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Archive for the ‘HIT’ Category

CR_brandWebNovember saw the acquisition of yet another HIE vendor by a payer (Humana). An in-depth analysis of this acquisition and its implications was provided to Chilmark Advisory Service (CAS) clients at the end of November. Following are abstracts of the three research notes in our latest Monthly Update.

Humana Leaps Into the HIE Market
The health insurance industry is undergoing massive upheaval. Payers don’t need a crystal ball to see that in the near future, providers will sell services directly to employers, and that insurers need to get creative in order to stay competitive. With its acquisition of HIE vendor, Certify Data Systems, Humana joined two other payers in the HIE market: Aetna and UnitedHealth Group. Yet Humana’s strategy sets it apart from the other payers. On a single day in November, Humana announced not one but three acquisitions: Certify plus two Florida-based managed care service organizations. Humana has clearly articulated its plan to become the preferred Integrated Delivery Provider to Medicare Advantage members and dual eligibles. By adding Certify’s strong HIE capabilities to its bag of tricks, along with the ability to deliver primary care directly to a large Medicare population, Humana has positioned itself to do just that.

Taking Population Health from Claims to Clinical
As you know from past updates, the burgeoning field of healthcare analytics is a top priority here at Chilmark Research. This month, we take a look at population health management and current efforts to adapt existing claims-based risk management to clinical settings. Population health and risk management have long been the purview of health insurers and public health departments. Yet as providers take on more risk, they will need to identify populations and sub-populations that could benefit from preventive health – and ultimately cost less in healthcare services. THis research note takes a look at some of the traditional, claims-based analytics vendors and their intentions to move into analysis of real-time clinical data sets.

From Med Lists to Meds Reconciliation to Meds Adherence
Ask any home-care provider, and you’ll hear stories of medicine cabinets chock full of old, unused medications. Chronic disease and frequent hospitalizations compound the problem, because patients end up with medications from before and after each hospital stay. It’s no wonder that medication maladherence is recognized as the most important driver of preventable readmissions. But understanding the problem is much different than finding a solution. Chilmark Research reports on the current fractured state of medication adherence, and argues that without deep provider engagement and interoperability across systems, true medication adherence programs will remain a pipe dream.

Each month, subscribers to the Chilmark Advisory Services (CAS) receive an update of our research on the most transformative trends in the healthcare IT sector. Exclusive to CAS subscribers, monthly updates are part of the continuous feed of information and analysis we generate to keep subscribers on top of the rapid-fire changes in this market. Below is a summary of what we covered in the latest update, which was distributed in November.

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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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Cerner is embarking on a journey of transformation. That transformation, if successful, will culminate in Cerner becoming more than a health IT company to becoming a health company. They’ve tested much of this strategy internally with onsite campus clinics, health and wellness challenges, the creation of rich consumer/patient engagement tools, heck, they have even created their own third party administrator (TPA) as Cerner is self-insured. The company wishes to take these lessons learned, these solutions that have been developed, to transform their company into a health company to address not only the patient experience in a clinical setting, but the patient/consumer health experience throughout the community.

This is all a part of Cerner’s Healthe Intent strategy, a strategy we received a deep dive in during our recent attendance to the Cerner User Conference in early October. Healthe Intent is a big, grand, bold vision in an industry where there seems to be a dearth of such visions. Whether or not Cerner is successful, Healthe Intent certainly has its fair share of challenges, rests more with Cerner than any other outside force.

In the October Monthly Update, which is exclusive to Chilmark Advisory Service (CAS) subscribers, we provided subscribers a deep dive into Cerner’s Healthe Intent strategy and what its implications are for both Cerner and more broadly, the healthcare industry. Each month, CAS subscribers  receive an update of our latest research findings on some of the most transformative trends in healthcare IT. This is all part of the CAS service, a service that provides a continuous feed of research findings and access to our analysts keeping CAS subscribers abreast of the rapid-fire changes in this market. Below are abstracts of the other two research notes we published in the October Monthly Update.

 With Readmission Penalties Looming, Can Care Get Coordinated?
CMS penalties for patient readmissions within 30 days of discharge went into effect October 1, posing a very real challenge that all hospitals must now address. Needless to say, better care coordination across various settings will be critical to cutting back on readmissions. Currently, patients are transferred from venue to venue with incomplete records, leaving providers to fill in the blanks in their care. Healthcare IT has long been promoted as a magic fix to this problem, but it will take more than technology to truly coordinate care, and different patient populations pose different technology needs. This is partially why our 2013 HIE Market Report will pay particular attention to what solutions vendors may be developing to ensure providers have complete patient data.

Clinical Analytics Gears Up for Second Wave
The second story continues to unwrap the analytics market. Though other sectors have used analytics to make business decisions for decades, all but the most innovative healthcare providers lagged behind under fee for service. With that reimbursement model on its way out, the second wave of healthcare providers are grappling to choose an analytics vendor, even as many work through the rocky early years of electronic health record adoption. These providers are in for a confusing procurement process, with a market awash in vendors claiming to offer a clinical analytics solutions. To say this market is getting heated is putting it mildly.

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This week I had the pleasure to be the keynote speaker at Orion Health’s HIE User Conference in the beautiful state of my youth, Colorado. In preparing for this conference I was struck again by just how quickly this market continues to evolve and just how messy evolution can be. By the time my slide deck was completed, I came to the conclusion that the health information exchange (HIE) industry is moving from HIE 1.0 to HIE 2.0. While no trend happens over night, certainly the release of Stage 2 meaningful use  (MU) requirements had a significant impact.

HIE 1.0: All About the Message
Within the realm of HIE 1.0 the primary focus is on fairly simple, message-based, transactional processes. Large healthcare organizations (HCOs) adopted HIEs to facilitate orders and referrals with the hope that by making it easier for an ambulatory provider to place an order and receive timely access to lab results, that the provider would be more inclined to push business to that HCO, rather than a competing HCO in the community. It was all about physician alignment. Countless HCOs installed such HIEs, which are typically based on a lightweight, federated model. It was simple, inexpensive and relatively quick to deploy.

In the public sector, most HIE’s were meant to serve public health reporting functions and facilitate physician access to records to minimize duplicate tests and deliver better care. The objectives of public HIEs are far harder to reach, the value far harder to articulate and have contributed to a lack of sustainability and ultimately failure of may a public HIE. In a somewhat bizarre twist, last summer Health and Human Services (HHS) sent forth new mandates to all statewide HIEs to focus first and foremost on Direct Secure Messaging (DSM). DSM is little more than secure email, thus the original grand plans of public HIEs have been whittled down to much more modest goals.

With the release of Stage 2 meaningful use, which will require EHR vendors to embed DSM functionality within their EHR to become certified, messaging solutions provided by HIE vendors have now become commoditized. Messaging in the context of HIE is now passe.

HIE 2.0: All About Delivering Care
It has always been Chilmark Research’s opinion that the enterprise market will lead the public market in adoption and use of new, innovative HIE technology. With the move towards value-based contracting and associated reimbursement models, accountable delivery systems (ADS) (note: we don’t like to use the term ACO unless we are specifically talking about CMS), of all sizes are now looking to adopt an HIE platform and those that adopted a messaging-based HIE are looking to replace it. This will result in a high level of turnover in the HIE market, which we began seeing during middle half of last year.

The move to an ADS model requires a HCO to manage a given patient across all care settings. To meet these objectives, HIE 2.0 solutions will have such common attributes as data normalization services, patient disease registries, care management tools (care plans, templates and workflow) and some form of patient engagement capabilities. In adopting and deploying an HIE that goes beyond simple federated messaging, the HCO hopes to insure that appropriate care is delivered to a patient across all care settings and that all individuals (patient, loved one, case manager, nurse, doctor, etc.) that are a part of a given care team have the most current and relevant information associated with that patient, at their finger tips.

This is the goal of an HIE 2.0 but we are still quite a ways from getting there. Our latest end user research finds a market that is full of frustration. Despite all those Stage 1 certified EHRs that have been deployed, very few of them can actually create and/or parse a CCD. We are still in the land of simplistic and cumbersome HL 7 messaging. Some pretty big steps forward were made by the feds in Stage 2 to rectify this now well-known, but also fairly well-kept secret that HIEs today simply cannot readily support care management processes across care settings in a heterogeneous EHR environment. This week’s announcement to further push the envelop, via certification of HIE/EHR in conjunction with efforts that are being led by NYeHC are also a welcomed sign.

Ultimately, though, it will be market need that presses this issue forward, not the efforts of HHS, NYeHC and others. As HCOs continue their acquisition spree to build a robust ADS to serve their communities, these organizations will begin to have the marketing clout to force vendors to change their ways. For example, while Stage 2 may have had some impact on Epic’s decision to finally admit Care Elsewhere would forever be vaporware and have them strike a partnership with Surescripts, it is our belief that Epic’s customers were the ones that really forced Epic’s hand. Now if we could only apply similar clout to those ambulatory EHR vendors who hold their clients hostage with exorbitant interface fees – maybe this is where the feds can play their greatest role and Stage 2 is a strong step in the right direction.

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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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Recently upon leaving my doctor’s office I was presented with a print-out of my visit summary. Knowing I worked it the HIT space my doctor proudly stated that this was one the ways that they planned to meet one of the menu objectives of Stage One meaningful use (MU). This is great I thought, until I began looking over that visit summary.

A significant portion of the summary listed the basics such as who I was, why I paid them a visit etc., all pretty boiler plate – nothing new. Then I turned the page to see the lab results of the routine blood-work – YIKES! nothing but acronyms, values and acceptable ranges. I think I was able to decipher about 10% of those lab results and I work in this industry! I can only imagine how difficult and mind-numbing these figures may appear to an “ordinary” patient/consumer.

So seeing some out of range values I began asking my doctor:

What does this acronym stand? Why is this out of range? Is this something I need to worry about?

Being the great doctor that he is, he took the time to explain my results (some of those out of range values are the result of meds) but also expressed a certain level of frustration stating: “I’m not a big fan of passing this information on to a patient for I worry that they won’t understand results such as these and then I need to take time out to walk the patient through their results which can be quite time consuming. Is this another contributor to physician burnout I wondered?

Now I am all for patient/consumer empowerment and do believe that providing patient’s access to their personal health information (PHI) as a critical component of such empowerment. But does providing a patient a visit summary really empower them or does it simply make them confused (as I was) and resigned or worse endanger?

Stage 2 meaningful use rules released last week state that an eligible physician or hospital will be required to:

Use Certified EHR Technology to identify patient-specific education resources and provide those resources to the patient.

But what will that “patient-specific education resource” look like? Will it solve the problem I encountered?

I want more than a generic here is what these type of acronyms and values mean that litter the internet. I want personalization. I want a system that will take my lab results, my problem list, match it up with my meds, allergies etc. and provide me with personalized knowledge of what these results mean to me and my future health. I then want to be provided suggestions as to how to improve those values? This is what I see as true patient/consumer empowerment.

Unfortunately, what I have actually experienced as a result of this grand HITECH effort under Stage One falls far short of empowerment, if anything, it is closer to disempowerment.

Getting a bunch of data in a visit summary without putting it into context is not meaningful, it is meaningless.

My hope is that there are some novel, creative solutions now being developed that will leverage the new concept in Stage Two, the Base EHR, and provide a module that automatically digs into a patient’s PHI and presents the patient with an empowering visit summary. This is one of the ultimate intents of the HITECH Act, I now want to see it happen.

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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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