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Perspectives on Working with Healthcare Systems for Digital Start Up Companies | Part 2

Brian Van Winkle
Shahid Shah

By SHAHID SHAH, MSc and BRIAN VAN WINKLE, MBA

In this two-part series, we examine several common misconceptions made by health tech start-up companies in working with Health Systems and offers advice on how to recognize and address each. From approaching systems with a solution-first mentality to not understanding the context in which health systems work, we look to provide constructive criticisms meant to support more effective partnerships between health systems and digital tech solutions.

Perspectives and Reactions from the Industry

Understand the Current System Environment We Are Working In: In some cases, technology solutions are barricading healthcare systems inside.  In other cases, they are allowing us to seamlessly interact with other systems.  Typically, large healthcare systems have a combination of both. For outside solutions to be effective, start-ups need to be intimately familiar with the existing (and on-the-horizon) systems that healthcare organizations are using or contemplating.  Rarely will a solution not have to interact with existing software solutions – and this goes well beyond just the EMR. 

Advice

Have an Integration Plan: A stand-alone solution, which doesn’t tie to one or more of the healthcare institutions key systems of record (SoR) or systems of engagement (SoE) is a useless solution. Your solution should be able to stand alone in the first few weeks, as users begin to use it and get familiar with its capabilities. However, as soon as value is realized (not necessarily achieved), it’s crucial that your solution support either SMART on FHIR, FHIR, HL7v2.x, or all of the above. If you don’t have a believable integration story fully worked out, you’re not ready to launch into the health system market. Go back and do your homework.  

Having a Clinician Is Nice, But Not Enough: The physician, nurse, or other clinician on your team helps credibility but we also understand the incentives associated with selling solutions, and this takes away from the altruism you think we will blindly swallow. And they are rarely businessmen or women who understand both the complexities of solving a problem that isn’t theirs and starting, let alone, running a company. Pair an MD with an MBA? Now we’re talking.

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Perspectives on Working with Healthcare Systems for Digital Start Up Companies | Part 1

Brian Van Winkle
Shahid Shah

By SHAHID SHAH, MSc and BRIAN VAN WINKLE, MBA

Start-ups are an increasingly important “node” within the healthcare ecosystem.  They are challenging status quo concepts that have long been ingrained in the healthcare system, like questioning the value of traditional EMR systems, or shifting the power of information to patients, or breaking down cost and quality transparency barriers. They may be the future of the industry, but startups have a long way to go to truly transform the system. The reasons are many, from an incredibly convoluted and bureaucratic review process and rigid risk-controlling regulations and policies, to the large-scale organizational inertia most of our healthcare systems have.    

And while all of these hurdles can and will be overcome if we work together, there are still several lessons each “node” in the ecosystem can learn to more effectively work with each other.  

This article is directed at the emerging digital solutions trying resiliently to help transform this stubborn industry. It provides some critical lessons in dealing with healthcare systems and is accompanied by reactions from a digital solutions expert with serial digital health entrepreneurship experience. We hope to provide perspective from two people living and breathing, and surviving, from both sides of the equation every day.  

Perspectives and Reactions from the Industry

Healthcare Startups Must Understand how Provider Systems Operate: Most health systems are increasingly becoming rightfully skeptical about new solutions because they feel the solutions don’t understand the environment of their system. To help overcome the challenges of introducing your innovation into a complex business and clinical environment, startups must understand how health systems operate to include how they make decisions, contract and evaluate solutions. 

Advice

(1) Recognize that Decisions are Consensus-driven and Permissions-based: Unlike other industries, where “shadow IT” is rampant and there can be one or two “key decision makers,” in health systems you’re not likely to get very far without figuring out how to build consensus among an array of influencers and then figuring out how to get permissions from a group of key decision makers. You should seek a “Sherpa” that understands enough about your solution to champion the idea of change – which is really what you’re seeking when you’re selling a new solution (the solution is just the means to accomplish the change, it’s the change that’s hard). The first thing to focus on is to identify the group of decision makers and how you convince them that the status quo should be abandoned in favor of any change – then, once you know how to convince them of some change you’ll work with the group to get the right permissions to work on the change management process – which will then influence a purchase of your solution.

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Two HIT Developers Respond: Why We’re Still Optimists About Technology’s Potential

The authors of this article like to believe that we can remain humanists while transitioning from a paper-native to a digital-native industry. We even believe you can remain a humanist while following regulations and sticking to industry guidelines. Margalit Gur-Arie doesn’t seem to feel that way. We have read her work over the years and established that she takes a staunchly humanistic approach to health IT. But even though she’s a leader in that space, she appears to doubt the contributions that either technology or regulation make to a humane health system.

Gur-Arie’s most recent posting dismisses all the tools that electronic health records throw in the way of the doctor: clinical decision support (now often called evidence-based medicine–were we Gur-Arie, we’d say it’s because who can argue against evidence?), reminders, pull-down menus to provide a limited range of choices, and more.

One immediate response is to suggest that, instead of blaming the tools, one should blame the requirements imposed on clinicians by payers and governments–the “thousands of meaningless regulatory words” as Gur-Arie writes eloquently. But the real answer is that these requirements (well, the ones that were thought through) enhance the health care system, and that the problem with current EHRs is that they just “pass through” the requirements, intensifying the burden placed on doctors, instead of finding true innovations when implementing those requirements.

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Five Things EHR Vendors Should Do Right Now

Last week I was invited to attend the second annual NIST forum for EHR Usability called “A Community-Building Workshop: Measuring, Evaluating and Improving the Usability of Electronic Health Records.” NIST, in collaboration with the ONC, unveiled its initial discussion points for what it might consider as the “Usability Criteria” in the upcoming Meaningful Use Stage 2 regulations. At the event I met with Dr. Melanie Rodney, Distinguished Researcher at Macadamian and a member of the HIMSS Usability task force; I was impressed by the work that she and her firm were doing in EHR usability space. At the NIST forum I was able to spend time with experts in the both the fields of EHRs (like me) as well as in usability and user experience (like Melanie). We learned that the government believes that while usability can be key in increasing product effectiveness, speed, enjoyment, etc., NIST is going to focus on EHR usability for the improvement of patient safety. I asked Melanie and Lorraine Chapman, Director of User Research at Macadmian, to share with us what we in the EHR technical community should do in light of what we learned at the NIST forum last week. Here’s what Melanie and Lorraine said:

While the specifics are still forthcoming, vendors have a window of opportunity today to get ahead of NIST – and ahead of competitors – by proactively addressing meaningful use in advance of the 2013 deadline. Let’s look at what vendors can do, combining the information NIST has given so far with fundamental usability best practices:

Step 1: Set Usability Goals related to Patient Safety

These are specific, measurable goals such as “Our EHR must provide a 99% error-free rate of medication entry”. NIST has given the following examples of use error categories, each of which might be driving 1 or more goals.

  1. patient ID errors
  2. mode errors [e.g., dose related]
  3. data accuracy errors
  4. visibility errors [e.g., tapered dose 80-20mg – 80 shows vs. 20]
  5. consistency errors [ e.g., pounds vs. kilos ]
  6. recall errors [e.g., 1 time dose]
  7. feedback errors [1 tablet vs. 1/4 tablet]
  8. data integrity errors [ next vs. finish to enter injection just administered]

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