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A Report from the Cerner Health Conference

October 8, 2007 Interviews 2 Comments

KC convention center

The Cerner Health Conference kicked off Sunday at the Kansas City Convention Center. Don Trigg, Cerner’s chief marketing officer, offered to connect me with some attendees for a report. (I should note that, despite my occasional criticisms of Cerner, Don has always been a straight shooter, has invited me to Cerner events, and offered to connect me with sources there, all in a casual, non-official way, which I appreciate).

My guests for this live update were Helen Thompson, CIO of Heartland Health of St. Joseph, MO; Reid Conant, MD, CMIO of Tri-City Emergency Medical Group of Oceanside, CA; and Stephanie Mills, MD, CMIO and CIO of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System of Baton Rouge, LA. I’m sure they were ready to relax after a long day of conference education, so I appreciate their voluntarily taking time to speak with me.

What’s your impression of the conference so far?

Reid: It’s been very productive sessions so far. I gave two talks today and will be on a panel on Wednesday. I sat in on a few sessions and shared ideas with my colleagues. The setup of the CHC is kind of neat – it’s primarily client-driven educational sessions. The overwhelming majority of sessions are either entirely client-presented or have a panel with Cerner people and other clients. It’s sharing of ideas. It was in Orlando for a few years, now it’s back in Kansas City. It’s a very productive way of sharing ideas among clients. We’re using many of the same applications. You can always learn something from someone else who’s using what you are in a different way.

Helen: The networking that we get from this event, as well as the strategic look at what’s next on the agenda, makes this an extremely valuable conference.

Stephanie: It’s been very interesting to watch healthcare IT over the past several years. I’ve seen us as clinicians become more engaged, more involved, and more committed to developing solutions for quality and patient safety challenges. It’s a group of colleagues with the same experiences, tools and challenges. It’s important to get together in a safe environment and collaborate. It’s amazing what comes out. It breaks down a lot of the barriers.

How would you compare the value you get from attending Cerner’s conference to other conferences like HIMSS?

Helen: We’re just 45 minutes north of Kansas City, so the location factors in. We have an opportunity to do much more focused sharing and learning from one another. HIMSS has such a broad range that it makes it difficult to do this level of collaboration.

Stephanie: It’s practical, with stories from other organizations. Very practically oriented. HIMSS tends to be more theoretical, which is also good. You need both sides of the coin. In the trenches, to know what is or isn’t working.

Reid: Being in Kansas City, there’s been an even larger presence of Cerner associates. That’s done a few things. It’s gotten them more involved and given them a view of what clinical medicine is. I heard from a few of them that that is encouraging to them as they’re working on code. For us, it allows us to give them direct feedback. That’s very important and they seem to listen. I’ve been on an ED solution advisory group for years and they take direct feedback on specific issues. Today in one of my talks, I spoke about using scribes with PowerNote. Cerner has electronic, template-based charting. To augment productivity, we use undergraduate students to assist the physician in creating that document. That electronic record gives them the tool. After this talk, an engineer came up and said, “We liked what you did with that column. It fits with our code.” They want to put it in the product. These guys will listen and the next service pack will often have those kinds of suggestions in them. That reception of ideas is valuable.

Stephanie: Team members were here and some of the Cerner documentation team were dealing with some challenges that’s been difficult to diagnose, working over phone and conference calls and sending log files back and forth. We got in the room, got on the system, and had both teams together. To be able to share those experiences is really valuable, to have direct access to a vendor and share that knowledge and experience and frustration – it really gets folks bought in to finding the solution. We build relations with people, not just a voice over the phone.

Reid: It makes them accountable on a personal level.

Helen: It makes us accountable, too, because we share feedback with them. The success of our organization is tied to the success of this application. It’s very much a two-way learning street. They learn so much from us while we’re down here presenting and we learn from them as the dialog is opened.

Have there been any big announcements or revelations so far?

Reid: This morning, Neal Patterson said something that I felt was impressive. Cerner has taken a stand as an organization and said, “We are going to focus on the current code level.” In this day and age of rushing to get the next release out, they said they’ll focus on 2007 code and put all of the innovation into that code level. They’re going to, for the rest of this decade, ride that code level and make it the best they can, as solid as they can, before moving to a major change to the architecture of the code, incorporating Java and so forth. Thankfully, they recognized that ahead of time. I appreciate that.

Stephanie: We’ve had keynote addresses, discussion about health policy, the future of healthcare, how technology can come to the table in a number of ways. Then, lots of sessions in different areas that focus on a combination of presentations from clients in the trenches and living this, and also some sessions from the Cerner team about what’s going on today in problem solving and development.

Helen: The conference is broken down into a series of tracks to select from. Some are application-specific, some are role-specific. There’s quite a broad range.

You mentioned code levels. Millennium’s Achilles heel for years seemed to be response time, with a rumor that the entire application would have to be scrapped and sent off to India for a rewrite. Was that mentioned and are you seeing performance issues?

Reid: When went live 3 1/2 years ago, we felt some of that. We’ve been remote-hosted since go-live. Some places that tried to do it on their own felt that impact. They had more delays then than now. ED is one of the fastest paced environments. Anything short of sub-second response time won’t cut it and I won’t hesitate to call them for a four-second delay. That’s just not an issue any more. We’re using CPOE with meds and every order I enter is through the system. I can enter 20 to 30 orders on a complex patient in 15 seconds, using order sets and other tools. There are lots of clicks. If response time is not immediate, I feel it and they hear about it. What Cerner highlighted today is the Lights On Network, a Web-based application that allows you to drill down to an institutional and user level on response times. They track some huge number of the most common and most important actions. They track each and every one, so you can literally drill down to Dr. Mitchell if he’s complaining and say, “We saw at 2:55 pm you had one delayed action, but other than that, it’s been sub-second.” You can also pull out by department, not just response times, but how they’re using it, like ignoring alerts.

Helen: We’re a client-hosted solution and Lights On Network user for over a year. We’re very pleased with system performance improvements that Cerner continues to develop from data they get from Lights On.

Stephanie: I agree. We’ve been quick to look for a quick fix for our healthcare woes and sometimes fall prey to technology seduction. We want the magic Band-Aid. At the same time, we’re quick to blame when the magic fix doesn’t solve the problem. You can’t do that in a vacuum. When you look at performance, we have a lot of challenges that can be pointed at a particular vendor or application. We’re maturing as an industry in applying best practices like ITIL. For leaders in healthcare IT, it’s important to have a comprehensive perspective and make sure our organization is optimized to provide quality of care and to apply technology. It’s about people and processes and workflow and not just automating a process.

Helen: We need to think back. When we had a paper record and a very ill patient and the chart got larger, it took longer to filter through that information. The more data we collect, it will be a more constant process to keep sub-second response.

Reid: One real strength of Millennium is integration, like accessing old records. If the patient rolls into the ED by ambulance, with a couple of identifiers I can pull up the record from visits three days or three years ago. The ED course is immediately accessible to the nurse in the ICU. For hospitalists, it’s worth it to get out of bed and get online. They can look at orders and tests.

Stephanie: It really does change the way we pratice completely.

Are you glad the conference moved to Kansas City?

Stephanie: It’s helpful for the reasons we mentioned, access to team members and architects and engineers and folks here behind the scenes that we don’t get to build a face-to-face relationship with. Orlando is a very big conference town and its nice to bring it to Kansas City.

Reid: It’s a busy week, too busy to bring the family to Disney World, so we get much more out of having it here.

Are you planning to check out any particular Cerner products?

Stephanie: We’re an integrated Cerner site using a lot of the solutions. We’re going through a reorganization of Information Services. The next step is to optimize what we have, dialing things back, looking at current state, looking at workflow. The next piece that we already own but haven’t implemented is Power Insight, which has clinical and operational dashboarding.

Helen: We’re optimizing the solutions, also looking at the Care Aware product, leveraging the application to move to a digital environment.

Reid: Care Aware is on the horizon. It was demonstrated this morning at the kickoff. In the ICU setting, where they’ve had antiquated paper flowsheets with graphs four by six feet double sided [laughs] someone goes in there with a pencil and traces the latest vitals on that graph. How antiquated is that? But it was one of the most useful tools. If I go to a code, that’s one the first things I look at. Care Aware is a centralized reporting tool and repository for acute care patients. Many of us were salivating at the demonstration. It uses a larger screen, maybe a 20-inch monitor, with an image of the latest chest X-ray, vitals, etc. It’s highly customizable at the user level. It asists you in decision-making, changes in plan. It appears that it will be an invaluable tool.

Stephanie: It will be great. It’s been fun to see this in development. In Louisiana, we have problems with access to care. We can leverage what we have outside of our walls to create a virtual critical care environment that’s more automated. We’ve been saying, “You have to be able to tell the story and have that snapshot in a comprehensive view.” Our Lady of the Lake has created our version using Cerner tools, but it’s pieces and parts and not quite as seamless. To be able to see that pulled together and configurable is certainly where the future is.

Reid: It takes something like the tracking board in the ED, the FirstNet application. The tracking board is highly customizable, data-rich, and drives processs improvement. It’s a very powerful tool. At a glance, you can see exactly what’s happening with each patient, what’s pending and what’s back. It’s a matter of getting as much data in an organized fashion right there in front of the provider.

What would you say has changed most dramatically about Cerner in the last couple of years?

Stephanie: I’ve seen consistent dedication to partnership, to collaboration from Neal Patterson down, a true interest in what’s going on and how Cerner can impact that. I think it’s authentic, it’s genuine. When the Cerner brass comes to visit your hospital, they’re out there and want to know what’s going on. They’re continuing to march the ball forward in that arena. We need all the help we can get in healthcare, to have companies that are truly committed. We’re all in this together. To feel that we’re able to collaborate with our colleagues and vendor partners in a meaningful fashion and with the patient as our primary responsibility – what more can you ask for? We’re continuing to see clinician involvement on the Cerner side. That’s promising. They’re taking a smart approach to technology, applying it where it makes sense, and not just trying to get the latest whiz-bang out.

Reid: An example of that is the organizational decision to take a step back and not advance to the next code immediately. That’s organizational maturity. There’s always the risk of misperception of what that means. I don’t think it’s a negative indicator. It just shows that, when they roll out the next code, that they want it to be a dramatic step up. Where we already are is phenomenal. Look at the curves on the Lights On Network and graph performance over the last year or two. You can see a very steady and fairly steep drop in response times, now to the point where it’s not an issue.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Regarding the Cerner FirstNet ED documentation product, the need to hire and hopefully train a “scribe” in our digital era is incredible.

  2. They’re still carpet bagging the UK for all it’s worth. I have to hand it to them, this business model of spinning and schmoozing the big brass into thinking everything’s fine and cutting edge is very very successful. It’s a bit like the sub-prime mortgage market in that no senior managers would believe what was happening until it went belly up. They can only perpetuate this status quo if they prevent real users (the nurses, docs and clerks) from attending the conference. If that happens, the truth about how poor and clinically unsafe some of the software is will come out, and then the illusion’s over. They care about profits not patient safety or stopping duplication of information, look at the UK experience on the internet as proof.

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