I certainly share their belief. I think the only thing that’s going to push adoption is money. Whether or not their approach is the best way to do that, I haven’t given a lot of thought to. But I don’t think anything’s going to move these docs but money.
Will subsidizing the purchase of EMRs themselves incent usage or will there need to be more steps that follow?
This is the easiest question?
[laughs] The second part got harder.
Well, yes. Certainly, incenting them to adopt it is a necessary first step. Then at the other end of it, there’s this little, minuscule penalty they’ll take if they don’t adopt it. That’s certainly more significant as time goes on, the penalty.
But I think the other thing that’s going to be key is really getting some significant measures of outcomes in performance, and how is this really changing the outcomes and cost, because if it’s not doing all that, why bother?
Is your strategy any different at the health system based on what the government does or doesn’t do, or are you pretty much down the path that you plan to stay with?
We’re pretty much down the path. We had really made a huge commitment. We’re a relatively small health system, about $1.3 billion. We had already made the commitment that we were going all in with the Epic system, and so committed about, let’s say, $120 million to it over the past four years. We were going there anyway.
When you look back at that investment, would you say it has paid off as you expected four years ago?
I certainly wouldn’t say that it paid off yet, because in fact, we still have pieces that we’re implementing. But yeah, are we starting to achieve the things that we had outlines we were going to achieve? Absolutely.
What kinds of things were you looking for as measurable benefits?
Certainly we were looking for providers in general to have the information that they need as they’re actually caring for patients wherever they are. We’ve certainly achieved that, in that we have it available everywhere.
Also, in terms of improving our quality metrics, I’ll give you just one small example. Pain reassessment is always an area of interest as both a customer satisfier as well as a JCAHO requirement. Our pain reassessment measures were not that good. We made some changes to Epic in terms of what kind of notices the nurses get about pain reassessments being due. It has moved the pain reassessment measures from the low 60s to the mid-90 percent. The nurses are doing the pain reassessment in the timeframes that are required just by changing how the system was supporting them.
So certainly on the quality metrics, we’re starting to get some traction. Also, in the financial arena, we’re getting some traction. It’s a pretty broad swath there. Certainly it has improved the revenue cycle in terms of how long it takes us to get the bill out the door. It’s improved the level of billing we do, more accurate with better documentation.
Also, still in the financial arena, it’s also helping us standardize processes across the organization. One area that’s a biggie for us is the operating room. Before Epic, we had so much variation that it was incredible. The surgeons have taken it upon themselves with Epic to really start the standardization process of what supplies they use, what supplies come into the room, what ones shouldn’t be there at all. So all kinds of good fiscal outcomes.
But a lot of that must have been other than just technology. You must have had a lot of change initiatives to go along with it. How did you package up your implementation and your change management to make this all work?
It terms of actually sitting down and changing wholesale processes in our operations, we actually started out doing that. We quickly abandoned that approach because what we found out is, sure, we can sit down and talk workflow with our folks in operations. They would describe to us what they thought happened and how they thought things worked. But in fact, we found out that it was pretty consistently not happening that way.
We ended up adopting the approach of, let’s use a good model system, get it in, and make the improvements after that. So in fact, many of the process changes are coming afterwards.
It seems that anybody your size and bigger, along with some smaller, are buying Epic. What’s their secret sauce?
A couple of things. One is that they are an integrated system. I don’t even know how many modules they have any more, but they have one system that supports care in the clinics, care in the hospital, in the operating rooms, all of the billing and revenue cycle, pharmacy, lab, home care, you name it. They have modules to support all of the different functions.
Instead of us going on in a best-of-breed world, where we add two dozen different systems, each individual system, we now just have Epic. It is much more effective from both a user experience and an IT experience to have the same data, the same application be available wherever you are. If you think about healthcare as just a continuum of care, it just happens in different places, either the clinic or the hospital or the ED, it really supports that kind of a model if the organization itself thinks it’s a system. So that’s one reason.
The other big reason is that the Epic implementations are successful. They’ve done this enough. I think they provide very good support for organizations to actually have a successful implementation. I’m not sure I can say of all their competitors that their implementations go relatively smoothly.
How does that work when basically they are young people trained usually from scratch with no industry experience? What are other vendors doing wrong that they can’t do what Epic does?
Certainly the young people without the industry experience has some downside to it. Frequently they’re great technicians without the industry expertise. And if something goes wrong, that could cause some problems. But in terms of the process for actually going about with kind of a project, they have been doing it long enough in documenting what the process is.
Just insisting that their customers go through this process, sure, we all have some variation in how we do it. But Epic is pretty clear in the way they want you to do things. And so we all do things in a somewhat similar manner in implementing Epic.
They are there the whole time. No matter what, you’re going to have an Epic team with you through the implementation.
Meditech and Epic seem to have a similar approach that, right or wrong, they genuinely believe they know better than the customer and protect them from doing things that don’t make sense. Do you think other vendors are too catering to their customers instead of saying, we know the product, just do it our way and it will work?
I think so. Yeah. And the other ones are run by a bunch of marketing people. Meditech and Epic are the only ones that are run by software people. The other ones have a huge marketing influence, sales and marketing.
You have to deal with the idiosyncrasies of Epic, but at the end of the day, if it works, it’s OK.
You’ve said that federal stimulus money must be carefully managed or it will go down a rat hole. Did you have something specific in mind or was that just a general comment?
[laughs] Yes, actually, I did have something very specific in mind. What I had in mind is that there is so much variety in the systems that people have now, and these are just the organizations who could afford to be moderately early adopters.
I mean, if you think about the hundreds of systems that are already in the marketplace, and then you think about multiplying that by some factor as every Tom, Dick, and Harry sees an opportunity in the marketplace and comes up with the $99 EMR, I think it’s scary.
And then you have these little offices who really don’t know that much about technology or how to really use it in their practice, or what can go wrong with that technology in your practice — you know, 99 bucks and I’m going to be able to get $44,000 from the government, how could I go wrong?
So while we already have the data exchange issue in healthcare, some of it because not many of us have much electronic data in front of it because there’s so much variety, but if you multiply that by whatever factor is appropriate with people going out and doing every Tom, Dick, and Harry system, it just seems that there’s a lot of opportunity for that to turn bad.
I think what the government is trying to achieve wouldn’t be achieved if we just end up with, instead of three million islands of information, now we have 23 million islands of information.
Do you think that the certification process as well as the “meaningful use” criteria are going to make that less likely to occur?
No. Say we double the number of EMRs in the marketplace so that people have on their plate trying to exchange data. They’ll not all pass certification, but it’s still going to be a data exchange challenge.
I read your local newspaper’s article that said, hey, what an irony, we’ve got three of the best hospitals in Washington that are basically almost in the same neighborhood, and they can’t exchange information. How do we address this issue of everybody’s being their own silo?
At the end, at making it Epic-specific — with our Epic system, we are actually in the middle of a project to bring our largest affiliated group, about 150 docs, on to our Epic system. So they will be using Epic in their clinics, their own service area. All they have to do is share clinical data with Swedish, and they’re using our Epic system.
Instead of just having a system that supports follow-up functions within Swedish, we now have a system that supports all of the patients in our largest affiliated group, too, that we cross over thousands of patients every year. Our intent is to do that with a lot more of our affiliated groups where they can create their own little space within Epic. They can have their own service area.
It’ll be like they have their own system, except that it will be our Epic system and we will all share clinical data. We won’t share financial data, but we’ll share clinical data.
Another piece, once again at the risk of being Epic-specific, Epic actually has a capability where there are a number of us now around Puget Sound that have Epic. We have it, MultiCare has it — that’s another billion-plus organization — Everett Clinic up north. Epic actually has a feature where in fairly short order, we can have the Epic systems exchange data with each other.
Was that something that led you to choose Epic initially?
At the time, no. It was more the integrated feature that let us choose Epic initially.
How about MyChart? Is that an important part of your strategy to get closer to patients?
Absolutely. It has the ability for them to get at their information without us being the guards at the gate. Sure.
If you look at where you are and where you need to be, what do you say are your most important priorities and your biggest challenges right now?
We still have a few big pieces that we haven’t implemented yet. Two of them happen to be billing. So we need to do those other two big pieces for the professional billing and hospital billing. We’ve actually started that.
The tail end of the spectrum that we haven’t done yet is home care. So we still need to do that. Also included in that is getting it out to our affiliates. So that’s one bundle of work, which is implementing it in more places, more functions.
The other priority is a combination of improving the systems that’s been installed and actually continuing to work out how we’re going to get value out of it. So using the system to be a facilitator for our standardization efforts or workflow improvement efforts. Those are big items for us.
Improving the system itself, making the system simpler, I should say, and using it to improve our work processes.