IT Vendors: What’s not to like?

We were being entertained at a friend’s house whose interior looked like it had been designed by one of those overly made up, energetic divorcees who only take cash.  The walls were painted a stark white; the overstuffed club chairs and the couch were upholstered in a soft white leather.  The white carpet was thick enough to hide a chiwawa.

The hostess locked askance at me when she saw me seated in the club chair.  Perhaps my outfit did not look good on white.  A paperback which looked out of place lay on the end table next to my glass of Ovaltine.   I picked it up and began to read the back cover to get a feel for the storyline…which got me thinking about writing and authors.

The paperback story filled five hundred and seventeen pages.  Whether they were well-written, whether there was a story nestled inside, could only be learned by reading the book.  I read many books, and I read often, especially when I travel.  When I am unprepared I am forced to purchase a book at one of the shops in the airport concourse.  The purchase decision lasts only as long as it takes to read the back cover—the publisher’s only chance to make a first and last impression.

Those first impressions have fooled me often.  Ten minutes into the book I wind up stuffing it into the kangaroo pouch in the seatback in front of me.  More often than I would like, I find that the person who wrote the book summary on the back flap is a better writer than the person who wrote the book.  The summary writer is able to create an interest in the story and a need to see how it ends, an interest and need for which the book’s author is unable to deliver.

The book is rarely better than the back cover suggests it will be.  Often it is as good, sometimes it is not.  The book summary is the upper limit for what you can expect by way of enjoyment.

It works the same way in business only instead of paperback books they use brochures.  Never trust the brochure.  Whatever is written in the vendor’s brochure is the upper limit of what you can expect to receive.  Those who remember the dismantling of nuclear arms remember the adage ‘Trust, but verify.”  When it comes to dealing with vendors, I suggest ignoring the part about trusting.

Take software vendors for example.  What’s not to like?

The product never leaves you feeling the way you felt after reading the brochure.  Remember the photos?  Attractive people, smartly dressed, ethnically diverse.  Their teeth bleached so white the reflection of the monitor is visible in their incisors.  Seated in their clutter-free offices, they are all smiling.

Did your users look like them when they started to use the product?  Did you get your brochure moment?  In order to find customers, vendors have to position their product in the most positive light.

Maybe there should be a cigarette-like warning printed on every software vendor’s brochure, something like this:

  • We hired the people pictured in the brochure—nobody is ever that happy
  • Most of you will never learn how to use all of the functionality
  • To have any chance of getting the software to do what you need it to do will probably cost you twice as much as you contracted
  • There is no way you will implement in the timeframe you discussed

They know, and we know, nobody implements brochures.  If we did, IT departments would be much smaller.  Maybe that is why vendors give away pens and T-shirts to all of their customers, to soften their sense of guilt.

I can fix your EHR productivity

That is a bold statement and one I can back up. I feel so confident in this claim that if productivity of your EHR does not improve the cost to you is nothing.

EHR potentially will offer a number of benefits.  It won’t offer much at all if you don’t install it right.

However, it’s not a panacea.  Without having a detailed understanding of the business problems you are trying to solve, it may not be of much more value than a Xerox machine.

Do you want make color copies with your EHR?  Probably not.

I picture your office situation is something like this.  The EHR vendor left months ago.  IT keeps coming around to ask how you are doing, to ask how the system is performing.  Not wanting to hurt their feelings you tell them everything is fine, but it is not fine.  It has not been fine since you started using it. Your productivity is down, way down, and it looks like it is not going to get better any time soon.

Does that sound about right?

What is I told you your productivity loss can be fixed?  Stop laughing long enough to read.  The vendor will not be the one to fix it. IT will not be the one to fix it.

All kidding aside, if you want to discuss how you can recoup your productivity, please let me know.

EHR: Is time your greatest enemy?

The following is my response to an article in Health Data Management regarding an article which argued that time is the enemy of a good EHR implementation. (

I agree fully with the premise of a big bang rather than a phased in approach, but for the following reasons I respectfully disagree if the reason for going all out is because there is not enough time.

Many providers have already demonstrated that time is certainly the enemy.  They have had enough time to spend four hundred million dollars and get EHR wrong, and are in the process of doing the same thing with another vendor.  There is a notable shortage of CIOs wearing EHR 2.0 T-shirts—fail once and you are done.  The attitude seems to be that there is plenty of time to do it wrong and not enough time to do it correctly.

Poor EHR implementations are creating a brand new market for HIT consultants—disaster recovery. The New England Journal of Medicine noted that more than sixty percent of EHR implementations fail.  An even higher percentage will fail to meet Meaningful Use, which is why everyone is in such a rush to implement—the Dash for the Cash.

Providers are sacrificing their own business strategy to get a check for trying to meet a set of standards that have no meaning and no benefit other than to have them fit into a more nationalized healthcare model—something they would never have done on their own.

The first question a provider should ask is “do we want to meet Meaningful Use”.  If the answer is yes, the next question they should ask is “by when?”  Given the rash of failures, providers should figure out what they need to do to avoid being the next hundred million dollar failure.  Paying to do EHR twice or to recover from a failed implementation will far exceed any funds they will have received from the EHR Rebate program.

The problem many will find is that there is no “R” in the Meaningful Use ROI calculation.  The productivity of some of the best providers in the country is still down twenty percent two years after implementation.

If providers want an ROI, they would be much better served by taking their time and doing what they need to do to make EHR do what they need it to do, and to focus their attentions on ICD-10.  The amount of money they will lose from failing to meet ICD-10 will far exceed the EHR rebate.

Finally, an EMR worthy of a T-shirt

Those who are regular readers know I’ve commented on more than one occasion that you never see anyone at the HIMSS convention walking around wearing a T-shirt imprinted with the slogan, “I love my EPIC”, or one stating, “McKesson forever”–unless they were talking about the implementation plan.

Today, my perspective changed–I’m going to start selling T-shirts printed with the phrase, “SRS-Soft Rocks my Docs.”

You may ask, ‘Who is SRSSoft’?  Fair question.  I could not have given an adequate response to that question prior to today.

I spent some time with them, ran their demo–I played doctor but they stopped me before I was able to insert a chest tube.  I ran the demo.  Why is that important?  It went like this.

“So, if you were a doctor, what would you do?”

With enthusiastic anticipation, I searched for my scalpel–that wasn’t what he meant.  “I’d see who my next patient is.”

“Do it.”  (Mind you, all of what I am doing happens on one screen faster than a sneeze.)  I clicked the schedule and up popped all the patient’s information.


“I’d probably want to review their chart.”

“Do it.”  (Don’t try this at home unless you are a devotee of Scrubs or other medical training.

Same screen, up pops the chart.


I click on the notes from their last visit, compare their labs by pulling up a comparison chart–new versus old; scan the X-RAY, and review their list of medications.  I did this all on one page and figured out in less time than it took you to read this.  We did the demo using two screens.  That way, if I am describing what I am seeing to the patient on their X-RAY, instead of holding the film up at the ceiling and hoping my patient understand what I am talking about, I point to it with my mouse and let the patient see it one their screen.

Tomorrow I was going to issue an EHR RFP for a small clinic.  Not any more.  No point in having them pay me to hunt down a solution when I’ve already found one.  Did I mention you can also get it with a world-class practice management system?

So what makes me think this EMR can handle a practice size of up to a few hundred doctors?  Let me try to summarize its benefits with the following.  If we separate healthcare into two arenas–the business of healthcare (the business side) and the healthcare business (the clinical side)–this EMR is so well designed, it makes the mundane business tasks almost invisible to the doctor.  Instead of spending twenty percent of each day moving charts, filling out forms, sending faxes, dictating and transcribing notes, the clinical team can either spend more time with their patients or see more patients.

Now, let me tell you about their secret sauce, part of what makes it so special.  You are going to think I’ve lost my mind when you read this.

One of the first questions most doctors are going to ask a vendor is whether or not the system is certified.  (Do not repeat this to anyone–that is why I am writing in parentheses–this system is not certified.  They have no plans to get it certified.)  Why?  Because certification is as relevant to the value of an EMR as agriculture is to bull fighting.  Certification will not improve care, will not enhance the doctor patient relationship, it will not improve the patient experience, it will not increase productivity.  Certification does one thing.  It enables you to get a check provided that your EMR implementation does not fail, provided that you pass the Meaningful Use audit, and provided you are willing to upgrade your existing system to your vendor’s new and improved certifiable version.  That certifiably makes little to no business sense.

Anyway, if you want a system that makes the stuff you hate doing go away, take a look at this.

I’ve also written about way hospital EHRs fail.  A big reason for their failure is the drop in productivity they experience, and a lack of acceptance from the doctors.  Sort of makes me wonder if they could use this tool as a front-end for those big pricey EHRs.

Me, I printing T-shirts.  PayPal accepted.

What if hospital business models weren’t so tribal?

I tend to look at it from the perspective of the business model of many hospitals.  How does one transform a 0.2 business model to function in today’s let alone tomorrow’s changing healthcare model?

The clinical side of healthcare, the healthcare business, in juxtaposition to the business of healthcare, would never quarter to the idea of buying millions of dollars of technology without first knowing how they were going to use it.

Plenty can be gained by applying what other industries have done to become more effective.  In some respects the inherent structure, cost duplication, and rigid departmental silos remind me a lot of how the various agencies under Homeland Security function, operating in isolation, performing much of the same work, and not sharing information.

Other industries operate with a much less tribal model than healthcare.  Hospitals have created tribes and tribal chiefs.  In some hospitals the tribes have names like radiology, general surgery, psychiatry, and OBG/YN.  Other hospitals have redundant tribes named admissions, human resources, IT, and payroll.  Each tribe is run by the tribe’s chief.  The chief’s dominant weapon is his or her budget which is lorded over its individual tribe, and a dispute vehicle of the other tribes.

The tribal organization is more a reflection of how the hospital evolved over the years, not a result of an inept business strategy.  Nobody set out to build an ineffective and internally competitive model, or one that duplicated support functions.  Acquisitions have reinforced and exacerbated the problem, duplicating and increasing costs without yielding a resultant increase in value.

Before the business of healthcare is prepared to cope with the unknowns of the myriad of external influences it will face in the next few years, it must first change how it functions under its current structure.  It might begin by revisiting its present structure and making sure that its performance and quality precede the application of technology.

I frown on using the term efficient.  To me, efficiency implies speed, and doing bad things faster is no solution.  Let us work at improving effectiveness and good things will happen.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942

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What is the value of perfection?

Here’s another great post by another great person I met online, Maryanne Colter, of MMColter Ltd.   She’s on Twitter @mmcolter.  What I love about this post is her emphasis on hitting a target worth hitting.  Aim for the moon on quality or defects and you may hit it.  Perfect ought not be a stretch goal, as a target it should be de rigeur.  Thanks Maryanne–the rest is hers.

Treating people like shoes…

On January 19th Senator Grassley issued an open letter to medical software vendors and hospitals, chastising them for slamming in EMR software, giving higher regard to being on time and on budget than making sure the software was performing flawlessly.  After all, we are dealing with people’s lives. I got the impression from the Senator’s letter that the passive “mistakes were made” is not going to be an acceptable answer; 100% accuracy should be the only acceptable answer.

And yet it happens. A few weeks ago I spoke to a charge nurse at an Academic Medical Center  (one that was cited in a 2006 study as being exemplary in high quality care) who told me they had around 100 fixes to their system in the first few weeks after go-live.  He also recounted an incident where they lost an entire day of a patient’s nursing documentation somewhere in the transfer between the PACU and the patient’s room.

Strange as this may sound, the solution may be to treat people like shoes.   I once consulted at a company that’s known for its shoes.  Not a tiny company, but one where probably half the world owns a pair of their shoes.  A team of highly trained employees and consultants streamlined processes and put in the technology that increased the overall efficiency of the supply chain by 34%.

Imagine if we had done a shoddy job with their data and said 98% accuracy was ‘good enough’?   We would have transferred data from design to manufacturing, but maybe the shoelaces were a little short, but that hit the 98% mark and would have been ‘good enough’.  When we started manufacturing the shoes, who would have cared if the sole were a little cockeyed?  It still would have been within our 98% mark.  Two percent of the customer orders for the faulty shoes would have contained 2% wrong products or the wrong sizes. Two percent of all orders would have been shipped to the wrong stores. Invoices that were 98% accurate would have been ‘good enough’.  And all of those mistakes would have been done 34% faster.

How about if we treat the delivery of medicine with the same regard as a carton of shoes? We supplied shoes to a major retailer who demanded 100% accuracy of carton labels.  If any one of the hundreds of characters on the carton label were misplaced, the carton would be automatically rerouted, photographed, and emailed back to the supplier with the message of “get this 100% accurate, or else…”.  Think of all the places in medicine where a “get it 100% accurate, or else” rejection message might save a life.

There is no single analogous situation from business to medicine and there are certainly enormous differences, not the least of which is we are dealing with biological systems and the things that can go wrong increase by a thousand-fold.  But instead of looking at what works and adapting it to healthcare, most of healthcare patently rejects ‘outsiders’ with ‘outside ideas’ and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Whenever using analogies it is imperative to do a thorough analysis of the differences, but the answer to the question “what is different?” is not “everything”! Data is either accurate or not.  Software testing results are either thorough or not. The only answer to the question, “Did you get enough training to flawlessly perform you job?” should be yes, or else more training is needed. Period. These are not unique notions. The healthcare industry has the worst case of ‘not invented here’ refusal to adapt quality improvement measures from ‘outside sources’ since JIT had to be renamed Lean because the US could not get over its WWII bigotry of anything remotely Japanese.

“Outsiders” are not viewed as people who would take accuracy even more seriously when dealing with human beings. Instead, we are viewed with the assumption that because we have only dealt with shoes and cardboard boxes that our concern for accuracy and quality must somehow be cavalier.

The healthcare industry needs perfectionists and they can come from anywhere.  It needs people who when they hear “perfect is the enemy of the good” answer with “tell that to the patient whose medicine is one decimal point away from killing them.” Sometimes, perfect is the only option.

I have a dear friend who has a brain tumor.  Thankfully it is benign, but eventually he will need radiation or surgery.   When that day comes, one of the most brilliant, wise, and compassionate minds in the world will be one decimal point away from destruction or cure.  He is the only reason I keep pounding my head against the wall of “ideas from outsiders are not good enough here.”

One of my heroes once said about accidents, “I am of the opinion that zero is the right number…You cannot plan to kill three people a year because you killed four people last year and you want to get a little better…So the goal is zero…Zero injuries. Zero reportable incidents.”  That man was Paul O’Neill when he was the CEO of Alcoa.  Heaven forbid we should learn a lesson from people who make pop cans.