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What The Emergence of an EMR Giant Means For the Future of Healthcare Innovation

(Note: the following commentary was co-authored with Tory Wolff, a founding partner of Recon Strategy, a healthcare strategy consulting firm in Boston; Tory and I gratefully acknowledge the insightful feedback provided by Jay Chyung of Recon Strategy.)

Medicine has been notoriously slow to embrace the electronic medical record (EMR), but, spurred by tax incentives and the prospect of cost and outcomes accountability, the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is finally catching on.

There are a large number of EMR vendors, who offer systems that are either the traditional client server model (where the medical center hosts the system) or a product which can be delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS) architecture, similar to what salesforce.com did for customer relationship management (CRM).

Historically, the lack of extensive standards have allowed hospital idiosyncrasies to be hard-coded into systems.  Any one company’s EMR system isn’t particularly compatible with the EMR system from another company, resulting in – or, more fairly, perpetuating – the Tower of Babel that effectively exists as medical practices often lack the ability to share basic information easily with one another.

There’s widespread recognition that information exchange must improve – the challenge is how to get there.

One much-discussed approach are health information exchanges (HIE’s), defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as “Efforts to rapidly build capacity for exchanging health information across the health care system both within and across states.”

With some public funding and local contributions, public HIE’s can point to some successes (the Indiana Health Information Exchange, IHIE, is a leading example, as described here).  The Direct Project – a national effort to coordinate health information exchange spearheaded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT – also seems to be making progress.  But the public HIEs are a long way from providing robust, rich and sustainable data exchange.

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