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HIStalk Interviews John Howerter, SVP, Levi, Ray & Shoup

February 4, 2013 Interviews No Comments

John Howerter is senior vice president of Levi, Ray & Shoup of Springfield, IL.

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Give me some brief background about yourself and about the company.

I’ve been with LRS for 20 years. I have been involved mostly in the software side of the LRS business.

Before coming here, I was with IBM. I started as a technical guy and then got into sales, then back into systems engineering management and sales management. I left IBM in 1992 and wanted to stay in the central part of Illinois. I really wasn’t interested in moving around the world, so I came to work for Levi, Ray & Shoup, a privately-owned software company, in July of 1992. I saw it was a good place for me to learn some things.

The company is owned by Dick Levi. We continue to stay focused in this niche. It’s been a crazy ride for 20 years, but a lot of fun.


It doesn’t seem that people think of hardcopy printing as mission critical. Do you think that’s the case?

I’d say certainly printing is the last thing that people think about. The fundamental issues about what people think about printing now versus what they thought about it 20 years ago has not changed much. When I came to LRS 20 years ago, before accepting a job here, I asked Dick Levi — who was going to be my ultimate boss — what his biggest concern was at that time. It was that the mainframes would go away. Certainly the role of the mainframe has changed, but people’s attention to the issues surrounding print management haven’t changed at all. People never think about it.

Since I’ve been here, we continually get phone calls and talk to people who say,”I’m going to print less.” They’ll implement the system without regard for even thinking about the printing infrastructure. Then they run into problems. That’s when we get involved. 

Hard copy has never been sexy or at the front of a business process, but in many industries — and particularly in the healthcare industry — things that get printed continue to have an impact on successful and smooth operations.


In healthcare, the end result of the workflow is often a label, wristband, or report. Until you get that, you haven’t accomplished much. Do prospects understand that?

I guess it depends who you ask. [laughs] I think the people doing the work clearly understand that. Our customers have told us that vendors today and over the last 20 years have said, “We’re not going to print any more.” What? You’ve got to put labels on prescription bottles, samples, blood, and patients. People never think about printing until it stops.


It almost seems that companies trying to sell managed print services took away the impact. Paper and toner is so cheap that it was tough, at least in my hospital, to make a business case for consolidating and centralizing printing. 

Certainly people are printing more today than they used to. There are more opportunities to print. People print from Web pages. People today print all kinds of things that they probably shouldn’t be printing in their daily jobs.

We think about printing in a couple of different ways. We think about printing that is a part of the workflow of any line of business application. Then we think about printing that occurs in the Windows office environment. 

I think there’s a continued push for people to move towards managed print services. Certainly the printer vendors are all trying to add value to differentiate their commodity products in some way. Money can be saved in printing, but the things that you try to do in managing and controlling the costs of printing in an office environment are very different than the things that you need to do to control and manage the printing that occurs in a business workflow environment.


Application software printing usually involves an uneasy technical handoff to the underlying operating system, putting the customer in the middle where it’s hard to say for sure that something that was supposed to print really did at the place they expected. The end result can be a workflow nightmare. What’s the value of putting your solution between the vendor software and the operating system?

Seventy percent of our sales in North America in the last couple of years have been in the healthcare market. The reason for that is exactly on the point that you just mentioned. The value that we provide is that we are a reliable place where your output is. Output is either in our print spool or it has printed. There’s no in-between. 

We provide end-to-end visibility. If the Epic system has created the output, we have it or it’s been printed. When somebody walks through a printer and looks for their output and says, “Wow, it’s not here,” with our tools, we can tell you where it is. We can instantly re-route it to another device where you’re standing and we can manage all that. Our value add, quite simply, is we give you end-to-end visibility. Without a subsystem to ensure delivery, it gets lost in the middle, and that happens far too often.


I’ve seen first-hand where patient care was compromised because of delays caused by missing printed documents, often because the print spool service was hung up on the server or a printer was stuck in an error state that nobody knew about. Do people tell you those stories?

That’s exactly what happens. A lot of people cannot foresee that. The technical people foresee it. The people who are buying applications like Epic, Millennium, or Soarian want to believe that those problems are resolved by the application vendors. They’ve got bigger problems. That’s what we hear about constantly.

We commissioned IDC to do a study for us two years ago. Our biggest challenge is convincing people buying and implementing these large line-of-business applications that printing is going to cause enough of a problem for them that it’s worth investing in solving those problems. IDC concluded that after talking to 10 of our customers and analyzing their environments before and after our solution, there is about $51,000 per year per 100 printers managed in savings for customers who have selected our system. About half of that savings comes from improving the productivity of the people in IT who track down printing problems.

Of that half, 60 percent comes from eliminating the tasks required to track down failed print problems. That doesn’t mean the server is down. That might mean the printer is turned off. That might mean there’s no paper in the tray. That might mean the application has sent it, but for some reason, there was a network problem. The hassles and the time that people spend tracking print that didn’t show up where it was supposed to show up –that is the lion’s share of the value that we provide to people.

It’s always frustrating when tracking down printer problems that you can see documents waiting to print, but Windows doesn’t let you see their contents. You can’t tell what’s in the documents the user didn’t receive and you can’t route them to another printer.

That’s real. Here’s what happens. IT organizations deal with that. Those problems are being solved by people. They’re being solved the hard way. 

I  can talk to a CIO in a healthcare organization and say, “How much time do you spend with this?” They say, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t hear that this is a problem.” You don’t hear it because your organization has solved that problem, but they’re solving it in a very inefficient way. They’re solving it with people. 

You’re right. You can’t reroute a job out of a Windows queue. You can’t reprioritize it. You can’t reformat it. You can’t instantly say, “Oh, I see. It’s here. Let me print it on this device over here.”

It was a nice luxury on mainframes and midranges to be able to view the contents of waiting spool files, make a copy, or move them around. Windows doesn’t seem very enterprise strength in that regard.

That’s exactly what we do. As I mentioned, this company started in 1979. Our owner wrote a program to allow access to IBM’s mainframe spool called the JES Spool and route that output to a network-addressable device. We utilized the IBM JES Spool as our spool mechanism, but we took the output from an interface of that spool and allowed people to manipulate it, to translate it from IBM data string formats so it could print on an HP LaserJet, for example.

That’s our heritage. We focus on the enterprise. We are bringing that kind of reliability and manageability to distributed environments. That’s what our primary business is today – giving that kind of flexibility to manage the things in the spool and deliver them. If you don’t do that, you’re flying blind. You have no visibility from the application all the way down to the output device. It’s more complicated than it used to be because everybody does things their own way.


You seem to work a lot with Epic shops.

I talk to people a lot about whether or not they should consider investing.  We have a lot of very large and very successful Epic customers. We fulfill that value proposition for Epic customers as we do some of the others. We have worked with Epic to help us get metadata about output. For example, for every piece of output that we print, you can know the Epic user who initiated the output. We have worked with them to enable our software to get data so we can account for who printed it, where it was printed, and where it came from.

Our Epic customers fall into two categories. They’ve bought Epic, and on the front end of that implementation, recognize that they need a more robust management system for output to avoid inhibiting the workflow. Compared to an investment in Epic, an investment in our software is fairly insignificant. Many of our Epic customers start on the front end and say, “We want to do this right. We want this implementation to go well.”

There’s another category of customers who have been implementing Epic for a few years and had been struggling with the problems that you mentioned — I can’t find my output, it was supposed print and it’s not there, why is it not formatted correctly, who knows what. After a couple of years in an organization that has any scale to it, physicians and caregivers have raised the level of noise in the IT organization so that it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with.

I’m not sure that there’s anything specific about Epic that is different than the others. It’s just that people are not willing to let an Epic implementation suffer, I suppose, at least from my perspective. In lot of cases, we are dealing with enlightened IT people who want to avoid the risk of not providing a stable, hassle-free environment, so we take that pain away. A lot of people don’t realize they’re going to have it until they get into it.


Have you seen any impact from the changing HIPAA requirements and HITECH?

Certainly. We are an infrastructure vendor. We talk a lot about HIPAA. When you say HIPAA to me, it makes me immediately think of securing data and controlling where output can go and accounting for where output can go. Certainly that is in our sweet spot.

We intend to be the single output server for all output in a large organization. We can efficiently route that. That means we can officially keep track of who did what. HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley in other industries, and all these regulatory environments that cause people to want to know who did what so they can audit it certainly have been helpful to us.


How do you see the business changing?

We work with all the printer vendors. We are working with a lot of these folks in terms of trying to ensure that when print vendors are engaged in managed print services projects, we’re working together with them to try to create the best possible environment for the customer and allow a customer to buy our software in the way that fits their budgeting and their management systems.

We’re certainly dealing with mobile devices, where our tools allow you to manage output and see output queues, for example, from any smartphone. You can manage print queues, see what’s going on from a mobile device.

We have enabled and provided downtime reporting tools. We allow you to electronically store and view output in a very simple way, interface or output management systems. We’ve provided in Epic environments some very usable and affordable downtime reporting technologies. We’re trying to figure out how the tablets and the iPads integrate into this. We’re working very hard to support virtual desktop environments.

This is all we focus on. We’ve been successful in this niche because this niche that we’re in isn’t big enough for the big guys. The application vendors have more to worry about than just printing. Many times they think you just create a PDF file and you’re good to go. We’re focused on integrating mobile technologies. We’re focused on making sure that we can support all the devices that are there. We’ve always been on the leading edge of supporting all the devices that exist because our large customer base contains lots of different devices.

In terms of development, it has to do with creating an enterprise output management system that serves the needs of a line-of-business applications like Epic and Soarian and Millennium and anything else that’s out there, balancing that with enabling use for office printing technologies. We’re eliminating hundreds and hundreds of Windows print servers. We are enabling pull printing technologies where that makes sense. 

We’re trying to just continue to focus on this niche and all that’s there because that’s what we know. We’ve got a very loyal customer base and a reputation that allows us to compete in these kinds of opportunities.

An HIT Moment with … Chuck Demaree, Access

January 25, 2013 Interviews No Comments

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Chuck Demaree is CTO of Access of Sulphur Springs, TX.

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What’s the continuing role of electronic forms as hospitals move to EHRs and other systems?

First, we have to establish a basic understanding about forms. A form is merely a structured tool to collect and organize data. Whether it is paper or electronic, its purpose remains the same.

Electronic forms can be placed in two categories. Online forms are primarily used for data acquisition. Managed output forms re-structure and automate the distribution of data in either a printed or electronic format. 

Hospitals need both types of forms going forward. The online, outward-facing forms collect data from sources that may not be connected to their hospital network, such as patient homes, clinics, and physician offices. Managed output forms organize data from the many disparate systems used in a hospital into a normalized format prior to routing forms into a document repository, or ECM/EDM system, as part of the EHR. This also becomes important if a Legal Health Record (LHR) ever needs to be produced for litigation purposes. 


What are some examples of workflow, productivity, and information needs that for most hospitals can be met only via the use of electronic forms?

Most health information and EHR systems — including those from Siemens, Meditech, Epic, McKesson, and Cerner – utilize some sort of workflow, but there is almost always another process or workflow that takes places even before the HIS or EHR is used. Today, that workflow is still a manual process that is either verbal or written. It is difficult to build a system that can address all the varied processes that exist. Electronic forms allow a hospital to address each process uniquely by designing a form or set of forms and custom workflow to address that process. 

Some examples are patient scheduling or pre-registration from home, feeding a registration or scheduling system. Automating acquisition of data from systems such as endoscopy, EKG, and perinatal and normalizing the structure of the data and routing and indexing the documents into the document repository. Adding electronic signatures and barcodes to existing forms and systems that do not currently provide that capability, such as discharge instructions or patient teaching documents. Business and back office functions, such as human capital management, purchasing processes, and accounting output such as checks or direct deposit notices.


If a hospital has already purchased an EHR, what would they do with your systems that would benefit patients?

Some EHRs have very nice patient portals to access the patient’s medical information, but not all patients are technically inclined or have access to the Internet. Some patients still prefer a physical document, and sometimes that is the only method for transferring data from one hospital’s EHR to another.

Our systems can provide outward-facing secure data acquisition across the Internet for patients and practitioners who are not on the hospital’s network. They can also easily control the format of data before it is printed or aggregated into an EHR. Controlling and normalizing the format of data makes it easier to read and find the information needed. This helps expedite care and reduce mistakes.


What is the role of electronic forms during system downtime and disaster recovery?

This goes back to the purpose of the form as a tool. During a downtime or business continuity episode, well-designed forms make it easier to continue to move patients through the clinical process and still capture data in a structured and familiar format. If these forms are barcoded with the form ID and the patient ID, then automatic indexing of this data into the document repository becomes much more efficient and less prone to error or misfiling.


Do hospitals intentionally use electronic forms as an alternative to entering data manually into a cumbersome online system?

I think there are a limited number of choices for hospitals to fine tune a system to make it easier for their staff and patients. We have many customers that use our output management products to automatically capture disparate medical device and clinical system data and redistribute it into an EHR or document repository. We have others who have chosen to not purchase employee or patient self-service systems and instead use our online forms solutions to create their own user-friendly front end for data acquisition.

HIStalk Interviews Dan Schiller, CEO, Salar

January 4, 2013 Interviews 1 Comment

Dan Schiller is CEO of Salar of Baltimore, MD.

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Salar has been through a couple of acquisitions. Explain what happened and how the company will operate going forward and the changes Constellation Software will make.

To say it’s been an interesting ride is an understatement. In the last 15 months, Salar has been purchased three times.

Initially we were bought by Transcend Services, a transcription company, in August 2011. Our hope was to create a budget-neutral documentation transition solution for existing Transcend customers by moving them off transcription and on to TeamNotes, Salar’s electronic physician documentation platform. Before we were able to formalize and launch this strategy, Nuance purchased Transcend to expand Nuance’s share of the transcription services market. This was early 2012, and we became a small blip on the larger corporate radar.

While we may not have been given the visibility we wanted, we used this time to focus on our internal processes, customers, and R&D. I think it was time well used. We’ve emerged with a new Web-based platform that we’ve deployed over the last few months to a new customer.

That brings us to our acquisition in early December by Constellation Software, Inc. We think Constellation is an ideal partner for us. They’re focused on growing vertical market software businesses that provide mission-critical solutions. They have a solid track record of purchasing and nurturing software companies in many industries. Most importantly, they believe in us – the strength of our solutions and our team.

So no immediate changes. They’re going to let us do our thing. I believe we already have the best electronic clinical documentation and billing workflow solution on the market, and with Constellation’s support, I believe we will be even stronger on the other side of 2013.


You’re a programmer moving into an executive leadership role, which rarely happens since the business world often ends up being like Dilbert and the pointy-haired boss. What are your priorities for the company and what parts of the job are you looking forward to?

I might feel out of place if this were a clothespin factory, but I know how to build software pretty well. Technical innovation has always been key to Salar’s identity, so it’s natural that a software engineer has always been at the helm. Hey, if you call in the middle of the night, you might still catch me on Tier 3 support. I hope to keep up my spot in the rotation for as long as I can.

My main priority is keeping us innovative, agile and relevant in front of all the change this industry will see in the next few years. We have always felt that, at their core, initiatives like Meaningful Use, ICD-10, and quality-driven payment reform are documentation problems, which are right in our wheelhouse.

The bottom line is that I’m eager to leave behind the mess of the last 15 months and lead this company into a very exciting future. I am fortunate to have a smart group of people who are passionate about solving real problems. With their support, this is going to be fun.


Salar’s selling point in documentation with TeamNotes has been a form-type metaphor that users could customize to look like familiar paper forms. How are users responding to that, and what kinds of devices are they using it on?

We all know that there are still large facilities using paper documentation, so that metaphor still translates to some degree. But TeamNotes has evolved far beyond just mimicking paper notes, and that’s been driven largely by the evolution we’ve witnessed in how comfortable physicians have become with technology. They want it to work for them, not against them.

For example, they want the ability to interface clinical data within their notes, jointly author notes with the entire care team, and capture structured data. Our newest version of TeamNotes enables physicians to do all these things, and do them on their preferred desktop, laptop, or mobile device. As our template content has become richer with each implementation, all of our users benefit.


Where do your documentation products fit with a hospital that’s already running a major EMR?

All of our customers already have major EMRs in place. In each case, the EMR was not able to fill their inpatient documentation needs functionally or achieve acceptable physician adoption rates. In most cases, the documentation tools are not intuitive and too rigid to fit varying clinical workflows. With Salar, each hospital has developed notes that are intuitive, reportable, and effective in their unique workflows. In our opinion this is how you achieve physician adoption of electronic clinical documentation.

There have been a lot of great strides within the industry to develop CLU and CAC tools to accommodate notes coming out of the EMR because they were never structured well in the first place. To get any sort of specificity out of a flat unstructured note, you’re required to use some expensive tools or employ smart people to deduce what happened at the point of care. This specificity needs to occur at that point of care, in the physician’s hands, and the outcome must be represented in a structured, discrete way.

These CAC tools are tremendously capable, but are employed in the wrong place in the process. By embedding CAC capabilities into the documentation workflow, Salar helps hospitals realize the full potential of their EMR investment.


How do you see your market and products changing as healthcare reform continues over the next several years?

For the short term, the customizability of our documentation platform makes us ready for everything we’re going to see in the next year or so. For ICD-10, we’re incorporating NLP tools from HLI and other vendors to accomplish meaningful front-end CDI at the point of documentation. For Meaningful Use or any other report-heavy regulations, the ability to add specific fields overnight is going to allow customers to handle these changes without any additional overhead.

Looking out a little further, we will be focusing on the front-end CDI loop in TeamNotes. By incorporating more computer-assisted tools to physicians, as well as providing for more complicated workflows with CDI staff, we believe we can truly maximize the value of these tools for both hospital and physician.

We’re very interested in how Physician/CDI/Billing workflows develop and how we can facilitate a more efficient process. We’re also very interested in the ACO model and what needs to be provided from both a reporting and a documentation perspective. We think we’re in a good position to accommodate multiple reimbursement models because of our customizable templates.

In the longer term, we’re looking at how other workflows within hospitals – and workflows between hospitals and other care organizations – are starting to blend. There are many processes that have been overlooked and underserved from a technology perspective, and for the good of the patient population, should be optimized. We can’t wait to solve these problems.

HIStalk Interviews Yann Beaullan-Thong, CEO, Vindicet

December 14, 2012 Interviews No Comments

Yann Beaullan-Thong is CEO and founder of Vindicet.

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Give me some background about yourself and about the company.

I’m the founder and CEO of Vindicet. We started the company in 2009. Prior to that, I was the vice president of e-business at Aetna for a division called Intellihealth. It was the first public healthcare website prior to WebMD.

My intention when I started the company was to create a software company that would provide affordable, process-oriented solutions to providers. In 2009, I met Dr. John Votto, CEO at Hospital for Special Care and a thought leader for long-term acute care hospitals. I was asked to provide a system to make the referral process more efficient.

As we started to build a patient referral tool, I took the bet that bundle payments and ACOs will be here to stay and will need systems to support these new business models. We morphed our referral tool into a coordination tool to manage the patient through the continuum of care.


Who does the company compete with?

Indirectly, we can compete with a lot of other players, like Curaspan, Cerner or Allscripts. The patient management process, the referral process, the compliance process , the admission and discharge process are supported by many vendors. They are part of the problem — too many vendors supporting different processes at the facility level.

We are the only system that can support all these processes for the ACO or enterprise health system level using one platform. We are able to provide a safe transition care tool using a light Enterprise Resource Planning approach.


Describe the referral process as it exists and how you think it will look under the new models of care.

Today with a fee-for-service payment, each facility operates as an island. Referrals are no more than a discharge to home or a post-care facility. Moving forward with ACOs, the referral is becoming a central component. The financial compensation will be tied to the overall outcomes. Tracking the patient through the entire continuum of care and managing the coordination of care between the different providers will be essential to optimizing outcomes.

Let’s assume that a patient comes in for congestive heart failure and they are a Medicare patient. We know that out of 10 patients, five to six might will end up into a post-care facility. Suddenly everybody has to be very well aware of how well they’re going through the entire episode. Not just from the acute side, but when they are discharged to a long-term acute care and then moved into an inpatient rehab center and finally discharged home under the supervision of a home health agency.

Under a bundled payment model, you’re going to be responsible for that whole episode. Under this coming model, absolutely nobody is prepared to deal with this new challenge.

Initially, we designed a referral system for standalone post-care facilities. Through the years, we modified it to become a multi-facility transitional and coordination care system. Our unique approach allows us to integrate the enterprise coordination process with patient management and compliance reporting.


Do you see new companies starting to try to do what you’re already doing?

There are a lot of companies that are coming to the space, but we are about 18 months ahead. We have been approached by some large companies, very large payers who are looking into the ACO space.

I am looking to make the coordination of care more efficient between providers, including primary care physicians. I would say that the problem I’m trying to resolve is transitional care. An EMR is not solving that problem. An EMR is designed to provide care at the delivery point. It’s not designed to manage care across providers.

It’s interesting, because when I started the company about three years ago, a lot of people were asking me to build an EMR. My answer was, “There’s plenty of EMRs. The last thing you need is another one.”

Also, talking to CEOs and CFOs, I often hear, “OK, now that we have an EMR, we need to integrate with the ambulatory care services and post-care facilities.” And in the same breath, they will say, “We are running out of money with this EMR project.” Literally people are looking at each other around the room and saying, “How are we going to do this? How are we going to pay for it?”

Either you build what I call islands — EMR for post care, EMR for ambulatory care, and for acute care — and spend a ton of money to add the bridges. Or, let’s look into a system that will allow us to have one view of the patients across the continuum. That’s when I come in with my poor man’s solution.


Do you think providers believe that HIEs will provide that capability or that interoperability is the answer? Are they beginning to realize that just talking to other systems may not be enough?

Executives are starting to realize that it’s not as easy as it sounds to integrate legacy systems. HIEs don’t address the process issues. Also, I’ve noticed a trend of information overload. It is not just pulling the information, but making it relevant and usable.

The other riddles that need to be solved when we’re talking about the HIEs — besides the exchange of information — is integrated process. You’d have to integrate various processes if you’re going to go through a longitudinal-type of continuum of care. It’s not just tracking the information at each point of care with different providers. You need a seamless process on how you can move a patient from one place to the other.


Do you think providers are ready not only technologically, but as you said process-wise, to be able to function effectively in that kind of environment?

I’ll try to give you a response that is apolitical. I’m absolutely convinced in my fiber that as a country, if we don’t resolve our healthcare problem, we will go bankrupt. We’re already at 16 percent of GDP.

If you’re going to do reimbursement based on outcome, which is where the industry is going (the Kaiser model), we are going to need to collect a lot of data and use key performance indicators to increase efficiency. We are already there. 

I just built a CMS data quality tool for 17 long-term acute care hospitals where they had to report outcome within 24 hours for discharges and within four days when it comes to admissions,. They need to report outcomes to the government in order to avoid the 2 percent penalties.

Moving forward, the government is going to ask for more data. Collecting data is a very expensive business. Healthcare systems out there are struggling to implement an EMR system, and now we are asking them to track outcomes through the different providers. Most of providers have no funding left following an EMR implementation, and now we want them to fund projects to track patients across the continuum.


I guess hospitals aren’t happy when they have to come to you, then?

They’re not, but I came up with a value proposition that makes the solution affordable. A lot of clients tell me, “How do you make a living with the way you’re selling it?” I say, “Don’t worry. I’m OK.” I moved away from the licensing per bed to unlimited number of users. It’s time as an industry to think out of the box and come up with solutions that are affordable.


Will other vendors get that model of following a long-term strategy rather than just charging the absolute most they can?

I think they will have to. One of the reasons why I believe that system is going to do well is transparency. I truly believe that transparency will exist in healthcare. I come from a payer and they’re probably not the most transparent players, but they have the tools to become more transparent.

They are data-driven companies. I learned one thing. If you want to be efficient, you need to change your mindset from being non-profit to a mindset of better outcomes in order to stay in business. You need to be transparent. You need to be transparent in front of the patient. You need to be transparent with physicians. I think as an industry, it’s time we start to be transparent. If we do not become transparent, we’re going to go broke, period. It cannot stay the way it is.

I think there’s a movement out there toward change. All of us recognize that there’s need for a change, and I think the change will come from the outside. I always say when an industry has a problem, the answer is not within. Usually the guys that start to find the answer are guys that come from other industries.


Any concluding thoughts?

As an industry, in healthcare, we need to change our mindset from a non-profit mindset to what I’m calling for-profit, where we’re going to be more accountable. To be more accountable, you need to collect data. To collect data, you need to build systems that implement new processes. I envision healthcare facilities being managed like a Walmart by the minute to keep costs down.

When I go to see CFOs in hospitals, they manage their business by quarter or a year ahead. There’s a need to manage your business by the minute. To get there, we need to start to collect data. Not just clinical data, but financial data and administrative data .We need to create key performance indicators, or KPIs. If you don’t run the business according to KPIs, there’s no way in the world that you’re going to change the way you are operating.

The government is probably going to make people more accountable and switch from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance. However, we’re a long way from being efficient. I see  government mandating more and more data collection for compliance. As an industry, that’s where we’re going. Whether you’re from the left or the right doesn’t matter. Accountability is the buzzword. I think it’s going to force the entire industry to learn to do more with fewer resources.

HIStalk Interviews Winjie Tang Miao, President, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance

December 12, 2012 Interviews 3 Comments

Winjie Tang Miao is president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance of Fort Worth, TX.

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Tell me about yourself and the hospital.

I’ve been in healthcare for about 12 years now, all with Texas Health Resources. I guess it’s rare nowadays to be with an organization that long. THR is a faith-based, not-for-profit healthcare system in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We have about 25 hospitals, a large physician group, and other healthcare services.

In my 12 years, I’ve been really privileged to work in three of our facilities, but most recently at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance, a brand new hospital that just opened in September.


When you look at the organization’s overall positioning and strategy, how important is IT?

I think it’s essential. Our stakeholders are demanding more of us, “us” being healthcare and the healthcare industry as a whole. We need technology to help us met their expectations of us, and honestly, our own expectations of ourselves.


Do you see the technology becoming more visible to patients or becoming more of a competitive differentiator?

Yes, I think it’s definitely already more visible to patients. For example, in our facility, we have technology now where you can look at your medical record in real time while you’re lying in your bed. You know what the physician has ordered for you in the morning and the afternoon. 

The education that’s been ordered for you now gets automatically pushed out. If I’m a congestive heart failure patient and I require some smoking cessation education, for example, technology enables us to make sure that patient gets that education and that they receive the education as documented in real time. All of that is direct technology that the patient sees.

I think there’s a lot of technology, though, that is really there to enhance the human capacity that patients may not necessarily see. Those are some of the things that I’m most excited about. How do we make the environment more user friendly for our caregivers, our physicians, our nurses, and all the staff that are at the facility? Because as we know, as the baby boomers retire, the workforce is going to shrink. We really need that technology to help bridge that gap.

In terms of being a competitive edge, I think there are certain parts that are going to be non-negotiable. I think an EMR is going to be non-negotiable. You’re going to have to have it, so I don’t think that’s a competitive edge. But I think having some other technologies — like proactive tools that will help improve management of chronic conditions and those type of things — would be a competitive edge.


What is the most innovative of the technologies that you’re using or planning to use?

What I would say is innovative is not necessarily the technology in itself. We do have a patient information device. We do have RTLS throughout our facility. But it’s not the technology that is innovative for me.

I think what is innovative in this particular facility is how we’re integrating all those technologies together. How does Vocera talk to RTLS and to nurse call? How does that mean that, OK, now that I have I have a patient discharged, I can just take their RTLS locator tag, dump it in a box, and because it’s in that box, it automatically sends a note to TeleTracking to say, “Now it’s time to clean this room.” The housekeeper on Vocera automatically gets notified because through RTLS, we know that that’s the housekeeper on that floor. A process that normally would take either multiple phone calls or multiple clicks on a computer is now automated in real time.


As a new facility, you’ve probably had conversations with vendors about what technology you’re going to use and how you’re going to use it. Is that different from what the other Texas Health Resources hospitals use?

I think the extent that we’re integrating all the technology is more than what other Texas Health facilities have. That required many vendors to come into the room and have a conversation that they’ve actually never had. Vendors who had never met each other, even though we’ve had their systems in some of our hospitals for years, because it was very siloed. We bought the nurse call system or we bought the Vocera system or we bought Epic or whoever it was. We bought these systems, we implemented them vertically, and then we integrated them horizontally. 

There were a lot of vendor meetings that we had. In fact, as we were choosing what systems to go with, one of the most essential criteria that we made the decision on which vendors to go with was either past history and experience that they could demonstrate a
successful collaboration and integration or a willingness that they showed to be able to do that.


Is the IT support centralized, do you have some IT people locally in the hospital, or some of both?

All of our IT is centralized at the system office. From the system office, there are certain members of our IT team that are deployed locally.


What expectations do you have of the IT department and the folks leading it?

I have the same expectation that I have of any leader in the organization, which is one of collaboration, transparency, communication, and all those good things.

In terms of specific IT leaders, though, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of IT leaders in my career. I think that what separates the good IT leaders from the exceptional IT leaders are the ones who are able to balance that creativity and desire to be on that leading edge and try new things with an understanding of hospital operations. Having that knowledge, having the common sense, and really sometimes the humility to say, “You know what? That’s a great technology. I’d love to put it in, but it really doesn’t make sense for us, and here’s why.”


In terms of the risk involved with being innovative, is there conclusion about how much IT innovation is the right amount?

I really think it’s based on the culture of the organization that you’re in. Implementing new technologies and being innovative is really about change management. If you have a culture that is used to change, open to change, wants that change, is able to function still and maintain high performance while going through change, then that organization, I think, can tolerate more innovation.

In an organization where perhaps you don’t have as talented of leaders, both from the IT and the operational side, to manage that change through, then it doesn’t matter if it’s even the smallest of innovations, managing that is going to be difficult. You’re not setting yourself up for success. I think being able to gauge the level of tolerance in an organization is important, but for those who have that capacity, then I think go for it.


Between the operational leadership and the IT department, who should look for something innovative and who should lead that change if and when it happens?

I hate to give “it depends” answers, but I think it depends. [laughs] When I look at how we created this facility and all the technology that we’re integrating, some of the best ideas came from the IT side and some of the ideas came from the hospital operation side. It’s really a blending of the two.

I think ultimately deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on a specific technology requires everybody at the table. Then once that decision is made, clear delineation of roles and responsibilities for that particular technology, because again, all technologies aren’t created the same, either. 

You may have something like telephones. We made a decision to go with a particular platform. While that’s really read better from the IT side, it’s not as invasive from a clinical standpoint, Obviously we all need telephones, but it doesn’t require a whole lot of clinical expertise to do telephones. We just need to make sure they’re programmed correctly so the clinicians use them properly. But you take something like Vocera or nurse call or AirStrip OB, which is much more clinical, I think the ratio changes. 

I think having a “one process fits all” solution is unwise. I’ve seen that happen sometimes. I think that’s where the roadblocks come in and some organizations have run into trouble. But to really look specifically at the innovation, and for this particular innovation, what are the roles and responsibilities going to be? A strong PM does that and can manage that through the organization for a successful implementation.


In large health systems, the smaller facilities or the bigger ones or the ones that are furthest away sometimes feel they’re not getting the right amount of IT attention. What’s the IT secret to making sure that you’re engaged and feeling like you’re well served as part of an organization that has several people who want those same things?

It’s funny you ask me that question. I mentioned that I’ve been with Texas Health for 12 years. I’ve been at one of our largest facilities — it’s 850 beds. In fact, that’s where I started my career. Then I went to literally the smallest facility in our system, which had 36 beds.

What I’ve always said is I think the key to success from an IT standpoint is understanding that smaller facilities don’t have less needs, they just have different needs. I say that from a management standpoint, too.

I remember being in a larger facility early in my career. I’d  look at the smaller facilities go, “Gosh, they have it so easy. They only manage this and it’s a small patient population. Of course they’re outcomes are great, because they only have 18 patients to manage compared to the 800 that we’re managing here.”

And I remember when I first got to the smaller hospitals, I’d look at the larger hospitals and think, “Gosh they have it so easy. They have all these layers of support and people that just do education. Whereas at the smaller facilities a lot of times, the managers take on additional roles and wear multiple hats because you can’t have a million FTEs taking care of 36 patients.”

When I had those two experiences, I remember one day sitting back and going, “It’s not that one job is easier or harder than the other,” which is the perception when you’re in those facilities. They’re just very different jobs. I think from an IT standpoint, it’s the same thing. The needs aren’t less, they’re just different. The good IT leaders can go in and understand what those needs are and deliver on those.


I would think it’s unusual for someone with a degree in biomedical engineering to be in a leadership role. Do you think that gives you more affinity with the IT operation or are you an outlier among your peers who went through a more traditional undergraduate program?

I would say that I’m definitely an outlier amongst my peers. I’m not familiar with any of my peers who have an engineering degree.

I think that having an engineering degree and understanding systems and processes and being trained in that gives me less angst in terms of dipping my toe in the technology waters, because I have a little better understanding of how things work. Clearly I’m not a computer programmer — the last time I programmed was in C++ , so that’s definitely not something you want me doing [laughs], but at least the philosophy behind that and how it works. I think the mystique is maybe less and so the apprehension is less.


You went through a construction project, which forces you to be as innovative as you can knowing that you’ll be stuck in that footprint for a while. What are some of the innovations in the new facility that would not have been common in older facilities?

I think that if you look at older facilities and facilities that were planned 20-30 years ago, most healthcare was provided in a hospital or in a doctor’s office. You sought healthcare because you were sick.

Today, your healthcare happens in a variety of environments — from your home thanks to telehealth, to the doctor’s office, to even your local drugstore. Walmart now has minute clinics or different things like that. Or you go to a surgery center or a freestanding lab. There’s a lot more venues now to deliver healthcare.

We understand that we need to optimize well-being in order to really control healthcare costs, not just take care of people when they’re sick, which is what we were focused on doing 20-30 years ago. For us, designing a new facility was trying to design a system where care is rendered where it makes the most sense. Going back to that engineering background that I have, how do you optimize the system, both from a cost and a convenience perspective? 

In our facility, for example, we don’t have a large outpatient imaging area because a hospital isn’t the most cost-effective place to the get that service. In our facility, we have a separate ambulatory surgery center that’s wholly owned as part of the hospital. We did that for two reasons. One, patients don’t want to pay a high hospital deductible in order to have some-day surgery. They want to pay whatever it is on their plan, $250 co-pay and have their surgery and go home. But a lot of times, we’re still doing those outpatient surgeries in a hospital.

Secondly, I can build that surgery center space at significantly less cost than I can build hospital space. I’m not going to get into the details of why that is, but that’s just how it is. If we know that we can deliver that care in a more efficient setting, we’re going to do that.

And of course, technology has played a big part in building design as well. The most obvious example is the first hospital I worked in had a medical records department the size of a football field. At our facility, we have a fully deployed EMR, so we didn’t build medical records storage at all. We get to use that space for other things. Those are just a few examples.


In that planning of what the future looks like, both healthcare in general and your organization and your facility specifically, what are the most pressing opportunities and threats looking five to ten years down the road?

I think the biggest opportunities are being creative and developing those new processes and systems to address things like coordinated care across the continuum. As we move towards managing the health of populations and ACOs, what does that look like? Do we build that? Do we partner with somebody who’s already an expert in that? Do we acquire that? How does that all work together? 

Getting to create something new in an industry is fun and exciting and a great opportunity for a lot of innovation and growth. I think the challenge to that, though, is that our current reimbursement system is still build on that per-click system. We take care of you when you’re sick, and when you come to my hospital and you need your appendix taken out, I get paid for that appendix to be taken out.

What we need to be careful of is that as we transform our organization and as we optimize health and well-being, that the timing is appropriate and sustainable for the organization. 

The final wildcard which I’m sure everybody is aware of and throws out there is, we still do not understand the full impact of the Affordable Care Act. All that is still being developed and rolled out. How do we implement the exchanges and what are the rules for exchanges? All that good stuff is still coming, so I think that’s still a big wildcard.


What would surprise people most about what it’s like running a hospital?

I will tell you, what surprises most people that I talk to outside of the healthcare industry is that either (a) we do not employ our physicians, or (b) a physician does not necessarily run a hospital. People really think, “Oh, physicians don’t work for you in the hospital?” That’s really the thing that surprises people the most.


What do you like best and least about your job?

I think what I like best is that at the end of the day it’s very fulfilling and challenging work. It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare. There’s a lot of change going on. What we’re doing hopefully at the end of the day improves the lives of the people in the community you serve. Having that fulfilling, big-picture goal drives me and sustains me.

In terms of what I like least, I think that just like anybody else, the parts I like least are the parts that aren’t necessarily value-added to meeting the goals of the organization and making necessarily our stakeholders’ lives better. Things that perhaps required from a regulatory standpoint, or certain things that we do that we have to do for governmental reasons.

HIStalk Interviews Don Menendez, President, White Plume Technologies

December 7, 2012 Interviews No Comments

Don Menendez is president of White Plume Technologies of Birmingham, AL.

12-7-2012 9-31-54 PM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I began my career with IBM. I’ve been in software for a long time. I got into healthcare in the late 1980s. I joined a company that had a billing operation, a Unix-based PM system, and an RCM element. The real interesting thing was that we had a shared resource, a large IBM mainframe that we were selling time on. Clients didn’t incur technological or cost risk — they paid on a monthly basis. We didn’t even know it, but we had an ASP before we knew what it was.

That’s how I got to the healthcare side of it. We sold that company to a publicly-held company and then I was looking for a problem to solve. I believe software should solve real problems in a simple way.

I looked at  two things. There were two big gaps in the workflow in the physician offices that I saw. One was, back in 1999, clearly the EMR gap. I felt from a timing perspective and the amount of disruption that it would cause for physicians the timing didn’t make sense at all.

There was another one that was kind of interesting. It was what we ultimately got into. It was the automating of the front end of a revenue cycle management process.

It had been the same for quarter of a century. I’d always known that the first time you automate a manual repetitive, complex, confusing process, that’s when you get to ring the bell financially for your costumers, as opposed to what version 10.1 does for him. That was what this area was. A lot had been done on the back end, but very little on the front end. We felt that if we could push the process use technologies and know-how at the front end without negatively impacting the doctor, we had a real winning solution for him.


Why would practices that already have a PM/EMR system need your products?

It’s really interesting because probably in the last 18 months, the great majority of our new clients are exactly that – people who have an EMR already installed and a PM system. 

I think what happens is this. We approach a number of these practices when they’re in an EMR evaluation stage. Many of them feel like they’re going to be able to achieve the results that are provided by the kind of solutions that we provide once the EMR is implemented. What a  lot of them seemed to find out was that for any number of reasons, they’re all different. The EMR solution is working well, but they’re not satisfied with the results they were able to get as it related to the automated charge capture and coding process.

Sometimes these physicians find the charge capture process too time-consuming and they won’t do it, or it just doesn’t work for them. Other times it doesn’t match the workflow within the practice of how to do what we call post-encounter coding, taking that encounter and adding all the additional things to it necessary for it to get paid correctly. It’s not all done by the physician, and so there are some real workflow issues.

Other times, what ends up happening is they come to us because they’ve figured out that to solve this problem, they’ve had to hire additional administrative people just to do additional work to get the charges in correctly now because they’re starting with physicians than a different manner they started before.

While they took a step forward in the clinical process, it seems like they either made no progress on the RCM side, or worse yet, they took a step backwards. It’s been really interesting that most of our new business is coming from those folks. I would not have predicted that, to be honest, three or four or five years ago, but that’s really what happened.


Do you think it’s a surprise to physicians that when they finally get a PM or an EMR system, much of the benefit accrues to someone else?

My personal opinion is it’s all across the board. For some of them, they predicted that forever. They were very skeptical in the beginning and it was borne out. For others, they were skeptical and it’s borne out differently. They’ve really gotten some value out of it.

In our particular area, the niche that we serve, and what we’re trying to accomplish — quite frankly, the functionality that we provide is an afterthought for both the physician practice and the vendors that are trying to sell the EMR product. Automated charge capture and coding is an afterthought. Many times is an afterthought in the design process, during the sales process, and during the implementation process.

For what we do, they really haven’t thought much about it during the evaluation and implementation process. But when they get down to the point where they’ve rationalized all that technology and are starting to move forward, we find the administrative people say, “We’ve taken a step backwards” or “We made no progress on this at all, and we didn’t realize that there were something out there that could solve some of these problems.”


Describe how your system works differently from the PM and EMR.

Our whole approach was that you can’t slow the physician down for an administrative task or process. It just didn’t make sense. It was counterintuitive to do that. Everything that we’ve done has been designed around that. The part of the process that starts with the physician needs to help them with their productivity, or certainly not slow them down.

This is an odd thing. It sounds counterintuitive, but when we started this business 13 years ago, the great majority of physicians out there — I’ll bet 90 to 95 percent of physicians — were marking encounters on a paper encounter form. They would spend somewhere between three to 10 seconds with that form. That would be enough information to start the process so they can get reimbursed with that encounter. That’s a pretty high standard against which to take an electronic system and try to make that work. 

We’ve focused on the charge capture device, whatever that is, to be productive for the physicians. We’re agnostic towards that. We don’t care. We’ve always had a real open attitude. The best way to get a charge into the system is whichever way is the best for the individual doctor. It could be an iPad. It could be another tablet device. It could be an iPhone, an Android, or other mobile devices. It could be EMRs, keyboards, and lab systems. It could be paper. Regardless of the tool used to capture that data, it should complement and leverage the process and the workflow of the practice. That’s what’s important.

Like most software companies, we learn on the back of our customers. We’ve been doing this same very focused process for 13 years. They’ve taught us a bunch about how it works. It’s not slowing the physician down.  It’s not pushing administrative tasks to the physician. It’s leveraging productivity and accuracy on the front end of the process as opposed to the back end of the process where most of that’s been.


How does it integrate with the PM/EMR?

We originally integrated with PM systems because EMR adaption was so minimal that it just wasn’t an issue for most of our clients. We probably have upwards of 30+ different interfaces that have been in place for quite some time now. Over the last three or four or five years, we have been doing many more EMR interfaces, so that once the doctor is finished with the patient encounter from an EMR basis, they will send us the important bits of data that we need for the charge encounter.We’ll run it through our automated workflow and coding system and then electronically send it to the PM system as if it had been keyed in by the PM system itself.

Obviously, there’s a real benefit there when you got an environment where there’s one PM system and a different vendor for the EMR system. We provide a nice middleware bridge for them just to pass the data, but when we pass it, we clean it up.


I notice you just brought AccelaMOBILE for mobile capture of physician hospital charges. Explain how physicians bill for the hospital services they provide.

It’s really interesting. In the ambulatory setting when they’re in clinic, the administrative personnel will put all sorts of procedures and processes in place around the physician to make sure they get the information they need to get an encounter paid. But when those physicians go out to the hospital, they’re on their own. 

It’s almost like the Wild West out there. It’s every way possible you could think about it. Some are doing along 3×5 card. Some of them get a rounding list printed off from their PM system and they jot those things down. I’ve seen physicians jot it down on their scrubs. They run into a colleague in the hall and they do a consult that nobody knows about and they forget do it. They go to the football game or the music recital right from the hospital and they lose their charges.

One of the big problems with mobile charge capture is just getting decent good data back to the billing staff so they can clean it up. That’s the real allure of mobile charge capture and the concept of AccelaMOBILE. It’s always been about getting the form factor and a technology used by the physicians. 

We looked at doing this 10 or 12 years ago, but the technology just wasn’t there. But now, with physicians being 10 years younger than they were, they’re accustomed to the form factors of smartphones and iPads and those kinds of things. We can now at least solve that first part of the problem — we can get the data back to their billing office in a legible manner that’s complete about what they were doing in the hospital. That’s what the real excitement of the mobile product is.

The second piece is that once you get the data in, it does need to be cleaned up and appropriately done so that you get paid for it. The mobile product is the front end for remote charge entry by the physician. That is complimented by our back-end suites of products that do the workflow and the coding on it.


For some companies, it’s a whole different ballgame to develop their first mobile application and do it right. What did you learned in bringing out AccelaMOBILE and seeing how physicians are using it?

I’ll sound like a broken record, but we’re dealing with high-knowledge professionals that are extremely busy. They were trained to see one, do one, and teach one. That’s the way we try to do the user interface. It has to be simple, it has to be quick, it has to have very few clicks, it has to provide them shortcuts necessary so that they can get into the technology and get out of it very quickly. That’s a continually improving process, and frankly, our physicians are the ones that teach us the most about that. But the simpler the better for them.


How hard is it to make a business case for a practice that may have stretched themselves to buy another new system and now you’re offering them a different one still?

A big issue for everybody is the bandwidth of the practice. Intellectual bandwidth, time to do another project, certainly finance is a commitment, that kind of thing. That is a big issue for us in the marketplace at this juncture, but we try to do things to minimize that. Our whole approach is focused on minimizing that.

We believe that if you’re seriously looking to improve your automated charge capture and coding process on the front end, you can take a look at what’s out there in the marketplace. You can evaluate the systems. You can evaluate what’s available and how it’ll work, probably within a week or two if you could devote a little bit of time to it. 

For us, implementations are typically three days. We’re in and we’re out. It’s a pretty quick process, so it’s pretty light as it relates to the staff itself, but the bigger issue is just the idea that you’d even think about looking at something there.


On your website, it says that HITECH has skewed the EMR market and the vendor accountability to customers with what was described as a checkbook and a gun. How do you see the EMR/PM market evolving over the next several years?

I’m bullish about that, for two reasons, primarily. We believe that once Meaningful Use settles down a bit, the same market forces that have been in place for years will be refocused on, and that’s downward pressure in reimbursement — we don’t see that changing – and increasing complexity and cost associated with physicians figuring out how to get that reimbursement. We expect the focus to shift back to operational efficiency in the ambulatory setting.

I may be wrong about this, but it seems as if none of the current incentive programs are really incenting operating efficiency for the practice. What they’re about is about driving data. Once that moves a bit, I think we’ll play really well, and that as they start to turn towards maximizing efficiency again.

The other piece, the wild card that everybody’s talking about and knows about, is ICD-10. It’s a huge, huge threat to physician productivity and to revenue cycle performance. That’s not about driving data — although for the government it is about driving data — but to practices just trying to see their patients and do what they need to do, it’s a huge threat to both those areas. That’s where we focus. We hope that it doesn’t get pushed out. It’s a distraction. We understand the importance long term about it, but we think it’s an unfortunate distraction.

We think that once all that quiets down a bit, it will return to some of the basic issues. Frankly, they’re going to be harder. The economics are going to be different in an acute setting than it is the ambulatory. The hospitals are buying up all these practices. As they move out of that acquisitive mode and they start to try to rationalize their acquisitions, I think there’s going to be more focus on maximizing operational efficiencies. They’re going to look for help in the ambulatory setting with revenue cycle systems and that kind of thing without having staffs.


Any concluding thoughts?

I’m grateful for the great team we have here. I started this because I thought that business is a part of the fabric of life. You can do both. You can have a great team, you can compete effectively, you can be profitable, but you can have a place where people can live balanced work lives. I’ve been fortunate that the folks that decided to work here really care about our customers and find ways to solve problems. I’m grateful for that. 

I’m grateful for that and I’m grateful for our customers. We have learned so much from them about the challenges that they face and how to make our product a better result of that. Software companies learn on the backs of their customers. I’ve been in the software business since I got out of college and they never get credit for teaching us, but they do teach us. I’m grateful for that.

This is a great time to be in the business. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but as long as physicians wake in the morning, see patients, and hope to get paid for what they do, they’re going to need to get encounter data to the payer and we seem to know how to do that pretty well. There are lots of different ways of making that happen, so we think that means that there’s going to be an opportunity for us. Even as a small player, we’re bullish on what the next three to five years might look like for us.

An HIT Moment with … Marc Andiel, CEO, Accent on Integration

December 5, 2012 Interviews No Comments

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Marc C. Andiel is co-founder, president, and CEO of Accent on Integration of Murphy, TX.

12-5-2012 6-06-45 PM

What integration-related parts of Meaningful Use Stage 2 will the average hospital struggle to meet?

With Meaningful Use Stage 2, hospitals and providers are under more pressure than ever to demonstrate the use of CPOE, record and chart vital signs changes, and effectively leverage clinical decision support. In this environment, it’s imperative that healthcare organizations make the automatic acquisition of device data a reality. It saves significant time, streamlines documentation processes, facilitates valid and accurate orders, ensures clinicians have the most recent and relevant patient data, and reduces errors.

In fact, we’re seeing that clinicians are outright demanding this automation. But because patient care device interfacing requires considerable time, effort, and resources, many providers simply cannot support the effort.

One significant struggle is that in most hospitals, medical devices have historically been completely separated from the information technology group. They may reside on proprietary networks, as well as closed, non-interoperable deployments. Breaking medical device data out of these silos is imperative to meeting the integration-related Meaningful Use Stage 2 core measures.

Manufacturers began addressing this problem by providing modality-specific solutions. This model worked at first, but it resulted in many one-off projects that didn’t benefit the organization as a whole. But with the onset of Meaningful Use, providers made it a priority to take a more enterprise approach. We’re seeing that more than ever, provider organizations are refusing vendor-specific integration offerings and instead demanding enterprise-wide, vendor-neutral solutions like our Accelero Connect integration platform to interconnect a multitude of disparate technology systems.

Organizations will continue to struggle with integration projects unless they deploy solutions that are architected to facilitate the convergence of medical device technology and information technology. Additionally, caregivers, IT, biomedical / clinical engineering, and vendors must come together and take a patient-centric approach to fully unite people, processes and technology.


How many hospitals have integrated their medical devices with their clinical IT systems and what lessons have they learned in doing so?

From our experience, basic level vital signs device integration with clinical IT systems is the exception, not the rule. Far more hospitals have this on their roadmap than the number of facilities that have already completed basic vital signs integration.

It’s important to note that there is a huge gap when it comes to full medical device integration with clinical IT systems like monitors, smart pumps, ventilators, glucometers, and smart beds. Hospitals that have integrated medical and patient care devices with their clinical systems are finding that many devices beyond monitors will send clinical parameters that are not supported by their clinical systems. 

Because basic vital signs integration for monitors — bedside, continuous feed, low acuity — is still uncommon for most hospitals, the real challenge that lies ahead is connecting more complex devices that will require clinical support of several more parameters.


Quite a few companies offer medical device integration products and services. How is Accent on Integration different?

Our software-only solution has zero requirements to be at the point of care. Another difference is that we don’t see ourselves as simply a product company. We will always function as both a services and a product company because we believe this will result in the most benefit for our customers. This is extremely important to us because the services component of our business allows us to be very in tune with what device manufacturers are doing now and with their product roadmaps.

It also means that we stay well informed of the current capabilities of consuming systems — like EHR, BI/CDS, EDIS, etc. — and most important, we remain in touch with clinical workflow and everyday clinician realities and challenges. To us, without an intimate knowledge of the devices, the IT systems, and the end-users’ needs, it is highly unlikely that a product alone can meet its envisioned purpose.

In addition, we routinely work for the big healthcare IT and medical device vendors to integrate their systems. We feel that the breadth of our knowledge of the different systems available in the market today and how they work is unsurpassed by any competitor. Lastly, we have extensive experience working for and with provider organizations, clinical IT vendors, RHIOs, HIEs, and technology companies.


Your leadership team all worked for Baylor. What made you decide to start a company and what’s good and bad about working for yourselves?

Jeff McGeath and I started AOI in 2006 with a simple vision that there has to be an easier way for healthcare organizations to connect their disparate systems. We reflected on our expertise and recognized that although we were very proficient in the IT system integration space, the future of healthcare relied on connecting disparate devices that housed an incredible amount of clinically critical information. Additionally, it was becoming more and more necessary for providers to be able to exchange information outside of the walls of their organization.

There was so much change and flux at the time that we weren’t completely certain the industry would go in the direction we predicted. As with most startups, things didn’t come together overnight. However, eventually we were providing services for device manufacturers as well as for one of the first HIE vendors.

Eventually it became clear that our early predictions and focus areas were growing into very important healthcare verticals. We are proud to have been a key player in steering the path of integration for the last six-plus years. Because we forged early roots in this space, today we are able to say that AOI can provide services from the device to the connected community and everything in between. We can offer expert services to providers, hospitals, and vendors alike.

While we always knew we wanted to be both a services and products company, we absolutely wanted to make sure there was a need. A benefit of working without outside influences like investors and private equity is that you have complete control of the focus of the company. You can be much more nimble. Certainly there is the early, day-to-day struggle of bootstrapping the organization. However, seven years later, we are much better for it and have been able to take the needed time to evaluate the market.

As we built our organization’s capabilities and grew our services offerings, we were able to keep a keen eye on where there were market gaps we were interested in. We were able to easily work toward filling those gaps.

One of the hard parts about working for ourselves has been building our team so that we can provide the level of professional capabilities we offer today. Finding exceptional people is hard and very time-consuming work. In our previous jobs, we were fortunate to work with great individuals who were already in place, but when we started Accent on Integration, we had to start from scratch and build a team of professionals that we knew would contribute to the company’s success.

Everyone has a core group of people that they have worked with in the past that, if given the chance, they would want them by their side again. You pointed out that our leadership team all has previous ties, and Jeff and I would have it no other way. We did everything we could to bring those folks on board, and it is a continuous process to add to our team of all-stars. Our employees are our greatest asset.


What new integration needs do you see developing for hospitals in the future?

Full waveform integration is definitely a hot topic with hospitals today. Every customer we meet with has questions about the best way to get waveform data out of their ancillary systems and into the hospital EHR in a format that can be viewed natively. Today, this is sometimes accomplished by attaching documents or scanning strip images. But what we’re seeing is that hospitals are pushing the EMR vendors toward native support of this rich data.

The market has matured to the point that basic HL7 interchange is not really a challenge for hospitals and vendors using a variety of tools. Richer content — such as waveforms and CCDA — and the orchestration of multi-step technical workflows to support clinical workflows are the integration needs we see the industry heading toward. The standards organizations like HL7 and IHE are already a few years into that stage of integration readiness, with one example being IHE’s Waveform Content Management (WCM) profile.

We also expect to see EHRs supporting a richer set of parameters from devices so a greater amount of device data can be integrated. As more data is available in real-time, alerting will continue to mature, which will greatly improve patient care and safety and has the potential to significantly improve overall operations.

In addition, we see HIEs and ACOs having community-based offerings that leverage device data not only from the hospital, but also from any location including the home.

Lastly, the interface engine market appears to be experiencing some redistribution, and there will be provider organizations that will need people skilled in both product X and product Y to do a good migration of interfaces.

An HIT Moment with … Patricia Stewart, Principal, Innovative Healthcare Solutions

November 30, 2012 Interviews No Comments

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Pat Stewart is a principal with Innovative Healthcare Solutions of Punta Gorda, FL.

11-30-2012 4-03-08 PM

What kinds of projects are clients looking for help to complete these days?

Many clients are struggling simply to meet such basic IT objectives as maintaining and increasing IT services to support the organization’s business and clinical strategic goals, optimizing investments in IT so the organization receives maximum value for their investments, and mitigating risks to business processes and patient care associated with IT. All while pushing to meet Meaningful Use requirements, dealing with the impact of healthcare reform, and understanding the developments in the purchaser and payer arena. These are broad initiatives and there is pressure to move forward in all of them concurrently.

Organizations are being bombarded with a host of industry changes — accountable care and medical home models, Meaningful Use and health information exchanges, ICD-10, and the call for business intelligence. Now more than ever, healthcare organizations need solid IT strategies. Typically, however, there are limited IT resources to support these strategies. This has created many opportunities for our consulting services.

The majority of our engagements fall into three main categories. Engagements to help clients implement one or more of McKesson’s Horizon suite of products with the goal of reaching MU. Engagements to help clients implement a new system, such as Epic or Paragon. Engagements to help clients transition and support their legacy McKesson applications while they convert to a new vendor, such as Epic or Paragon. We are also seeing more requests for assistance in system and workflow optimization and analytics projects.

What are some innovative implementation ideas you’ve used or seen?

It’s still not common to manage a project from start to finish according to an overall business strategy. Or for IT groups to collaborate with stakeholders to understand their needs and challenges. These practices create innovation and success.

One of our clients created co-management arrangements with each physician service line that included quality of care, patient satisfaction, value analysis studies, and EMR adoption. They established strong teams with lean experts to develop implementation approaches for issues that affect physicians directly, such as CPOE, bedside barcoding, and medication reconciliation. The teams design the implementation approach, success factors, and metric-driven financial rewards for physicians.

Clients have created dedicated teams for testing and identifying build and process issues. They have pulled operations people into a workflow and process team to identify gaps between current and future state, to make decisions about process changes, and to provide go-live support. Some clients have cut back on classroom training and instead allocated those resources for "at the elbow" user support during go-live, which also makes financial sense since these resources can be cheaper than the cost of implementation specialists. 

The company has been around for several years. During that time, the Epic business has taken a big swing up and lots of people have formed small consulting companies to take advantage of the demand. How do you see that market and your competition changing in the next few years?

Our management team has been working in the HIT environment for many years and we have never seen the kind of market growth we’re seeing now. This demand has led to a rush of people entering the consulting profession, and — as you mentioned — a lot of new consulting companies. While we’ve seen more people choosing to become consultants, we haven’t seen a corresponding increase in the experience and skill levels these individuals bring to the table.

Unfortunately, financial opportunities instead of missions, goals, and aptitude are leading people to the market. We think it is inevitable that the market will slow down, and when it does, there will be consulting companies that drop out of the market. Few are built for long-term survival.

We credit our success to a corporate mission, culture, and identity based on simple core values: do the right thing for our clients, do the right thing for our consultants, and never forget there is a patient at the end of what we do. 

What are the best jobs in healthcare IT right now, and which ones would you advise industry newcomers to prepare for?

System and process optimization. Implementations over the last few years have occurred under stressful conditions with short timelines and limited resources. System implementations have not aligned with an organizational strategy. For organizations to be successful, they must understand how their systems impact business operations. Organizations must answer the questions: what value are we getting from the systems and how are they supporting our strategic goals? What processes must change to maximize our investments and achieve our goals?

One way facilities can meet system optimization resource needs is by creating transitional programs that take strong clinical experts and train them in application support roles. With shrinking inpatient census and greater focus on clinical quality and readmission initiatives, organizations can put clinical experts with IT aptitude on a path to IT knowledge. Facilities can grow bench strength from within. It is a long-term strategy and requires investment, but we believe it’s better than searching for talent – expensive talent – that isn’t part of the organization’s culture.

Jobs that leverage data to manage patient populations and outcomes. These jobs require an understanding of the system design so the right information is captured. Their roles and responsibilities will include using predictive analytics to proactively manage outcomes and maintain reimbursement.

What subtle industry trends are you seeing now that will become important down the road?

Systems and IT resources must support initiatives that allow healthcare to transition into community settings. We must focus on managing population health and creating effective support systems to transition patients into community care settings

The emergence of the Chief Clinical Information Officer. The melding of CMIO and CNIO for a less siloed approach.

Increased ability to adopt and manage change. With the implementation of so many complex systems, healthcare organizations and providers now have a wealth of data. With it comes a greater responsibility to respond quickly to conditions that affect patient outcomes, positively or negatively. To meet that responsibility, healthcare organizations and providers must be more nimble than ever. They must adapt efficiently and effectively to changing conditions. Having years or even months to implement changes and gain adoption will not be an option.

HIStalk Interviews Kobi Margolin, Founder and CEO, Clinigence

November 28, 2012 Interviews No Comments

Jacob “Kobi” Margolin is founder and CEO of Clinigence of Atlanta, GA.

11-28-2012 4-02-40 PM

Tell me about yourself and about the company.

I’m the CEO and founder Clinigence, my third venture in healthcare IT. I am semi-Americanized, an Israeli originally. In the mid-1990s after seven years in an intelligence branch of the Israeli Defense Forces with a group of colleagues that I met in the military, we started Algotec, a medical imaging company. With Algotec, I came to Atlanta in 1999 to start US operations. 

We sold the company to Kodak in 2004. I then joined a startup at Georgia Tech that focused on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model in medical imaging.

At my first company, Algotec, we were pioneers of bridging web technologies into the PACS market. These were days when medical imaging went through the electronic revolution. Our technology was all about distributing clinical images across the enterprise and beyond. My second company, Nurostar Solutions, capitalized on this electronic revolution and the SaaS model to facilitate new business models for imaging services. In those days, teleradiology was exploding and we became the leading technology platform for these services.

In 2008, I started on a path that led me to Clinigence today. 2008 was an election year. In the days leading to that election, I looked at what was going on in the market and thought that there might be new opportunities opening up around electronic medical records. I had followed the EMR market since my first HIMSS in 1997 in San Diego. The market was advancing, as one of the analysts put it, at glacial speed. Then in 2008 or 2009, suddenly an explosion of funds was allocated for this market. I started thinking about what was coming next. Let’s assume that the market is already on electronic medical records. What impact is that going to have?

That led me to the concept of clinical business intelligence, which in essence is, how do we make sense of the data in electronic medical records from both the clinical and business or financial standpoint for the benefit of healthcare providers, for the benefit of medical practices and their patients? This is when we started Clinigence.

Officially started in 2010, we had our first beta in February 2011 and our first commercial installation in October 2011. Today we are in over 70 medical practices with about 400,000 patients on the platform, with two EMR companies as channel partners. We just signed our second partner a few weeks ago and our first ACO customer just a few days ago.


How do you position yourself in the market and who do you compete most closely with?

In the clinical analytics industry, we are unique in that we are entirely provider centric. We jumped into clinical analytics with the vision that everything is going to be inside clinical operations and everything is going to be electronic. We have created a technology foundation that uses electronic medical record data as its primary source.

If you look at clinical analytics, that is a multi-billion dollar industry. Pretty much all of that industry has focused on healthcare payers or health plans. The technologies are based on administrative or claims data. There are specific benefits ,we believe, in the use of EMR data as your primary source. The number one differentiator for us is in the use of EMR data, which allows us to do three things.

Number one, our reports are real time. We create a real-time feedback loop that takes the data from the provider system and goes back to the providers and helps them change the way they deliver care to their patients in more proactive ways.

Number two, our reports are very rich in outcomes. We all know that the ultimate goal of everything we’re doing in health reform today and healthcare transformation is patient outcomes. Yet a lot of the reports you look at today in the market don’t give you any outcomes in them, because the data that’s used to generate them is data for billing purposes that doesn’t include clinical outcomes.

Number three, because we focus on the system that comes from the healthcare provider organization itself, we give providers the ability to break the report all the way down to individual patients and individual clinical data elements. The reports are not anonymous for them. The reports are something that they can trust, something they can work with. With that, we have the power to change the behavior of providers and affect behavior change in their patients, which improves outcomes.


If a physician is receiving reports from your system, what kind of improvements might they suggest?

The reports from our system drive a process, the process of improvement. It’s like peeling layers of an onion. We focus today almost exclusively on primary care. When we go to a primary care practice, we first have the physicians look at how they document clinical encounters today. 

Oftentimes the outer layer of the onion is helping the practice or the individual physicians with their documentation practices — making sure that they’re documenting everything that needs to be documented. We often find that physicians say, “Oh, we do these things,” but when you look down at their report, it doesn’t show it. It turns out that they’re doing things, but they’re not always documenting them or not documenting them correctly.

Then the second layer is we help the practices compare their performance, the compliance of their staff, with medical guidelines, recommended care, and sometimes their own protocols within the organization or the practice. You go into a practice and you ask the doctors, “Do you follow these protocols?”

For example, in family medicine, diabetes is chronic disease number one. The recommended guidelines, recommended care protocols for diabetes are pretty well established. We know the things we need to do. You go in and ask the physicians and they always say, “Of course we follow medical guidelines. Of course we do all the things that we’re supposed to.”

Then you start breaking the data down to reports across the organization, across the staff within the practice. Almost inevitably you find that there are variations in care, differences among providers and their compliance with these protocols which lead to gaps in individual patient care. We help them find these variations in process compliance, close these gaps, and improve their compliance with those medical guidelines and protocols.

The deepest layer of the onion, which only a few of the practices we’re working with are at that level — certainly in the ACO market we think that there’s going to be more of that — is about going into the effectiveness of your protocols within the practice in driving outcomes and that goes both to patient outcomes and eventually to business or financial outcomes for the practice. In this context, we give the customer the power, essentially, to do things like comparative effectiveness, look at various protocols that they use and see which ones are driving the outcomes or the results that they want.


The ACO concept is new enough that I’m not sure anybody really understands how they’re going to operate. Does anybody know how to use the data that you’re providing to manage risk, specifically within an ACO model? Or is it just overall quality and that’s what ACO should encourage?

I think that the ACO market is indeed still a baby. OK, it’s a newborn. Everybody is at the beginning of a journey. Even some of the organizations that have been doing this for the longest, like the pioneer ACOs, are still in very early stages.

We are focusing in the ACO market on finding organizations that we think have the best shot of going through this journey and being successful in going through this journey. We come to them and offer them a partnership in the journey, where we become somewhat of a navigation system for them with the kind of reports I mentioned earlier. Then really all that our technology can do — empower them with those navigation tools to find the roads that lead to the holy grail of accountable care, to find the roads to the triple aim of health reform.

As I’ve said, we’ve just closed our first ACO customer, so it’s going to be presumptuous of me to say, “Yes, the answers are already there.” But with the three things that I mentioned earlier, specifically, primary care driven and physician-led ACOs have unique potential of identifying, figuring out the ways to get to that holy grail. We think that our technology is a critical piece that can help them and then accelerate them in their path towards that holy grail.


Describe the patient-centered medical home model and the data capabilities physicians need to operate under that.

In primary care, we are doing much more work on medical homes than ACOs because ACOs are still few and far between. There is great interest in the patient-centered medical home model.

The patient-centered medical home model in itself is only a care delivery model. It does not come with a payment model attached to it, but there are certain markets where payers actually offer incentives to those practices that go to the patient-centered medical home model.

To become a patient-centered medical home, there are specific areas that the practice needs to address. NCQA offers a certification process that has become the de facto standard in certification as a medical home. They don’t necessarily force you to have an electronic medical record, so you can potentially become a patient centered medical home even without one. But what we would say is, as you look at your goals in the patient-centered medical home — specifically goals around continuous quality improvement, goals around population health management — using electronic medical records becomes necessary, a prerequisite to your ability to engage seriously in those kinds of efforts. 

We typically come in with our technology after the practice implements or adopts electronic medical record technology and help them take the data in their electronic medical record and translate that into a clear path towards quality improvement.


Is it hard to get physicians to follow your recommendations?

Most physicians are independent. They don’t like to be told what to do. Before I started Clinigence, I looked at clinical decision support and decided not to jump into it, basically because I didn’t want to be in a position to tell physicians what to do. Instead, I selected clinical business intelligence. It was more around telling physicians how well they’re doing and how well their patients are doing. 

One of the unique aspects of what we’ve built is that we created a “declarative classification engine,” which in essence means that the physicians can ask the system whatever question they want about their operations, about their patients, about their quality. We give them flexibility to go around the medical guidelines that come from the outside sources, build their own protocols, and then look at compliance and look at their performance relative to the protocols that they have set up for themselves.

You have to be somewhat careful when you do that. If you’re looking for success under a specific pay-for-performance program, then you have to abide by whatever the payer or some outside authority has set for you, and it is not uncommon for us to have variations or flavors of the same guideline. One that measures performance for the outside reporting purpose, and then a second one or even a number of them that give the practice the ability to create their own flavor of protocols. 

Then it’s no longer somebody telling you – Big Brother telling you — what to do. You have the power to determine what to do. I think the ACO model — and to some degree, also the patient-centered medical home as a step towards the ACO model – puts the physicians within those ACOs in the driver’s seat. Nobody is telling them where to go or what road to try in order to drive the success of the ACO.

There are 33 quality metrics for an ACO that are defined by Medicare. We say, “Is this sufficient?” Clearly these metrics are necessary; you have to report on those to Medicare. But are these sufficient? Will these guarantee your success? 

It is clear to everybody in the ACO market that the answer is no. These may provide a starting point, but nothing more than that. You have to carve your own way to achieve the outcomes. We know what outcomes are desired, but as far as how to get there, much is still unknown. There’s great need for innovation in fact in the market to figure it out.


A number of Israel-based medical technology companies have come in to the U.S. market, a disproportionate number based on what you might expect. Why are companies from Israel so successful in succeeding here?

My personal story may be a bit of a reflection of the success story of Israeli medical technology. Israel has become a Silicon Valley, an incubator of technology. Israel has more technology companies on Nasdaq, I think, than all of Europe combined. A lot of it is around the medical field.

Why has Israel has become that? I can speak from my own personal experience. There’s a book called Start-up Nation that was written by Dan Senor that looked more generally at this same question. His thesis in the book is that the military in Israel is the real incubator, the real catalyst for innovation.

I can say from my experience it really was like that. In my first company, Algotec, we started fresh out of the military. We were a group of engineers in the military. We knew very little about healthcare, certainly not healthcare in the US.

What we knew — and what the military instilled in us — was the desire to do something, to innovate, to create something. Beyond the desire, also the confidence to think that at the early age and early in our careers as we were back then, that we could do something like that. We could go and make a difference like that. 

There’s a lot of that going on in the medical field. I joke around that every Jewish mother wants her kid to be a doctor. Certainly there’s a lot of that here in the States. When I was growing up, somehow I was never really attracted to that. I was more on the exact scientific side. For my undergrad, I chose math and physics. In grad school, medical physics for me was a way to bridge the gap, to fulfill at least a portion of the wishes of my mother.


Any concluding thoughts?

You asked me about the process that we go with practices and I said it’s like peeling layers of an onion. Today, mostly with our clients we focus with them on some of the outer layers. We help them comply with pay-for-performance or create a patient-centered medical home. 

But where I think all of this gets really exciting and interesting is when you start getting to the deeper layers. We took great efforts to build a platform that’s very flexible. The unique piece I mentioned earlier in this context was the declarative classification engine. We also built what we believe is the first commercial clinical data repository that’s based on semantic technologies. Now this may sound to some folks like technology mumbo jumbo, but what’s important here is the ability to get data — any type of data — and make sense of it, so the system can understand the data even if it has never seen data like that before.

We think that over time, as our healthcare system goes through this journey of figuring out how to deliver more effective and efficient care, we can with technologies like that drive or create a bridge in between medical practice and medical science or medical research. Imagine that all of medical research — pharmaceuticals that go to the market or new devices that go through clinical trials — where they test the devices on hundreds or thousands of patients. We are building a system that can collect data from many millions of patients. Already today we are collecting data on hundreds of thousands of patients every day in medical practices.

Imagine what kind of insights we can get out of the data that we’re collecting, and then how this can then accelerate medical knowledge. Not just in the context of the holy grail of accountable care – helping deliver care that’s more efficient and effective – but really advancing medical science, identifying new things, new treatment protocols that otherwise we would never know about or would take us generations potentially to find.

HIStalk Interviews Seth Henry, Founder and CEO, Arcadia Solutions

November 15, 2012 Interviews 1 Comment

Seth Henry is founder and CEO of Arcadia Solutions of Burlington, MA. The company announced Wednesday that it has been acquired by private equity firm Ferrer Freeman & Company and Arcadia’s senior management team.

11-14-2012 7-24-34 PM

Describe what Arcadia does and why it was time to bring in a new investor.

Arcadia is built on the premise that healthcare must do three things: bend the cost curve, change the incentives and payments to focus on outcomes, and connect and integrate disparate systems with IT.

To that end, Arcadia is focused on being the leader in helping the ambulatory market successfully adopt, integrate, and make decisions with IT. We believe this part of the market — where 46 percent of the care is delivered — has not been addressed by the IT vendor community while the main focus has been on “wiring” hospitals.  

The changes in the overall system are driving health system executives to address the IT needs in the physician and ambulatory marketplace. To help with this initiative, Arcadia provides comprehensive services implementing, optimizing, and providing strategic decision support to this market, focusing on larger systems and aggregators.

Arcadia has established a proven track record and loyal customer base in the northeast US. However, we have reached a point where it would be helpful to work with a growth partner with deep experience in healthcare and health IT who could help drive an aggressive national expansion plan combined with a continued investment in forward-looking offerings for customers. FFC is that partner.

We’re also excited to have their senior management team join our board of managers, which includes Carlos Ferrer, David Freeman, and Ted Lundberg of FFC as well as Jim Crook, a healthcare IT industry veteran who was CEO of IDX Systems when it was sold to GE Healthcare for $1.2 billion, who will help us drive this strategy.


Ferrer Freeman & Company has been an investor in several healthcare IT related companies that were acquired by large entities, including PHNS (now Anthelio), Vitalize Consulting Solutions, and Webmedx. What do they bring to the table to enable the next level of Arcadia’s growth?

In addition to growth capital, FFC provides a deep understanding and strategic focus on the business of healthcare, having invested in more than 35 companies exclusively in this market. They have a broad network of senior executives in Arcadia Solutions’ target marketplace who have been very engaged in the direction of the business. They also have a  committed partnership with management that is passionate and involved in the direction and growth of the company.


How has the company’s business changed over the years since HITECH went into effect and how do you see it changing in the next few years?

We do not see HITECH as the primary driver of the business. Our firm’s direction of focusing on measurable adoption and aligning IT with cost and quality was well established before HITECH was conceived and our rapid growth preceded HITECH.  

While we think HITECH is directionally correct and consistent, it is not a primary reason our customers buy from us. Our customers in general have a broader purview and mission with respect to transforming healthcare with IT and this is reflected in our consistency of offerings and performance pre- and post-HITECH.


Arcadia has been involved with 2,500 EMR implementations in physician practices. What are the most important trends you’ve observed that you have incorporated into the company’s strategy?

We believe the industry in general has focused too much on the technology aspects and not nearly enough on the people. As a result, the definition of “done” is when the systems are live. Our definition of “done” is when the data in the system has reached a certain level of quality.  

We also believe very strongly — and our data confirms — that the technology chosen can have very little to do with the ultimate results in terms of better performance, more efficiency, and happier physicians.


Scarcity of specifically trained resources and tight timelines driven by HITECH have created a healthcare IT consulting boom, which has in turn led to several high-dollar acquisitions. How do you see the healthcare IT consulting market playing out over the next 5-10 years?

As with all markets, there will be highs and lows, winners and losers. Our strategy is to stay laser focused on providing services with proven and measured value and results while building a great company in the process. The rest will take care of itself.

We are very confident that the healthcare market faces a very long road in getting completely wired and connected with IT and adapting and optimizing the business and delivery model in parallel. I have not met anyone close to this problem that thinks that HIT is not a growth market for 10 more years. 

HIStalk Interviews Seth Henry, Founder and CEO, Arcadia Solutions

November 14, 2012 Interviews No Comments

Seth Henry is founder and CEO of Arcadia Solutions of Burlington, MA. The company announced Wednesday that it has been acquired by private equity firm Ferrer Freeman & Company and Arcadia’s senior management team.

11-14-2012 7-24-34 PM

Describe what Arcadia does and why it was time to bring in a new investor.

Arcadia is built on the premise that healthcare must do three things: bend the cost curve, change the incentives and payments to focus on outcomes, and connect and integrate disparate systems with IT.

To that end, Arcadia is focused on being the leader in helping the ambulatory market successfully adopt, integrate, and make decisions with IT. We believe this part of the market — where 46 percent of the care is delivered — has not been addressed by the IT vendor community while the main focus has been on “wiring” hospitals.

The changes in the overall system are driving health system executives to address the IT needs in the physician and ambulatory marketplace. To help with this initiative, Arcadia provides comprehensive services implementing, optimizing, and providing strategic decision support to this market, focusing on larger systems and aggregators.

Arcadia has established a proven track record and loyal customer base in the northeast US. However, we have reached a point where it would be helpful to work with a growth partner with deep experience in healthcare and health IT who could help drive an aggressive national expansion plan combined with a continued investment in forward-looking offerings for customers. FFC is that partner.

We’re also excited to have their senior management team join our board of managers, which includes Carlos Ferrer, David Freeman, and Ted Lundberg of FFC as well as Jim Crook, a healthcare IT industry veteran who was CEO of IDX Systems when it was sold to GE Healthcare for $1.2 billion, who will help us drive this strategy.

Ferrer Freeman & Company has been an investor in several healthcare IT related companies that were acquired by large entities, including PHNS (now Anthelio), Vitalize Consulting Solutions, and Webmedx. What do they bring to the table to enable the next level of Arcadia’s growth?

In addition to growth capital, FFC provides a deep understanding and strategic focus on the business of healthcare, having invested in more than 35 companies exclusively in this market. They have a broad network of senior executives in Arcadia Solutions’ target marketplace who have been very engaged in the direction of the business. They also have a committed partnership with management that is passionate and involved in the direction and growth of the company.

How has the company’s business changed over the years since HITECH went into effect and how do you see it changing in the next few years?

We do not see HITECH as the primary driver of the business. Our firm’s direction of focusing on measurable adoption and aligning IT with cost and quality was well established before HITECH was conceived and our rapid growth preceded HITECH.

While we think HITECH is directionally correct and consistent, it is not a primary reason our customers buy from us. Our customers in general have a broader purview and mission with respect to transforming healthcare with IT and this is reflected in our consistency of offerings and performance pre- and post-HITECH.

Arcadia has been involved with 2,500 EMR implementations in physician practices. What are the most important trends you’ve observed that you have incorporated into the company’s strategy?

We believe the industry in general has focused too much on the technology aspects and not nearly enough on the people. As a result, the definition of “done” is when the systems are live. Our definition of “done” is when the data in the system has reached a certain level of quality.

We also believe very strongly — and our data confirms — that the technology chosen can have very little to do with the ultimate results in terms of better performance, more efficiency, and happier physicians.

Scarcity of specifically trained resources and tight timelines driven by HITECH have created a healthcare IT consulting boom, which has in turn led to several high-dollar acquisitions. How do you see the healthcare IT consulting market playing out over the next 5-10 years?

As with all markets, there will be highs and lows, winners and losers. Our strategy is to stay laser focused on providing services with proven and measured value and results while building a great company in the process. The rest will take care of itself.

We are very confident that the healthcare market faces a very long road in getting completely wired and connected with IT and adapting and optimizing the business and delivery model in parallel. I have not met anyone close to this problem that thinks that HIT is not a growth market for 10 more years.

HIStalk Interviews Janet Dillione, EVP/GM, Nuance

November 12, 2012 Interviews No Comments

Janet Dillione is executive vice president and general manager of the healthcare division of Nuance Communications.


How do Nuance’s recent acquisitions of Quantim and J.A. Thomas and Associates tie in with the company’s long-term plans?

For long-term plans specific to the Healthcare Division, we are quite interested in having a positive impact on clinical documentation, especially bridging the world between the clinicians and what you could call the administrative processes of healthcare. That crosswalk, if you will, from clinical documentation to CDI to reimbursement.

I think we are fortunate we have quite distinctive technology to help here. Along with speech, we have our clinical language understanding technologies. We think we are in a unique position to help. As I always like to say, we are morally compelled to leave it better than we found it, so let’s get in here and take a look at these processes and the software and the support and then let’s try to have a positive impact here and help the customers.


Earlier this year, Nuance partnered with 3M for computer-assisted coding. How is the J.A. Thomas acquisition going to impact the relationship with 3M?

3M and Nuance will remain partners. This is not unusual for Nuance. We’ve done this across other lines with businesses like radiology, where we’re both probably called a full-stack workflow provider as well as a technology provider. We are quite comfortable doing that. We’ve done it before and we’ll continue to do that. Right now, there will be no changes.


In addition of Quantim and J.A. Thomas, earlier this year Nuance acquired Transcend, which had purchased Salar. What overlaps, if any, do you see with these products?

Transcend for us is very much about an expansion and an extension into the mid-market. We have a channel strategy that’s really a customer-based expansion, a mid-market expansion with our traditional transcription line of business, great KLAS scores, great customer reputation, great customer relationships. It is really about that. 

The Quantim and the J.A. Thomas acquisitions are about filling out that clinical documentation support, which we can then take into that broader Nuance customer base. Transcend was absolutely about getting a great brand and a great customer base and that has had success. These latest two were really about clinical documentation expansion with the CDI.


I understand that there is quite a bit of development work that is still being done on the Quantim CAC offering. What is the timetable for completing that product?

A good amount of work has already been done. There is development and different types of work and some building up of content and knowledge. The other part is really doing some of the underlying plumbing, sort to speak.

The Quantim team had done quite a bit on the knowledge and the content side of it, so we have a very aggressive plan to be in market. We have product in the market now with Quantim and we’ll continue that and will have further releases the end of the year and early next year. We adapted some of the changes with what we believe is an uplift in technology. The developers are working together on this and have been working on this already for quite a bit. We have a very good idea of exactly what has to happen. We’re very positive about what we need with this one.


Do you anticipate that any of the other Quantim products will be retired or changed substantially now that they’re under your wing?

With Quantim, we’re looking at what they have available for coding and CAC and compliance and reporting modules. We think all of those are well suited. There is some integration work we’ll do, especially in some of the reporting, but we actually feel that in most areas there’s no overlap. It’s not part of the integration plan and it wasn’t part of the due diligence.

We don’t see overlap. We see net new. We actually said this throughout the acquisition plan. This is all about going forward and there’s not a lot of the reverse energy, so to speak.


We understand that MModal may have had some type of relationship with Quantim for CAC. Any plans to maintain that agreement?

I would hate to speak for MModal for any prior agreements, but the CAC solution in the market will be with Nuance technology.


Nuance has been continually diversifying its offerings. Do you see any plans to move into the HIS or RCM world?

[Laughs] Right now we are very focused on providing a unique value-added solution into this very complex world of CDI and clinical documentation and CAC. We’ve made quite an investment here and throughout the market. We’re going to be very focused for quite a while making sure we get these solutions out to the customers.


Any additional comments?

I have been here two years. It’s been great. We are blessed. We have fantastic customers, a phenomenal customer list. Great loyalty with our customers, great trust, which is fantastic. We take it very seriously.  

We didn’t make these extensions, these decisions, lightly. We have a brand that we are very conscious of. We think that this is a space where we can add value. We are excited about it.

I was at AHIMA for three days. I was quite frankly really pleased with the market reaction. Customers coming up and saying, “Great, I get it.” It’s so great when we do something that’s significant and have customers say, “I get it. Wow! I get it. That makes perfect sense.”

That was very validating. These are smart people who have been in this space for years, so it’s helpful when you get that kind of a market reaction. That validates the long hours working into the night.

HIStalk Interviews Richard Atkin, President and CEO, Sunquest

November 9, 2012 Interviews 1 Comment

Richard Atkin is president of Sunquest Information Systems of Tucson, AZ.

11-9-2012 7-00-28 PM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

Sunquest is the largest laboratory software company in the world. We provide solutions that enable the full automation of the hospital laboratory and also solutions that extend across the continuum of care to all areas of healthcare where lab tests are ordered, samples are collected, or results are needed to make effective clinical decisions.

They are mission critical because the decisions are made 24/7, so the solutions have to operate 24/7. Around 70% of all clinical decisions are based on lab data.

I’m the president of Sunquest. I’ve held that position for nearly seven years now. Together with the leadership team, we’ve taken Sunquest through a series of transformations and changes of ownership, but always with a focus on creating solutions that add value and result in client delight.


Tell me how the acquisition by Roper took place and what changes have been made as a result.

Roper had been looking at Sunquest and the progress that we’d been making in the marketplace for quite a little bit of time. They had approached the shareholders and entered into a conversation with the shareholders about acquiring the business. I think they’d been looking at software companies in general.

They’ve got a very large software presence across a number of industry verticals. They really liked what they saw in Sunquest with our customer base, market share, and transformation we made in the product portfolio. It was a conversation through the investors and the match that Sunquest in its profile had with Roper’s view of where they wanted to invest and how they could grow their business. It became a win-win for both the existing shareholders and for Roper that the acquisition closed.


What is most different about being owned by a private equity firm versus being a publicly traded company?

We’re only about two months into the Roper ownership, but I’ve enjoyed each of those phases of the business. When I first joined Sunquest, it was part of the Misys organization, which from the healthcare perspective, became Allscripts. It was part of Misys and then it was a private equity and now it’s with Roper.

Each owner has really helped us in the business focus on how you add value and what you need to grow the business. The questions are essentially the same. How do the shareholders help add value and how do you grow the business?

There’s a view that private equity is short-term focused. That was not my experience. They really focused on growing value in the business. That requires a strategic perspective, not just a short-term one. You don’t grow value because of your short-term focus.

It’s the same so far with Roper. They are publicly traded and there’s a view that publicly traded companies only think quarter to quarter, but all the conversations I’ve had with Roper are about how we are going to grow the business further and how we add value in the marketplace. They are really taking a longer-term view.

I think one of the main differences is, though, that Roper has a track record of owning businesses forever. Their message to employees was that this a permanent home for Sunquest. That’s really how they thought about it. When they did their due diligence, it was on the basis that they were going to own Sunquest forever. That thought about what’s the next step or who’s going to be the next owner for Sunquest has been removed — it is Roper. They’re a permanent home and we’re focused long-term on growth.


Will they be a hands-off owner who is happy with the operation as it stands or do you see them wanting change the strategic direction?

They’re what’s traditionally been called a holding company. Their businesses are all autonomous. They have around 33 businesses and Sunquest will operate autonomously within the Roper family. I continue to be responsible and the leadership team continues to be responsible for direction and running the business.

They clearly as owners — and they have invested a lot of money here — have a view as to how they have helped their existing businesses grow, their track records for growth. A lot of that is being focused on globally — international growth — and also focused in on ensuring that the channels to market are effective, not just the products. A lot of technology companies are focused on product, but that the channel to market — the sales channel and the delivery channel — are also effective. 

The questions that we’re getting are, “What else do we need to do to drive international growth? Are there any more things that we need to do to be effective in the marketplace with the sales channel and delivery channel?” But otherwise, the leadership team’s all in place, the messages are that everybody is being retained — there were no synergies from the acquisition that were planned. Everybody has a role and everybody’s being kept in place.


Do you think people were surprised that the transaction was for $1.4 billion? That’s a pretty big deal in healthcare IT.

There may been some surprise externally. Internally within the company and with the shareholders, less so. We knew how much value was being created and how much the business is growing. 

I think one of the things that perhaps we’ve failed to do is get our message out as clearly as we could have about how much success we have generated within Sunquest. Order intake is growing consistently in the mid to high teens year over year. That has driven obviously revenue growth. It’s driven the profitability of the business. Sunquest today is a very different organization than it was five years ago when it was acquired by private equity.

We’ve also transformed product development. We’re writing three times the lines of code per year and releasing four times the number of product releases per year that we were five years ago. The products have changed, the organization has changed, and we’ve been growing consistently every year. That represents value.

But I don’t know that we got that message out well enough for all of your readers to say, “That’s understandable, because Sunquest is on the move.” When you  look at the performance of the business, it’s been on move for five years.


The company has stayed focused on lab systems even though you have offerings in radiology and in other areas. Would you still characterize Sunquest as a laboratory information systems vendor and do you see that changing?

Yes, that’s how I’d characterize it at our core. We have other products, but largely what we’ve done is looked at the workflows in and around the laboratory. We think about the lab business as being inside the four walls of the lab and having a comprehensive set of solutions that operate within the four walls. But then looking at the workflows outside of the lab but within the hospital, we’ve got a comprehensive set of solutions that extend those workflows — to the point of care, to surgery, emergency department, etc. — and then take those workflows outside to the doctor’s office.

When we looked at that, we saw a huge opportunity for growth. We went about developing those solutions and acquiring some to enable us to fully automate all those workflows associated with the laboratory and laboratory testing, but right across the continuum of care.

Then when you think about anatomic pathology and the opportunities to fully automate anatomic pathology and then move toward digital pathology and the image aspects of digital pathology, we still see this huge amount of opportunity for future growth without having to step outside of this core, very deep focus that we have in and around the lab.


What do you think is on the radar for genetic testing being used by hospitals and practices, and how might Sunquest fit?

We’re spending a lot of our time and focus and investment in and around not just genetic testing, but the things that can enable the opportunity to move from healthcare being focused on the treatment of acute illness and diagnosis to move towards prognosis and then potential for prevention. Diagnosis, prognosis, to prevention. 

Our view is that genomics and genetic testing is going to be one of the enablers to be able to move in that continuum. That to my mind is going to enable the fundamental transformation of healthcare. I know there’s different views as to either when that could occur or the impact it will have, but I do think that that transition will occur and that in the future, we’ll have a very different view of what healthcare really means — that it’s not just about the treatment of illness.


I’m hearing that Epic’s Beaker LIS product is coming along fairly strongly, especially in the anatomic pathology areas, and of course Cerner and Meditech and other vendors offer a full line of products that include a laboratory information system. What do you think is the future for best-of-breed LIS products?

I think it’s very strong, as evidenced by the growth that we’ve already exhibited in the last five years. During the time when there was a lot of focus on the enterprise and Meaningful Use, etc. we’ve been growing very substantially.

The way I view this is there is so much complexity in and around the lab and there’s so much opportunity still to fully automate that area. That really does require a deep understanding of the workflows and a deep understanding of the needs in that area. I do not personally see the compromise that comes from an enterprise or a “one size fits all” approach in and around the lab.

One thing that’s very high on my agenda is the focus on quality in healthcare and quality in terms also of software solutions. Whether software solutions such as the ones Sunquest and our competitors provide are already medical devices. There seems to be a lot of discussion about that.

I am firm believer and an advocate of the fact that the types of solutions that we provide and the software solutions that are used in the enterprise are medical devices. If they’re not, I don’t know what other definition you could apply. These are clearly products that are used to help improve the effectiveness of healthcare, to help provide information that enables physicians and others to make clinical decisions. 

I’m a strong believer that these are medical devices. I really don’t understand the position that others seem to take that they’re not medical devices, and therefore they should not be subject to things like FDA review. I take a contrary view to most of my colleagues on that.


Supposedly the vendors convinced the FDA years ago that it would police itself without FDA involvement. FDA seems to be signaling at least some level of interest, which might be a positive development for companies like Sunquest that already have experience in working under FDA’s guidelines. Do you see FDA’s view changing?

I don’t whether the view will change. I agree with you — there seems to be some dialogue occurring, but perhaps going a little softly on that is to whether they would really get into this area. I know there’s a lot of discussion, but I don’t know whether they will change their view.

I do think it would good for Sunquest. We have blood bank products that are classified as medical devices. We’ve chosen to register virtually every product we’ve got as a medical device. We are subject to FDA audits, and we see that as a positive as opposed to a negative. 

On our last FDA audit, we had zero observations. That’s a pretty high standard that we set. We also had zero observations from our ISO audit. We see a robust quality system, repeatable and demonstrable process documentation, and adherence as a core of delivering high-quality solutions that operate as advertised. We see the benefit to the business. We would see it as a benefit, of course, if others were asked to perform to the same high standard.


A lot of healthcare IT software companies operate more like they’re selling general business software. They don’t have the ISO certification and they don’t want any part of FDA oversight. In your mind, would patients be safer if both of those were standards for companies that sell software that impacts patient care?

Well, I don’t know if I would go there because I’m not sure. I can’t really talk to any other companies in how they validate that their products are high quality. I just know that in our case, we use the quality system and the compliance to the ISO standards and validation requirements — we’ve got a number of ISO certifications — and the FDA audit.

We use those as a guide post to having a quality system, which is a core business system within the company. I feel a lot more comfortable and I can sleep a lot more soundly knowing that we have a very, very robust quality system — that third parties audit and concur that its is a very solid system — and that we are operating very effectively to that system. Then we can demonstrate that the quality of the solution is to a very high standard as well.


You mentioned Meaningful Use. What parts of it do you think are most relevant to laboratory information systems?

There are several areas. In Stage 1, they were in the optional list. Stage 2 is moving them into core. If and when Stage 3 gets finalized, they’ll all be core. 

There’s a number of different things like reportable results, which sounds pretty straightforward, but we’ve been interfacing out to the CDC and others to provide reportable results for years. Even some of our competitors with lab solutions find that difficult. To do that out of an enterprise solution is extremely difficult. The lab has the very granular information that we can utilize to move the right results to the right place. 

There are a number of different things, but I think reportable results is one of them. With Stage 2, it’s going to get increasingly important.

Then we have LOINC, which is to enable information to be shared. Again, there’s a lot of detail around LOINC and lab-to-lab and enterprise-to-enterprise communications. I believe the best-of-breed lab solutions provider is best positioned to meet that need and to be able to provide those solutions.


I’m curious – do you have any idea what percentage of hospitals are using best-of-breed laboratory information systems?

I can only guess. My guess is over 50 percent.


Where did your past growth come from and where do you see it coming from in the future?

It’s probably several areas. As we’ve invested and expanded our portfolio, there’s growth around what the laboratory calls outreach. It is really connectivity to the physician office and enabling physicians in the community to have meaningful interactions with the lab — easy ordering, rapid results, effective management of the samples into the lab. We have an outreach suite, which enables the lab to manage those relationships on an effective business professional level. That’s been an area of growth.

Within the hospital, automating the workflows back from the point of care — when lab tests are ordered, samples collected, and results come back. We’ve got solutions that have been demonstrated by our customers to eliminate error in those processes. That’s been a significant area of growth.

The other is we have a large footprint. As networks standardize, they standardize on Sunquest for their lab within the footprint. We have a lot of additional hospitals that convert to Sunquest within our base, but it’s the new hospitals that have converted to Sunquest that’s been part of our growth.

Then these applications in anatomic pathology — automation of anatomic pathology, sample management in anatomic pathology. 

There’s a fairly broad swath of solutions that have represented that growth.


A fair amount of the interest in the interoperability side is either preventing ordering of duplicate tests or doing alerting on abnormal results. Do you see a lot going on, or do you hand off to other systems for that?

No, we have those solutions. We do that. We’re constantly enhancing the solutions with new releases and new versions. Those things you mentioned we’ve considered as core capabilities for a best-of-breed lab solution for many years.


Are you expecting or experiencing international growth?

Yes. We’re expecting and experiencing international growth — both of the above.

We’ve made an acquisition in the UK. We’ve got a great solution over there which does a lot of what you’ve just asked about – alerting about orders and resulting. It’s in use by 65 percent of the national health hospitals in the UK and nearly 50 percent of the doctors’ offices use that particular solution. 

We have around 300,000 users in the UK, but we’re also expanding internationally, putting more resources in. We recently added new customers in Australia and we’re looking for further expansion in the international marketplace.


Any concluding thoughts?

We’ve been very successful. We’re growing and we’ve also created a lot of value, but I think that value is really reflected in the solutions and in the quality of the solutions that we provide. I feel very fortunate to be in the position I’m in and to have had the opportunity to take some steps forward in this way.

An HIT Moment with … John Vaughan, MD, Sharp HealthCare

November 6, 2012 Interviews No Comments

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. John Vaughan, MD is director of medical informatics at Sharp HealthCare of San Diego, CA.

11-6-2012 8-25-07 PM

What are Sharp’s most important projects and biggest challenges?

We are engaged in implementation of dbMotion with our associated multi-specialty group, Sharp Rees-Stealy, and will also be engaged in implementing our HIE with our independent physician group at Sharp Community Medical Group. In addition, we have been in discussions with Family Health Centers of San Diego, a private nonprofit community clinic, for collaboration on patient discharge data. 

Also, we are working with the Beacon project of San Diego, facilitated by UCSD. We are in the process of connecting our EDs with the county Emergency Medical Services for near real-time receipt of electrocardiograms in our emergency departments. We are also resolving single sign-on issues for implementation of the Beacon interface.

What technologies are you using to connect with your affiliated practices and to prepare for an accountable care model?

Most of these technologies are involved with the projects I mentioned. In addition, we are also looking at ways in which we can simplify our analytic data analysis across the continuum of care.

What are your thoughts about recent concerns that EHRs encourage copy-and-paste physician documentation?

We have been actively involved in discussions with our health information management supervisors regarding this issue. We will continue to monitor this concern as further regulatory oversight rules are published.

What are some innovative projects you’ve been involved with at Sharp?

We are actively involved in a clinical documentation improvement project. In addition, we will be adding front end speech for improvement of our documentation process over the next several months.

What technologies have made the most positive difference in how your physicians practice?

We are continuing to see improved efficiencies for inpatient care as medical records become more unified. By making the right information available in the right place at the right time, we hope to enhance the overall physician experience.

HIStalk Interviews Trenor Williams MD, CEO, Clinovations

October 19, 2012 Interviews No Comments

Trenor Williams, MD is is CEO and co-founder of Clinovations of Washington, DC.

10-19-2012 7-36-42 PM

Give me some background about yourself and the company.

I’m a family practice physician. I’ve been in healthcare for about the last 20 years and in healthcare consulting for the last 11, working with large IDNs and government organizations both in the US and abroad. I left a clinical practice that I loved at a ski resort in California because I truly believe that clinicians — and specifically physicians — need to have a role and be a part of the solution rather than just bystanders along the way.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with large management consulting firms like Healthlink IBM and Deloitte. Five years ago, with Anita Samarth, I started Clinovations as a collaborative, really a networking group of clinical leaders, CMIOs, CMOs, and operational leaders in the DC and Baltimore area. It was an opportunity for us to share our thoughts, solutions, and struggles, sometimes, with a bunch of like-minded individuals. 

In 2008, Anita and I started Clinovations as a clinically-focused advisory consulting firm,  working with IDNs, federal organizations, pharmaceutical companies, payer organizations, and technology vendors. I really believe that we’re at the intersection of healthcare and healthcare delivery. We act as integrators, translators, and guides between those multiple different groups.


Companies often have a clinical person or two on staff, but I don’t know of many large ones that are all physicians and clinicians. What do you do differently than you did for the firms you left?

When Anita and I started it, it was just the two of us. We’ve been able to grow the company to 100 employees and consultants, and 60 percent of those people are clinicians – physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and other clinicians. We’re fortunate that half of our team live here in the DC region, but we’re delivering work around the US. 

Because of our clinical focus and our understanding of care delivery, clinical workflow, and the impact of technology, we believe that that practical on-the-ground experience is unbelievably valuable for our partner clients who are going through some of the most diverse and challenging experiences from a healthcare delivery standpoint. We have healthcare executives, CMIOs, CIOs, practicing physicians, hospitalists, emergency medicine doctors, nurse executives, management consultants, and trained researchers all together. I truly believe that that combination of skills helps us focus on the strategic for our clients, but then roll up our sleeves and provide on-the-ground tactical support to execute the approaches that we help them develop.


There’s mixed opinion on whether software vendors adequately use clinicians in roles where they can be valuable. Are they as good at using their clinicians as Clinovations?

I think that’s a “depends” answer. Many of the software vendors have a really nice focus with clinicians. I see them used in three ways.

One is from a technical development standpoint — software development. Another is sales, so demo docs and demo nurses. The third is management consulting and helping with clinical engagement and delivery. The vendors that use physicians specifically and nurses in those positions do well.

My experience has been that they don’t have the bandwidth to do it for all of the clients that they would like to. We’ve been able have some really nice relationships with vendors and have been able to partner with them to provide some of that clinical leadership.


Most of the people running vendor companies came from the sales side of the organization instead of having a technical or clinical background. Clinicians may take a vendor role not knowing that in some companies, the focus is going to be on selling and implementing product rather than worrying about the clinical considerations after it’s live.

I couldn’t agree more. Where clinicians want to make an impact is on the care delivery side. Whether you’re at a vendor, a consulting firm, an IDN, or in a practice, it really is about how you effectively use that technology, and ideally, how we deliver better care at an individual level and for populations of patients. For us and our  vendor partners, that’s our goal — how can we help organizations design a system and design processes to deliver better care at the end of the day?


You worked on a medication clinical decision support book that HIMSS published. What were some of the findings that came out of that?

There are several. Jerry Osheroff did a great job of organizing a large number of individuals to help support the most recent book a few years ago.

One is helping to make sure that organizations have governance. I don’t mean an organizational structure, but truly a way to prioritize their decision making and then formally and structurally think about how they’re going to get value from the decision support that they use. I don’t think that that is common. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking to an alert or a reminder as the solution in electronic health records for a specific disease or a group of patients.

Jerry and the other authors, I believe, would agree that if you start with which questions you’re trying to answer and problems you’re trying to solve, prioritize your decision support and whether that links to evidence — whether it’s patient education or provider education materials — and then as a last resort use an alert or reminder to help a provider at the point of care, you can develop a comprehensive solution to treat that individual patient better and that type of patient better as well.


Do you think that consideration of the evidence and attention to the content usually happens after go-live because nobody wants to hold up the go-live to build it upfront?

I think that there is some focus prior to go live. One of the things that we’ve been able to do is focus a lot on evidence-based content development – specifically, order sets or Interdisciplinary Plans of Care (IPOCs) — and develop those ahead of time.

I think in some respects, clinical content development is like a Trojan horse for a clinical engagement. One of our most recent clients had over 1,000 clinicians involved from seven different hospitals to develop over 350 evidence-based order sets in a 10-month period. That’s unusual, but I also that that focus leads to developing the foundation for them to move forward. To have gotten that many clinicians — physicians, nurses, pharmacists, therapists — involved in a process also was a great way to get them engaged in the project.


I would think that a lot of your future stream of work will come from that optimization, when the bolus of hospitals that have gone live in the past two years or that will go live in the next two years will need to use that platform to get the expected benefits, meaning they’ll need to move to practices that are more evidence based.

Three things there that you said. One is optimize. I think you’re exactly right, especially with the acceleration of implementations around the country. The expectation, and from the vendors as well, is that if you just get it in, you can optimize later. We think that organizations have to have a structured plan around that. It’s not just going to happen on its own. But you’re right — the opportunities to help organizations optimize the technology, their workflow, and the reporting will be unbelievably important.

The other thing that you said was value — getting value from these implementations. We expect and are seeing boards, chief executives, and chief financial officers asking about the return on investment from these implementations. When I say return on investment, I mean clinical, financial, and operational return on investment. That work is going to have to happen after the implementation, even if you build the foundation from the beginning. 

The third really is around what do you do with the data, thinking about analytics. There are plenty of folks that talk about big data, but for us it’s how organizations effectively utilize the data, review it, analyze it, and then help change the way that they deliver care dynamically. 

I think all three of those things are going to be really important as we move forward.


Organizations need both the IT capability to get systems in and also the relationship with clinicians to be able to ask the to change the way do business, which is why they bought the system in the first place. How hard will it be for the average hospital to convince physicians to change just because they have data suggesting they need to?

I think it can be challenging. One of the ways to counteract that is having clinicians involved from the beginning in systems design, evidence-based content development, evaluation of clinical workflows, review of training materials, and design of support plans. Engaging clinicians, helping them, and helping the implementation process be done with them and not to them is a huge piece of it. But even as you do that, there will be a large number who won’t be involved in that process.

Then it becomes after the fact. What’s in it for me? It goes back to that idea of return on investment, even on an individual clinician level. Clinically, how can you help me take better care of my patients, whether that’s providing evidence at the time of care or helping me looking at a population of patients? Operationally, how can you help me be more efficient?

The last thing I want to in an ambulatory practice is to spend an extra two hours after my busy clinic going back and documenting in the electronic record, or in an inpatient system, having to round on countless patients. How can you help improve that workflow, leveraging and utilizing technology to support better interaction and communication with all the different stakeholders?


When you’re called into a hospital to consider an engagement, what are some warning signs that things won’t go well?

If it’s only an IT department – CIO or director of IT leading the project– that we’re meeting with, that’s an immediate red flag. I believe that successful implementations are a partnership between IT leadership, operational leadership, and clinical leadership. That would be one of the first ones.

The second is evaluating and understand the experience of their team. Many times an organization’s folks on the ground are going through this for the first time. They don’t have experienced leaders — I’m not talking about outside consultants necessarily — but if they don’t have experienced leaders and project managers who’ve been through the trials and tribulations before, that’s usually a red flag. 

Thirdly, how much involvement does the vendor have? A lot of these vendor contracts are different, but I think the most effective vendors have truly become partners with the health systems, providing the right level of assistance — not nickel and diming their health system and practice clients.


Do you think the CPOE battle has been won?

I think it’s more of a war. I think some of the initial battles have been won, but I also think that there’s a long way to go. I think the expectation for physicians will appropriately continue to increase. 

Having physicians place orders electronically, we’re seeing consistently — and I think we as the industry — right above 90 percent in most places now. I think the systems are getting better and providing more efficiencies, but there’s still a lot of room to grow. The more that we implement these systems, the higher the expectations are going to be from our physician partners out there in the field.


What are some surprising or fast-moving trends you’re seeing that you wouldn’t have predicted a year or two ago?

Starting to think about how we leverage different technologies to support the continuum of care. This has been a real change in the last 12 to 18 months . The shift from just thinking about “my practice” or “my hospital” to now having to proactively think about the care that’s going to be delivered outside of my four walls. How do we start to leverage technology to support those improved communications — whether that communication is to an outside specialist, a primary care doc,  to patients or caregivers, or home health organizations — and helping to leverage some really new, innovative tools to do that.

I think the other interesting one has been the collaboration of differing partners — health plans, insurance companies — setting up NewCos with IDNs to provide and leverage some of the tools that they have to provide better care across the continuum. Pharmaceutical companies partnering with IDNs and analytics companies to look at public health management and how they can better support a large population of patients and pharma helping to support that. We’ve been fortunate to do that work with a couple of top organizations around the country, thinking about how you manage a population of patients and leverage technology to do that differently.


Do you have any concluding thoughts?

The world and the landscape of healthcare is changing so dynamically right now. We know that our clients are facing more and unmet challenges than they ever have before. We think it’s important to treat our clients like partners. We end up saying “we” more than “they.” 

We are passionate as individuals and as a company. I take pride in the work that we do and understand the responsibility that goes along with that. Our goal is to think strategically yet practically and deliver creative solutions. I’m proud of the team that we have in place and the work we’ve been able to do with our partners around the country.

HIStalk Interviews Dale Sanders, SVP, Healthcare Quality Catalyst

October 5, 2012 Interviews 3 Comments

Dale Sanders is SVP of Healthcare Quality Catalyst of Salt Lake City, UT. He is also senior technology advisor for the national health system of the Cayman Islands and a senior research analyst for The Advisory Board Company.

10-3-2012 7-38-42 PM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in IT since 1983. I’ve got bachelor’s in chemistry and biology. The Air Force sent me back to their version of an information systems engineering master’s program. So the first half of my career, 15 years, was in the military and national intelligence and then manufacturing. Then I got into healthcare about 15 years ago and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been a great transition.

At our core, Catalyst is a company that specializes in data warehousing analytics for healthcare. We are commercializing through Catalyst not only the technology, but the cultural alignment and exploitation of data. All of us that are involved have had the background in that operationally. This is the opportunity for us to make it more available in the industry.


I’m fascinated from your background that you were a nuclear launch officer on Looking Glass, the plane that stayed airborne to launch retaliation in the event of a nuclear strike. Did you ever almost lean on the wrong button and start World War III by accident?

[Laughs] No, never quite that. There’s a lot of checks and balances. But that was an awesome job. I mean, considering how young I was and the responsibility that the Air Force places upon you, it was phenomenal.

Here’s a weird little twist. I was actually working on a nuclear decision support aid for the Joint Chiefs of Staff when I stumbled upon healthcare. I was reading about the use of computers in healthcare, and the idea was that I was going to apply what healthcare was doing to nuclear decision making. But as it turned out, I came away from those studies and I went, “Wow, if that’s the best that healthcare can do with computers, there’s a lot of opportunity ahead.”


Thank goodness you didn’t take what healthcare does and apply it to nuclear strike decisions.

[Laughs] The parallels are very direct. It’s all about false positives and false negatives and diagnosis and the appropriate response. Not over-treating, not under-treating. It’s amazing, the parallels.


The next most fascinating thing about your background is that you went to the Caymans. I’ve been there and mostly remember that the water’s really nice and the biggest industry is bunches of post offices boxes that are the only physical presence of offshore banks. How did you end up there? You’re still working there, right?

I’m still consulting there. I plotted out this high-level strategy in my career. I wanted to work for an integrated delivery system and I wanted to work for an academic medical center. 

Then I saw what was happening in the US, and I thought I’d love to get out and work for a national healthcare system. I was actually headed to Canada, but out of the blue, this opportunity in the Caymans came along. I literally turned around within a matter of just a couple of weeks of heading to Canada and went there to work in this more laboratory-sized setting on a national healthcare level. It was the best experience of my life.

One of the nice things about my life is every job that I’ve had is better than the last one. The Caymans is exactly that. It was fascinating. What was really fascinating, talking about the financial arena, is that they pull off a national healthcare system without a national income tax system. They basically operate on what amounts to a national sales tax. There’s no income tax. It’s just fascinating from an economic perspective how they fund healthcare as well as the entire government without a national income tax.


I would assume – maybe incorrectly – that they’re not big technology users.

It’s a tiny little country, only 60,000 people, and talk about isolated from skilled labor. They implemented Cerner about nine years ago. It was not a good implementation. That’s one of the values that I brought down as we turned that around.

But they’re actually very, very capable. Technically, very capable. They were in a bad state of affairs when I took over, but they supported me very well and we turned it around.

Now we’re doing things down there that the US system isn’t even doing. We just implemented a real-time claims adjudication system that adjudicates your claim right at the point of care. The physician signs off on your encounter, and by the time you get to the checkout desk, your claim is submitted and returned, and if there’s any self-pay portion, you manage it right there.


Everybody dreams about a healthcare system where automation adds value to the patient instead of getting administrivia done. It must be frustrating to be back in the middle of this mess we call the US healthcare system.

I’ve had to learn to temper my impatience working in the US system, that’s for sure. But I’m actually very encouraged. I think we finally reached the tipping point. My theory is that whatever happens with federal legislation, the employers aren’t going to tolerate what they’ve tolerated for so many years. 

I think we’re at the tipping point now. I think we’re about to enter a very fun period in healthcare in the US.


Suddenly everybody wants to know what you know about data warehouses and business intelligence. A lot of organizations tried stuff before that flopped, often not because of the technology, but because they didn’t have the leadership or culture to act on what business intelligence was telling them. How would you assess the current state for data warehouse and business intelligence and what are hospitals doing now?

Well, it’s kind of funny. I was reflecting … you know, I love your “Time Capsule” reflections, so I was doing that myself. Then I found a paper that I wrote – it was 10 years ago to the month – for HIMSS. It was entitled, “Standing on the Brink of a Revolution: Healthcare Analytics,” I think was the title of it. It was basically the summary of my experience at Intermountain and what we were doing.

I was convinced at that time that data warehousing and analytics were going to take off in the industry. Of course, that was 10 years ago and it hasn’t moved very far, but I think we all see now that analytics is absolutely fundamental to the future. We’ve been in the EMR deployment phase, which is about collecting data. We’ve been in the HIE phase, which is about sharing data. Now we’re finally getting into this age of analytics and exploiting all that data.

It’s really fun to be a part of that and I’m really grateful to be involved with it again. In particular, I’m grateful for Catalyst. I started the Healthcare Data Warehousing Association in 2001 with the idea that we would stimulate best practices and greater adoption of analytics in healthcare. HDWA has done OK, but not great. I think there’s something like 300 member organizations, but it’s not as good as it could be. For me, the involvement in Catalyst is now an opportunity to make best practices available in the market in a commercially sustainable way. It’s a lot of fun.

We’ve been seeing all these debates about whether there is value in the deployment of EMRs and if you drive healthcare costs up or down. I really believe, having watched this now for 15 years, that the return of investment from an EMR comes from the deployment of the data warehouse. For about one-tenth the investment of an EMR, you can implement a data warehouse. I can show all sorts of data that proves the return on investment from a good data warehouse is 1,000 to 1,500 percent in two to three years. You can’t show that with an EMR, but there’s plenty of studies that show tangible measurable ROI from the data warehouse.


Some people would argue, me probably being one, that the real value of an EMR is really at the very front end and the very back end. On the front end, you’ve got decision support that may influence decisions, and on the back end, you’ve got analytics that may influence decisions more broadly and get into population management. Everything in between is a utility. Are people beginning to realize that the EMR isn’t the end of the project, it’s the beginning of the next project?

That’s a great point. I think that’s exactly where the market is right now, and we’re seeing that in kind of the market timing in Catalyst. It’s a little bit like the Wild West — their pulse rate is still pretty high from deploying EMRs. Now suddenly everyone’s saying, “You know what, you’re not done yet.” It’s really about analytics, and the EMR is really a means towards to the end state, which is analytics. People are a little confused by it right now. It’s a little bit of Wild West going on, but it will calm down in the next six to 12 months, I think.


I’m sure a lot of the calls you get are from the average Cerner or Epic shop wondering what you can do for them.

The EMR vendors are – and we would expect them to be this way – very EMR-centric. If you look at Cerner’s and Epic’s offerings, it’s really been around the aggregation of data that they collect, which is all well and good. But if you look at the ecosystem of data that you have to analyze in healthcare, it’s way beyond the data that’s collected in the EMR. 

Even if you have a full-blown suite like we did in the Caymans — or as is more commonly deployed now with Epic customers — there’s data outside of the boundaries of Epic and outside the boundaries of Cerner that you have to have in order to understand the full continuum of care, and especially to manage the risk of care and capitated payments. 

You have to have claims data, outside pharmacy data, mortality data, and you may want benchmarking data from other organizations. You want to mix that all together into an enterprise data warehouse. And that’s the challenge that Cerner and Epic have never really addressed very well. 

Epic is coming out with a new product. It’s a little more extensible. Cerner has been toying with that for a while as well, but they’re a little bit late to this. That’s OK, because the reality is, we leverage what they do. For instance, if you have PowerInsight, if you have Clarity or Cogito, the new Epic product, we will attach to that and leverage that in our data warehouse solution. We’ll pull data out of those EMR-centric designs and pull that into a more extensible design in Catalyst.


The guy who will be running the proposed Vermont statewide ACO said what he wants most is data, because if they’re approved as the statewide Medicare provider, they will get to see Medicare claims data for individual patients – how often they seek hospitalization and for what purpose, more of a population health view. Would you be able to manage government data like that if you could get it?

Yes, absolutely. I can’t say that I’ve ever had the opportunity to pull in Medicare or Medicaid data back into a data warehouse, but we certainly have a strategy for utilizing the data that goes through an HIE. It adds a lot of value to the content of the data warehouse.

I might also mention that some folks are looking at HIEs as being the primary source of data for their enterprise data warehouse. But again, it doesn’t provide the complement of data that you need. In particular, you can’t do what we focus on. You can’t do waste analysis with an HIE data stream, for example. It just doesn’t provide the fidelity or the granularity of data that you need, and there’s no costing data in that data stream. 

A big part of what we do in Catalyst is to knock out all of those relatively simple but non-differentiating reports — internal reporting and external reporting to Joint Commission and Meaningful Use and that kind of thing — that everybody has to abide by. There’s no differentiation there, so we try to make that as easy and as quick as possible to deploy. 

Then we focus on what we call the upper layers of the analytic adoption model. That’s where we get into waste elimination. We philosophically believe that the emphasis on accountable care and the physicians who are taking great responsibility for a patient’s outcome is a pretty tough accountability to swallow. Depending on which study you look at, 40 to 70 percent of the healthcare costs are lifestyle related. We don’t really know how in the near future a CEO for a healthcare system is going to take accountability for those lifestyle changes that are required to drive healthcare cost down. 

But the one thing that is within the complete control of the CEO is waste management within the boundaries of his or her own organization. What we try to do is get people up the analytic adoption model as fast as possible into those areas that allow them to quickly identify waste. It’s not unusual for us to find 25 to 30 percent opportunity waste and that can be returned right back to the bottom line of your organization.


The challenge, I would think, is trying to get the attention of prospects where every vendor of every system that can export to Excel claims they have an analytics suite. What’s the message you have to send to get people’s attention that just having a bunch of raw data isn’t really business intelligence or analytics?

We see that going on right now. In fact, when I talk to fellow CIOs about this, a lot of them are deer-in-the-headlights right now because there’s so many different options in the market. 

We’re hoping that that calms down a bit. We hope that as people become familiar with us and they see our track record and they see the history of what we’ve done in our clients — and not only with our commercial clients, but our background as operational data warehouse developers in places like Intermountain and Northwestern — that they’ll see the value that we offer. But, yeah, it’s the Wild West out there right now, that’s for sure, and the options are overwhelming to most CIOs.


Suppose somebody came to you and said, “Give me your best success story so far.” What’s the best outcome someone got from using your products and services?

About $10 million savings in readmissions is probably the big one, within a year and a half. We have numerous success stories in the $4 to $5 million range of tangible, measurable return on investment and savings. Those stories are gaining momentum all the time. It’s very fulfilling.


What effort and resources are required to implement your product?

The combination of a culture that’s willing to exploit the data along with the technology of analytics. Those are the two fundamental pieces you need no matter what your organization or what vendor you’re looking at. You have to have the culture that’s willing to exploit the data, and you have to have robust and extensible technology.

We’re a little different from a lot of vendors in that we try to commoditize the technology and get that implemented as fast as we can. At one of our largest clients, we were able to implement the core analytics solution for them in seven weeks. Our whole goal is to make the technology as commoditized as possible and then move into that cultural exploitation of data just as quickly as we can.

Time to value is a big deal for us. We keep trying to compress that all the time. The message that I share with my fellow CIOs is that if there’s ever a vendor that tells you you have to engage in a multi-year data warehousing project, you need to look somewhere else. You need to measure these data warehousing projects and their deployment and their time to value in weeks and months now. The old 18- to 24-month time to value for a data warehouse is just not acceptable any more. We’re pushing that down. We’re trying to compress that more and more and more.

One other comment on that is that as soon as we deploy the raw technology, the raw data warehouse, one of the things that we bundle on top of that is a waste analysis right away. It gives organizations this compass about where their greatest waste opportunities reside. We’re big believers in the Pareto principle. What we typically find is that most organizations have huge opportunities for waste elimination by just focusing on 10 to 20 care processes and disease states.

It’s very fun to watch that happen. We run this analysis that we call it a key process analysis. We present that to the leadership team, and it just leaps right out at them where they should focus first. Not only have we sped up the adoption and technology, but we’re speeding up the cultural exploitation of the data, too, by giving them this compass.


How does a CIO keep or increase their organizational value as the healthcare reimbursement model changes?

Maybe five or six years ago, I wrote an article for HIMSS, “The Role of the CIO in Healthcare Economic Reform.” I was reading that the other day and  there’s a lot that you can do. It ranges from keeping a lean organization internally to IT, rather than always asking for more money, try and compress your budget while still delivering greater value. Simple things, like working with physicians so that medication preferences are listed in generic format first. There’s all sorts of economic benefits to that.

I’m a little bit biased here, but I think as a CIO, the most satisfying part of my job has always been around the analytics that I help endear to the organization. A lot of times, I run into CIOs that don’t have a strong background in data, in data modeling or data management or data analysis. If everyone who feels they need to would spend some time beefing up their skills in that regard, the CIO can be the champion for the data warehouse.

People remember me at Intermountain and at Northwestern, not for all the other things that I did there, but for the data warehouses that I played a part in. Knock on wood, I’m very grateful for that, but it’s the data warehouse and the analytics that has been most kind to my career. It’s a great time to be a CIO if you can lead the organization down that path.


Do you have any concluding thoughts?

We are soon to announce a couple of major partnerships that will address this $750 billion a year waste issue that Don Berwick and company identified in the JAMA article. These two partnerships in particular are going to enable and make available this Catalyst solution on a much broader basis than we’d be able to do on just our own without the partnerships. I’m very excited about that.

Going back to who should lead these, I would encourage the CIOs to step forward and take a big leadership role in these projects. Typically what happens is that the CIO will lead the implementation and lead the selection, then over time, the day-to-day management of the data warehouse tends to migrate elsewhere — towards the chief medical officer, the chief quality officer. I’m a big advocate of the CIO, because so much of the initial implementation is technically driven. I would just encourage CIOs to get out there and really dig into this.

Wearing my other hat for just a minute, The Advisory Board just presented at their national conference in Chicago a really good slide deck on what we should be thinking about in the CIO space around business intelligence. If you can, get your hands on that slide deck and maybe schedule some time with The Advisory Board to go over it. I think it will be a good roadmap for most organizations, and it’s a great tutorial if you don’t have a background in analytics.

HIStalk Interviews Michael Simpson, CEO, Caradigm

October 3, 2012 Interviews 24 Comments

Michael Simpson is CEO of Caradigm of Redmond, WA.

10-3-2012 5-13-39 PM

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been with Caradigm for 90 days like everyone else, starting June 1. Prior to that, I was with GE Healthcare, where I spent a year and a half working on the Qualibria joint development project with Intermountain Healthcare.

Prior to that, I was based in London, England working for McKesson Corporation as the chief technology and strategy officer for the international operations team. Before that, I spent almost four years with McKesson U.S. and ran their clinical operations for the Horizon product line. Prior to that, I was in high tech — Unisys, Philips, and Novell. Half of my life was spent in high tech, the other half in healthcare.


Tell me how Caradigm is structured and how many employees it has.

From a structure point of view, Microsoft had their HSG group and the GE team had the eHealth and the Qualibria teams. Coming across from the Microsoft side were about 200 or 250 Microsoft employees from the Health Solutions Group that worked on Amalga and the identity and access management team. That’s the former Sentillion group that I’m sure you remember. From the GE side was a group of about 250 folks who came in from the Intermountain-Mayo Clinic relationship with Qualibria. The rest of the team came from eHealth, which is the HIE product line.

We’ve got about 525 FTEs at Caradigm today, roughly around 750 people strong.


The original announcement said that Qualibria would be part of Caradigm, but the only Web reference I can find still has it under the GE Healthcare banner. It is part of Caradigm, right?

Yes, the intellectual property for that has come across. Qualibria as a brand is being decommissioned. All of the intellectual property on how you attach knowledge to data is going to be rolled into the Caradigm Amalga platform.

If you think about Amalga, it was really good at pulling a bunch of data together, but it didn’t have a lot of components on how to attach knowledge to that data. One of the reasons we did this joint venture was to be able to take all the connectivity that Amalga brings, the storage of the data, and the analytics and be able to attach the knowledge that we have learned between Mayo Clinic-Intermountain Healthcare to it.


Amalga was  the hottest thing going, but I haven’t heard much about it since the announcement even though there’s a ton of interest in data analysis and visualization. What’s the status of Amalga and where is it going?

Amalga v2 is still a shipping and selling product. We’re getting ready to announce – I’ll give you the scoop — Amalga Cloud. One of the complaints that a lot of people had about Amalga was that it was very heavy and difficult to install. The first wave of customers who had Amalga learned a great deal, and we learned a great deal from those customers.

What we learned is we really need to simplify the Amalga approach and where it’s headed, so we’re doing that first. By this fall, we’ll announce the Amalga Cloud services. The next year, of course, we will have a new version of Amalga that comes out.

Amalga is still key to our product line. It is very strong in what we’re doing moving forward. So, no changes from a strategy point of view relative to Amalga.


What are the benefits people are seeing from it and how do you expect that to change as the healthcare system changes?

Amalga’s value proposition is absolutely phenomenal from a connectivity point of view. For the last five years, everybody has been spending a ton of money on doing digitization of data in a dozen different silos. Now we need something to bring all that data together so we can now learn from that data and act on it in real time.

What Amalga brings to the table for a healthcare system or payer is that they can now directly attach to their EMR — whether that’s Epic, Cerner, McKesson, etc. — as well as their HIE and many of these other departmentals, put all this information together, and then start doing true analytics and change the way patients are being cared for in real time.


Is it an odd pairing that the former Sentillion access management products are paired up with Amalga, or does that makes sense in a way that I haven’t quite figured out?

Actually, it’s critical to our strategy. If you think about a physician and nurse workflow, having to bring in additional workflows — whether they’re in Epic or they’re in Horizon or they’re in Cerner — you want to develop applications that look at trends of information and add that information either back to the EMR or through some other tool. What the Vergence product line allows us to do is guarantee context. We can now share information inside the workflow of the existing physician and nurse without having them change applications.

Today, there’s dozens of great applications out there in the market that bring additional information — whether that’s TheraDoc, Humedica, all those types of applications — but it’s difficult to integrate those into workflow. If we look at where we want to go with Amalga, which provides this open platform for folks to write additional applications on, you want to go and integrate that into workflow without having to be concerned about context and logging in and all those pieces. Vergence ties all that together.


When the JV was formed, the reaction was either that a lot of innovation would occur or that both companies had just put products they didn’t really want into the new entity. What can Caradigm do that Microsoft and GE couldn’t do on their own?

At the end of the day, the things that both GE and Microsoft have been working on … it’s hard when you try to bridge the IT silos within healthcare to create new ways for organizations to look at the insights and create new workflows. It’s a new muscle that all the healthcare organizations are trying to do.

Caradigm had the benefit of looking at what GE was doing, what Microsoft was doing, and bring all those learnings together and advance that in a way that both companies as individuals couldn’t necessarily do on their own.

One thing I think we’ve all learned in healthcare over the last 10-15 years is there’s not a single vendor who can do it themselves. You need to have that open platform and allow others into your system so that you can get the benefit and the knowledge from many different people, whether that’s IT professionals, whether that’s content delivery folks, etc. You need one place for them to do that. As a new entity, from a Caradigm point of view, we are that open platform to digest and move forward.


Your background is with McKesson and GE Healthcare, two companies that lost market position in key areas, either because they didn’t invest and innovate or because they’re limited as publicly traded companies. What new opportunities will Caradigm have in operating outside of the giant corporate umbrella?

A joint venture structure gives Caradigm the ability to innovate and be a lot more nimble than you could within the corporate structures of large companies. Microsoft and GE are phenomenal organizations and they are great shareholders of Caradigm. Their ability to drive and deliver cash flow, fund the venture, and then to help us utilize their channels where we need to helps us be more effective as we move forward.


What are expectations of the corporate parents?

The expectation at the end of the day is how Caradigm can be a catalyst to deliver ACO solutions to the market, and I’ll use ACO in a global sense. It really is about integrated healthcare moving forward. Our parents are looking for Caradigm to be able to deliver on the function of connectivity, to deliver the function of learning into the healthcare environment so it can drive more innovation in the market.


I assume another goal was profitability. Will you need to take specific actions to get the products where they need to be?

The good news about having two great shareholders is that you can sit down and put a realistic plan together. Within a large company, you are required to make money in a certain period of time. As we created the joint venture, we sat down with both Microsoft and GE and said, first year you’ve got to organize the company. You’ve got all the joint venture pain to get through. You’ve got marketing to do. Then you can innovate and drive solutions. Year Three is when you really start to see the uptake from a market point of view.

The bottom line here is the two shareholders look at this as a growth play for both Microsoft and GE. They’re investing in the company to make sure that it hits its profitability goals in Year Four.


Are new products being built or new R&D being undertaken?

Absolutely. First, we continue to invest extremely heavily in Amalga as a platform. As well as in the eHealth space — this is in our health information exchange assets — and the identity and access management solutions within Vergence.

We’re also now working on a series of applications with our partners. If you look at the readmissions module, the ability for any hospital to understand algorithmically which patients are going to get readmitted based on things that we can see within Amalga.

There’s a whole series of applications that we will be announcing around the HIMSS timeframe which we will drive in the areas of transition of care, readmission, and other components around the integrated accountable care network.


These products are all being built internally?

Some are being built internally and some are being built with partners. Part of the mantra within Caradigm is that we provide the platform and the ecosystem. It’s not that Caradigm has to create all applications. Our goal is to create the environment so that we can have many different partners. It’s about bringing choice back into the healthcare environment.

If you think about it, 15 years ago, any hospital could go to a best-of-breed and then you had to worry about connectivity. In the last decade, you had to have one integrated solution. When it came to buying the best departmental for perinatal or the best departmental for theater management, you didn’t really have a choice.

Our goal with Caradigm is to bring this open ecosystem and platform to bear. Then you can decide on any partner you want to bring in.


A few companies have taken that message to heart. How do you see the idea of partnerships and opening up systems to third-party components changing the market in the next five or ten years?

The good news of what the HITECH Act and CMS have been doing is they’ve been driving additional IHE profiles, etc. All the governments around the world see the need to have an open healthcare environment. Most organizations and countries are requiring more and more openness to the common platforms. It makes it a lot easier for folks like Caradigm and others to be able to reach in and aggregate that data to provide different learnings.

If you think about the core EMR, in order to really deliver on the ACO message that we’re all trying to do over the next several years, it’s not just about the EMR. You need the EMR, but you also need a business analytics engine. You also need a lot of content brought in. You also need connectivity with HIEs. It’s a lot of different solutions.

What Caradigm delivers to market is an integrated solution. We can connect to any type of HIE or EMR. It is that umbrella application that allows us to glue all those together. They can start to focus not on the technology, but what’s important, to improve the quality of healthcare and then to reduce the cost and delivery. How are you going to manage those cohorts of patients and start to drive cohort design and focus in on the care rather than the technology?


The hospital EMR market has consolidated down to a handful of dominant vendors. Do you see opportunity if the EMR turns out to be a commodity, with much of the value being added on the back end?

Absolutely. I’m going to be politically correct here with you. The market has consolidated. There really are two, maybe three choices for any hospital to make as far their core EMR.

If you look at some our best customers, like Providence Healthcare System … they are a phenomenal Epic shop. They turned on Epic last year. What they’re now delivering with Amalga are early warning systems and care enhancements that allow them to go above and beyond what they’ve digitized within the EMR.

The EMRs are phenomenal at digitizing of data, and we absolutely respect and want those to continue. What we’re really good at is taking all that digitized data and allowing it to flow through the entire continuum of care — data brought in from the ambulatory side, the inpatient side, etc. — and then providing these early warning systems that add value to the EMR. Our goal is, how can we add value to the EMR and how can we add value to the HIE so we can improve healthcare?


I assume you spend a lot of your time meeting with customers and prospects. What are they telling you that they need or want, and what are they telling you that they would appreciate Caradigm’s involvement with?

The good news — and I’d say this is probably the most exciting thing about being with Caradigm — is what they want is what we have, from a message point of view. They want connectivity. They want to be able to connect all their different systems together. They want to be able to have one central place for all that knowledge. They want to tie learnings to that knowledge, and they want to give that information back to their clinicians.

What we can offer from a health information exchange to our core data asset, etc. is really what they’re looking for. The piece that they’re looking for the most is, how can we do it simply? When you think about all of the work that is on the plate of the IT department of the hospital, they’re looking for simple solutions. This is why we’ve come out with Amalga Cloud. They need the ability to actually send their data to the cloud to do the analytics so they don’t have to worry about the day-to-day operation of the technology. They want the outputs.

What we’re definitely seeing from a trend point of view is that hospitals, payers, physicians, etc. are all looking for the output. Historically, the conversation was all about the technology. Now what they’re looking for is, how can you help me design cohorts of patients? How can you help me put advanced early warning systems in place? How can you help me manage my ICUs better? It’s about the outcome versus the technology, which is a great conversation.


Lots of innovative stuff is going on, but hospitals are risk averse and often ignore smaller companies and focus on core systems. They’re not interested in talking about something new. Will the Caradigm name and corporate connections give you an opportunity to get in front of people with innovative solutions, possibly ones that you would acquire, and make that purchase more palatable?

No question. And again, that’s one of the great things about being a joint venture. We are Caradigm, which is a Microsoft and GE Healthcare company. We have the full support of both parents. You can look at all the folks who signed up for Amalga, the folks who signed up for GE eHealth … they signed up with very large healthcare companies due to  the expertise they could bring to the table and what else they could bring to the portfolio.

At the end of the day, if we’re driving toward a solution and we need help with Microsoft SQL, they’re only three blocks away. If we need help pulling data out of GE EMRs or CT, we’ve got the entire backing of GE Healthcare to help us do that work. So the answer is yes, I think we definitely can be a lot more nimble, but at the same time, can we provide a steady hand or a known factor from the customer point of view.


You probably have a lot of upselling opportunities, but you have a fairly limited number of products to sell. Do you see acquisitions in the future?

You know, you never turn down the opportunity. There’s a lot of market consolidation that’s going to be coming over the future. Again, my job at Caradigm is to provide this open platform. Whether it’s via acquisition or whether we provide platform services to many of these other niche players, I think time will tell.

At the end of the day, if you think about all the great companies out there, many of them have had to spend tens of millions of dollars developing a platform to gather and aggregate data. Then they add their value on top of that with their niche, whether it’s phenomenal business analytics, clinical analytics, decision support, etc. But they’ve spent all that money on a platform, and maintaining that platform is very expensive.

As we talk to different partners in the market, it’s not necessarily about acquisition, but how we can provide this platform so we all don’t have to keep spending money on developing a platform, which means we can offer services to our customers — the providers and the payers — at a much faster rate.


What are your top goals for the company over the next five years?

Five years from now, do we want to be profitable? Of course. Our shareholders definitely would like us to be profitable. But at the end of the day, what our shareholders are expecting is that we as Caradigm are a catalyst that helps control cost by improving the quality of the healthcare systems around the world.

The world will learn a lot over the course of the next four or five years as we drive toward an integrated and accountable care environment. We want to provide the tools to help bring that accountable care world to fruition.


Do you have any concluding thoughts?

It’s back to your question of GE, a great company, and Microsoft, a great company, and why Caradigm is different. We’re different because we can truly provide a tool set and a series of solutions that can help organizations deliver on the accountable care message. Our goal is to ensure that hospitals have the solutions that will help them manage the risk that they’re all going to have to take as we move forward.

I think globally we know that healthcare cannot continue to spend the way it’s spending today. Solutions are absolutely required to help manage cohorts of patients, manage populations, and manage the environment a lot differently than they have before. No one company on this planet can do it all. Our goal as Caradigm is to help provide this platform and open up all of this data so that the hospitals and the payers can help advance the care of patients.

It is about healthcare at the end of the day. We do drive toward profitability like any company does, but it’s really about how we can be that catalyst to help define where healthcare is going over the course of the next four or five years.

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