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Study: Specific EHR Vendors Associated with Better Hospital MU Performance

November 27, 2017
by Heather Landi
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A recent study suggests that all electronic health record (EHR) systems may not be created equal as it relates to hospitals’ performance on Meaningful Use criteria. Certain vendors are more often associated with better Meaningful Use performance than others, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

The study, by Jay Holmgren of Harvard Business School, Julia Adler-Milstein, of the University of California San Francisco, School of Medicine, and Jeffery McCullough of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, assessed whether there was variation across EHR vendors in the degree to which hospitals using products from those vendors were able to achieve high levels of performance on Meaningful Use criteria.

As the study points out, the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs have sought to drive widespread EHR adoption among doctors and hospitals to realize quality and efficiency benefits. The programs were designed with two coordinated components: EHR Meaningful Use criteria to which providers and hospitals attest, and EHR certification criteria that vendors must meet to ensure that their products allow providers/hospitals to meet the Meaningful Use criteria. Prior research revealed that the majority of providers and hospitals have adopted a certified EHR and attested to Meaningful Use criteria. Less is known about variation across certified products in supporting providers’ ability to use EHRs, the researchers wrote.

The researchers also point out that prior studies have revealed variation in the quality of key capabilities of certified systems and the certification process itself has been criticized for only requiring that vendors meet a constrained set of functions that are known to them in advance.

For the study, the researchers created a cross-sectional national hospital sample from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) EHR Products Used for Meaningful Use Attestation public use file and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Medicare (CMS) EHR Incentive Program Eligible Hospitals public use file. The researchers used regression models to assess the relationship between vendor and hospital performance on six Stage 2 Meaningful Use criteria, controlling for hospital characteristics. And, the researchers also calculated how much variation in performance is explained by vendor choice.

The study results indicate that three hospitals involved in the study were in the top performance quartile for all Meaningful Use criteria, and all used Epic. Of the 17 hospitals in the top performance quartile for five criteria, 15 used Epic, one used MEDITECH, and one used a smaller vendor. For the 68 hospitals in the top quartile for four criteria, 44 (64.7 percent) used Epic, 8 (11.8 percent) used Cerner, and 6 (8.8 percent) used MEDITECH.  For the 355 hospitals that were not in the top quartile of any criteria, 102 (28.7 percent) used MEDITECH, 89 (25.1 percent) used McKesson, 72 (20.3 percent) used Cerner, 51 (14.4 percent) used MEDHOST, and 24 (6.8 percent) used Epic.

The researchers found significant associations between specific vendors and level of hospital performance for all six Meaningful Use criteria. “Epic was associated with significantly higher performance on five of the six criteria; relationships for other vendors were mixed, with some associated with significantly worse performance on multiple criteria,” the study authors wrote. EHR vendor choice accounted for between 7 percent and 34 percent of performance variation across the six criteria, according to the study authors.

“In addition, the specific vendor appears to matter, with some vendors associated with significantly better or worse performance across multiple criteria. This suggests that hospitals may need to take vendor choice into account if they seek higher achievement on meaningful use criteria and cannot rely solely on the EHR certification process to ensure that all systems are equally capable,” the study authors wrote.

The fact the one vendor was significantly positively associated with multiple criteria while others reflected a mix indicates that vendors are making different design choices, and indicates that some vendors are simply doing a better job than others at creating systems that enable hospitals to achieve high levels of performance on meaningful use criteria, the study authors noted.

What’s more, the researchers wrote, “Our results also suggest that policymakers should consider strengthening the certification program to minimize such vendor-to-vendor differences or take steps to improve transparency about this variation.”

The study authors contend that the study findings have important implications for both policymakers and hospital leaders. “While all hospitals in our sample met Stage 2 meaningful use requirements, there was significant variation in achievement across certified vendors. This suggests that the current EHR certification process does not achieve a key intended goal of giving providers confidence that they are buying a ‘good’ EHR. This may be due to the fact that the certification process only tests a narrowly constrained set of ‘technical; meaningful use requirements and does so in a controlled laboratory setting,” the researchers wrote.

The study authors suggest that policymakers consider including more real-world trials to assess how EHRs perform in simulated clinical events that are not revealed to vendors beforehand. And, the study results may also indicate that the quality of vendor support services can impact Meaningful Use performance. “Policymakers may therefore wish to explore a certification process that includes an assessment of the quality of these services that holistically evaluates software and vendor support services,” the researchers wrote.

For hospital leaders, the study underscores the need to make careful choices when selecting an EHR vendor and offers some guidance on which products may be stronger, the study authors stated. However, given that vendor choice explained no more than one-third of performance variation, success may not be as simple as picking the “best” vendor. “Additional evidence revealing that hospitals have achieved disparate quality results using similar software systems further suggests the importance of organizational factors such as implementation and vendor services, IT staffing and support, training programs, and commitment to optimizing EHR use, which are likely more important to achieving high levels of performance,” the study authors wrote.

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Allscripts Sells its Netsmart Stake to GI Partners, TA Associates

December 10, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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Just a few months after Allscripts said it would be selling its majority stake in Netsmart, the health IT company announced today that private equity firm GI Partners, along with TA Associates, will be acquiring the stake held in Netsmart.

In 2016 Allscripts acquired Kansas City-based Netsmart for $950 million in a joint venture with middle-market private equity firm GI Partners, with Allscripts controlling 51 percent of the company. With that deal, Allscripts contributed its homecare business to Netsmart, in exchange for the largest ownership stake in the company which has now become the largest technology company exclusively dedicated to behavioral health, human services and post-acute care, officials have noted.

Now, this transaction represents an additional investment for GI Partners over its initial stake acquired in April 2016, and results in majority ownership of Netsmart by GI Partners.

According to reports, it is expected that this sale transaction will yield Allscripts net after-tax proceeds of approximately $525 million or approximately $3 per fully diluted share.

Founded 50 years ago, Netsmart is a provider of software and technology solutions designed especially for the health and human services and post-acute sectors, enabling mission-critical clinical and business processes including electronic health records (EHRs), population health, billing, analytics and health information exchange, its officials say.

According to the company’s executives, “Since GI Partners' investment in 2016, Netsmart has experienced considerable growth through product innovation and multiple strategic acquisitions. During this time, Netsmart launched myUnity, [a] multi-tenant SaaS platform serving the entire post-acute care continuum, and successfully completed strategic acquisitions in human services and post-acute care technology. Over the same period, Netsmart has added 150,000 users and over 5,000 organizations to its platform.”

On the 2018 Healthcare Informatics 100, a list of the top 100 health IT vendors in the U.S. by revenue, Allscripts ranked 10th with a self-reported health IT revenue of $1.8 billion. Netsmart, meanwhile, ranked 44th with a self-reported revenue of $319 million.

According to reports, Allscripts plans to use the net after-tax proceeds to repay long-term debt, invest in other growing areas of its business, and to opportunistically repurchase its outstanding common stock.

The transaction is expected to be completed this month.

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Study Links Stress from Using EHRs to Physician Burnout

December 7, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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More than a third of primary care physicians reported all three measures of EHR-related stress
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Physician burnout continues to be a significant issue in the healthcare and healthcare IT industries, and at the same time, electronic health records (EHRs) are consistently cited as a top burnout factor for physicians.

A commonly referenced study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2016 found that for every hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly two additional hours are spent on EHR and desk work within the clinic day.

Findings from a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association indicates that stress from using EHRs is associated with burnout, particularly for primary care doctors, such as pediatricians, family medicine physicians and general internists.

Common causes of EHR-related stress include too little time for documentation, time spent at home managing records and EHR user interfaces that are not intuitive to the physicians who use them, according to the study, based on responses from 4,200 practicing physicians.

“You don't want your doctor to be burned out or frustrated by the technology that stands between you and them,” Rebekah Gardner, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School, and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “In this paper, we show that EHR stress is associated with burnout, even after controlling for a lot of different demographic and practice characteristics. Quantitatively, physicians who have identified these stressors are more likely to be burned out than physicians who haven't."

The Rhode Island Department of Health surveys practicing physicians in Rhode Island every two years about how they use health information technology, as part of a legislative mandate to publicly report health care quality data. In 2017, the research team included questions about health information technology-related stress and specifically EHR-related stress.

Of the almost 4,200 practicing physicians in the state, 43 percent responded, and the respondents were representative of the overall population. Almost all of the doctors used EHRs (91 percent) and of these, 70 percent reported at least one measure of EHR-related stress.

Measures included agreeing that EHRs add to the frustration of their day, spending moderate to excessive amounts of time on EHRs while they were at home and reporting insufficient time for documentation while at work.

Many prior studies have looked into the factors that contribute to burnout in health care, Gardner said. Besides health information technology, these factors include chaotic work environments, productivity pressures, lack of autonomy and a misalignment between the doctors' values and the values they perceive the leaders of their organizations hold.

Prior research has shown that patients of burned-out physicians experience more errors and unnecessary tests, said Gardner, who also is a senior medical scientist at Healthcentric Advisors.

In this latest study, researchers found that doctors with insufficient time for documentation while at work had 2.8 times the odds of burnout symptoms compared to doctors without that pressure. The other two measures had roughly twice the odds of burnout symptoms.

The researchers also found that EHR-related stress is dependent on the physician's specialty.

More than a third of primary care physicians reported all three measures of EHR-related stress -- including general internists (39.5 percent), family medicine physicians (37 percent) and pediatricians (33.6 percent). Many dermatologists (36.4 percent) also reported all three measures of EHR-related stress.

On the other hand, less than 10 percent of anesthesiologists, radiologists and hospital medicine specialists reported all three measures of EHR-related stress.

While family medicine physicians (35.7 percent) and dermatologists (34.6 percent) reported the highest levels of burnout, in keeping with their high levels of EHR-related stress, hospital medicine specialists came in third at 30.8 percent. Gardner suspects that other factors, such as a chaotic work environment, contribute to their rates of burnout.

"To me, it's a signal to health care organizations that if they're going to 'fix' burnout, one solution is not going to work for all physicians in their organization," Gardner said. "They need to look at the physicians by specialty and make sure that if they are looking for a technology-related solution, then that's really the problem in their group."

However, for those doctors who do have a lot of EHR-related stress, health care administrators could work to streamline the documentation expectations or adopt policies where work-related email and EHR access is discouraged during vacation, Gardner said.

Making the user interface for EHRs more intuitive could address some stress, Gardner noted; however, when the research team analyzed the results by the three most common EHR systems in the state, none of them were associated with increased burnout.

Earlier research found that using medical scribes was associated with lower rates of burnout, but this study did not confirm that association. In the paper, the study authors suggest that perhaps medical scribes address the burden of documentation, but not other time-consuming EHR tasks such as inbox management.


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HHS Studying Modernization of Indian Health Services’ IT Platform

November 29, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Options include updating the Resource and Patient Management System technology stack or acquiring commercial solutions

With so much focus on the modernization of health IT systems at the Veteran’s Administration and Department of Defense, there has been less attention paid to decisions that have to be made about IT systems in the Indian Health Service. But now the HHS Office of the Chief Technology Officer has funded a one-year project to study IHS’ options.

The study will explore options for modernizing IHS’ solutions, either by updating the Resource and Patient Management System (RPMS) technology stack, acquiring commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions, or a combination of the two. One of the people involved in the analysis is Theresa Cullen, M.D., M.S., associate director of global health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute. Perhaps no one has more experience or a better perspective on RPMS than Dr. Cullen, who served as the CIO for Indian Health Service and as the Chief Medical Information Officer for the Veterans Health Administration

During a webinar put on by the Open Source Electronic Health Record Alliance (OSEHERA), Dr. Cullen described the scope of the project. “The goal is to look at the current state of RPMS EHR and other components with an eye to modernization. Can it be modernized to meet the near term and future needs of communities served by IHS? We are engaged with tribally operated and urban sites. Whatever decisions or recommendations are made will include their voice.”

The size and complexity of the IHS highlights the importance of the technology decision. It provides direct and purchased care to American Indian and Alaska Native people (2.2 million lives) from 573 federally recognized tribes in 37 states. Its budget was $5.5 billion for fiscal 2018 appropriations, plus third-party collections of $1.02 billion at IHS sites in fiscal 2017. The IHS also faces considerable cost constraints, Dr. Cullen noted, adding that by comparison that the VA’s population is four times greater but its budget is 15 times greater.

RPMS, created in 1984, is in use at all of IHS’ federally operated facilities, as well as most tribally operated and urban Indian health programs. It has more than 100 components, including clinical, practice management and administrative applications.


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About 20 to 30 percent of RPMS code originates in the VA’s VistA. Many VA applications (Laboratory, Pharmacy) have been extensively modified to meet IHS requirements. But Dr. Cullen mentioned that IHS has developed numerous applications independently of VA to address IHS-specific mission and business needs (child health, public/population health, revenue cycle).

Because the VA announced in 2017 it would sundown VistA and transition to Cerner, the assessment team is working under the assumption that the IHS has only about 10 years to figure out what it will do about the parts of RPMS that still derive from VistA. And RPMS, like VistA, resides in an architecture that is growing outdated.

The committee is setting up a community of practice to allow stakeholders to share technology needs, best practices and ways forward. One question is how to define modernization and how IHS can get there. The idea is to assess the potential for the existing capabilities developed for the needs of Indian country over the past few decades to be brought into a modern technology architecture. The technology assessment limited to RPMS, Dr. Cullen noted. “We are not looking at COTS [commercial off the shelf] products or open source. We are assessing the potential for existing capabilities to be brought into “a modern technology architecture.”

Part of the webinar involved asking attendees for their ideas for what a modernized technology stack for RPMS would look like, what development and transitional challenges could be expected, and any comparable efforts that could inform the work of the technical assessment team.




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