Almost 20 years ago close to 4,000 people from 200 companies gathered in San Diego for a conference to discuss the future of health-care information technology. This was before the Web. This was back when computers in physicians’ offices, to the extent they were present at all, were used only for scheduling and billing patients. Paper charts bulged out of huge filing cabinets.
It was one of the first big conferences held by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). I was among a grab bag of physicians, technologists, visionaries, engineers and entrepreneurs who shared one idealistic goal: to use information systems and technology to fundamentally change health care.
We didn’t just want to upgrade those old systems. We imagined a future that looked a lot like what we were being promised throughout the economy as it sped into the Internet era. Computers would enable improvements in the practice of medicine—and make it safer, higher quality, more affordable and more efficient—all at the same time. We wanted people to be healthier.
Last week, five health IT vendors came together to announce the CommonWell Health Alliance, a nonprofit focused on developing a national secure network and standards that will:
- Unambiguously identify patients
- Provide a national, secure record locator service. For treatment purposes, providers can know where a patient’s records are located.
- Enable peer-to-peer sharing of patient records requested via a targeted (or directed) query
- Enable patients and consumers to withhold consent / authorization for participation in the network
Unambiguous patient identity matters
In banking, without certainty about identity, ATM machines would not give out cash. And in healthcare without certainty about identity, physicians are working with one hand tied behind their backs.
This problem will never be solved by the Feds. In fact, Congress has restricted any spending on it by the government at all. Industry working together may be the only practical alternative.
I’m well aware that a good fraction of the people in this country – let’s call them Rush fans – spend their lives furious at the New York Times. I am not one of them. I love the Grey Lady; it would be high on my list of things to bring to a desert island. But every now and then, the paper screws up, and it did so in a big way in its recent piece on the federal program to promote healthcare information technology (HIT).
Let’s stipulate that the Federal government’s $20 billion incentive program (called “HITECH”), designed to drive the adoption of electronic health records, is not perfect. Medicare’s “Meaningful Use” rules – the standards that hospitals’ and clinics’ EHRs must meet to qualify for bonus payments – have been criticized as both too soft and too restrictive. (You know the rules are probably about right when the critiques come from both directions.) Interoperability remains a Holy Grail. And everybody appreciates that today’s healthcare information technology (HIT) systems remain clunky and relatively user-unfriendly. Even Epic, the Golden Child among electronic medical record systems, has been characterized as the “Cream of the Crap.”
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.
According to CMS, through May of this year, 2,400 hospitals and 110,000 eligible professionals have received $5.7 billion in incentive payments for ensuring meaningful use of electronic health records, representing about half of all eligible hospitals and about 20% of all eligible providers.
Despite this widespread adoption EHRs, reliable market share data by vendor is still very hard to come by. So, when CMS recently updated its attestation data for midyear 2012, we took notice. Attestation, remember, is the process by which practitioners legally verify that they have used an EHR in way that merits one of those incentive payments. The data set includes more than 77,000 different attestations from 2011 through May of 2012 (note that it is not immediately clear why the data set has different totals than the CMS press release).
The sheer number of options for hospitals and providers stood out to us immediately. There are 405 separate EHR vendors that hospitals or providers have used to attest to meaningful use, with 336 of these providing ambulatory EHR products. It’s worth pausing here to note that by our count of the data found on the CMS Certified Health IT Product List, there are more than 550 separate ambulatory vendors with complete EHRs approved by CMS, meaning that despite the huge number of options, there were still well over 200 approved ambulatory vendors that have not had a single user qualify for an incentive payment yet!
Despite this enormous number of options, users attesting were fairly concentrated in the top vendors. Of these 336, the top 15 vendors represented 75% of all providers attesting. On the inpatient side, this concentration was even more pronounced, with the top 6 representing 75% of the total hospital attestations.
When we organize and dig into the data, a few other points stand out.
Matthew Holt interviews Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman at HIMSS12. Tullman recaps what happened this year at his company and explains how Allscripts can help small companies innovate.
Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts, talked with Matthew about mergers, consolidation and payment changes taking place in the healthcare system.