With the impending comment deadline for Meaningful Use (MU) fast approaching, many organizations, from CHIME to AHA to AAFP and others are asking for some form of relaxation of MU criteria in the final version. Now it is not to say these concerns are not justified, it just may be that they are misplaced for the vast majority of those who currently do not use an EHR, small physician practices and clinics. It is within these small practices, which are really just small businesses, that the majority of patient care occurs and where possibly the biggest benefit may be derived in the use of EHRs. It is also here where we may find the highest adoption hurdles, and those adoption hurdles are not so much about MU criteria, but more about productivity losses in adopting an EHR.
This past weekend I spent some time with a nurse who works in a primary care/pediatrics clinic in Vermont. There facility, part of a network of several clinics, recently adopted and went live with a new EHR system (about 18 months ago). According to the nurse, this EHR, from one of the big names in ambulatory systems, has been a complete disaster for the clinic. Productivity is way down, countless glitches have occurred, whole system crashed during a recent upgrade and the list goes on. For 2009, this clinic, which has been in operation for a few decades, had its first ever loss last year, the year they went live with this EHR. The clinic puts the blame squarely on the EHR, which has severely constricted their ability to see patients and as all readers know, clinicians get paid for seeing patients, not trying to use a complex and difficult to use EHR.
It is stories like this that concern me.
This is a clinic trying to do the right thing, trying to use an EHR in a meaningful way (note, did not say meaningful use) and they are struggling. Yes, they do want to deliver the best patient care, but at the end of the day, they, like any business have bills to pay. They are losing money far in excess of what HITECH Act incentives will provide. This story is, unfortunately, not unique, though few EHR vendors will come clean on the productivity hit to a practice. Maybe instead of guaranteeing that their application(s) will meet MU criteria, EHR vendors should guarantee that the productivity hit of using their solution will not exceed HITECH incentive payments. Now that would be an interesting value proposition.
Thanks to Michael Jahn of Jahn & Associates for the MU cartoon.
John Moore is an IT Analyst at Chilmark Research, where this post was first published.