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Archive for the ‘Cloud Computing’ Category

Just as Healtheway looks to ween itself off the federal gravy train, Surescripts comes along and in a couple of quick strokes looks ready to drive a stake into the heart of Healtheway or at least any desire Healtheway may have to become the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN).

It all started when Surescripts acquired collaborative HIE messaging vendor Kryptiq in late August. This was quickly followed a week later with Surescripts’ announcement that it would become Epic’s vendor of choice for cross-EHR connectivity. It appears that Epic has finally succumbed to the inevitable; that it will need to open up its system (Epic’s purported Epic Elsewhere, to address cross EHR connectivity was in reality Epic Nowhere – just vaporware) to communicate in a heterogeneous EHR environment. The Surescripts Clinical Interoperability (CI) network solution will become an “Epic Unit” and on Epic’s price sheet. The details of this story were covered in our September Monthly Update for CAS subscribers.

What drove Epic to make such a drastic move? Pretty simple really, Stage Two meaningful use requirements which were released on August 23rd. Within those new requirements for certification, EHR vendors must demonstrate that they can send a message across EHR boundaries (outside their ecosystem). Epic really had no choice in the matter – they had to do something to address this requirement. Chilmark has also been hearing an ever louder drumbeat that Epic customers were also demanding that Epic do something to address messaging in a heterogeneous EHR environment. (Note: eClinicalWorks is another EHR vendor that was forced to open up their notoriously closed peer-to-peer networking service for clients, though eCW twisted it around to make it appear like an act of generosity.) Surescripts provided Epic an easy way out with a non-competing entity.

Last week, Surescripts announced that another major ambulatory EHR vendor would adopt the CI network, this time it was NextGen. Surescripts now has three of the top five ambulatory EHR vendors (Epic, GE, and NextGen) on its network. If one were to just look at the numbers, these three EHR vendors combined represent over 50% of practicing physicians in the US.

Surescripts is likely to add more EHR vendors in the coming months as these vendors look to grapple with the latest Stage 2 MU requirements for both Direct Secure Messaging (DSM) and cross EHR messaging. Adopting Surescripts CI network as a module into their existing EHR solves that issue in a non-competitive manner.

Surescripts’ intent is to leverage its core competency of providing lightweight, network services to reach beyond eRx to address basic clinical messaging. Some may argue that DSM accomplishes the same thing. Not really. The Kryptiq solution, upon which Surescripts’ CI network is built, provides collaborative, threaded messaging and not just the simple point-to-point messaging of DSM. Surescripts also brings to the table what is arguably the largest physician directory, that currently supports its eRx capabilities.

Surescripts jumping into the mix of HIE solution vendors will only complicate what is already becoming an increasingly competitive HIE market for services. In our 2012 HIE Market Trends Report we called such services as Surescripts’ CI a micro-HIE for they are self-forming, starting at the physician practice level, rather than being sponsored by some large entity, be it a public agency or larger hospital system. One of the findings of eHealth Initiative’s latest survey released last week is that HIEs are seeing increasing competition from other HIEs in their community. This competition will only increase with the advent of micro-HIEs.

Combining Surescripts’ existing national provider directory, its partnerships with three of the top five ambulatory EHRs and you have a truly, commercial NwHI – something that Healtheway wishes to become but has a long journey ahead to get there. This will likely force Healtheway to only tackle issues for its federal sponsors (Social Security Administration, Veteran’s Administration and to lesser extent Dept of Defense). Dreams beyond those limited confines will likely remain such if Surescripts is able to effectively execute on its own vision.

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Today, national health insurer, Humana, announced that it has acquired Certify Data Systems (CDS). This marks the third HIE vendor (UHG acquired Axolotl & Aetna acquired Medicity) that has been acquired by a payer in the last couple of years. Not that surprising when one looks at how aggressively payers are moving into the accountable care arena and seeking to form tighter links with physicians in their network, particularly those in the ambulatory sector, where CDS has done particularly well.

A key part of CDS’s success in the market was through its partnership with Cerner where it provided the technology stack for connecting ambulatory practices. The Certify HealthLogix is a well architected platform that has seen strong adoption. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, it is our guess that Humana paid a pretty penny for CDS, likely all cash deal at about 6-8x estimated 2012 sales.

While it is good to see that CDS leadership will stay in place, at least for now – serial entrepreneurs, such as CDS founder Marc Willard, typically do not last too long in large corporate entities such as Humana- we do have some concerns with Humana’s ability to actually manage a software company. This is way outside their core competency and hopefully they know well enough to provide CDS the resources to scale but also the wisdom to let CDS call most of the shots.

We will be providing Chilmark Advisory Service (CAS) clients with a more detailed breakdown of this deal later in the week after we have had a chance to speak with some key contacts/stakeholders of this acquisition. This will be pushed to subscribers via an Alert.

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All too frequently I get the question:

When will we see the EHR market consolidate?

Not an unreasonable question considering just how many EHRs there are in the market today (north of 300) and all the buzz regarding growth in health IT adoption. There was even a recent post postulating that major EHR consolidation was “on the verge.” Even I have wondered at times why we have not seen any significant consolidation to date as there truly are far more vendors than this market can reasonably support.

But when we talk about EHR consolidation, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. In the acute care market, significant consolidation has already occurred. Those companies that did not participate in consolidating this market (Cerner, Epic & Meditech) seem to have faired well. Those that pursued a roll-up, acquisition strategy (Allscripts, GE, McKesson) have had more mixed results.

It is the ambulatory sector where one finds a multitude of vendors all vying for a piece of the market and it is this market that has not seen any significant consolidation to date and likely will not see such for several years to come for two dominant reasons.

First, you need to be half crazy to do an acquisition. As nearly two-thirds of all acquisitions fail, the odds are stacked against you. Therefore, you need to be darn sure that this acquisition makes sound business sense before pulling the trigger.

Second, the ambulatory EHR market is simply not ripe for consolidation. The reason is simple. To remain viable in the market, EHR vendors must ensure that their products meet Meaningful Use (MU) requirements and meeting those requirements requires hefty investments.

Virtually all EHR vendors invested resources to get over the Stage One hurdle. In fact, the federal largesse of the HITECH Act attracted a number of new EHR entrants to market and likely kept a many EHR vendors afloat who would have otherwise gone under.

Stage Two’s certification hurdle has yet to be released but will assuredly require a continued and potentially significant investment in development resources by EHR vendors to comply. Same holds true for future Stage Three certification requirements.

At this juncture, it would be foolhardy to try and execute an EHR acquisition roll-up strategy. The technology has yet to stabilize, significant development investments are still required and most vendors do not have sufficient market penetration. Better to wait until the dust settles and clearer stratification of the market (who will remain viable, who will not) becomes apparent.

An Example from Manufacturing:
In my many years as an IT analyst I’ve seen few instances where acquisitions have actually worked out well for all parties concerned. When I led the manufacturing enterprise analyst group at a former employer I watched as two separate companies (Infor & SSA) executed roll-up acquisition strategies in the mature Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market.

Much like the ambulatory EHR market, these two companies targeted the low-end of the ERP market (small manufacturers). ERP companies acquired had two defining characteristics: stable platforms and reasonable penetration in their target markets.

Infor and SSA executed their strategies skillfully acquiring multiple companies; promising customers never to sunset a product; and meeting their investors’ goals by lowering operating costs (reduce duplicative administrative costs across acquired companies.

Post acquisition, Infor and SSA did not invest heavily in development, simply doing the minimum necessary to meet customers’ core requirements. Ultimately, Infor acquired SSA and Infor remains one of the dominant ERP companies in the market today.

A similar scenario will play-out in the ambulatory EHR market, it just will not be this year or next or even the one after that. Look to a couple of years post-Stage Three, for the long-awaited consolidation that so many have predicted to finally occur.

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At this year’s HIMSS conference the big buzz was analytics. Seemed as if every vendor in attendance was promoting some sort of analytics capability. It was a tad overwhelming and if I was having a problem trying to separate out all these countless vendor offerings (this is exactly what I am trained to do as an industry analyst) I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for those representatives of healthcare IT departments.

Then I had this deja vu moment – I had experienced this all before a few years earlier when the buzz at HIMSS was health information exchange (HIE). As with the HIE market back then, it was hard to make sense as to who was riding the latest marketing buzzword (e.g., ACO analytics) and who was actually solving problems for customers. There was also no easy way to differentiate one solution from the next. Clearly, the market needed someone to make order from the chaos.

Making order, applying structure to a market is one of the key roles of an analyst firm. As Chilmark Research has done for the HIE market, we intend to develop a similar structural framework for the analytics market.

We have recently embarked on a major research project to delve into the healthcare analytics market that will culminate in a report of similar length (~100pgs) and breadth to our 2012 HIE Market Report. Padmaja Raman, who recently joined Chilmark Research, will be the lead analyst for this research project.

In advance of formal research, we have had roughly a dozen casual conversations with various stakeholders in the healthcare analytics market. Here’s a few things we have learned so far:

Two dominant market vectors: 1) Changes in reimbursement and associated risk. 2) Regulatory requirements (MU attestation, quality reporting etc.)

Analytics using clinical data is in its infancy.

Clinical datasets are typically a mess and very difficult to work with.

For foreseeable future, most healthcare organizations will need to rely on claims data to ascertain risk.

We may be years away from doing true real-time analytics with clinical data.

Most healthcare providers do not have well-trained informatists on staff (particularly problematic for smaller healthcare organizations) and thus “analytic offerings” will have a high service component.

Business intelligence (BI) tools are not well-developed (either too simplistic or too complex for average clinician) and thus clinicians are unable to run their own reports. This has led to IT departments being completely overwhelmed with clinicians asking for various reports.

Those pretty dashboards that are based on clinical data which you see at trade shows and in PowerPoint presentations can rarely be replicated at a client site – lots of smoke and mirrors.

Most EHR vendors are just getting started in this area and their solutions are rudimentary.

This is a fascinating market and one where I am confident we can provide value. Without exception, every stakeholder we have spoken to has stated that this market is prime for in-depth analysis. Now it is our turn to provide such – Stay Tuned.

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This morning we announced the release of our latest report: 2012 HIE Market Report: Analysis and Trends of the Health information Exchange Market. As we found in last year’s report, the HIE Market and the vendors that serve it continues to be a very dynamic.

In little over a year we have seen several vendors exit the market, several others enter and the acquisitions of Carefx by Harris and MobileMD by Siemens. We also saw Microsoft pull completely out of the clinical market by turning over all its HIT assets (except HealthVault) to the new joint venture with GE, Caradigm.

Yet in spite of all this turmoil, the market continues to see spectacular growth in excess of 40% in 2011. The big news with all this growth is that only a small portion of it is coming via the HITECH Act and the various statewide HIE contracts that were awarded. No, the big market that literally all HIE vendors are now targeting is the private, “enterprise” market. Healthcare organizations (HCO) of all sizes are now looking to deploy HIE technology to not only meet Meaningful Use requirements, but respond to the pending changes in reimbursement, moving from a fee for service model to one that is based on outcomes.

To be successful under these new payment models, HCOs must better manage operations and the complete care cycle of a patient across care settings. In a community of heterogeneous EHRs, HCOs are adopting HIE technology at an accelerated rate to unlock the data silos of EHRs across the community to enable higher quality of care.

Arguably, the 2012 HIE Market Report’s most significant finding is…

The healthcare sector is rapidly moving to the post-EHR era. The value of patient data is not in the data silos of EHRs but in the network that an HIE supports.

The report provides the most comprehensive overview of the market and what are the significant trends that are driving this market forward. The report also provides a deep dive review of 22 leading HIE vendors, including product capability assessment and market presence. This information, compiled through in-depth research and countless interviews, provides all HIE stakeholders with the most accurate view of the market today.

It is our sincere hope that the information contained in this report will contribute to furthering the success of HIE deployments in the future as we strongly believe that only through health information exchange (the verb) can we improve the quality of health delivered within a community and ultimately, the nation.

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Last week we attended the big healthcare IT confab HIMSS in that grand city of sin, Las Vegas. While many spoke of how HIMSS hit an all time record of over 37K attendees (an impressive number), HIMSS is still dwarfed by what is arguably the largest US-based healthcare trade show, RSNA, which had a 2011 attendance of just over 57K, (roughly 54% greater than HIMSS). Why such a radical difference you ask? As one colleague put it:

RSNA is where providers come to make money and HIMSS is where they go to lose money.

While that may be the case today, it is unlikely to be so in the future. The healthcare industry is undergoing a massive transformation that will likely take a decade to complete as we transition from a reimbursement model largely based on fee for service to one based on outcomes. Under this new model, providers will be taking on a greater portion of risk. In reward, these providers have an opportunity to receive a significantly higher net reimbursement. This transition is making for some interesting bedfellows as payers and providers join together to create new care delivery models such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs). These new models will be increasingly dependent on a robust HIT infrastructure to effectively measure quality, risk and performance, something that simply cannot be done effectively with the antiquated systems that are in place today in many healthcare organizations (HCOs).

Nearly every vendor we met with at HIMSS had a story to tell about how they had the solution the market was seeking for ACO enablement. This was not entirely unexpected for last year we thought that would be the year of ACO. Obviously, we were a little ahead of ourselves and the industry with that prediction but alas it has come to pass. Small problem though: HIT vendors have had plenty of time to prepare their solutions for ACO enablement but to our surprise, most solutions were still far from mature. Frankly, we are not too worried about this right now for Chilmark is forecasting significant evolution, innovation, and in short-time maturity in these solutions as customers (HCOs) further define what they truly need to succeed in this new world order of reimbursement for healthcare delivery in the US.

This raises what our research team found to be the most significant learning from HIMSS’12.

As most of you already know, ONC made quite a splash at HIMSS by announcing the release of Stage 2 meaningful use (MU) requirements (we’ll have a future post on the implications of these requirements later this week). But honestly, we did not see a wild wrangling of commentary and discussion in the halls of HIMSS’12 regarding these new requirements. Maybe this was because most attendees were simply addressing the needs of today and did not have time to thoroughly review these new requirements. But we believe something else may be at work here.

Our Thesis:
The MU requirements have become little more than a “spec-sheet” for vendors, consultants and IT shops and departments. These requirements have nothing to do with innovation and have little to do with the dramatic changes that will occur in this industry in the next decade. Quoting that oft-used phrase, “follow the money” one can quickly see that the billions in funding for incentivizing providers to adopt EHRs under the HITECH Act is relative chump change to the dramatic fortunes that may be won or lost under the new value-based payment models that are proliferating throughout the industry – payment models that commonly fall under the rubric of ACO or PCMH. In each of these models, EHRs are important to a degree, they are part of the basic infrastructure. But it is what one does with the data that matters (collect, communicate, collaborate, synthesize, analyze, measure and improve). Therefore, if you want to see innovation look beyond today and the tactical push to effectively adopt and meaningfully use EHRs and towards the future of how that data will be used to drive quality improvements, better outcomes and lowering risk exposure.

And speaking of risks…

What was clearly lacking at this year’s HIMSS was patient engagement. Yes, there was a seminar on the topic and sure, everyone speaks of patient-centric care but there was little evidence among exhibitors at this year’s HIMSS (with a few exceptions, e.g., Cerner, MEDSEEK, RelayHealth) that spoke to the need to engage patients as part of the care team. Get a clue folks, one will never get to that nirvana of a truly effective ACO or PCMH without active, effective engagement of the patient. Not having an engaged patient is your greatest risk.

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The numerous changes in the healthcare sector are forcing stakeholders to develop new business models to prosper, to survive. Among health insurers, this means one thing: diversification. Health reform was the nail in the coffin of yesterday’s business model, a model that had no restrictions on margins, a model where payers sold to businesses, not individuals. Tomorrow’s strategy for payers is still a work in process but one thing is clear, its foundational elements will be consumers, technology and data. The emerging world of big data in healthcare is providing payers with new potential ways to make profits. Beyond the promise of efficiencies, some payers are beginning to look closely at harnessing the flow of clinical, claims and administrative data to allow for the creation of stand-alone business opportunities.  Specifically, information exchange will grow in importance in 2012 and beyond as value-based payment models rely to increasing extents on the availability of diverse types of data at the point of care.

So why have payers been so cautious to jump on board and fund HIE’s?

The answer is multi-faceted. First and foremost is simply the issue that many a provider is uncomfortable with a payer having direct access to clinical data and is thus unwilling to share such data with an HIE that has payer involvement. Second is the business uncertainty at this early stage of HIE maturity. The HIE market remains very dynamic and there is a lot of uncertainty as to where this market will eventually lead. Before putting some parameters around the direction of payer-involvement in the HIE market, it bears a quick run-through of what the different models of payer involvement look like today.

Infrastructure Play
Axolotl and Medicity are the clear leaders in the HIE software market. Both were acquired in 2010 by big insurers (Axolotl by United Health Group, which was folded into the Optum Division and Medicity by Aetna) and continue to dominate the HIE landscape. Both UHG/Optum and Aetna are clearly looking to build out new lines of business, in this case healthcare IT, where the opportunities for future growth and expansion are promising. Their investments are already paying big dividends: In a telling sign of the direction of this market, Optum has actually begun to grow faster than UHG’s main insurance business.

The investments these insurers have made in HIT are significant and ones that only the biggest national players will have the appetite for. Kaiser’s walled garden, in-house approach effectively rules them out of this kind of play. Other payers have not shown signs of moving towards owning their own HIE solution, or making other major bets on HIT…yet. Humana and Cigna have only helped out by funding pilots to date. Despite a national brand and association, the Blues fit into their own category because of the state-based nature of their business structure. They are certainly not slouching in the HIE race though as the next section explains. Chilmark has also heard murmuring around the water cooler about some potential partnerships on a more national scale in 2012, so again only time will confirm these rumors.

Conclusion: It may be too late for other payers to get in on the HIE market via acquisition of a leading vendor as few independent vendors remain. Lumeris, with three regional Blues acquired NaviNet this week. This acquisition may provide a non-traditional route to the same end-point, purchasing the network to build-out future pipes for numerous data types. Further crystallization in the HIE marketplace as well as more evidence from operational systems will help them make a bet on a particular vendor.

Entirely Payer Funded
These are HIE’s that are exclusively funded by payers. As it stands now, this is a pretty lonely space, as providers continue to be skeptical of payer intentions and there remains a dearth of conclusive proof of return on investment (ROI), more studies like Humana’s with WHIE will only help. However, some early movers have already tasted success with this approach, the most prominent being Availity, a Florida-based collaboration between two Blues plans, Humana and WellPoint. Their business model is simple: Payer contributions help to get the data flow and integration efforts underway, providers receive a base set of information access services for free, and pay for premium business services such as revenue cycle management and practice management tools. The value equation for providers has been enough to keep Availity in the black to date. They’ve gone one step further and it looks like Availity will be licensing this to other Blues plans around the country as well. While this work is certainly laudatory, Chilmark is skeptical that this level of collaboration will occur widely today (Availity began in 2001). While it’s possible for a national payer to partner with local plans to get an HIE off the ground, these typically include other intermediaries for purposes of getting buy-in from other stakeholders (these are insurance companies, after all), skin-in-the-game and governance. Moreover, because the ROI in HIE can be somewhat invisible, appearing in efficiencies and reduced costs for payers and providers, payers feel more comfortable sharing the investment.

Conclusion: Aside from emerging collaborations between Blues plans and some provider organizations (e.g. Catholic Healthcare West and Blue Cross of California), we foresee little progress here. For big payers considering an acquisition play, investing in one-off models is quickly becoming redundant; for local plans it makes more sense to share the load with non-payers.

In Part Two will look at local support of HIEs, challenges and what lies ahead for the future.

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