Healthcare IT meets Ben & Jerry’s

The idea for this blog came about after reading a PowerPoint presentation by Doctor Alberto Borges.  All mistakes can be attributed to me.

When one is witness to the number of external influencers trying to shape policy on healthcare, reform, and healthcare IT, the best one can hope for is that hidden somewhere under the pile is a pony.

But let’s be real—the pony has suffocated.

While it is okay to point the finger of blame at the usual suspects—payors, lobbyists, and the lawmakers—let us not forget to ensure to point out the role paid by the healthcare IT applications vendors.

“Who me?” You ask.

Decrease costs, increase quality, decrease errors.  I did not invent these words; they are written on your websites.

Prior to 2008 the value of EHR vendors’ stocks plummeted.  Look at them now.  How does one explain the difference?  Can the gains be attributed to vendors having rewritten their applications?  New technological innovations?  If not, what else could it be?

Meaningful Use.  Meaningful Use tied to Medicare payments and a twenty billion dollar incentive to get providers to do something they otherwise would not have done.  Could life be any better if you are sitting in the EHR Tower’s corner office?

What if we think about the issue this way?  Let us suppose all of the leading ice cream manufacturers lobbied Congress to push for including ice cream machines in all new cars starting in 2012…silly idea, but then again, so is Meaningful Use.  Not only do the ice cream machines have to be installed, but they have to be able to communicate with one another.  That way, if I happen to rent a car, the ice cream machine in my rental will already know what type of ice cream I like to eat.

Now we already know that no car buyers and no car builders will think much of being forced to buy or make cars with pre-installed ice cream makers.  But, perhaps there is a way around that.  Maybe in some self-serving way the Cookies and Cream lobby can convince Washington of the merits of pushing through their agenda.

Time passes, and still the idea is not getting much purchase.  What happens next?  The ice cream manufactures get Congress to pass the Ice Cream Tech Act—ICTA.  And as part of the ICTA Act, Ben and Jerrys, Baskin Robbins, and Haagen Dazs convince our friends to offer the auto manufacturers a twenty-billion dollar rebate for building cars with built-in ice cream makers—ICTA Initiatives.

Now, why would the Ben’s and Jerry’s do this?  Good question.  They will do this because they know that without offering a large financial incentive the car company executives will not do what they want them to do.  Now to insert ice cream makers, you can imagine that the car companies will have to go way off message, will have to change their strategy, and will have to incur all sorts of costs that have nothing to do with selling cars.

And that brings us back to the start of this story.  There is a reason why EHR vendors needed to lobby Congress to put forth more than twenty billion dollars of lottery money, and that reason is healthcare providers would not be doing EHR the Meaningful Use way unless there was a monetary reason to do it.  There certainly is no business reason to do it.

And for the most part, if providers calculate an ROI on EHR, even factoring in the incentive payments, there is still no reasonable financial argument that can be made.  In fact, when the cost to meet Meaningful Use is factored in, the financial argument worsens.

So, what will happen?  Here is what we know so far.  The Meaningful Use deadlines draw closer, meaning there is less time left to get the incentive dollars.  Implementations of EHR continue to falter, be redone, and under deliver.  The result is that the purchase of EHR systems will slow, and many EHRs will be uninstalled.  When there is no time left to get the incentive dollars, only then will EHR implementations be driven by the needs of the providers, and the government will no longer be driving the process.

 

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