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Archive for the ‘EMR’ Category

In a recent Health Affairs blog, Alex Goldsmith does a back-of-the-envelope analysis of the peculiar economics of healthcare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in healthcare increased by 1.149 million people from 2007-2011. He contrasts this increase in employment (read increased cost) with declining hospital admissions, low single-digit growth in hospital outpatient volumes and declining physician office visit volume (read declining economic output). A New England Journal of Medicine article published in Oct. 2011 also showed a net percentage decrease in productivity growth (see figure below).

Over this same time period there has been steadily increasing investment in IT for hospitals and doctor’s offices much of it as a result of the HITECH Act that was passed in 2009. Compared to ten years ago, more healthcare workers are doing less healthcare with more information technology. And little over a week ago a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Stephen Soumerai and Ross Koppel pulled no punches, calling the savings to be gained from IT in healthcare “chimerical.” We have known for a long time that providers themselves insist that productivity drops after installing an EHR and there is little evidence to refute such claims and plenty of evidence to support them.

The absence of productivity improvements or cost savings after big IT investments is neither new nor unique to healthcare. Way back in 1987, Nobel laureate and MIT professor Robert Solow famously said, “We see computers everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”  For the next ten years, economists leveled forests (this was a pre-internet time after all) trying to explain away the Solow productivity paradox. While the dotcom boom rendered productivity paradoxes as interesting as bell-bottom pants, few would now contest that increased use of IT drives productivity improvements. It is just a long journey to get there with some successfully surviving the journey and others not. There are plenty of examples in other industry sectors of companies that did not effectively adopt and use IT, ultimately contributing to their downfall.

The EHR Incentive Program and all of the other IT-related ONC and CMS programs have a host of now familiar policy objectives. The fact that IT is at their center says loudly that CMS is trying to coax incremental productivity improvements from a reluctant system.

So where are the productivity improvements in healthcare? While we are only one year into the meaningful use (MU) saga, we would argue that we are seeing three things: 1) the limits to IT as a productivity-boosting panacea, 2) a lag between the investment in IT and a productivity payoff and 3) an existing reimbursement model that does not effectively support IT adoption that is in alignment with meaningful use objectives.

Providers that invest: Most of the current incentives for IT adoption are aimed at the point of the healthcare spear: CMS is willing to pay most frontline clinicians in private practices, clinics and hospitals to adopt IT. These same frontline clinicians, however, are increasingly frustrated and burned-out by the fee-for-service treadmill. Simply getting a primary care physician (PCP) to meaningfully use an EHR will not allow her to suddenly double her patient load. If anything, it will likely decrease office productivity for at least a year as all staff members become familiar with and effective in using an EHR.

Measures like the Stage 2 MU objectives build on that basic EHR to let that same PCP leverage work done in other parts of the healthcare system to deliver more coordinated care. The PCP still can’t double her workload but she might be able to accomplish more in each encounter. In this instance, we see the lag between the investment in a basic EHR and the enhanced productivity of a more interoperable EHR, a time lag measured in years.

Providers that do not invest or under-invest: These incentives are not available to some segments of the provider community (e.g. skilled nursing facilities, behavioral health facilities). The limit is that non-incented providers presumably will invest modestly or not at all in EHRs, interoperable or otherwise. In this instance, the lag may well be a very long time.

Further, incentives are voluntary. Eligible providers can IT-up and take the money — or not. Nearly half of eligible hospitals have collected something under the EHR Incentive Program. The ranks of qualifying EPs, while still low, continue to grow and we will likely see a majority of EPs sign-on to this program.

The Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that ONC and providers are captives of the healthcare IT vendors.  The authors suggest that vendors, presumably in an effort to protect their markets, blocked efforts to make EHRs more interoperable, effectively blunting cost or productivity improvements. This is a fair criticism, probably true, and a clear limit to what we could expect from Stage 1 MU.

However, providers in a pure fee-for-service world have rarely found sufficient value in adoption of EHRs to justify the investment, thus the need for incentives. As the market slowly shifts reimbursement to value-based metrics, the justification to invest in an EHR begins to look more attractive to a PCP. Coupling this with future, MU Stage 2, certified EHR solutions that will better support care coordination across a heterogenous EHR landscape in a given community, the potential for true improvements in productivity appear promising. There is even a potential silver lining for providers that do not invest or under-invest as even the left-behinds have at least have a fax machine and a browser and may begin to enjoy some of the productivity gains of a reformed, networked system.

The network effect that kicks-in over time may like a rising tide, lift all boats. But this is a very slow tide that will rise over many years. Now the question is: How many of those boats have holes in them and will forever rest on the ocean’s bottom or does the tide simply rise too slow and others just pull their boats out of the water?

Note: This post has been authored by our newest analyst, Brian Murphy a former employee of Eclipsys, IBM and others as well as a former analyst for Yankee Group. Find out more about Brian on our About page.

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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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Despite a constant buzz around the idea of using mobile technologies for patient engagement, the depth and breadth of these solutions has remained consistently thin and frankly dated. Today, healthcare organizations who are adopting and deploying engagement solutions are focusing these efforts on marketing/patient retention (e.g., simplifying transactional processes such as appointment scheduling, prescription refills, etc., online access to lab results & records) and accelerating payments (online bill-pay). Despite all the talk about using mHealth for care provisioning, our research for the upcoming report that will be released later this month, mHealth Adoption Trends for Provider-Patient Engagement, finds a market that is still in an early, embryonic stage of development.

So why the disconnect between the hype of mHealth for care provisioning and reality? Of the many potential reasons, there are two that are dominant: a lack of solutions with proven clinical efficacy and few financial incentives to drive adoption.

While there is little argument that increasing the interaction between a care team and their patients is a good thing, the best means for accomplishing this feat are still unclear. A year ago, Group Health published results from an internal study testing just what impact this increased communication may have on outcomes and patient satisfaction. What they found comes as no surprise to us as trusting advocates of patient engagement. In this study, Group Health provided patients suffering from depression a relatively simplistic form of engagement wherein patients were able to communicate with their care team through the EMR portal. The results, impressive: antidepressant medication adherence increased 33%, overall depression scores decreased, and satisfaction with treatment improved 61%.

While this study fostered communication via a computer/portal, it is not too big a stretch to see such communication readily migrate to a smartphone modality wherein a patient would not be tethered to a computer and could communicate from virtually any location. But that is part of the problem. This study, which was published only last year, uses a relatively old model of communication (portal), which has been used to varying degrees in the healthcare sector for years. And if there is a paucity of clinical evidence for the efficacy of portals, for mHealth Apps it will approximate a vacuum. Sure, basic logic tells you that increasing patient-provider communication should lead to better outcomes, but the healthcare community can be a bit odd at times in its demands for stacks and stacks of clear evidence before it is willing to take the plunge, either providers adopting such models of care and more importantly, payers will to reimburse for such models of care.

Therein lies the crux of the problem – reimbursement.

Now we don’t mean to be crass but physicians are like the rest of us. We are dedicated to our work, we work hard and at the end of the day we receive compensation for those efforts. For physicians, who seem to be perpetually overbooked, their time is particularly precious and adding another activity (patient communication outside of the exam room) without compensation, is a non-starter. There is also the issue of how does one bring mHealth data into an existing HIS let alone into the daily workflow of a physician is not without costs. Who will shoulder those costs when there are few if any reimbursement models in place to support such? This idea scares away investors and many innovators.

And that creates a Catch-22. Without clear reimbursement models there is little incentive to support the adoption of mHealth for care provisioning and therefore, little financial upside for innovators and subsequently creating an unstable market. To date, no mHealth engagement solution for care provisioning has been able to gain enough traction (relates back to financial) in the market to make a significant impact and thus are perceived as risky partners by healthcare organizations. There is ample proof for such concern as there remains a tremendous amount of churn in the mHealth market. For example, two startups in the space were recently ‘acquired’ by other startups: Pipette by Ginger.io and WellApps by Medivo (both in the same week no less!), yet far more start-ups simply fold-up their tents and move on. But without having healthcare organizations willing to take a chance, how are these young companies going to demonstrate clinical efficacy. Yes, Catch-22 indeed.

But all is not lost.

As we’ve written before, reimbursement models are migrating away from the traditional fee for service model and one that is structured around value-based outcomes. These new reimbursement models will in-turn lead to more capitated models of care where healthcare organizations will take on greater responsibility for managing patient risk. To effectively and efficiently do so, these organizations will need to create new models and processes of care delivery that extend beyond the confines of the exam room and actively engage the patient as a critical member of the care team (where they are capable of course). This has the potential to create a “Golden Age” for such new technologies as mHealth. But like all new market opportunities, a big question is timing – just when will the inflection point occur that will truly launch this market. In that forthcoming report we mentioned previously, we intend to provide some insight into that question as well.

Stay Tuned.

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Admittedly, our predictions for 2011 were modest. Most of those predictions were logical and did not take a whole lot of imagination to envision thus our success rate, 7 “hits”, 2 “toss-ups” and 2 “misses was quite high. And though are biggest accomplishment, predicting Blumenthal’s departure just a few short weeks before he actually announced such intentions is laudable, by and large these predictions just didn’t go far enough. So for 2012, rather than make simplistic predictions such as “analytics will be a high growth area” or “mHealth will create greater security concerns” or even “ACOs will begin to take hold” as none of these are all that thought provoking, we’ll go out on a limb with many of our predictions. Hopefully that limb won’t crack sending us crashing to the ground.

Without further adieu, here are our predictions:

Consumer/Patient Engagement – Not What it Seems
Despite the best efforts of the team at ONC to beat the consumer/patient engagement drum, providers by and large are still struggling with such basic issues of taking live their certified EHRs, making the transition to ICD-10, meeting physician demands to have everything served up on their new iPad and of course mapping out future strategies in anticipation of payment reform. Thus, we foresee consumer engagement remaining a tertiary issue in 2012. Just too many other pressing priorities at the moment. WebMD’s implosion on Jan. 10th may portend that this is not such a bad move – at least in the near term.

Bloom is Off the Rose, EHR Market Plateaus
Going out on a limb, we see 2012 as the year when we start talking of the post EHR-era. Yes, there will be plenty more EHR sales in the year to come but over 2012 we will also see EHR sales growth begin to plateau and level off by end of Q4’12. You heard it here first folks, it is time to collect your EHR winnings and seek new places to invest.

Finally, We’ll See Some Fairly Competent Tablet Apps from Legacy Vendors
Though physicians continue to adopt iPads at a rapid rate, they struggle to effectively use them in the hospitals to which they are affiliated simply because most hospital HIS cannot serve up an application effectively on an iPad. Sure, many have tried using Citrix as a stop-gap measure but this is just isn’t cutting it. In speaking to one CIO of a major IDN recently, he was so frustrated with his core EHR vendor’s slow pace of development that he is about ready to self-fund the development of an App for his physicians. Fear not CIOs and frustrated physicians, we have had the opportunity to see several alpha versions of iPad Apps that major EHR vendors are developing and they actually look pretty good. Look to Q2-Q3 ’12 for general availability release of these touch-screen native (mostly iPad-centric) Apps.

At Gunpoint, Direct Project Gains Traction
In 2011, the message came down from on high, or at least from the feds, that all State HIEs must include the use of Direct in their strategic plan. Pretty clear that this was politically motivated as to date, for the $500M plus we, as taxpayers are spending on these public HIEs, there is very little to show for it and we are now running headlong into an election year and this administration needs to show something, anything, in the way of success as it pertains to health information exchange. Sure Direct facilitates health information exchange (the verb), but so does a fax machine and frankly, Direct is only a modest step beyond faxing. Therefore, Direct will gain traction in these “forced” instances but we do not see it extending its reach into the much larger market of private, enterprise HIEs (does not sufficiently support care coordination, population health and analytics) and thus Direct’s overall impact in the market will be small and fade to nothing in three years time.

First CPT Codes for mHealth Apps Issued
mHealth Apps for care provisioning have not seen any significant adoption beyond pilot studies, studies which typically show some efficacy in their use. The big hang-up is a simple one, the risk to reward ratio for physicians to adopt and use mHealth Apps as part of the care process is too low. What might change that risk-reward ratio though is a CPT code whereby a physician actually gets paid to use, or have a patient use an App as part of the care process. WellDoc is one of the few mHealth App companies that is quite aggressive in moving the ball forward and we would not be too surprised if WellDoc did industry ground-breaking work to secure the first CPT codes for their diabetes management App.

Train has Left the Station as Supreme Court Rules on ACA
Though the Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is unlikely that their subsequent ruling will throw out all of ACA (they may prune it). More importantly, the move to value-based reimbursement models is already in full swing, which is something that will not be reversed. Whatever the Supreme Court rules, its impact will be minimal and the numerous changes we are seeing take place today (move to accountable care models, patient centered medical home, etc.) will continue as the train has already left the station.

Changing of the Guard as Dynamic Duo Departs
Last year we predicted the departure of ONC head, Dr. David Blumenthal. This year is an election year and it is expected that there will be a significant changing of the guard across the administration. We predict that the dynamic duo that is Aneesh Chopra, White House CTO and Todd Park, HHS CTO will both be leaving their posts by end of the year.

M&A Continues, but at far more Reasonable Valuations
Okay, yes we have had this prediction for three years running, but we just can’t help ourselves as we see far too many vendors in this market (some 300+ EHR vendors alone!) and some rationalization must enter at some point. We are seeing rationalization on valuations (e.g., no one was willing to pay what Thomson Reuters wanted for their healthcare business unit despite there being a sizable number of bidders) and this will create an opportunity for acceleration in M&A activity in 2012.

Floundering HITECH Initiatives Attract Political Spotlight
Yes, we are seeing some modest success and adoption of EHRs as a result of the HITECH Act but the preponderance of such success is at hospitals that first have had some form of EHR already in place and also have a lot to lose if proposed reimbursement cuts from CMS come to fruition at the end this multi-year march to certified EHR adoption and meaningful use. Yet, under the covers we are still not seeing wide-spread EHR adoption at the ambulatory level, especially among smaller practices, State HIE initiatives struggle to define what they’ll actually be when the grow-up, the Beacon programs have not reached the promise land, and the RECs, well we were never a big fan of these for obvious reasons we outlined previously. As this is an election year, healthcare and anything with the stamp of the Obama administration on it, will become fair game and dragged into the limelight. Get ready for healthcare to become the political piñata of 2012

HIE Vendors Stumble
By the end of 2012, the final awards for State HIEs will conclude and with it the evaporation of the $500M plus honey-pot that attracted so many vendors into this space. What’s next for these vendors? Some will stumble out of the market with little to show for their efforts. Others will work with their public clients to stand-up these public HIEs in order that they provide value to their respective communities, which will not be easy and lead to more stumbling. And of course HIE vendors who have traditionally been focused on public markets will reposition themselves for the private, enterprise market. Some of these vendors are now stumbling in this transition to the enterprise market (requires different sales resources and tactics, technology requirements, etc.). This will result in yet another shakeout in this niche industry sector. (Our forthcoming HIE Market Report will provide further details)

The funny thing about doing these predictions is that as one actually goes through the process of thinking about this market, which is currently going through nearly unprecedented change, one ponders so many other predictions that just end up on the cutting room floor. Some of those include:

Payers continue to struggle with exactly what they’ll offer on the State Health Insurance Exchange.

Pharma companies look to insert themselves directly into physician workflow, via HIT.

Despite rising cost share, consumers still struggle to make intelligent, informed decisions.

Telehealth gets some wind under its wings as big telecoms start aggressive lobbying efforts.

You get the idea, plenty of turmoil, no lack of potential trajectories in technology adoption and use within the healthcare sector and we here at Chilmark Research look forward to continuing to provide thoughtful insight on this ever evolving market in 2012.

So now it’s your turn. Are we on the mark with our predictions? Did we reach too far? Is there a particular prediction that you have which we totally missed? It is you, the community of readers that make this site far richer than we ever could do on our own and we look forward to your feedback.

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It is almost becoming the norm to say that it has been another tumultuous year in the healthcare IT market. Market consolidation, pushback on timelines, growing chorus from IT departments that enough is enough against the backdrop of the political circus in Washington and across the land as we prepare for the 2012 election year. If 2011, was a bit bumpy, believe we will see craters in the road to HIT enlightenment in 2012. But we’ll save that discussion for our future predictions for 2012 post, which we hope to get to next week. (Editor’s Note: Don’t hold your breath though, if the snow flakes are flying, we’ll be on the slopes next week.)

Today’s post takes a look back on 2011 by reviewing our predictions earlier in the year and assessing where we hit the mark, where we missed and if there is such a thing, where we came close. So without further adieu…

1. MU Initiatives Move to Tactical 
Hit This did come true as meaningful use, while still top of mind for the CIO, is not top of mind for others in the executive suite who are now looking at how to compete in the future as reimbursement models shift from fee-for-service to value-based contracts.

2. C-Suite Strategy Focuses on New Payment Models 
Hit An admittedly “softball” prediction, this was a natural fall-out of prediction numero uno. And yes, the consultants are making out like bandits as we predicted they would helping senior execs figure out their future competitive strategy.

3. RCM & Charge Capture Systems Require Overhaul 
Miss By and large, most vendors in this sector have not done a whole lot yet as they await to see how the market develops. With most healthcare organizations struggling to get the basics done (e.g., meet MU requirements, ICD-9 -> ICD-10, apply analytics, etc.) we are not seeing big demand from customers and subsequently, not a big push by vendors.

4. Mergers & Acquisitions Continue Unabated
Hit Another “gimme” of sorts for we had this prediction in 2010 and it was a “hit” and need only look at this market with its some odd 300+ EHRs to choose from, everyone wanting to call themselves at HIE vendor (last we checked, HIMSS listed some 189 HIE vendors alone), countless other HIT solutions to see that this market is far from mature. But arguably the biggest news in 2011 was Microsoft’s capitulation that despite the billion dollar plus investment, it wasn’t cut out or the clinical market and dumping its HIT assets into a new joint venture with GE. What we are also seeing is some rationality return as valuations have moderated. This may have led to Thomson Reuters’ recent decision to not sell-off its healthcare division – no one was willing to pay the high price tag they had on this property.

5. Federally Funded State Initiatives Struggle
Toss-up There has been some progress and there are those that would vehemently argue that Beacon Communities, RECs and state HIEs are moving ahead briskly. But then again, we do get some disturbing reports that all is not progressing as once envisioned, one might even go so far as to say some of these programs are beyond just struggling, but clearly going off the tracks. We’ll reserve judgment until we see clear evidence of such pending disasters, which will likely be prevalent, but highly distributed.

6. Changing of the Guard at ONC
Hit Not long after we posted our 2011 predictions, Blumenthal announced his resignation from ONC. We could not have been more prophetic if we tried.

7. Physicians will continue to go Ga-Ga over the iPad and the fast-following touchscreen tablets much to the chagrin of CIOs.
Hit Enabling physicians access to health information systems via their hand-held mobile devices, including touch-screen tablets is still a struggle for most organizations. At first, IT departments turned to Citrix as stop-gap measure, but the UX was far from ideal. In our recent research we found many an IT department still struggling to address this issue. mobile enablement of physicians is a top priority.

8. Apps Proliferate: Consumer-facing First, Private Practice Second, Enterprises Dead Last
Hit In hindsight, another admittedly easy prediction to make. What may be a more interesting prediction is when will mHealth Apps really become a truly viable market? Does the profitable exit of iTriage/Healthagen, which was picked up by Aetna portend such? By our standards, no. Go back to our recent post from the mHealth Summit for more in-depth analysis.

9. The Poor Man’s (doctor’s) HIE Takes Hold
Miss We thought that the Direct Project would quickly take hold and see rapid adoption among smaller physician practices and those organizations looking to “connect the last mile” to small affiliated practices in their network. Not happening yet though the current administration is doing its best to push this technology by requiring all state designated entities that are standing up statewide HIEs to include Direct in the strategic operating plan.

10. Analytics & Business Intelligence Perceived as Nirvana 
Hit, kind of… 
In retrospect, not even sure this was really a prediction but simply more of a statement as to where healthcare organizations are headed with their HIT investments. We have a long ways to go, though there is certainly no lack of vendors that now are touting some form of analytics capabilities. Our advice, tread carefully as most solutions today are half-baked.

11) The Buzz at HIMSS’11? Everything ACO! 
Miss 
While some vendors were discussing ACO enablement at the 2011 HIMSS, the vast majority were not with the key focus continuing to be meeting Meaningful Use requirements. As mentioned in previous prediction, we see MU as a tactical issue with the strategic issue being: How do we leverage IT infrastructure to support communities of care? Maybe at HIMSS’12 we’ll see more discussion of this issue, but we’re not holding our breath.

This may have been our best year yet with our predictions having only 3 clear misses out of 11 predictions made. Granted, some of those predictions were not exactly the most profound or shall we say big stretches, but we do take some satisfaction in really nailing a few.

And while we intend to provide our own 2012 predictions, no time like the present to begin the process. So we ask you dear reader, what is your 2-3 top predictions for 2012? Will Todd Park stay on at HHS? Will forced budget cuts decimate HITECH? Will the Supreme Court’s ruling on ACA have any impact on HIT spend by either payers or providers? Will mHealth Apps such as WellDoc’s for diabetic care finally receive a CBT code thereby accelerating adoption of such tools?  We look forward to your input.

And of course we wish everyone a Joyous holiday season and wish you and yours continued good health in the new year to come.

Home for Christmas by Thomas Kinkade

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Last week was the massive Salesforce.com user conference Dreamforce (massive in that there were more attendees at Dreamforce then this year’s HIMSS!). We’ve been reviewing more than a few articles and writings written by those who attended the event. In the few short years of its existence (~13yrs) Salesforce.com has become one of the leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) vendors in the market and basically pushed the previous leader Siebel to the brink and into the arms of Oracle. Salesforce is arguably the leader in the Software as a Service (SaaS) market and thus someone to pay close attention to on all things “Cloud Computing.”

So what makes Salesforce.com so compelling and what are some parallels to the healthcare sector?

Similar Market Demographics: From the beginning Salesforce has always been structured as a SaaS and targeted the hard to reach and highly distributed sales forces of companies of all sizes. Actually, they first targeted the small to medium business (SMB) market and once successful there, went after Siebel in big enterprises. In healthcare, the vast majority of care is provided by small, 1-3 physician practices that are highly distributed across the country – perfect target for a hosted SaaS offering.

Deliver Value, Not Pain: Since most sales people get a large portion of their salary via commissions, the last thing they want to do is hassle with software that is cumbersome to use. Salesforce.com’s user interface (UI) is very intuitive and surprisingly customizable (within limits) for an SaaS offering. This allows a sales person to configure the the solution to their specific needs. We hear time and again from physicians that the EHR they are being forced to use doesn’t fit their workflow and is often painful to use. (Having been demo’d more than our fair share of EHR solutions, it still shocks us just how awful the UI is for these solutions.) Like their sales brethren, physicians need solutions that fit their processes and do not slow them down.

Fold in Rich Communication Tools: At this year’s Dreamforce, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Beniof spend a substantial amount of time focusing on the rich communication tools that Salesforce is embedding to tap the move to social networks. Right now, the US Government is dumping over a half billion dollars to stand-up HIEs in every State and enterprises are easily spending double that amount to facilitate information exchange in support of referrals, lab distribution, orders, etc. What if a Salesforce for healthcare arrived on the scene allowing physicians to securely exchange information in the same manner that those on Salesforce.com use that platform for secure ad hoc communication with internal and external partners to meet customer needs?

Provide Robust Security – No Leakage: Sales leads are a sales person’s bread and butter and they guard them with their lives for it truly is their livelihood. Thus, Salesforce had to build a system that ensured a sales person’s leads were their own with no possibility of a breach (leakage) to a competitor. If Salesforce can meet this strict requirement, is it such a stretch to preserve the integrity of personal health information (PHI) on such a system?

Focus on the Data & Deliver Simple Yet Useful Analytics: Sales is often a numbers game. This requires superior, robust data management and ultimately the ability to create a wide variety of pre-configured and customizable reports. As we move towards value-based contracts, providers of all sizes will be asked to provide reports as well (typically on quality metrics) to those paying the bills (CMS, payers, etc.).

Provide an Ecosystem: Salesforce has a vision to provide an ecosystem of third party apps on top of their platform but to date, like most companies, they have struggled to make much headway here. But in time, as more and more IT functions move to the “Cloud” to support an increasingly mobile device centric world, an ecosystem is inevitable. In healthcare, where one might successfully argue that physicians are one of the most mobile of professions, accessing apps via mobile devices is quickly becoming standard practice. Increasingly, the healthcare market and in particularly those far-flung physician practices, will look to ecosystems of apps delivered over the Web to their mobile device (touch-screen tablet) to support their practices.

Adhere to KISS Principle: Like sales professionals and for that matter just about any other professional worth their salt, physicians in private practices are extremely busy and the last thing they need is to fuss around with software maintenance and upgrades. Subscribing to a SaaS takes that big upgrade headache and slams it with a double dose of Excedrin.

This got us to thinking…

Who in the Healthcare IT (HIT) market might become the Salesforce.com of HIT?

EHR Vendors:
We can’t think of a single vendor in the EHR market that has the foresight, the vision, the chutzpa to pull off a Salesforce.com move. Sure, one can point to PracticeFusion (who happens to have received backing from Salesforce) but we don’t see the vision there. What about athenahealth you might ask? Yes, they like to portray themselves as such, but honestly, their bread n’butter solution is not a SaaS play but more of a straight services play delivered via the Internet and a lot of old school back office processing in a warehouse in Maine. All the other EHR vendors? Either they’re too small to matter or chained to their legacy business models that they can not break free of to deliver the scale and gravitas of a Salesforce.com like solution for healthcare.

HIE Vendors:
Increasingly, HIE vendors are providing simple EHRs targeting ambulatory practices, they certainly have the information exchange piece covered (to highly varying degrees) are beginning to fold in analytics (big reason why UHG acquired Axolotl) and some are looking to provide an ecosystem play such as Medicity with its iNexx platform, Covisint with its AppCloud or even Microsoft’s somewhat aborted attempt with Amalga. Yet, despite these efforts, we do not see any one HIE company really grasping the reigns and running away with the prize. Each of the aforementioned vendors have their own reasons why they haven’t quite captured the imagination of the healthcare sector and we are not holding our breath waiting for someone to breakout.

Others:
Emdeon has a huge presence in the market as a clearinghouse for claims processing and having just been taken private by private equity firm Blackstone, they may try to make such a play. At the most recent HIMSS sat down with Emdeon for a briefing where they hinted to a desire to move more directly into clinicals, but to date, we’ve seen nothing materialize and it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Emdeon also has the very real issue of their existing business model (did you no their number one capital expense is postage stamps?) that will keep them on the sidelines.

NaviNet is similar to Emdeon in that they already have a direct connection into the physician’s office with some one million plus healthcare providers using their service. NaviNet has the links but it does not appear that they want to get into the nitty gritty of providing a host of other services and offerings on top of their existing platform. It appears that NaviNet will add small incremental services to their platform rather than go for the whole enchilada keeping the platform simple and streamlined.

Surescripts is making a play in the HIE market with its Kryptiq partnership offering the Clinical Interoperability platform. While still early in its development. the Surescripts play is the closest thing we have seen to date to match the existing Salesforce juggernaut and the one to watch.

Now we certainly do not claim to have all the answers, never have. That is why we have a comments section below. So dear readers, we’ve given you are analysis and now it’ your turn. Who do you think is in the best position to become the Salesforce.com of the HIT market?

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There have been a number of research studies published that question the value of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), particularly as it pertains to improving quality of care and ultimately outcomes. Chilmark has always viewed these reports with a certain amount of skepticism. Simple logic leads us to conclude that a properly installed (including attention to workflow and thorough training) of an enterprise software system such as an EHR will lead to a certain level of standardization in overall process flow, contribute to efficiencies and quality in care delivery and ultimately lead to better outcomes. But to date, there has been a dearth of evidence to support this logic, that is until this week.

Yesterday evening the New England Journal of Medicine published the research paper: Electronic Health Records and Quality of Diabetes Care, which provides clear evidence, albeit a little fuzzy around the edges, that physician use of an EHR significantly improves quality metrics over physicians who rely on paper-based medical record keeping processes.

The research effort took place in Cleveland as part of Better Health Greater Cleveland from July 2009 till June 2010 and included 46 practices representing some 569 providers and over 27K adults with diabetes who visited their physician at least twice during the study period. Several common quality and outcome measures were used to assess and compare EHR-based care to paper-based. On composite standards of quality, EHR-based practices performed a whooping 35% better than their paper-based counterparts. On outcome measures, which are arguably more difficult for physicians as patients’ actions or lack thereof are more integral to final outcomes, EHR-based practices still outperformed their paper-based peers by some 15%. The Table below gives a more detailed breakout.

While the authors claim that insurance coverage has little bearing on the final analysis (i.e., Medicare, commercial and Medicaid patient metrics are similar) there is a surprisingly high percentage of patients in paper-based practices who do not have any insurance which makes one wonder: Will future Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX) and the individual mandate, should it survive the Supreme Court, have some bearing on what physician a patient may chose in the future? Will patients migrate to those doctors that use more advanced technologies (EHRs)? Also, there was an abnormally high percentage of patients in paper-based practices that were “Nonwhite” which raises another question: Could those practices that still rely on paper-based processes be in more disadvantaged neighborhoods? If that is indeed the case, will HITECH and its incentives trickle down to this strata of the healthcare sector? All in all though, these are relatively minor points in relation to the broader implications of this paper.

Implications:
This research paper could become a seminal piece in support of the current administration’s efforts to reform the healthcare sector as it not only supports efforts to digitize the healthcare sector via EHR adoption, but may also provide an added incentive that goes beyond HITECH Act incentive payments.

Throughout the healthcare sector reimbursement models are changing from fee for service to value-based contracts. Such value-based contracts, be they ACOs, PCMHs, P4P, or whatever other acronym you want to throw at it, are accelerating coming not only from the government but also commercial payers. A key component of these value-based contracts is achieving certain quality metrics and moving from episodic care to continuous care models. This research paper is one of the first and most comprehensive that has come across our desks here at Chilmark Research that clearly shows the use of an EHR has a significant impact on key quality measures, in this case diabetes care. While virtually all hospitals are on the HITECH bandwagon, it is less clear just how many private physician practices are jumping in and adopting EHRs for their practices. For many such practices, the HITECH incentive payments may not be enough of a reward for the numerous Meaningful Use hurdles that a physician needs to jump through. But if you hit these physicians directly in their wallet with value-based contracts and they see that EHRs provided demonstrably better quality care metrics, then we may see broader EHR adoption in the ambulatory sector. Bit of a crystal ball forecast, but the logic is there.

Ultimately, what we are seeing happen in the healthcare sector is not dissimilar to what we saw occur in the manufacturing sector. In manufacturing the lag between adoption of enterprise software systems and subsequent increases in productivity has a special term: the “Productivity Paradox,” wherein it was some ten years after wide spread adoption and deployment of these enterprise systems that improvements in productivity metrics could be measured.

Might the healthcare sector have its own paradox? We think so and from this point forward will refer to it as the Quality Paradox.

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