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Readers Write: A Healthcare Tale of Two Continents

February 13, 2015 Readers Write No Comments

A Healthcare Tale of Two Continents
By Ted Reynolds


An interesting byproduct of growing up American is that we tend to view everything from one perspective – our own. That’s not surprising given our standing in the world and the influence our culture seemingly has.

Over the last year, I had the unique opportunity to work on a significant electronic medical record (EMR) implementation in Europe that forced me to look beyond my singular, American view. What a revelation! During my time working on this engagement, I learned to view healthcare differently and gained knowledge that has proven invaluable to my ongoing work stateside.

While there are some similarities, there are also striking differences in how the US and Europeans approach and deliver healthcare. I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast these approaches so you can benefit as well from my journey across the pond.

Let’s start with the similarities. My main observation is that change is certain and swift in both the US and Europe. The status quo on both sides is giving way to new ways of thinking, partly driven by technology.

We have greater access to larger amounts of data today, and as a result, the unprecedented opportunity to improve care and outcomes while reducing costs. With healthcare costs continuing to climb in the US and economic recovery slow worldwide, we simply cannot afford to continue with the old models of care delivery.

My experience working in Europe gave me a unique “outside looking in” perspective on American healthcare.

For instance, the big US EMR wave has passed. According to the December 2014 HIMSS Level 7 survey, nearly two-thirds of hospitals now have computerized provider order entry (CPOE) and an EMR implemented. In this area, the US is well ahead of our European counterparts, so we have more patient data than ever before.

However, many organizations have yet to recognize the promised results out of these systems despite significant investment. The focus for US healthcare today has turned towards reducing costs, improving quality through performance improvement and optimization efforts, and making better use of the available data through analytics.

Another US trend is increased merger, acquisition, and affiliation activity among providers. I believe this will most probably affect the one-third of organizations that have not yet implemented new EMR technology. They will likely seek to join with (or at least establish an extended EMR relationship with) stable organizations in order to remain competitive and control costs. IT issues surrounding these new arrangements are enormous. Among the top concerns we’ve seen in these arrangements are the initial loss of control and resulting service levels from the hosting organization.

Finally, call it what you will — accountable care, population health, value-based care, pay-for-performance, etc. — rising healthcare premiums and deductibles will continue to drive the migration from fee-for-volume to fee-for-value. This change will have substantial IT implications – some known, others yet to be seen. Some of the most visible are:

  • Health information exchanges (HIEs) or other forms of data interchange between disparate systems will no longer be a “nice to have.” The downside of our EMR implementation wave is that we now realize the problems associated with absence of real data interchange. This issue must be addressed if we are to recognize the full potential of electronic data.
  • Data analytics become essential. The healthcare industry must unravel the data to information to knowledge to real action transformation in order to demonstrate value. Data analytics will help hospitals and health systems better understand and apply best practices to enable care standardization among providers – a key step necessary to thrive in a landscape heavy on bundled payments and other shared risk plans.
  • Revenue cycle technology replacement and optimization will become an increasing priority as many were originally implemented in reaction to Y2K. These outdated systems cannot adapt to the variations and requirements that new risk-based contracts bring and must be upgraded to new, more flexible systems.

Conversely, the EMR wave in Europe has just begun.

Several large American integrated vendors are starting to work their way across the pond and into new markets. It will be interesting to see if they take some of the lessons learned in the US market (especially around interoperability) and apply them there.

Some of these transitions may be eased in a socialized medicine environment, which has one reimbursement model for an entire country – as opposed to the large variety of complex reimbursement models in the US. A single reimbursement model has the opportunity to significantly streamline billing.

Although the revenue cycle and financial applications in Europe vary greatly from those here in the US, the clinical workflows are very similar. On one of the large EMR implementations I worked on in Europe, the hospital used 90 percent of the American vendor’s clinical model workflows as-is.

On the other hand, Europe’s procurement cycle is extremely long, similar to that of US federal and state organizations. Given the rapid pace of change in healthcare today, I would expect to see Europeans accelerate that process over time.

Many European countries are ahead of the US in establishing national health identifiers and national provider registries. This puts them in a much better position to share data about patients across providers. They are also doing a better job of delivering high quality outcomes at lower costs.

Finally, due to the size of the various national markets, you do not see the proliferation of large, homegrown software vendors as observed in the US. This has made these countries targets for established American EMR vendors such as Cerner and Epic.

My takeaway from my time working in the European healthcare market and the opportunity to attain an “outside looking in” perspective on the US market is quiet simple. We both have much to learn and can learn a lot from each other.

Ted Reynolds is senior vice-president of CTG and is responsible for CTG Health Solutions

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