Published on HealthSystemCIO.com–vendor darts

Below is the full article I submitted to HealthsystemCIO.com, Anthony Guerra’s outstanding site for healthcare leaders.  As always, I am flattered that he finds my contributions worthwhile.

Is there a best Electronic Health Records system? Perhaps Cerner, EPIC, GE, or McKesson?  For those who have followed my writing, you’re probably thinking my answer is “None of the above.”

I’ll do one better, and I write this with the utmost sincerity—it does not really matter which vendor you select.  As the EHR vendors reading this pull themselves off the floor, permit me to explain why.  Researching the question this is very little information to support the notion that any of the major hospital EHR systems quantitatively stands out from the others.

There are a few sites that offer user assessments across a range of functions, but those have at most three opinions—not enough to consider statically significant.  There are plenty of EHR scorecards and comparison tools, just not many scores.  The vendors’ sites do a poor job of differentiating themselves from their competitors.  Vendors use superlatives and qualifiers in an attempt to differentiate themselves.  When one considers the basic functions that make an EHR an EHR, the top vendors all have them.  No vendor highlights major clinical or business problems that their solution solves that another vendor does not solve.  Instead, they state they do something better, easier, more flexibly—none of which can be measured by prospective clients.

Imagine, if you were an EHR vendor, and you knew that your product did things to benefit a hospital better than the other vendors, wouldn’t you have an independent competitive assessment, some sort of “Consumer Report” chart and evidence to support why you are better?  Of course you would.  You would highlight your superlatives.  I have not seen one that would be very helpful.  The only information I found that might be worth a read comes from Klas Research, http://www.klasresearch.com/.  However, the names of the modules rated are vendor specific, and none of the vendors use the same names.  It will give you a feel for how a small sample rated features within a given vendor, but there is no data to suggest how those ratings compare among vendors.

Even if there was a good comparison, the other thing to learn from this is all the areas that aren’t listed imply that the vendor is either no better or perhaps worse than the competition.  Cream rises to the top—we are left to choose among brands of milk.

One vendor may have a better medical dictionary than another, yet that same vendor will lack rigor in decision support.  No single vendor seems to have their customers doing back flips in their testimonials.  Some score high in their ability to deliver a complete inpatient solution and fail in their ability to integrate with other vendors.  Others hurt themselves during the implementation, user support, response time, and the amount of navigation required to input data.  Some EHR vendors posit their systems as being better at meeting Meaningful Use or passing all of the Certification requirements.  Ask them to name a single installed client for which they have met these.

Why doesn’t matter which vendor a hospital selects?  The reasoning holds not because all hospitals are the same, rather, it holds because were one to perform a very detailed comparison of the leading EHR vendors with a Request for Proposal (RFP), they would prove to be quite similar.  You might find significant separation if you only compared ten functional requirements.  You would expect to find less separation by comparing several hundred, and quite a similarity if you compare a thousand or more requirements.  The more you look, the more they seem the same.

Although the vendors will differ with respect to individual requirements, when evaluated on their entire offering across a broad range of requirements I would expect each to score within one standard deviation of the other.

Reason 2.  It is possible to find hospitals who will give outstanding references for each of the leading vendors.  It is equally possible to find users in hospitals who have implemented one of the “leading” vendors’ systems who will readily tell you that the purchasing the system is the worst business decision they ever seen.  More to the point, every vendor A has probably had at least one of its implementations uprooted and replaced by vendors B, C, or D.  The same can be said for vendors B, C, and D.

If this is a fair assessment, what accounts for the difference?  How can we account for why one hospital loves a given EHR system and another one hates the same system?  Chances are they both needed about the same solution.  Chances are they received about the same solution.

Here’s the difference.  The hospital who thinks they made a good choice:

  • Had a detailed strategy and implementation plan
  • Paid as much or more attention to process alignment, change management, and training as they did to the implementation
  • Managed the vendor instead of being managed by the vendor.

Simply put—the problem is not the EHR system.

One other thought.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain—the Great Oz.”  Do not put your scarce capital into a solution just because it offers or promises either Certification or Meaningful Use.  Yes, there is much discussion about both of these.  The industry stops and holds its collective breath each time a new set of stone tablets are brought forth from the ONC or CMS.  You can meet Meaningful Use with a Certified system and still wind up with a system the users hate and that does not support your business model.

Here is something else I cannot explain.  For those hospitals replacing a one hundred million dollar EHR with another hundred million dollar EHR, why do they think the second system will be any better?  If the systems are not materially different, the only way to get a different result is by changing behavior, not changing systems.  Why make the same mistake twice?  What could be so wrong with the first implementation that an expenditure of far less than another hundred million could not solve?

What is the cost of EHR 2.0 not working?

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942
paulroemer@healthcareitstrategy.com

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