We should have seen it coming, really. It was entirely predictable, and the most recent RAND report proves it.
We incentivized comprehensive IT adoption, making it easier to bill for every procedure, examination, aspirin, tongue depressor, kind word and gentle (or not) touch without first flipping the American healthcare paradigm on its head, if such a thing is even possible.
According to analysis by the New York Times, hospitals received $1 billion more in Medicare reimbursements in 2010 than they did five years earlier. Overall, the Times says, “hospitals that received government incentives to adopt electronic records showed a 47 percent rise in Medicare payments at higher levels from 2006 to 2010 … compared with a 32 percent rise in hospitals that have not received any government incentives …”
To paraphrase the mantra of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign: It’s the system, stupid. More specifically, it’s the business model, stupid, the fee-for-service system in which electronic health records are enabling tools.
It’s also the law of unintended consequences. You know … you take action, planning on this but instead you get that.
Like the introduction of cane toads in Australia to kill beetles (they couldn’t jump high enough). Like letting mongooses loose in Hawaii to manage the rat population (they preferred native bird eggs). Like Kudzu, the insatiable vine that’s devouring the South.
According to the authors of the RAND report, the problem is with the incentive structure that encourages more tests and procedures. Well, of course it is. Doctors and administrators have a clinic or hospital to run. They have expensive invoices from Epic and Cerner to pay. They can now track and bill for all this stuff they used to not get paid for. Are we surprised?
And meanwhile, fee-for-service leads us down a contradictory rat hole of massive healthcare costs and lousy public health.Continue reading…
What a week last week! First the disgraced cyclist confession and later the baffling college-football-player-and-his nonexistent-(dead)-girlfriend story, with the RAND report sandwiched somewhere in between. It’s positively a scandal-palooza.
What’s that? You don’t feel like the recent RAND report, which basically says that a 2005 RAND study financed by GE and Cerner was wildly optimistic in predicting about $81 billion in potential health care cost savings through widespread adoption of electronic health records, qualifies as a genuine hoax, controversy, scandal?
But it does neatly frame what is arguably a unique characteristic of the healthcare industry—a trait that extends to peripheral industries as well. Basically, healthcare is an interconnected environment. Call it the systems theory of healthcare, co-dependency … or just regular dependency. Call it what you want, but there is an interconnectedness in healthcare that we ignore at the expense of national wellness.
Witness key data points provided by the RAND report:
- Modern health IT systems are not interconnected and interoperable, functioning “less as ‘ATM cards,’ allowing a patient or provider to access needed health information anywhere at any time, than as ‘frequent flier cards’ intended to enforce brand loyalty…”
- Neither are they widely adopted, with an estimated 27 percent of hospitals utilizing a basic electronic record. Without broad adoption, interoperability is far less relevant.
- Improvements in quality of care / patient safety and reductions in healthcare costs (which have grown by $800 billion since 2005) are not manifesting with EHR adoption, in part because hospitals and clinics are rushing to adopt mediocre solutions and garner federal funds.
- The provision of care is the same as it ever was, even though EHRs are frequently promoted as the optimal tool for a different kind of care.
The reasons for these disappointing stats are readily apparent and unalterably interconnected.
Does anyone in their right mind believe that these are the best of times in healthcare or health IT?
Does anyone besides Judy Faulkner and Neal Patterson believe these are the best of times? (I mean, everyone knows that Dramatic Transition + Industry-wide Upheaval + Piles of Cash = Satisfaction / Contentment, proving the point mathematically.)
The question: At what cost to overall healthcare improvement do Epic and Cerner (and others, to be fair … except you, Allscripts) reap massive profits?
The short answer: We don’t really know.
While it is generally acknowledged by most (certainly not all, which you know if you’ve spent any time on HIStalk) that the ready availability and automated cross-checking of electronic health records improves care, there is no definitive study showing dramatic clinical improvement, demonstrable return on investment, etc.
Indeed, we now have a number of studies suggesting exactly the opposite:
2012 has been a challenging year for me.
On the personal side, my wife had cancer. Together we moved two households, relocated her studio, and closed her gallery. This week my mother broke her hip in Los Angeles and I’m writing from her hospital room as we finalize her discharge and home care plan before I fly back to Boston.
On the business side, the IT community around me has worked hard on Meaningful Use Stage 2, the Massachusetts State Health Information Exchange, improvements in data security, groundbreaking new applications, and complex projects like ICD10 with enormous scope.
We did all this with boundless energy and optimism, knowing that every day we’re creating a foundation that will improve the future for our country, communities, and families.
My personal life has never been better – Kathy’s cancer is in remission, our farm is thriving, and our daughter is maturing into a fine young woman at Tufts University.
My business life has never been better – Meaningful Use Stage 2 provides new rigorous standards for content/vocabulary/transport at a time when EHR use has doubled since 2008, the State HIE goes live in one week, and BIDMC was voted the number #1 IT organization the country.
It’s clear that many have discounted the amazing accomplishments that we’ve all made, overcoming technology and political barriers with questions such as “how can we?” and “why not?” rather than “why is it taking so long?” They would rather pursue their own goals – be they election year politics, academic recognition, or readership traffic on a website.
As many have seen, this letter from the Ways and Means Committee makes comments about standards that clearly have no other purpose than election year politics. These House members are very smart people and I have great respect for their staff. I’m happy to walk them through the Standards and Certification Regulations (MU stage 1 and stage 2) so they understand that the majority of their letter is simply not true – it ignores the work of hundreds of people over thousands of hours to close the standards gaps via open, transparent, and bipartisan harmonization in both the Bush and Obama administrations.
In our rush to establish a national electronic medical record (EMR) system as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, powerful silos of independent EMR systems have sprung up nationwide.
While most systems are being developed responsibly, like the Wild, Wild West, many have been developed without an objective eye toward quality and the potential harm they may be causing our patients.
As most readers of this blog are aware, since 2005 the medical device industry in which I work has had widely publicized instances of patient deaths splashed all over the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets from defibrillator malfunctions that resulted in a just a few patient deaths.
The backlash in response to these deaths was significant: device registries were developed, software improvements to devices created, and billions of dollars in legal fees and damages paid to patients and their families on the path to improvement. In addition, we also learned about the limits of corporate responsibility for these deaths thanks to legal precedent established by the Reigel vs. Medtronic case.
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.
A little over a week ago Google stated that it was putting a stake through the heart of their personal health platform (PHP) Google Health. We at Chilmark had been expecting this for some time, it was just a manner of when it would become official. Thus, we were somewhat taken aback by all the publicity surrounding this final chapter with our own post on the topic receiving well over 40 comments and link-backs (that may be a record – thanks everyone for contributing to the story). With the closing of Google Health, we postulated in that post that Microsoft really had no other worthy competitor that will challenge them to continuously make enhancements to HealthVault. We may have spoken prematurely.
Stepping in to take the place of Google, is none other than an ol’school EHR company (and one of the largest), Cerner, who provided their own commentaryon the demise of Google Health and their future intentions. Last week we had the opportunity to talk with the Cerner Health and learn more about those intentions but before getting to that, some quick background.
Taking a different tack:
Cerner has been in the HIT business now for 31+ years having grown to one of the leading EHR vendors in the market. You’ll usually find their systems (EHR: Millenium) in large healthcare organizations. This sector of the EHR market is seeing fierce competition as Epic seems to pick up one win after another at the expense of others, including Cerner. While continuing to go head-to-head with Epic, it appears that Cerner has also chosen to take a different tack, adopting a philosophy of: if you can’t beat them straight up, change the rules of the game.