it with the intent of, “I need to take control.”

 

Is that behavior rewarded more readily for certain specialties, like cardiothoracic surgeons versus pediatricians?

Why do people act disruptively? First of all, many people act disruptively and they don’t even know they’re doing it because they don’t understand the downstream effect. A lot of the research has shown there’s a significant downstream effect where patient care is actually compromised.

They’re acting disruptively because they need to take control. They feel like they need to give the orders and get the best patient outcome. They’re doing it to try to provide best patient care, but they don’t realize what they’re doing or how it’s impacting, or most importantly, the long-term impact of what they’ve done. 

Eventually it gets to the point where you antagonize a person so much … in the short term, they’ll hopefully do what you’re asking them to do, but moving further down after the crisis, they don’t want to communicate with you any more. These communication gaps lead to problems with the patient outcomes of care.

 

Does medical training encourage or at least support disruptive behavior? Do you see that changing as newer generations of practitioners emerge who have been trained more as a team member rather than a single player?

Yes, absolutely. What we’re finding right now in medical schools is that they’re beginning to realize how important personal skills, communication skills, and teamwork skills are. 

Three things are happening. One is the MCAT, which is the Medical College Admission Test. They’re now posing more questions on the humanities, not just math and science. Two, as far as the people who are majoring, they used to major in chemistry or biology, now they’re looking for people who major in sociology and philosophy. Three, and most importantly, a lot of the more progressive medical schools are beginning to teach communication, collaboration, and personal skills during the freshman year of medical school to get away from this autocratic or independent behavior.

 

For physicians trained under that different model that no longer applies, it must be difficult when hospitals are acquiring practices, exercising more control in ACO-type arrangements, and mandating use of EHR systems that impose standardized care guidelines and require doctors to document themselves in ways that don’t benefit them. Does that feeling of loss of control elicit disruptive behavior?

Absolutely. One of the things that I talk about is why do people behave the way they do. I talk about the internal things. Age — those different values and attitudes based on your age and your generation. There are gender differences between men and women in how they view stress and how they handle stress. There are differences from culture and ethnicity, power, issues related to gender, issues related to dominance. Then there’s all the stuff from your life, upbringing, what you’ve been exposed to.

Those are the internal factors. Those can be addressed, maybe by sensitivity training or communication skills training. 

The external events — one of them you hit on — is from healthcare reform and initiatives and the electronic medical record. There’s now more and more pressure on providers, not just physicians, to be able to demonstrate and document good value care based on what other people think, not necessarily what they think. More adherence to guidelines telling you what you can and you cannot do. Taking people away from the bedside, spending more and more time on fulfilling all the requirements of the documentation. That gets everybody very frustrated because they just want to practice good care. 

One of the key concerns right now is the significant amount of stress, burnout, and frustration that’s hitting our physician workforce as well as others. A lot of them are trying to change jobs, get out of the profession, or retire early. That’s a real issue right now, because we are — if not currently, tomorrow — going to have a workforce shortage. 

One of the things that organizations need to do as they acquire physician practices and as they get them to adhere and be compliant with their protocols, their electronic medical record — they have to work with them to help them bring them up as a precious resource and not tell them, “This is what you have to do or else.”

 

What tips would you have for CIOs and CMIOs on the most constructive way to deal with physicians, especially those who have a reputation of being disruptive or resistant?

On the global level, physicians needs to understand why you’re asking them to do certain things. You need to raise the business case of why reducing variation and improving efficiency is going to get you the best patient outcome. That’s what you really want in the end, whether it’s a quality issue, whether it’s a cost issue, or whether it’s a satisfaction issue. Our goal is to make the patients get the best value out of a healthcare interaction and no one, no matter where they’re coming from, is going to say that’s not an appropriate goal. So you need to set the business case.

The second thing is you need to talk about what protocols and what enhancements you have, either technological or care management, and explain to them why we’re doing this — the idea that you reduce variation, we’re trying to do best-practice care, this will give you the best practice outcome. 

The most important thing is they want us to sit down and talk to them and listen. One of the frustrations from physicians is, “I have a concern, I have a problem, I have an issue, but no one is taking the time to talk to me about what my individual concerns are.” 

One of the key steps is that you need to sit down and talk to the physicians and find out what their resistance is based on what their barriers are. If you can potentially address some of those barriers, that’s something that the organization really needs to do. 

The last piece is that besides the business case and the support, you want to provide ongoing training. When you implement or you go live, make sure that you have these work groups that are readily available to help the physician get through what they really need to get through.

 

Pushback against systems like CPOE seems to have lessened. Are people learning how to deal more constructively with physicians or are physicians just resigned that they have to do it?

A combination of both. People are being resigned. Remember, for physicians, it’s not just the inpatient record, it’s also the office record. With Meaningful Use and with billing, you need to get into the electronic, so there is a business reason for them. I think the technology is there.

Certainly with the newer physicians who were brought up on technology, this is not an issue. It’s mostly the physicians who have been in practice for 20 to 30 years. They’re very used to their ways of doing things and don’t understand why they need to change. With the growing need that everybody is going to have to be up and running on electronic medical records, the physicians are recognizing that this is something they really need to participate in. 

The organizations do realize this, and as they implement these new medical records, they are very concerned about getting them on board and doing the appropriate training.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

Part of it is the electronic medical record and part of it is the way the physicians behave. Physicians are a precious resource. I really do believe that all they really want to do is to do their job. Everything seems to get in the way, and some of those things are right.

Reducing variation, improving efficiency and productivity, and maximizing best patient outcomes is an absolute right thing to do. But I think organizations need to recognize that physicians are frustrated, they’re angry, they’re burned out, and they’re stressed. They need to spend more time in working with the physicians to prevent the inappropriate and truly disruptive behaviors, which can have a profound, negative impact on the organization.

HIStalk Interviews John Kass, VP of Healthcare Strategy, Bottomline Technologies

January 24, 2014 Interviews No Comments

John Kass is vice president of healthcare strategy and business development for Bottomline Technologies of Portsmouth, NH.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

Our go-to-market strategy is twofold, both on the direct front and as well working through Tier 1 ECM vendors. As healthcare changes and there’s a lot of consolidation in the market, we’re seeing a movement toward procurement being something that they want to simplify in that supply chain. 

I spent four and a half years at Hyland Software prior to coming to Bottomline. We were taking many people from paper to electronic and linking that information into the electronic medical record. But one of the things that really stood out is that paper has been holding back the power of ECM for quite some time. 

Logical Ink was an e-capture, mobile capture, e-data solution. There was a lot more you could get out of paper and changing the process was key. We signed a private label partnership with Hyland Software. Really being able to go back to customers that I’ve worked with for quite some time and improve the value in technology they’ve already purchased.

 

Describe what Logical Ink does and how you incorporated that acquisition into the product line.

We acquired that technology several years back. It was called Logical Progression. Chris Joyce, who is our director of product development here today, is the developer of the solution.

When Chris invented Logical Progression, the market looked very different. The biggest change is that we’re seeing much more connected healthcare brought on by Meaningful Use. We’re seeing EMR adoption growing. The goal is, how do we create a longitudinal view into the patient?

What’s really changed is, when I came on board, taking the focus around the strategy of… this is something that ECM became a very natural marriage. The product is a much more connected solution today. It’s an enterprise, what we call a standardized one capture platform, any downstream system. In addition to moving and capturing the form, we have the ability to capture discrete data elements in the form and map that downstream. You can have one encounter, capture that information, send it to a Hyland Software OnBase, link that to an electronic medical record, and simultaneously send discrete elements of data down to a population health system or another system discretely. 

The other change is that four years ago, solutions like the iPad did not exist. They’ve revolutionized the way we interact with technology in a way that I can hand my 70-year-old mother an iPad and she immediately gets it. We’ve got a native iPad application. We’re also on Windows. The ability to have devices that are much affordable and usability being much higher has changed the game in the last several years.

 

Can you explain what Hyland OnBase does and how you tie into it?

It stands for “one database.” OnBase is an enterprise content management system. In the patient-related world, there are things inside of that electronic medical record that you’re capturing as discrete data elements, but there are all kinds of things that generate from paper or other people’s systems that have no meaning to it. It’s called unstructured content.

Hyland can quickly bring that content in, capture it, and then put meta-data or key words around that content. Once they add meaning to that content, they have some very slick opportunities to link that contextually into an electronic medical record, or even on the ERP side in the non-healthcare world.

One of the things that we saw was having the ability to not have to scan physical paper into a physical device. There are too many documents going down to HIM to batch scan, so the burden on HIM is still very, very heavy. The goal is, how do we decentralize the capture in a seamless way and how do we optimize the ability to ultimately know what that form type is, because we’re starting electronic in a way that’s very meaningful with the patient?  

We can simplify all of that, the scan queues and hiring people to work and help index that content. We can immediately send that to OnBase through an API and they can immediately place those hyperlinks contextually within the electronic medical record. When you look at it from a workflow and a patient engagement perspective, it’s a game-changer in how you interact with that content.

 

HIM does batch scanning, indexing, and QA to link the scanning of paper. Is electronic mobile capture a better way, and will that process eventually go away?

You’re seeing quite a few trends in the industry. I’ll categorize it in a couple of ways.

There’s always going to be that external content. A patient walks in with pieces of paper that originated in another facility. I call that third-party content. We’re seeing that as an area that you still typically have to scan. If you’re a large IDN, you’re seeing a lot of the banks starting to offer the ability to scan that for you and create an index file as a value-added service. That’s number one.

We’re seeing more things captured discretely as a result of Meaningful Use, tying EMR adoption to reimbursement. But more importantly, certain stages of Meaningful Use are required. In other words, the government said these EMRs need to be certified and they have to do certain things. That’s certainly gotten rid of some of the paper.

There’s that remaining paper. There’s that remaining interaction. Those are things that start inside your own facility. It’s the consents. It’s the patient history. It’s the ABNs. It’s sometimes taking a photo and being able to embed that photo and have the patient or clinicians fill out information about that photo. Prior to Logical Ink, you would have to literally plug a camera into a USB, go out and find that photo, and attach it and attach meaning. With Logical Ink on an iPad, a clinician can take a photo with the embedded camera, embed that photo instantaneously in a form, and fill out information or have the patient fill out information. When we hit submit, it can automatically be linked into the downstream system.

 

Do you think that the increased use of electronic medical records has expanded rather than contracted the content management market?

Certainly it has. There is absolutely no doubt about it that. There was a mandate, there was reimbursement tied to it, and there was a timeline. These were all very compelling events to moving people forward. It’s an impetus to a range of people adopting technology at different times. We’ve seen an industry movement across the board through this mandate that’s been very big. 

Certainly with the enterprise content management piece being a component … I always tell people, your goal isn’t to buy an enterprise content management system and an EMR. Your goal is a longitudinal record of the patient where you can see every action and encounter through one viewer. So Epic becomes that viewer, for example, or Cerner. But what’s great about ECM with the embedded nature of it, when you’re viewing some of that content through the core EMR, many times folks don’t even realize that the ECM portion of that is not just an extension of the actual core system.

 

Thinking about gaps in functionality or gaps in usage that electronic medical record systems have, what can automated or online forms add?

HIMSS came out recently and talked about with so many EMR vendors moving so quickly to try and fill the mandates of the different stages of Meaningful Use, while they focused on the functionality, usability’s probably something that has not taken a front seat given the time.

The other thing we’re hearing is that early productivity reports are showing that with clinicians having to do so much charting in front of the patient, productivity is going down. As you can imagine, part of diagnosing a patient is observing that patient. One of the things that we have been focusing on is the ability to have the patients fill out on an iPad, for example, all of these required forms. That’s unvalidated data at that point.

Now imagine as you walk into your doctor, having the doctor on an iPad asking you questions and updating and editing that information to validate that. Then capturing in that one encounter, moving the form into an ECM solution, but moving the data elements and mapping them discretely into the electronic medical record. We see that that is absolutely key.

The other thing is that while the EMR encompasses probably 80 percent of the overall enterprise technology around clinical and financial applications, there’s all kinds of “ologies” and patient disease management systems. People talk about data silos in healthcare. I would argue that what we really have is vendor silos. We’ve become that unified front end despite where the information is going with a simplified front end that they’re used to, applications like a Windows tablet or an iPad. We’ve focused on those areas to help augment and improve the usability and the optimized workflow.

 

What are some ways that customers are using your technology to improve their core hospital systems?

We’ve got a facility in California that is capturing various forms, but also simultaneously feeding discrete data from Logical Ink right into their disease management system, their population health system. They saw an application that we believe is a differentiator. We’re not just capturing signatures on forms — we’re having a very interactive process with that data. We came up with a concept of you have one encounter, so you capture once with the ability to push to any downstream system.

This is a paradigm shift for them. Before, they were scanning that piece of paper and somebody was entering the discrete information manually into a system. The ability to automate that process in a way that happens very natural with the interaction was a real game-changer from both a workflow time to get information in and certainly from a cost perspective, removing the manual process of having to hire people to manually do that.

 

Do you have some ideas about best practices for improving the satisfaction of patients with the intake process?

There are areas that you’ll go into, a very static patient access area, where there are stations of people working. You literally are going to go in there, check in, and sign all your forms. The fact that our solution can be a desktop solution, can be a web solution or can be a tablet solution means that we offer a very, very compelling licensing model where we don’t differentiate. A device is a device. It gives you the opportunity to use many different platforms for many different uses. 

Where things become very compelling is healthcare – unlike, for example, an accounting job, where you log in and you may not move all day long — many healthcare workers are roaming throughout the facility for different encounters and what have you. The ability to take what used to be maybe a computer on wheels with a scanner on a cart, wheeling that around, physically having to take a packet of 10 forms and physically putting 10 forms through a physical device called a scanner, is a lot of work. Sometimes that gets in between you and the patient. 

If you’re out there wheeling that cart around and your role is to wheel that around all day, changing that from walking with an iPad, scanning a patient’s wrist band, having the ability to pull that patient, pack it up because we’ve got all the integration on the back end with the ECM and all of the different document types and the levels of those document types already being pre-set to the EMR, your ability to walk in very pervasively and have that ability to capture things in a pervasive or untethered way is something that again is a paradigm shift. It allows people to be much more natural and upright and  a tablet doesn’t get in the way between you and the patient.

Most people didn’t see the potential for enterprise use of tablets when the iPad came out, but now everybody wants to use them. WiFi connections are decent and tablets are cheap. Will more opportunities come up?

I think so. Like you said, we’ve got bandwidth today. We’ve got devices. I look at an iPad as a productivity tool, more an appliance than a computer. That’s where you can draw a line in the sand. It really does simplify the way in which you interact with technology, for example. 

Four years ago, you look at where bandwidth was. We had no Meaningful Use. You were talking about a tablet that might cost $1,500 and it really wasn’t enabled for the touch experience. The market wasn’t there to take advantage of the applications.

Fast forward to today, looking at being linked to those Tier 1 vendors, looking at really tying and anchoring into investments that have been made there, and putting the engine behind the ECM in a way that paper has held ECM down for years. If you look at all of those factors, we’re at a time where the market’s there.

People are using these tablets in their personal lives. There’s a very consistent, constant look and feel. People don’t want to use a device at work that’s more of a barrier than the one they use at home to look up an article on the Web. We believe that we’ve bridged that gap in a way that the same simple tools they use in their personal life, they can absolutely start to use in their professional life.

 

What are the company’s plans for healthcare over the next few years?

The timing is right. The market is right. We’ve got the right platform. We think we’ve got the right strategy. We want to be heads-down focused. The company is always looking for potential acquisitions, so that’s something that I would say is ongoing. But we’re looking to do the right thing for the right time and the right reasons. I’ve been on board a year. 

I’ve gotten very, very comfortable in my role and I’m at a point where I feel like we’re optimizing some of the things that we’ve done over the last year. For the time being, we want to keep focused on the opportunity we have right in front of us.

HIStalk Interviews Lyman Garniss, Pathology Project Director, Partners HealthCare

January 21, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

Lyman Garniss is project director for Partners Enterprise Pathology at Partners HealthCare of Boston, MA. He was interviewed by Lorre Wisham of HIStalk

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Tell me about yourself and the organization.

I’ve been here at MGH and Partners for 25 years this month, primarily working with the clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology folks at the MGH. However, in the past year, I’ve been working with Partners HealthCare, the larger system, to roll out Sunquest lab and some of the blood bank systems and other products across all of Partners and also integrating that with Epic. 

Epic is going in across all of Partners, and everyone’s getting a standardized HIS. We’re also at the same time moving everyone to a standardized LIS.

 

What are your thoughts about the future of genetics and genomics in terms of data and whether it comes from the HIS or the LIS?

The LIS really needs to own that space. It’s where the data is generated today. At least 70 percent of the data in a patient’s medical record in the HIS is coming from pathology, from the labs, from anatomic pathology, and blood bank. There’s some 10 billion lab tests that are performed in the US each year. We produce a ton of that data. 

It’s going to get much larger with the genetic information, proteomics, and all the variant information that goes along with those data points. There’s no easy way to manage that today. The lab owns the specimens and some of the reporting of that, but they really need to own the data itself, the mining of that data, and the curation of the information related to the genetic variance and the proteomic data.

 

You’re saying lab needs to own it, which suggests they don’t now. What has to happen?

It’s a collaboration of the LIS vendors, companies like InterSystems or IBM that manage large data sets well, as well folks from the academic and medical area. A three-way collaboration that has to happen.

The lab information vendor knows the lab space really well and the lab processing and the specimen processing, but their niche really isn’t large data sets and mining large data sets. That’s where they’ll need some help from some of the large database companies, as well as some input and advice and boots on the ground from some of the folks that are actually performing these tests.

 

You mentioned Epic. What do commercial electronic medical record systems have to do long term to keep up with medicine on the lab side?

The breadth and scope of HIS vendors are so large that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for them to be experts or to be best of-breed in every single area or every single domain that they touch. They may have some expertise in specific areas, but they would have to invest a lot of money in the lab space and really be focused on that. It’s difficult for large vendors like Cerner and Siemens and Epic to be experts at the lab and also manage that large breadth and scope. Their domain is huge.

 

Why are you not choosing to implement Epic’s Beaker LIS instead of Sunquest?

There’s a number of reasons for that. The first one is the Beaker product just doesn’t seem mature enough for our needs. That’s one data point. The second data point is we have a rich history of collaboration with Sunquest. We’re working on integration between the laboratory system and the anatomic pathology system. 

The walls between AP and CP are breaking down. The type of work that is happening in the lab information system is starting to look, in some instances, more like anatomic pathology — large, rich textual reports that the CP system doesn’t do well but AP does well. The reverse is true. We’re doing more instrumentation and instrument testing on the anatomic pathology side. The AP systems really don’t manage instrumentation and stuff well, where the lab system does.

Sunquest is moving forward with us on breaking those walls down so that the integration between AP and LIS, the APLS, and the LIS is much more robust and streamlined, much more integrated.

 

What do you think a hospital CIO should know about lab or pathology informatics?

I was invited to speak to several different groups of my peers here at Partners.The message that I was trying to get across to folks in IS and to other areas is that, again, we’re providing 70 to 75 percent of the data that’s in that HIS. The lab information system is large, it’s complex, and we’re producing a lot of data, a lot of rich data. We’re going to continue to produce even more of it in the future.

 

How are you using your EMR for clinical decision support to guide physicians in ordering labs?

Poorly. [laughs] We have a current provider order entry system. It’s a homegrown system. We are able, with that homegrown system, to customize it to some degree to help steer clinician ordering away from expensive send-out tests.

I’ll give you an example. We show dollar signs next to the test. We don’t actually say how much it costs, but we provide alternative tests that would be cheaper to keep the costs down, especially as we move towards that ACO market. We’re starting to look on the lab side how to steer clinicians towards tests that may be just as effective, but may be less expensive. Epic doesn’t really do that today.

 

Clinical analytics for population health management is a hot topic. What is Partners doing to standardized data and enable better reporting?

The first step is moving to Epic. I believe that the folks at Partners are working with Epic to work more on some of those outcome models and patient care models moving forward.

 

How do you see personalized medicine based on patient genomics moving into everyday practice?

It has to start with the discrete data that’s in the laboratory. We can’t possibly send all the genetic information to the HIS. It would be overwhelming for the clinicians. It would be overwhelming for the HIS system itself. 

The role of the LIS vendor is going to be looking at all these rich data sets and mining, looking for patterns for outcomes to figure out both on the CP side for predicting potential disease states based on genetic variance, but also on the anatomic pathology side, looking at outcomes and survivability for specific types of cancer to figure out.

It’s probably best if I use an example. Something like pancreatic cancer, where the survival rates of that are horrific. Once you’re diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, usually you have weeks or months to live. But there’s probably people that survive longer than others, and we have their specimens. We have a rich biorepository of anatomic pathology specimens, where we can look at what’s the genetic variance in a particular type of that outcome versus somebody that didn’t survive as long. Then we can start targeting therapies based on that. 

The example that everyone’s using today is the HER2. There were one or two treatments for breast cancer in women. Depending upon the treatment, sometimes it killed the patient quicker, but sometimes it cured them. But there was no rhyme or reason until folks figured out that we could base the therapy on specific genetic markers in the tumors.

HER2 is a perfect example and more and more of those examples are going to come forward. But the only way to find those models or find those differences is to be able to mine the data. The laboratory owns that data. It doesn’t reside in the HIS. Mining of that data has to happen in the LIS space.

 

How can the average hospital involve the lab people in their EMR decisions and setup?

I have attended the Sunquest User Group for many years. There’s now Epic roundtables at SUG, the Sunquest User Group. Those have been very enlightening. 

What we’ve seen at those meetings are basically two camps of folks. There’s folks that Epic was installed at their site and the laboratory was not involved. In speaking with those lab folks now, Epic has become a nightmare for them because they were not involved with a lot of the decision-making process. They don’t have access to a lot of the way that the system was designed or built. Supporting the lab information system and integration with Epic has been extremely problematic for those sites where lab was not involved up front and early with the HIS vendor with that integration and testing process.

Then there’s the other camp, where the LIS folks — both IT and the actual people that are doing the science in the laboratories — were involved early on with the HIS implementation. Those folks are happy with Epic. They’re happy with their HIS and things are going extremely well. We learned from that at Partners early on. My team and others on the lab side are working really closely with the Epic folks in installing the systems here and doing the integration work. It’s been absolutely fabulous. A lot of decisions are being made that make sense for both sides of the equation. Again, we’re providing 70 to 75 percent of the data that’s in the HIS. The lab has to be involved early on with the design, setup, and decision-making process that goes on with the HIS build.

 

How is Partners exchanging information with other facilities outside of your group?

We’re part of the Mass HIway. That interchange is still being rolled out. I wouldn’t say it’s in its infancy, but it’s in its adolescence. 

We send quite a bit of information to the Mass HIway. We do all of our state and city reporting to the Mass HIway. Data that has to go to the state for state-required reporting, like some of the blood management things and the microbe reporting.

Partners HealthCare provided the seed money for an exchange years ago called NEHI. It was for medical centers in the New England area to exchange information with the insurance companies. We’ve been doing that for years. Instead of just having the Partners facilities manage that, we invited other institutions as well because we thought it would be in everyone’s best interest to share the cost of that insurance exchange with them.

 

What are your biggest challenges and opportunities at Partners over the next year?

There’s a few things that we’re working on. Expanding the LIS into areas that they typically haven’t worked in. One is research and managing the research specimen flow; the second is biorepositories. There’s a lot of rich specimens flowing through our systems, but we’re not able to track cohorts or manage consented patients in the LIS, so we don’t know when their specimens are flowing through the system to be able to move those specimens elsewhere or inform a researcher that specific, unique specimens are available. We’re throwing tons of these specimens away and they’re actually quite valuable in some instances. The biorepository area is something that we’re working with the LIS vendors on and we’ll expand in the future.

And then of course the genetics, genomics, and proteomics, and the rich data set … curating the data that goes along with those. The variant information. It’s a huge challenge for all of the institutions that are doing genetic testing to be able to track and update the most recent information about specific genes or gene variants. It’s a huge challenge for folks. There’s no straightforward tool sets that manage that rich data set today. It’s one of those things that the lab, the LIS needs to own and need to expand their role in.

HIStalk Interviews Adam Cheriff, MD, CMIO, Weill Cornell Physicians

January 20, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

Adam Cheriff, MD, is chief medical information officer of Weill Cornell Physicians of New York, NY.

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Tell me about yourself and the organization.

I am the chief medical information officer for Weill Cornell Physicians. I’m a part-time internist, the rest of the time responsible for the clinical health information technology and clinical operations for our physician organization. Weill Cornell Physicians is 950 multi-specialty faculty physicians associated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

 

You recently went live with Epic. How’s that going and what are the most important lessons that you’ve learned so far?

We have been an Epic ambulatory customer for many, many years, since 2001. We have a great deal of experience with ambulatory clinicals. What we did most recently was convert our legacy practice management system, which had been GE-IDX, to Epic. We’re very happy with how that’s gone.

We gave it a lot of careful consideration as to what the motivations were for doing it. For us, it was really about trying to consolidate onto a single platform for our administrative and clinical systems; the patient experience and improving it via self service; and lowering the training burden for our staff and faculty. We had an eye towards the future, where we knew we were going to have to do more advanced analytics, and being able to seamlessly move between the clinical and the administrative was a big deal. We had a hope that in doing this that we would lower some of our long-term operating costs.

We went into it with what we thought was good justification. I thought we were thoughtful in terms of how we restructured organizationally from an administrative business unit standpoint in order to support the implementation. That really was a lot of matrixing of the IT and clinical staff that knew the Epic clinicals and knew how to manage that relationship, the business office that were the core revenue cycle domain experts, and our finance office. I think that matrixing really helped a great deal.

 

Some organizations, particularly on the hospital side, have struggled with the conversion to Epic from a revenue cycle standpoint. What’s been your impact?

We feel very fortunate, obviously. I think the press seems to have a little bit of a selection bias in terms of seizing on, unfortunately, the missteps. I can completely see how these things would happen. They’re extremely complicated projects.

We have felt very, very fortunate about how things have gone. I should say that our implementation methodology may have predicted some of our success. Despite the fact that Epic would like to see organizations do this big bang — and I think that there are reasons for that in terms of not necessarily bleeding this out and being trapped in two worlds — we did this in a series of pilots leading up into a big bang. That gave us just enough experience with the new tools, so that with each phase of it, we got stronger.

The high-level summary of our financials is that for one cohort, we’re about six months into this. For the two-thirds of our business, we’re about three months, or one quarter, into this. We are 10 percent year to date increased in our receipts. Now it’s unfair to attribute that all to Epic, because obviously we have a lot of other growth initiatives. But if you look at it from the standpoint of what we budgeted in terms of anticipating that growth, we’re still three percent up, which you can fairly attribute to the Epic effect.

The main efficiencies that we’ve gained is that Epic is great in terms of transparency and accountability, for working charge edits and claim edits, and really has a great task management system to do that. Our pre-AR, we’re working much more aggressively than we were pre-Epic.

 

When you converged onto the single Epic platform, what goals and metrics did you hope for as an outcome?

We looked at the classic revenue cycle metrics. Those are all important. Days in AR , and this might be somewhat Epic-speak, but days in pre-AR as well, claim edits, denials.

Epic does a fairly good job of being prescribed and doing a fair bit of hand-holding with tools to be able to look at those metrics as you’re making the transition, even including some of the legacy practice management statistics as you make that implementation. We are also very interested not exclusively in the revenue cycle side, but also on the access and front-end side — registration quality, patient duplicates, the number of patients that make online appointments, our access metrics in terms of how long people have to wait to get appointments, and so forth.

 

When you mentioned patient self-service, were you primarily referring to self-scheduling?

Yes. Self-scheduling and online bill payment were the two features of MyChart that we were able to unlock with the conversion to practice management.

 

What kind of feedback do you get from patients?

It’s a little early for us to have amassed a lot of formal feedback. Anecdotally, we think that patients love it and that it is definitely helping our brand. Although I will say that given our marketplace in New York City, we have to keep up in that. Many of the other big academic centers are using similar if not identical platforms. Patients really like the convenience that is afforded in sectors other than healthcare. 

Culturally, from a physician organization standpoint, we still have a ways to go. While the consumer is definitely demanding it and the patients want it, the physicians are a little bit slow and guarded about the degree to which they’ll give open access to scheduling. But I think we will evolve.

 

You mentioned that Epic is part of your brand just as it was for Kaiser Permanente, who named their implementation HealthConnect. Do you see that as a competitive advantage and a way to enhance your brand with patients?

Yes. We did something similar right down to the name in that we branded MyChart as Weill Cornell Connect. The patient engagement strategy is so important. From a regulatory standpoint, it’s become increasingly important in terms of all the Meaningful Use objectives around engagement and how you need to communicate with the patient.

From a branding standpoint, the patients really do feel connected. Part of it is the transparency and the visibility of the record, which, of course is something else that the physicians slowly have to wrap their heads around.

But it’s really the interactivity. It’s the ability to, in an asynchronous way, reach out to the practice for all the things that people need to reach the office for. Not being on these endless phone queues is a real patient satisfier.

 

You mentioned that having both sides of the house on Epic gives you some new opportunities. What are you doing or what will you be doing in terms of analytics and population health management?

We are pretty energized about this. Clearly we’re moving from the phase where it’s less about the adoption of the technology, even to some extent less about optimization, although that is going to occur forever. It’s more about now that we have had critical massive adoption, what do we do with all this great data that we have been collecting? We, like most Epic clients, rely heavily on the relational model of Epic’s data, which is Clarity. We have pretty sophisticated report writers and business intelligence tools, including both Business Objects and Cognos, that sit on top of that. 

We are very eager to see where Epic continues to develop in this arena. They have done a good job of recognizing that in order for us to effectively manage populations, we’re going to need more than just the data that’s within Epic. The Epic data warehouse that they’re building towards that will allow us to take in outside claims data and patient satisfaction data is very intriguing to us.

 

Have you gained insights from having all that data available?

We engage in the same kinds of clinical outcomes and chronic disease management metrics that most large institutions engage in. We understand how our diabetics are being managed and our CHF patients and COPD and the chronic disease markers. 

We have struggled, like many organizations, to drill into that from a utilization and cost containment standpoint. That’s why it will be critical for us to start to marry those clinical data, which have become ubiquitous in our system, with the claims data that will be generating now that we have the practice management system.

 

How do you see practices changing both in terms of the changes prescribed by the healthcare environment and the availability of the technology like you’ve implemented?

Oh, boy, that’s a good one. The technology absolutely changes our culture and our practice patterns. I can give concrete examples over our life cycle. 

The first thing that the electronic health record did is it made us function more as a group model. We are a group. We’re a federated group of clinical departments. But sharing the single patient record with the focus changing from the provider’s record to the patient’s record was a real paradigm shift in the way that you can’t help but promote communication. That has promoted better outcomes. 

The next major paradigm shift was the rise of the patient portal, that level of transparency and really getting providers to understand that in many ways the patient owns the data and being as transparent with the results. The self-service model and the online scheduling. Even the rumblings of the OpenNotes project, where people will expose their clinical documentation. 

These are all things that are going to be profound drivers of the way we practice and probably will predict better outcomes because you’ll have a class of patients that’s much more engaged in their care.

 

Are you implementing more evidence-based medicine and standardized care protocols along the way?

We have. We have made use of fairly standard decision support tools that are available in Epic, particularly around Health Maintenance Rules. For certain populations of patients or certain chronic diseases, making sure that we have the data-driven schedule of what should be done for those patients. We use decision support alerts to support that. I think it’s been very effective, actually. We probably have, at this point, dozens of rules that are keeping track of that information.

 

Is there more interest, or could there be more interest, in patients taking a more active role in their healthcare and their health than they have previously?

Yes, because it’s more accessible. If you go back even just a few years pre-portal, it’s pretty difficult for patients to really access their information. What they’re left with is what they can absorb in a hurried clinical interaction, which is often exceedingly difficult for patients. As the word says, a portal is a window into what’s going on with them. 

The fact that we’ve been able to embed patient-friendly education that directs people to do further learning about their conditions, I really do. Where Epic is developing some of the tools that we’ve implemented is that for chronic diseases, that there are tools for patients to engage. Whether that’s blood glucose monitoring for the diabetic or blood pressure monitoring for the hypertensive, that’s a way for them to engage in their health and to promote that communication back with the provider.

 

If you look ahead two or three years, where do you see the most important IT-related priorities that will impact your organization?

It may have become a cliché at this point, but the past couple of years have really been about keeping up with regulation. Unfortunately I don’t see that necessarily dying down. Meaningful Use, ICD-10, and all these things that we really have to do. A lot of good that has come out of it, but in many ways, it has stifled innovation. 

The next couple of years are going to be about usability and trying to refine these user interfaces. Clearly interoperability is where we’re headed. The goals of some of this regulation is consistent with promoting the this interoperability, but many of us at the ground level have not seen that realized. T think that’s going to be incredibly important.

Locally, and this is true of many organizations like us, growth is going to be a big driver. The fact that we’re probably going to extend into a larger provider network to take care of larger populations, we’re going to have to find ways to spread our technology and to be reasonably agile about that.

HIStalk Interviews Laurie McGraw, CEO, Shareable Ink

January 15, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

Laurie McGraw is president and CEO of Shareable Ink of Nashville, TN.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in healthcare for 20 years. I started way back when at IDX in Burlington, Vermont. In the late ‘90s, they broke off a subsidiary called Channel Health. I was running development at the time. That got bought by Allscripts. I was part of the Allscripts team from 2000 up until the time that I left in January of last year. 

When I started at Allscripts, we had five customers doing the EMR. It was called EMR back then. When I left, it was a $1.5 billion company that was pretty large. Those 12 years were a blast, just an absolute blast for me. 

This past summer, I joined Shareable Ink. I am the CEO of Shareable Ink today. It is a young and vibrant company that was founded by a brilliant innovator named Steve Hau who took a common sense approach to doing clinical documentation.

Shareable Ink does clinical documentation and we do it really, really fast. We take existing paper forms, tag them, digitize them, and preserve workflows for physicians to document, Again, very efficiently, very fast. We have these analytic tools where people can get great insights from the data that they’ve put in and drive financial outcomes and quality improvements.

 

Part of the appeal of the digital ink option for data input was that CPOE adoption was pathetic and electronic physician documentation wasn’t common two or three years ago. Usage of those has improved. Is there still a need for an alternative form of input?

I think so. I’ve worked with physicians all these 20-plus years. I’ve been in front of hundreds of physicians, physician audiences from physician groups to hospitals to whatever. What I know is, physicians don’t hate technology. They don’t. They love technology.

But what they hate is they hate being slow. Everyone appreciates getting quality data at the point of care. They want all that information. They just hate being slow. 

With Shareable Ink, we can extend the investment that’s already been made in electronic health records, or we can just simply replace paper that still exists in lots of different places in the healthcare system. Just making that physician fast, it’s very valuable. People have already made significant investments in clinical technology, but when physicians are slow, there are a lot of things that need to be done to improve that for them.

 

Part of your value proposition is the concept of clinically rich documentation. Does the typical electronic medical record product support that?

Fundamentally, the answer is yes. Electronic health records — and I’ve worked on them for all 20 years — are good products. Whether it was ones that I had worked on previously or other companies who are putting out electronic health records, they’re fundamentally good products.

Where the electronic health record falls short for physicians, in terms of what I’ve seen, is where they start to slow the physician down. It doesn’t mirror workflows that previously worked, either in the paper world or in the newly adopted electronic world. That’s where I see the need to either augment or go back to workflows that were previously really fast.

I know I keep saying fast, fast, fast as a theme here. I say that because all of the benefits of electronic health records, everybody still wants them. Many, many organizations are achieving them. But they’re still falling short. Everything in healthcare is driving towards more need for data at the point of care. That’s where we’re focused.

 

Is it common for hospitals that have successfully implemented CPOE and clinical documentation for physicians to add a product like Shareable Ink or do they usually use it before they are ready to adopt those EMR tools?

It’s pretty rare that an organization is completely on paper. Usually Shareable Ink is in a place that is supplementing some already automated clinical workflows. We’re either extending an EHR investment that’s already been made by some specific workflows in a particular specialty or we’re replacing some existing paper forms that are still being used because those particular paper forms capture all the data in a really efficient manner for the clinician. 

For example, we do a lot of work in the area of anesthesia, where a lot of paper still exists. We’re replacing the paper. But in many other places, we are replacing paper where clinical technology already exists.

 

I made the observation when I interviewed Steve Hau four years ago that the higher you go up the specialization chain of physicians, the more reliant they are on very specific forms rather than the general documentation that an internist might us. What areas of the hospital are most reliant on those specialized forms that don’t translate well to an EMR?

A couple of years ago, I would have said specifically areas like cardiology or orthopedics or something of that nature. The discussions that I’m having today, it’s back to areas — surprisingly to me — like primary care, where, quite frankly, there’s a lot of documentation needs, but organizations are still needing to supplement what their primary care physicians are doing because the speed at which they need to document in the electronic health record isn’t fast enough because of the tools that they’re using. They’re going back to things like paper to supplement it and scanning it in, or they’re looking at hiring scribes to help those physicians meet their productivity objectives. 

The premise of “the more specialized you are, the more likely that there are paper forms to supplement that” … it’s not that that is not true, it’s just that there are more general areas like primary care where there still is a lot of paper because of the productivity needs of those clinicians.

 

Hospitals put in systems, find them to be a burden to productivity, and then come to you for an alternative?

Absolutely. There’s opportunity to extend that electronic health record. The investment has been made and everybody is driving their quality programs based on what they can get out of their electronic health records, but they have to also meet certain productivity objectives within their organization because the volumes for these physicians and clinicians are increasing. 

Shareable Ink can help expand an electronic health record in those areas where you hear of physician dissatisfaction with their electronic health records. That’s a pretty common complaint. The reason is rarely because they don’t believe in the electronic health record. It’s always because of the speed issues and the productivity issues or how they’re encumbered because of using the technology. They just feel it slows them down. I’ve heard this directly for such a long period of time.

 

Most of the new hospital EMR sales are by either Cerner or Epic. What are some examples of integrating the Shareable Ink offering into those products?

We can integrate through interfaces so we can provide data into those systems, whether they’re Cerner or Epic, in the hospital. We have partnerships with vendors like Allscripts, like Greenway, where we use their open APIs to send discrete data into the electronic health record. 

Those are ways that we can extend the electronic health record investments organizations have made with those vendors. We’ll be looking to do more extensions like that in the coming year.

 

For a company like Epic that hasn’t offered too many hooks into their application, what would be a functional view of an Epic hospital implementing Shareable Ink?

We’re exploring those workflows now. Shareable Ink is a young company, but where we’ve implemented today is in specific areas where we’re replacing paper forms that already exist. They go into a McKesson system, a Cerner system, through a document viewer within that other system. Shareable Ink preserves the view of the form that has been filled out as well as all of the discrete data that is under the covers of that paper form.

 

There’s a lot of richness involved with what you can write on a piece of paper, even including the way you write it, where you write it, or what you draw as a picture. Are people realizing that that sterility of a set of fields that are extracted into an electronic medical record may lose some of the patient context?

I think that is a problem. I think that is an issue. I believe Shareable Ink can help solve some of that by bringing some of that richness back.

I’ve seen the discussions and been in the discussions with physicians who feel like they’re looking at a SOAP note or a clinician note that may be complete, but it’s so sterile they’ve blocked all the nuances of the care that was provided to the patient. Can Shareable Ink help in that regard? Sure, it can help — but not necessarily in the same ways as speech – through different pictures or notations or things of that nature. But I don’t want to pretend for a second that getting to that specific discrete data is still incredibly important for all of the quality metrics and everything else that an organization’s trying to drive toward.

 

Can you hand forms that have been turned into Shareable Ink to someone with no training and turn them loose?

You can. It is a stretch to say no training. There is some training required, but it is simple training. 

With Shareable Ink, when clinicians adopt it, they are not clearing their schedules. They’re not reducing their patient volumes to then adopt this additional clinical technology. What they’re doing is taking some additional time. The paper metaphor or what they’re used to with a form — that’s the workflow that’s preserved. 

It’s already a workflow that they’re familiar with. Now they’re just doing it on an iPad, or that same form on an iPad, or they’re doing it with a digital pen.

 

How is Meaningful Use affecting your business?

I’m hoping that it will increase the need for tools from Shareable Ink because Meaningful Use means a whole lot of additional data is required at the point of care. Just simply voice recognition into blobs of text is not going to be enough in terms of all the data that’s required for Meaningful Use. 

Shareable Ink can provide that additional rich data at the point of care while still keeping that clinician very, very fast. I’m expecting Shareable Ink to again be a great addition in complement to the EHRs that are out there.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

I’ve spent 20 years in healthcare. While it has been awesome in terms of paving the clinical information highway, today what I see is that we spend a lot of time on all of the challenges that are out there: adoption, physicians being slow, needing better data, the challenges of Meaningful Use and ICD 10. What all that points to is really the need for better data at the point of care. 

I am optimistic that what we’re doing at Shareable Ink in terms of providing that rich data at the point of care and by doing clinical documentation in a way that is fast and efficient for the physician that we’ll be able to deliver on the promise of data-driven healthcare.

HIStalk Interviews Chuck Podesta, SVP/CIO, Fletcher Allen Health Care

January 13, 2014 Interviews No Comments

Chuck Podesta is SVP/CIO of Fletcher Allen Health Care of Burlington, VT.

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What lessons did you learn as your single hospital expanded into a health system?

I’ve worked with systems in the past, so I was prepared from a due diligence standpoint to understand what we were getting into. The interesting thing has been is being at the beginning of a system being born as opposed to going to work at an organization that already had created the system. That part has been really, really exciting.

From a learning standpoint — and I’ll just speak from an IT perspective right now — it’s how you merge the cultures of the different organizations, both from a leadership perspective and staff perspective. We haven’t merged all four hospitals’ IT under IS from a cost center perspective, but I am the system CIO over those organizations. 

I work very hard to get our leadership within IS to work with their leadership in their organizations and staff-to-staff communication as well. We’re geographically disparate from each other, so it makes it a little bit more difficult. That part has gone really well. That’s been the biggest thing that we’ve done.

We created an IT council that’s a high-level group of the high-level IT folks. Then we did a sub-group that’s made up of low-level managers but also some staff that are working together across the system and looking at things like linking email and some of the nuts and bolts things that need to be done behind the scenes. 

That’s brought these teams together, working on the same projects. What we’re finding is that the more and more that you do that, it’s going to make it easier as we get to the more difficult projects of implementing different types of technologies in these organizations.

Every hospital has the challenge of trying to look at new tools to support risk-sharing arrangements and population health management, but you’re also faced with trying to combined the financials to give a view that makes sense and to understand the physician relationships.

Absolutely. If you look at the last time we talked in July 2009, we were Fletcher Allen Health Care academic medical center, Burlington, Vermont. Now we’re a four-hospital system. We also are 50 percent owner of OneCare, which is a Medicare Shared Savings Program with Dartmouth-Hitchcock. There’s 14 hospitals involved in basically the entire state of Vermont, about 50,000 covered lives that are under that right now. A very large Medicare Shared Savings.

We’ve got the issues around exactly what you mentioned — the data analytics, advanced population analytics that we’re implementing. We’ve got some unique stuff going on there, along with working with two health information exchanges, because we are not only in Vermont, we’re also in northern New York. We work closely with VITL in Vermont and Hixny in northern New York. They’re working together to link their two HIEs together to benefit us as well.

On the advanced population analytics side, we’ve joined a group called Northern New England Accountable Care Collaborative. That’s made of Eastern Maine, Maine, Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and now ourselves. It’s a unique opportunity. They take our CMS claims data in and using VITL, we move our EHR data into that data warehouse. We can also have access to the de-identified data of the other organizations. Instead of just looking at populations of 300,000 or 600,000, now we can look at populations that are in the millions. The bigger the denominator, the better off you’re going to be.

 

People claim that healthcare is behind technologically, but we have business models that seem to change every five years, government involvement and reporting, and insurance company requirements. Everybody wants something different on the back end and yet you’re trying to keep the front end running. Is that sustainable? I can’t think of any other industry where there’s so much change that isn’t to support the business, but to meet new minimum external requirements.

I think over the next year we’re going to find out whether this is sustainable or not. If you look at the priorities that we have right now, we have ICD-10 coming. We’ve got Meaningful Use Stage 2, then Stage 3. Privacy and security is huge with the passage of the final Omnibus Rule and we’ve got to spend a lot of time there. We’ve got our system IT priorities that we need to put in place, and then also our OneCare ACO IT priorities that need to be put in place.

You add all those up and just look at the care and feeding of an Epic EHR and the priorities that go into that, it’s daunting. I joke a little with my senior leader that in the past, we were able to do a business planning session, have the IT strategy follow the business plan, and do a three- to five-year IT strategic plan. That’s no longer the case. I can’t even do a six-month strategic plan. 

What I’m trying to get my organization to do is to talk a lot about how do you survive, how do you manage, how do you lead in an organization that every single priority is a high priority? In the past, you could make a list and start at one and go to 10. You might have four or five projects that are twos. But in this particular case, they’re all ones. The federal government deadlines on a lot of these things are all coming to a head. 

How do you get your organization to work in that type of environment? That’s been amazing from a cultural standpoint. What you’re going to see across the country is some organizations will be nimble enough to do that and then others won’t.

 

Given the low likelihood of success and the fact that CIOs aren’t typically given extra resources, will it be harder for CIOs to keep their jobs?

Absolutely. If they don’t set the expectations with their senior leader colleagues …  even though I mentioned earlier that I make a joke about not being able to do a six-month strategic plan, I’m actually pretty serious about that. If my senior leader colleagues — my boss, my CEO, the board – are expecting a three-year plan and I’m not clear on what our priorities are, even over the next couple of months, and to get them to understand, then I’m setting myself up for failure. I know that has happened to other CIOs across the country. 

This coming year, year and a half, I think there’s a lot of CEOs out there that expect all this stuff to get done. If the CIO is not clear with the individual that they report to, that based on the resources that they have, these are the things that we can get done and these are the things that we can’t get done. We’re also in a situation where you can’t add any more resources. I can’t go to my boss and say, give me 10 more FTEs and I can do 10 more things. It’s just unsustainable from that standpoint. 

It will be interesting. I think there will be a lot of turnover in the next year to 18 months or so as the Medicare penalties kick in as well in 2015. There will be a lot of CIO turnover, I believe.

 

In the past, that type of environment is where health systems start thinking about outsourcing their IT departments because consulting firms claim they can do more with the same resources and still make a profit. Do you think the environment is going to swing back what seemed to be a diminishing trend of health systems looking outside to have their IT run by someone else?

Yes. What you’re going to see first, though, is just from the healthcare industry in general, the mergers and acquisitions that are happening. I firmly believe that within the next five years, there’s probably going to be 100 to 200 health systems in the United States. They will be regionally focused. Bigger is going to be better in this new world of population health management. That’s happening all over the United States. 

What you’ll see first is merging the IT shops. How that all shakes out will take a little bit of time and outsourcing may play a role in that. But I see those IS organizations working hard to come together first. They may look at outsourcing, but I just don’t think that’s going to be as high a priority as merging these various organizations.

 

What types of health IT-related businesses do you think will benefit from that consolidation scenario and which ones do you think will suffer from it?

The call center can be outsourced and consolidated probably fairly easily. We’re doing that now across our system. That’s probably one of the easier ones. If you look at field service, network, server management, and data centers, for example, there’s a lot of savings there. Looking at how you merge your data centers and cut some costs there. That’s the easy part.

The harder part is on the application side. If you’ve got more than one Epic organization coming together … you’ve seen one Epic organization, you’ve seen one Epic organization. They all have their different nuances. But most of the systems are coming together. You have an Epic organization and the other one might be a Cerner, and you’ve got to go through a process of, are you going to keep them that way, or are you going to put Cerner in the other organization, or are you going to choose Epic? 

That is going to be much more difficult to do. The application people that support those applications, the retraining associated with that, is just going to be really, really difficult to do and very costly. For these large organizations coming together, you’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars. You’re seeing it now — some of the bigger organizations are doing implementations and mergers and acquisitions at the same time.

 

There was a lot of buzz recently about your health system announcing plans that it expected to lose a lot of money but also that it would be doing a lot of hiring to support Epic. Internally, is Epic providing the expected benefits and return on investment, or are executives privately questioning whether the cost was worth it?

 

If you had asked that question a year ago … to be honest with you, I was questioning it. A lot of that was self-inflicted. It didn’t have to do with Epic. We had implemented Epic. We had gone live. We spent a lot of time on the ambulatory side and really got that humming. 

Then we didn’t take care of the inpatient side of things. The inpatient side got very stale. It got very customized. I think we had 70 different flowsheets across the organization. Data wasn’t landing in the database where it should be to get reports out. We ran into that with Meaningful Use. It was very difficult for us.

About a year and a half ago, I hired a CMIO. He came in and one of the ideas he had was that we needed to go to 2012 upgrade. He said, why don’t we just take all 7,000 enhancements and go back to model as close as we can? Originally when we thought about that, we were like, what are you, crazy? Typically when you do an Epic upgrade, you look at 50, maybe 100 enhancements. You never get to all the enhancements from an Epic upgrade typically. 

This was a radical change from that. When we approached Epic, they were really noncommittal on whether we should do that. But the more we talked about it, they gave us the green light. Last spring, we started that process. We went live in October. It completely changed. It was a non-event over a weekend. The training wasn’t too difficult. It became a better system.

Now we’re relying on Epic to do the R&D instead of us building things that Epic’s already building in future releases. We found ourselves doing that when we looked at 2012. We were building things in 2010 that already existed in 2012. It just didn’t make any sense at all.

We got creative on the how we used consultants during that period. We needed some help and we used some firms come in and help us from a resource perspective, because you imagine a whole change going from an 80-20 customized system to more of an 80-20 in the opposite direction model versus a custom system. The changes that we needed to make were huge. 

We worked with a national company, but their local headquarters are here in Vermont. It’s a perfect marriage. They were Allscripts at the time. Their name is MBA HealthGroup. They were nervous based on where Allscripts was going and we needed help, so they came forward. We started talking about us sponsoring them with Epic so that they could create an Epic practice. In return, they would send people, get them certified, and bring them on site at a very reduced rate, about a 50 percent reduction in what you normally would pay. 

After a six-month period, we would have the right to hire, which we thought was great. We view that as a creative win-win situation with them. They’re offering it across the country now to certain organizations. We used them for our training in the Epic space. We hired two of the individuals at the end of the project. We were able to pick the best and brightest out of the group and hire them. That was a win all the way around.

We’re also reaching out to the local colleges and universities here and getting lists of engineering, math, and science majors with 3.5 and above and encouraging them to apply for open positions. We’ve hired a couple of kids right out of college. They have been amazing. The productivity is just … they learn so fast. What we’ve found is you can’t give them a deadline, because if you do, they’ll wait up until the last minute and then get it done. They can do it a lot faster than the deadline that you give them. Just give them the work and don’t give them a deadline and you’ll get much more out of them. That’s been fantastic and we’re continuing that type of program as well.

 

What are your biggest challenges and opportunities over the next one to two years?

Looking at the next year,we’ve got ICD-10. We’ve got Meaningful Use Stage 2. Privacy and security, which is constant vigilance on that.

Every time you turn around, you see another breach. Everybody’s going to have a breach at some point. At some point, somebody’s going to do something stupid and it won’t be malicious and you’re going to have a breach. But the ones that I see that could be avoided, those are the ones that really get me going. The non-encryption of a mobile device. It makes no sense to me as to why people haven’t done that.

The breaches that are happening, those are the only ones we know about. There’s so many out there that we don’t know about. It’s going to be more and more difficult because OCR is certainly going to ramp up the audits and the fines are going to start coming out. That’s a big one. 

Then the accountable care IT infrastructure that we’re building with the health information exchange and population analytics. Then trying to look at synergies across our system from an IT perspective and where we can save some money and increase services across the four hospitals. My expectation is that the next time we talk, we’ll be larger than a four-hospital system. 

All that stuff has to get done in the next 12 months. Otherwise we’ll be behind the curve on what we need to get done. A lot of other organizations are in the same situation whether they realize it or not. They have these same priorities, especially if they have an ACO or are part of an ACO. Whether they realize it or not, all that stuff is coming to a head over the next 12 months.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

I can’t say enough about the privacy and security side of it. A lot of the technology that we use today enables physicians and nurses and clinicians to take care of patients. These systems are helping to give us higher quality, eliminate errors, and impact patient safety. That’s been great and it’s been worthwhile.

But we have a mission — we should have a mission — to protect the privacy of the information within these electronic health records. I can’t go to a bedside and take care of a patient directly, but I can certainly involve myself directly in the privacy and security programs of this organization. I think more and more CIOs that do that and get directly involved in the privacy and security, understand it, make sure you have a chief information security officer, get the tools that you need, figure out a way to justify those, and get those in. For our patients, that’s the one thing that a CIO can directly impact.

HIStalk Interviews Joseph Mayer, MD, CEO, Cureatr

January 6, 2014 Interviews 2 Comments

Joseph Mayer, MD is founder and CEO of Cureatr.

1-4-2014 6-41-02 PM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started Cureatr when I was a resident at Mount Sinai here in New York City. Prior to that and during my residency, I’ve always been a clinical research guy. I did med school at Columbia and focused on clinical operational workflow research. How you optimize consults, communication between the floors and pharmacy, and even looked at inter-organizational workflows like PCP into the hospital, etc. This is an area I’ve been passionate about since I started my training. 

I started Cureatr with a guy that I had gone Stanford undergrad with, Alex Khomenko, about two weeks before I started my residency. I had formed this idea during the last couple of years of medical school and worked closely with Bob Sideli at Columbia. I got together with Alex who, at that time was director of engineering at 23andMe on the West Coast, flew out and met with him, and said, “I’ve got this idea. I’m starting my residency in a couple of weeks, but let’s work on this together. I’ll be in a great environment to get feedback to understand what our users need, also what the administrators need.”

One thing led to another. We built out Cureatr  during the first year of my clinical training. Our first real launch was in the medicine department at Mount Sinai in January 2012. 

It’s been really a whirlwind since then. We were part of this New York Digital Health Accelerator program, with 20 leading payor-provider orgs in the state which works closely with companies like ours to make sure there’s a product fit for what their needs are. We just closed our Series A financing with Cardinal Partners and Milestone Venture Partners. It was a $5.7 million around in October of this year.

 

Many companies are suddenly offering secure messaging for clinicians. Who are your biggest competitors and how is your product different?

We’re running into the guys you would expect, the TigerTexts of the world on the lightweight messaging side of things and on the nurse-first device side of things, Voalte and the legacy guys like Vocera and Avaya.

When I started Cureatr, I was interested in messaging as a part of some of these workflow problems. If you look at what a workflow consists of, you’ve got the communication piece. That’s a huge part of it, probably about a third of your time. You’ve got the documentation piece and CPOE documentation — that’s probably another third of your time.The last third is management, getting access to actual data. Obviously, unfortunately, you probably spend less time on implementation than you do in a lot of other areas of the care process. When I started Cureatr, I was interested in how do we build a tool for the whole part of this. 

Let’s start with messaging. There probably are a lot of messaging companies, but the penetration of these types of modern communication and workflow tools is incredibly low in this market. There’s no clear leader. It’s still a very green market.

We’re trying to differentiate ourselves by coming at this from the angle of, let’s find a couple of specific use cases or workflows that are highly repeated in your organization or for your patient population. Let’s deploy this combination of communication plus some task management plus some basic integration with other systems. Routing and care team mapping is a big part of that. That’s our differentiator. That’s the way we’re looking at helping our customers. 

The other big thing is more and more of our customers are interested in inter-organizational use cases. They need to think about what goes on beyond the four walls of the hospital, because from their perspective, the care episode no longer ends with discharge. We’ve gotten some early customers, like the DaVitas of the world, who are thinking a little bit ahead of the curve on cross-continuum care management and want to apply our tools to those areas. We are focusing on customers who are interested in that today because we think that’s going to be a growing need in the future where we can build some expertise.

 

Is the model that an enterprise would pay for the system, but there’s an individual app that people can download for free?

We are very hands on around implementation, very hands on around working closely with the enterprise and finding these specific use cases. But we get contacted all the time by folks like my father, a small private practice who want to use it. We obviously see value in letting them, but above value to them, the value to the bigger hospital customers we work with making the onboarding experience for the smaller organizations very easy, very lightweight. But our customers are mostly large enterprise guys like Sinai.

 

It’s same product that could be downloaded for free, just with more enterprise-type services bundled?

It’s modular. We have our core messaging piece. Then we have something we call structured messaging, which is a feature that the enterprise needs to create a step-by-step workflow for a specific use case. There’s a core, very lightweight messaging piece that’s very easy to download and get up and running within a couple of seconds, but if you want to get those other modules, if you want to get single sign-on, if you want to get documentation or tie in to your ADT or EMR or lab system, that’s what our enterprise customers will get.

 

What kind of numbers do you have using just the standalone free version versus those that are using it via enterprise?

It’s almost all enterprise customers. We wanted to get the product right. We wanted to build the infrastructure of a company before we started doing a lot of marketing. We haven’t done a lot of this “are your docs texting?” replacement-type marketing. We’ve mostly focused on talking to thought leaders and rolling it out to larger enterprises. I would say 90 percent of our customers are through an enterprise customer, any organization that’s purchased 500-plus licenses.

 

How many organizations do you have as customers?

We have about 10 large enterprise customers and then some large primary care groups, some larger multi-site practice groups. But in terms of large paying enterprise customers, we have about 10.

 

You offer read receipts and the ability to attached a photo securely. Is that unusual?

That stuff’s great and useful, but it’s what our customers expect. I would think anybody who is a serious company in the states does have that type of functionality.

The things that are really different between us and the product are, first of all, we built this from the ground up in a hospital and a health system. Our products have been optimized for clinical users. We have status and presence, which is a big thing in a clinical space.

The way I look at the world, and I think the way most providers do, is that there are only probably four or five pieces of information at any given time that are actionable and valuable to the care team. We are trying to create a shared view of the patient around this in real time as much as possible for the care team. It’s tying into those other systems and understanding how to smartly separate the signal from the noise around very actionable information is what we’re trying to optimize the product. But also maintaining a very good, solid, secure messaging user experience. 

That’s why things like read receipts, directory integration, scheduling integration, photo sharing, document sharing …  we have the wound care company that’s piloting our product, and it’s revolutionary for them because all of a sudden they can, instead of having to fax the face sheet from the patient when they’re discharged where they’re going to follow up with wound care or with vascular, they can send the PDF or even send a photo of the face sheet and have a very real-time, two-way back and forth to make sure that that patient is getting the right follow-up care. We’re starting from almost ground zero in healthcare, so things like that can have a very large, positive impact on workflow, on efficiency, on provider and patient experience, and satisfaction and experience.

 

You have data from Mount Sinai that was self-reported from a survey. Do you have any more specific analyses of either outcomes or anything more than just what the users report?

We’ve got a study that just came out that I can share with anybody who’s interested in following up privately, but we don’t have permission yet from this large academic health center to share that data because it’s literally fresh off their presenting at a conference. But we have some very exciting data around time saved, efficiency linked to earlier time of discharge, i.e. length of stay reduction and HCAP impact. We do not have randomized, evidence-based clinical trial data at this point. Very few companies in healthcare IT do.

We have two customers we’re partnering with to run some 12-month longitudinal studies looking at outcomes on specific clinical hospital performance metrics, both on the inpatient and outpatient side.

 

How did working with an accelerator help the company?

I am very grateful to the NYeC because we got unique exposure to the best hospitals in New York. Even more than that, everybody who was doing this program was very invested in trying to create a new ecosystem around where … Hospitals are just not used to working with startups. As a startup, time is your most valuable resource. Hospitals don’t move quickly. The thing that we got from the accelerator — more than the money and more than the PR — was literally a very accelerated access and  feedback to the C-suite and users.

The big challenge for anybody in healthcare IT today is, how do you think through the ROI story and how to measure the ROI for your product? There are a lot of companies right now in this healthcare IT space sprouting up. The death of many them will be not thinking about that piece, not having access to the right folks in the big health systems and the healthcare world in general to think through that piece.

That’s what we got out of this accelerator much more quickly than we would have from one customer or from going and talking to your friend’s dad who’s some executive at a hospital. We had invested folks giving us that kind of feedback through this program. I would recommend that program for anybody and I would do it again.

 

Where do you see the company going in the next few years?

There’s real value in secure texting or replacement pager stuff, but we’ve come up with what I think is the most effective, repeatable process for deploying secure messaging leveraging mining of the data for optimizing secure messaging in these larger enterprise customers. The next 12 months is really about what’s coming after messaging. Optimizing the care team mapping side of things, i.e. routing of messages to the right person at the right time, or routing information at the right time beyond messaging, task management.

These are the workflow tools. That’s what customers are telling us that they want. When you look at the most successful implementations of technology in healthcare IT and most successful companies, they’re very much focused on a couple of specific use cases or clinical use cases or workflows where they’re doing that better than anybody else. Our goal is, let’s find those use cases, let’s deploy messaging and these other tools around it, then let’s actually measure an ROI and let’s actually make it very clear for our customers how to achieve that ROI in future implementations. 

Building the product and the implementation and services side of the business to support that is the most critical thing right now, because from a sales side, there’s great demand for this right now. It’s almost a function of keeping up with that demand and making sure that our product is truly adding value to our customers.

HIStalk Interviews Rob Culbert, CEO, Culbert Healthcare Solutions

December 2, 2013 Interviews 2 Comments

Rob Culbert is president and CEO of Culbert Healthcare Solutions of Woburn, MA.

11-27-2013 11-16-27 AM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I started my career in healthcare IT back in 1986 working for what at the time it was called IDS, which later became IDX Systems and now is part of GE Healthcare. I spent about nine years working for them at a time where they were growing fast and furiously, selling large practice management and managed care solutions to the academic medical centers and large physician groups and medical centers around the country. Then for the last 20 years, I’ve been in the healthcare consulting world, with the last eight being on my own with Culbert Healthcare Solutions. 

My history there has covered the gamut of helping large hospitals, academic medical centers, and physician groups through a wide variety of business challenges ranging from IT to revenue cycle to strategic planning, the whole bit. I cover a wide spectrum of areas and our company does the same. 

We broke our business into two pieces. We have a very strong IT consulting component that helps Epic customers, GE customers, and Allscripts customers. On the management and strategic side, we help customers with developing medical groups, fixing a billing operation, creating an central billing office, and a wide variety of management and interim management type needs as our customers look to do different things.

 

You are privy to those conversations about what hospitals and IT departments are planning strategically. What are the themes?

In an older time, physicians and hospitals operated very separately. In my old IDX days, it was all about control or a fear of control. They went out of the way to keep systems and knowledge very separate. What’s really great is that it has come full circle. In the world of Meaningful Use, PQRI incentives, and focusing on quality outcomes and taking good care of the patient, you have to be able to work together and share. 

What we have been doing along that line is helping hospitals become better partners with physicians, providing better services, whether it’s IT-specific in terms of an EHR that has clinical integration with the inpatient data, so that a physician is able to look at a complete patient chart instead of having to go to an ambulatory system for their office notes and switch over to a different hospital system to get access to the inpatient data.

A good chunk of what we’ve been helping people with and we see over and over is, there are many, many different ways for hospitals and physicians to join forces, either officially or unofficially through IT management services and sharing of clinical data.

 

In those relationships that may vary from hospitals buying practices outright, some sort of affiliation agreement, or an ACO model, what technology challenges do you see most often?

It ranges quite a bit, but I think the common one is cost. Everyone is extremely price sensitive, and rightfully so. A hospital traditionally has a larger infrastructure. It’s got its own campus or set of campuses. They’ve got a large volume that they can make their IT dollars work really efficiently.

Now you ask that hospital to serve a three doc-practice that’s affiliated with your hospital that’s 20 miles away, They just don’t share the same cost structure that a hospital does. They can’t just hire IT analysts. On their own, they have to be able to share those kinds of resources. They have all kinds of issues with being isolated and having to deal with networking issues and the basic infrastructure before you can even get near the application. Then on top of that, they don’t have the ability to be close to the campus to get access to a lot of the training that might be traditionally available in a larger environment.

There’s a bunch of challenges around getting those affiliated practices up to speed and comfortable using the technology, no different than someone that’s in a hospital setting. The cost of serving a small group that is way out in an outlying area is very different than what a large group environment in a campus setting would look like. Those sensitivities around how you provide good service at a very, very cost-effective way is the biggest challenge for hospitals and those affiliate physicians working together.

 

Do you see a lot of practices replacing their systems, either because they affiliate with a hospital and move to theirs or they get disillusioned with the one they have?

I do. Some for the reasons you mentioned, but sometimes it has to do with who they’re aligning with from a health system perspective. We’re starting to see, for example, independent Allscripts customers where one buys the other. Do you keep the two separate systems or do you bring the two systems together? 

It’s the same thing in the Epic environment. Epic is typically in very large health systems. It’s not uncommon for us to see small- to medium-sized practices that are aligned with one health system on an Epic practice that for very good business reasons and strategic reasons, chooses to switch their affiliation to a different health system. The first question that comes up is, how do I get my Epic data from the one Epic system over to the second system? Getting the HR data as well as the registration and billing and practice management data.

They talk about that at some point it’s going to be a replacement market in the EHR world because everybody is getting close to being on at least their initially EHR. Switching alignments and having to switch your systems potentially to fit with those alignments is going to be a big challenge for organizations in the future.

 

What factors will have the greatest influence on the hospital CIO in the next one to three years?

They’re going to get more involved, if they haven’t already, in the physician side of the business. It’s a very different business from running a hospital. It takes different skill sets to run a very effective professional billing office compared to a hospital billing office. The same with setting up a clinical system — it’s a very different environment.

The old mentality of hospital IT is going to change. You need to be able to factor in a physician’s side to the business that’s a more nimble and more sensitive to the fact that the physician side changes more frequently than the hospital side of the world. You have less control, because you could have a physician group today that is a member of a different competitor and an affiliation is created. All of a sudden they’re now in your network and you have to service them as a good customer. 

That’s going to be a challenge for hospital CIOs — making sure they have that good balance of having physician expertise and hospital IT expertise on staff to be able to meet everyone’s needs.

 

What are their biggest challenges in getting that job done?

Resources. Money. Probably the biggest challenge is that still today, many of the healthcare organizations have a large mix of IT systems that they’re having to maintain. 

In many cases, they have the same system, say for example a GE or an Epic system, and they may have two instances of the same vendor. Potentially those instances could be on different versions. Being able to manage multiple systems and all the nuances of those systems for the various entities within the hospital CIO’s responsibility is going to be a big challenge.

Second is how a hospital CIO can make effective decisions on consolidating some of those systems so that you aren’t managing 20 systems when you ideally maybe should be managing four or five. What is the migration path that you have to go through when you’re consolidating so many systems to one? There are so many business issues that you have to be sensitive to that, unfortunately, it’s not a simple as, “We’re going to turn this system off tomorrow and turn the new system on.” You have to to be able to interact with the entire operation department to make sure that you’re not creating business problems while you’re making those system changes.

 

Will maintenance costs with these expensive systems change the way hospitals manage their vendor relationships?

In my IDX days — when IDX was growing by leaps and bounds and was grabbing a lot of market share, particularly in the academic marketplace — once we got to a size where we were considered the leader, similar stories that you see today about Epic and expensive and is it going to make sense came up with us that we had to deal with.

I don’t think that’s totally fair to say the vendor is the sole problem an organization could look at supporting their systems and say it’s expensive. There are many savings to be had any time you switch to a new system that a lot of organizations the first time around in implementation don’t get the opportunity to implement, because they’re so busy trying to get the initial system up and running, which is why you hear so often that organizations go back through with these optimization teams to make sure that they’re getting the benefit that the systems are providing.

We did an ROI study for one of our customers that helped them in the process of earning a Davies award where we were able to show that the Epic system where they had spent somewhere in the range of $150-plus million over a 10-year window, their total cost was going to be $13 million. We were able to demonstrate dollar savings of that minus $13 million over a 10-year period. Then if you look at all the patient safety and patient satisfaction opportunities that the Epic system had the ability to create, there’s a lot of intangibles that, one would argue, the $13 million was a very, very good investment for the organization.

 

What trends would you advise a CIO not to jump on in the next year or two?

The ACO and the population management area certainly has a lot of buzz. There are a lot of things going on that, in the very near future, will be very important to every hospital’s CIO’s agenda. But I don’t know if right now there’s enough bandwidth, with everything else that they have going on, that you can jump into those systems and be able to do an effective job. 

As the next year or two goes by, that those systems will mature. The vendors will be stronger. They’ll be able to provide more knowledge along with the product. 

That’s an area where, given everything else that they have on their plate, one could argue that they’ve got plenty to keep them busy without having anything for the next couple of years.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

It’s a very interesting time. Our customers are doing a lot of great things, but they’re struggling with too many big things at one time, whether it’s ICD-10 or Meaningful Use. We talked about where, if they’re trying to consolidate systems, the amount of work that they need to do to upgrade to a new version before they could get access to the ICD-10 technology is definitely creating a lot of angst in the marketplace.

The typical hospital CIO and the IT department have got more than their hands full. It’s a very crazy, hectic time. I view our job as to try to alleviate some of that stress, but I don’t know if there’s really any way to do it other than to plug ahead and do a great job with the projects that they’re working on. Eventually, we’ll be able to catch up to the point where they can have a little more control over the priorities that can really make a difference for the organization.

HIStalk Interviews David Chou, CIO, University of Mississippi Medical Center

November 25, 2013 Interviews 5 Comments

David Chou is CIO of University of Mississippi Medical Center of Jackson, MS.

11-25-2013 9-34-39 AM

Tell me about yourself and the medical center.

University of Mississippi Medical Center is an academic medical center. We’re here supporting our research sector, our hospital sector – healthcare, and the medical school. We’re the state’s only Level I Trauma Center and the state’s only children’s hospital. Given that, we are also a state entity, so we are here to provide outstanding care for the state of Mississippi.

I’ve been on the ground here for about almost two months now. I previously came from Cleveland Clinic. I was overseas in Abu Dhabi working on the joint venture project that they had with the government of Abu Dhabi. I was there for almost two years before leaving to come back to the states. I’m originally from southern California in Los Angeles, so I’m accustomed to being in a big city throughout my life until now where I’m in Jackson, Mississippi. Overall it’s going well.

 

What are your biggest projects and your biggest challenges?

The biggest one now is that we’re looking at optimization. We went live with Epic about 16-17 months ago with a big bang installation. All the hospitals and all the clinics, so campus-wide we rolled out Epic, which is a very great task that was undertaken. Now we’re looking at ways to optimize it.and utilize the system to our advantage. I’ll say that’s probably the number one thing for me right now.

 

What are your goals for the system and what do you hope to accomplish using Epic?

I would say just utilizing the system to its fullest capability. Right now, we’re utilizing probably about 40-45 percent of the system’s functionality. I want to get it to at least 85-90 percent. In addition to that, some of the main technology initiatives are moving toward the BYOB environment and we’re moving toward virtual desktops. We’re going mobile. I want to get us where we’re one of the very few healthcare players that’s able to support a mobile environment. I want to get away from the traditional client-server setup.

 

What do you need in terms of infrastructure to support a mobile workforce?

We currently have Citrix as a main partner in terms of supporting Epic. We’re almost there, we’re pretty far ahead. In terms of infrastructure, we just need to take a look at some of the hardware upgrades, then we should be ready. We rolled out Citrix for all of our clients. Everything’s running through our Citrix client. What that means is that we just have to get some of the other healthcare applications to work well with our Cisco container and we should be good to go. We’re very close, closer to what I originally imagined coming on board.

 

Are other clinicians other than physicians going mobile as well?

Primarily physicians, medical staff and nurses. We have a really big telehealth program here. We have over 85 hospitals on site that are utilizing our telehealth program. Our goal is to get it to over 100+ sites and capture not just the state of Mississippi, but we want to capture the southeastern region of the US and potentially go global. They’re going to be a big player in terms of utilizing the mobile platform.

 

What’s the vision for global telehealth?

We grew so fast here, in terms of this telehealth program. I think the vision is to be able to provide care for the state of Mississippi and the rural areas first. We want to scale it to where obviously just to be able to service the area of Mississippi, but I think we have the potential to expand it globally. We need to be able to showcase and show everyone what we’re doing here in Mississippi from a telehealth perspective.

It is fast-evolving technology that right now is still very premature, so we’re scrambling at this point. But hopefully we’ll get to stage to where we’re solid and we have a few solid partners that are working with us. Then I think we’ll be able to extend it globally, working with some of the other countries that are in need of telemedicine. You know, given the fact that I was in Abu Dhabi, I see a strong need for healthcare players in North America to boost healthcare globally throughout the world.

 

Are there specific services that you plan to use in your own institution?

I would say anything. I don’t think the organization has thought about expanding globally, but that’s the sort of the goal that I have in place of the organization, along with my director of telehealth.

 

Are you doing anything else that you would consider innovative or unusual?

Telehealth and getting solid on a more mobile strategy. Those are the two primary things I would say that’s very innovative right now. We’re still trying to get some of the basics in terms of the basic functionalities in place, but from a healthcare perspective, I would say those are the two biggest areas. From a medical college standpoint, there are a lot of things we want to do as far as mobile strategy as well, but that’s something that’s still a work in progress.

 

You were a hospital analyst 10 years ago and now you’re the CIO of a large health system. What advice would you give people who are interested in a similar career path?

It’s very important to understand the business side of healthcare. I was fortunate enough to where I was able to roam and understand the various departments. I’ve had various departments report up to me as well, such as supply chain. I have a lot of knowledge from a revenue cycle standpoint. 

I would say really get involved and understand operations, how things work. That’s going to carry a lot of weight in terms of fitting technology into the business side. After all, business drives technology, so it’s very important and very valuable for someone to actually understand how to operationalize the hospital and how to make it profitable.

 

In terms of educational background as well as experience, what do you think would be ideal for today’s CIO role?

A technology background would be ideal, just to understand how things work and have that foundation. But ideally, someone with a business background, specifically in the healthcare sector. If there’s a passion for that individual on the technology side, that’s a plus, primarily having to be a little more business savvy. Most of the CIOs today have been in technology for a long time and they understand technology, but when you ask them to transfer that knowledge from a technology terms to business terms, there has been a challenge.

 

How is your relationship with your CFO and how can CIOs improve that relationship?

What’s helped me is the fact that I work closely with my CFO as a partner. He trusts me to help him solve things that are going wrong on the revenue side because I have that knowledge from a business side as far as how to run a business office. That’s helped me tremendously in that relationship to where I’m viewed as a solid partner, not just a technology advisor. I’m there helping from a financial perspective as well. That’s what’s very critical, and that’s what’s lacking these days.

 

Is the industry is doing a good job of preparing the next generation of IT leadership?

No, I don’t think so. I was very fortunate that at my previous organization, AHMC Healthcare, I was very close to the chairman of the board. I had his trust and he allowed me  roam and take note of the various stakeholders from a business perspective. That was how I was able to understand how healthcare operates from an operational perspective. Without that experience, I don’t think I would be where I am now. I would say that in general we do not do a good job of educating technology leaders on the business side to groom them for the next level.

 

Your background illustrates that sometimes you have to take jobs that are either geographically unusual or maybe not even desirable jobs to be able to move up. It’s not likely that you’ll just stay in one place and 20 years later you’ll suddenly be promoted. Do people understand that you can’t just stay put and work your way up to the one and only CIO job?

You have a point. You do have to navigate and move around a lot, just to be able to get where you want to be from a career path. Obviously you’d like to stay in one place, but there’s only one role. The chance of someone younger getting that high-profile role is a little bit tougher unless you move around and get some exposure outside the one organization.

I think you brought up a really good point as far as being able to grab on to an opportunity and take the challenge. Once folks get comfortable, it’s hard to get them out of that comfort zone. That’s a big separation divider between someone being able to lead and take on the next role.

 

Do you think a lot about government decisions about healthcare IT?

I do. I try to stay involved, but that piece is a little bit tougher. But given that we’re a state entity now, I am a little bit more involved than I have been in the past. I did come up from a for-profit institution as well. Now that we’re a state entity, I am heavily involved with the regulatory that goes around in healthcare IT.

 

Are there lessons you learned on the for-profit side that you can bring to your current employer?

Oh, yes. That was a big separation divider, given that I have a good background in terms of maximizing return on investment and being able to be profitable for an organization. That’s helped coming to this sector, where traditionally from a non-profit, academic standpoint, that has not been the key driver. As healthcare is consolidating, everyone is looking at ways to maximize their return on investment.

 

You weren’t there when the Epic decision was made, but what return on investment assumptions were built in? What are you measuring and expecting?

Going Epic is the right path. Every healthcare system in the US is trying to get to that consolidated platform. I think they made the right choice. The main drive, the key metric to measure, is how do we look from a revenue standpoint after go-live versus before go-live? I think we’re at the point where we’re above where we were before in terms from a revenue standpoint, but we’re still pretty far from where we can be. We’re looking at a lot of ways to optimize and be that far ahead in terms of from a revenue standpoint.

 

Do you think Epic will provide a positive return on investment?

We will. We’re utilizing Epic for almost every module. I think we will see a positive return.

 

People are always asking me what kind of healthcare IT company they should start. What would you say to somebody who’s contemplating that and wonders where the opportunities might be?

The best opportunity is to be a partner and a problem solver. Obviously if they’re not able to solve complex problems, then that niche is not there. Understand the various problems that facilities and healthcare facilities are facing these days and try to find a niche as far as where they can fit in. It’s very easy for someone to be a generalist, but I think focus on a specific area, a few specific niches. That’s where they would stand out.

A perfect example that came to my mind is I worked with a consultant that knew how to help a healthcare facility qualify for and maximize their DSH, Disproportionate Share Hospital, reimbursement. That’s a niche market. There aren’t too many people that can go into successfully and help a non-DSH hospital become qualified for DSH. These are special sort of niches that are valuable. Otherwise, it’s very hard for a small firm that is more of a generalist to be successful in the long run.

HIStalk Interviews Todd Plesko, CEO, Extension Healthcare

November 21, 2013 Interviews No Comments

Todd Plesko is CEO of Extension Healthcare of Fort Wayne, IN.

11-21-2013 9-20-08 AM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

My career began in the ambulatory space in the mid-90s. It was a very interesting time where CMS, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. had mandated that ambulatory care move from paper-based billing and scheduling, primarily billing, to electronic billing. That created a huge boom right around 1996 in the first wave of HIPAA for every ambulatory practice in the country to switch to an electronic practice management system. Then as we know, EMRs came 10 years later, with Meaningful Use and the Recovery Act.

Extension Healthcare is my third startup. We’re well past the startup stage now. We focus on acute care. At Extension Healthcare, we believe fully that the enemy is alarm fatigue.We believe that that enemy will be beat over the next 770-plus days as the Joint Commission focuses on solving that problem via their National Patient Safety Goal on alarm safety.

Today we’re just under 200 hospital clients. Right around 90 staff and four registered nurses. We’re poised to grow very, very quickly as the problem of alarm safety and alarm fatigue in particular becomes more and more relevant, becomes more and more of a discussion point, and of course with the Joint Commission focusing on eradicating this problem, or helping to solve it, with a National Patient Safety Goal on alarm safety.

 

The ECRI Institute also recently named alarm safety as its number one technology hazard. With all that attention, what’s been the response from the monitor manufacturers, the companies like yours, and the hospitals themselves?

There are only a handful companies that can solve the problem of alarm fatigue. In fact, that’s a very small amount. What’s important for your readers to understand is there’s a very distinct difference between an alarm and an alert. There are many companies out there focused on alerting, which is low priority — something that may not be clinical in nature and doesn’t require a response to that event. Alarming is very, very different. 

As it relates to the monitor manufacturers, some of the EHRs and other companies that are just on the outside or adjacent to the middleware space – which is a word traditionally used to describe what we do — we see some of them entering the market. But most of them are leveraging tried and true companies, like Extension Healthcare, to deliver those alarms and alerts and allow a knowledge worker — a nurse or a physician or someone else in the hospital clinical — to respond to those alerts. Event response is a very, very important topic for us. It’s something that’s not talked about a lot. But in our view, it’s at least as important as delivering an alert with context to the caregiver.

Most of the companies understand that middleware, alarm safety, alarm management, and event response is a business all its own. It’s taken us years and many, many millions of research and development dollars to get to the place where we support every major device on the market, every EMR on the market. Every input that you can imagine, we support. Every output you can imagine, we support as well, which is equally important.

As the world moves towards smartphones, specifically iOS and Android, what people often overlook is that the majority of devices in place at a hospital today continue to be voice over IP devices. We believe that the only way to effectively begin to solve the alarm fatigue problem is to recognize that most communication begins with an event, an alarm or an alert; recognize the fundamental difference between an alarm and an alert; be able to support hybrid environments from pagers to voice over IP phones to smartphones; and be able to work inside the four walls of the hospitals and outside as more and more workers begin to work outside of the hospital.

Those several statements alone are enough to deter a lot of would-be companies from entering the space because it’s just a daunting challenge, not to mention the regulatory environment. We are a Class II regulated medical device focusing on alarm safety in the alarm safety category. That’s a daunting challenge for any company and something that obviously we take very, very seriously.

 

Just to put the market in perspective, who are your top two competitors?

I don’t consider any company in the space to be competitors with what we do because we go about it a different way. In the traditional middleware space, Emergin and Connexall are probably our top two competitors. Two companies that I have a lot of respect for.

Emergin created the industry. They changed dramatically when Philips bought them. We have many, many — upwards of 20 — ex-Emergin staff with us now, something that I’m proud of. They bring with them tremendous knowledge.

The way we handle data is very, very different from anyone else on the market. We believe that context is king. Context means everything when it comes to solving the problem of alarm fatigue, truly solving it. 

The two companies I mentioned, I would consider first generation middleware companies. We consider ourselves the next generation of alarm safety and event response companies because of the way we handle data, because of inside the four walls, outside the four walls, and most importantly, because of the way we enable event response. That’s very, very important.

I had mentioned earlier that the most important thing, we believe, to solving the problem of alarm fatigue is delivering context with an alert.  We’re running a clinical study now where we’ll soon share with the community exactly what that number is — what percentage of clinical communication begins with some event, an alarm or an alert. We believe it’s very, very high. Soon we’ll have those data.

If you believe that, and you believe that context is king as we do, that means that the only way to truly solve the problem of alarm fatigue is to deliver the five Ws — the who, what, why, where, when — in the form of an alarm or an alert to the appropriate caregiver at the right time on the right device, whether that’s a smartphone or a voice over IP phone, and whether it’s inside the four walls or outside the four walls. Then the event response piece occurs. That event response today is predominantly secure text messaging. 

Those are the full components required to solve the problem of alarm fatigue. If you don’t have context, you are sending an unintelligent alert. If you are not sending the who, what, why, where, when, the user has to ask those questions. That’s just yet another interruption that contributes to the problem of alarm fatigue. That’s why we believe that those first generation companies or competitors are missing the boat on actually solving the problem. Evidence exists over the last five years that hospitals that have installed first generation alarm safety middleware have indeed contributed to the problem and not solved it. 

We’re taking a very, very different approach, which includes delivering context inside the four walls and outside and allowing event response via the form of voice or secure text messaging – point-to-point, point-to-group, etc., to truly finally solve that problem. It’s killing people, it’s costing a lot of money, and it’s a big dissatisfier for nurses and for physicians. 

We believe over the next 778 days, the time between now and the Joint Commission mandate, that the problem can mostly be solved by intelligent, contextual systems that allow for event response.

 

A lot of the work with alarm management seems mostly to be routing and prioritizing an excessive number of alarms or notifications that weren’t significant to begin with. Can monitors be made smarter so that they do more than just display information and make noise all the time?

That’s what our system does and that’s what other systems do. It’s not just our system that can solve that problem. To take data in, parse out what’s relevant and what’s not relevant, determine what’s actionable and what’s not actionable. That’s really a small sliver of the problem.

Imagine stripping out some of the data that the alarm is sending, the physiological monitor in this case. Stripping out what’s relevant and what’s not relevant, packaging what’s relevant with the other who, what, why, where, when. Typically that’s not coming from the monitor. That’s going to come from the EHR and from other systems like nurse call systems. Often the “who” comes from there.

That’s going to, in delivering an intelligent alert, someone who can be actionable with it. What happens today is a lot of those alerts go to someone who’s on break. The system is not intelligent enough to understand presence and whether someone is actually available, or whether that person can actually solve the problem or act on it. We don’t see the monitors doing that any time soon. That’s why we work closely with those companies and we’re proud to do it. That’s precisely the problem we solve. 

Most importantly, it’s just a fraction of the problem is getting that monitor alert to the right person at the right time. That’s a sliver of the problem. The bigger problem is context and how the user will interact with those data, something that we call event response.

 

Has anybody done statistics on how many of the alerts that go through your system or other systems are found clinically useful by the clinician?

There is a cacophony of bells and whistles going off in a hospital. Walk through one someday and it doesn’t take long to get a headache. You can imagine what those nurses do day in and day out, God bless them.

To my knowledge, the clinical studies, as it relates to alarm safety, are lacking. I’m really glad that you asked this question. One of the things that we’re doing with a new program that we call Extension Evaluate, a free service designed to collect those data for a hospital. Think black box recorder. We put Extension Evaluate in. Because of the way we handle data, it works out of the box. 

As opposed to sending alarms, triggering alarms, and communicating with endpoints, Extension Evaluate sits and listens. It listens for 30 days. And at the end of the 30-day period, our consulting group sits down with the hospital and shows them a very deep and illustrated picture of what’s happening with their alarming and alerting environment. Those data are incredibly valuable, especially spread over time. Nobody to my knowledge ever in the space has collected those data longitudinally over time and reported on them. From an academic, clinical study standpoint, that’s exactly what we intend to do with Extension Evaluate. 

We’re solving two problems. One is allowing hospitals for free, no risk, to get a very good and deep picture of their alarming environment. Then of course a gap analysis between where they are today and what they need to do to be compliant with the new Joint Commission mandate. But also building a compendium; building a library of data that can be used and regressed to answer the question you just asked. To answer how many alarms are actionable. How many alarms beget a clinical communication. We believe that number’s incredibly high.

That’s another clinical study that’s currently underway. If you have to communicate with someone as a nurse or a physician, how often does that begin with an event, an alarm, or an alert? We believe the number is very, very high, well into 80-90 percent. Soon we’ll have that exact number. That’s something that we’re very excited about — contributing to the academic community on true statistics taken from real-life hospitals longitudinally over time.

 

Nurses are on the hook to not only set up and adjust the monitors, but respond to the messages they issue. Are problems caused by nurses not having the time or knowledge to perform as monitor maintenance techs?

While some of that may be true, we would never, ever blame the nurse. Our view at Extension Healthcare is truly the nurse and the physician are the most important knowledge workers in the country. Nurses in particular have an incredibly challenging job, maybe the most challenging of any job in America. I believe it’s incumbent upon companies like us and the monitoring companies, perhaps biomed and IT, to design clinical workflows that truly contribute to solving the problem.

That is where a lot of the first generation alarm safety middleware companies have not spent enough time – pausing to evaluate what is truly causing the problem and what’s contributing to it. It’s very easy to send out, for instance, a Code Blue alert to a code blue team when someone is in asystole. It’s easy to send that via a phone or a pager or overhead. What’s not easy is to do it in a silent way and allow the first responder to respond in a silent way,and inform everyone else on that team who’s in different areas of the hospital, perhaps even outside the hospital, of exactly what’s going on — the who, what, why, where, when. That is what we call event response and probably the most important thing. 

For me, for us at Extension Healthcare, it’s about educating and informing the nursing community about which workflows make sense and which ones don’t. Because a lot of the time, tried and true methods that are in place today are actually contributing to the problem and not solving the problem of alarm fatigue.

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

The future is very important. Our space is dynamic. It continues to evolve. Data handling will become more and more contextual. Alarm management systems will continue to become much more advanced in terms of rules engines and complex rules processing. Clinical algorithms will become part of the system. All of this will advance patient safety and complexity even further. 

It’s very, very important to take into account not only where we’re at today in lessons learned from the past, but also where the industry’s going. Not only in terms of which device a nurse will use, but which data to deliver to a nurse or a physician, the context, and how they’ll interact with that. Not only now, but in the future, to drive down this evil, evil problem of alarm fatigue.

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