My latest piece on

What Would You Do Without MU?

I was wondering how CIOs would approach the implementation of EMRs if they had never heard the term Meaningful Use. The more I thought about the question, the more I felt it merited discussion. If I were a CIO, I would not let these outside regulatory influences dictate my strategic decision making. As a member of the executive team, my responsibility is two-fold; to facilitate and improve patient care, and to contribute to the business as an advisor, someone whose actions positively impact the bottom line.

Some CIOs have been forced to abdicate their responsibility and to approach EHR as order takers. Sometimes the CEO/CFO/COO creates a directive mandating EHR. That said, their guidance may end. In other, more problematic cases, it doesn’t, and they also supply the name of the EHR vendor that must be used. The worst reaction to this pressure is to not challenge the issue of whether your organization will attempt to meet Meaningful Use. The concept is much more novel than it may appear.

What if Meaningful Use didn’t exist? Many hospitals undertook EHR without any hint of the fact that MU was coming — coming with money, penalties, and constraints. Many completed the implementation only to learn that to meet MU they are not done, far from it. In fact, they have just begun modifying their implementations, and paying big time for those changes.

Those who started EHR early did so under the notion that their efforts were working in concert with an established set of business goals. This is the right way to operate. Remember, EHR is voluntary — really. By default, that makes meeting MU voluntary. There is no hidden directive that states all those who implement an EHR must meet MU. Not meeting it may subject your organization to penalties, and these should be factored into your ROI calculation.

Let’s assume you have, or are going to implement, an EHR system. For large providers, it is difficult to develop a business argument for not having EHR. Now assume that MU does not exist. We already have seen examples of how having MU impacts HIT strategy, how would not having to plan around MU impact your EHR and HIT strategy? What other projects would be at the top of your list? What initiatives could you own if you did not shuffle resources away from your preferred strategy simply to chase MU? Instead, would you be addressing patient and physician churn? Implementing managed services opportunities? Aligning workflows? Developing a social media platform?

There is nothing wrong with assessing what you would be doing to support your hospital if there were no Meaningful Use. You can and should undertake that assessment and calculate its ROI. Then, instead of having a lone MU ROI, you have something else against which to compare it.

Do you believe Meaningful Use is best for you?

The area was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. Crime scene investigators searched the trampled grass, careful so as not to disturb the evidence. People and horses craned their necks to watch. The lead investigator knelt and retrieved a small piece of shell with a pair of tweezers. It looked like the dozens of other pieces they had already collected. The yolk was congealing at the base of the wall.

On the other side of the wall, a rookie patrolman noticed shoe imprints in the wet earth.
“Humpty-Dumpty was pushed,” he yelled to the lead investigator.

Humpty-Dumpty didn’t fall. Even long held beliefs can prove false. Not everything is the way it seems. Just because you believe something is true doesn’t make it so. Ask the Flat Earth Society; ask the people think the moon landing was faked. Sometimes it just requires a little more thought.

Sometimes you need to be the needle in the haystack. There’s not much value in being the hay.

Just because everyone believes chasing Meaningful Use is the right thing to do doesn’t make it so.  This is not a cause and effect relationship. The belief seems to be that meeting the standards set by the CMS is the best metric for determining the value of your EHR.  Wrong. They are only the best metric for determining if you will be receiving incentive money.

Believing something doesn’t make it true. Ask the person who pushed Humpty-Dumpty.

‘Twas the night before reform when all in the House…

‘Twas the night before reform when all in the House

Were Tweeting and blogging and squawking like grouse

Their bill filled with zeroes and commas and flair

In hopes that the Senate would soon be there

The voters were restless, and in need of good care,

And they whined and they pleaded and they yelled ‘don’t you dare’

“Don’t sidestep this issue, don’t do it for votes”

“Don’t kowtow to payors or we’ll be at your throats.”

With Pelosi and her Botox and while Reid took his nap

Didn’t care if the people put up with their (you rhyme it, I’m pretending to be neutral)

The docs sat on the sidelines, bemoaning their fate,

While payors dressed like succubi caroled “ain’t this great?”

On the lawn of the White House there arose such disdain

As the public fought reform from ‘Frisco to Maine.

MSNBC, neigh now Comcast, buttressed their base,

And Fox, aka Rupert, said it was all a disgrace.

The words on the pages of the newly printed bill,

Hid nuance, erudition, obfuscation, and skill,

Do not read the details, adjectives and signs,

Do not worry how it impacts your bottom line.

We are here to pretend we did that of import,

To Hell with Medicare, Medicaid and the sort

It’s voters we want, It’s our doxology, our mantra,

And this year silly people, this year WE are Santa

On Boxer, on Biden on Fienstein they came,

And we chortled, berated, and chided by name.

“What about seniors, and sick people” we cried?

“What about uninsured, don’t you care if they died”

“This is about people you meet on the street.

People who must choose between their meds and to eat

It’s about Lipitor, Xanax, Prozac and Viagra,

It’s about doing what’s right, do what’s right or we’ll bag ‘ya”

And then in a twinkling I heard in my head,

The gnawing and chiding of Congress, who said,

We cavorted and sucked up, the best we knew how,

We spent bucks, made payoffs, and said the time is now.

Festooned all in new regs from NHS to VA

There were those who suggested, this is not going to play,

HITECH and ARRA are not making it fun,

RHIOs and RECs will soon come undone,

We’re paying the hospitals to do EHR

We know it seems silly, like we lowered the bar

If that doesn’t work we will tax them instead,

Make them spend gobs of money, make their budgets bleed red.

Spend it, refund it, and print new money now,

Buying Canada would be cheaper and easier but wow

They want to sign something, sign it soon, sign it fast,

But don’t assume that they’ve read it from first page to last,

We could’a been more like France, like the Swiss or the British

Make us more European, make our rich people skittish,

The tall socialist exclaimed as the dems shifted right,

Will Obamacare fail, have I lost all my might?

Is EHR so distasteful that providers need incentive?


Of what were we last speaking?  Do you ever wonder if perhaps you are the only person who was never photographed with one of the Kennedys?  That got me thinking about our presidents.  Yesterday NPR interviewed the person who spent eighty hours interviewing Clinton during the eight years during which he was allowed to park freely anywhere in DC.  See how this is already starting to come together?

The interviewer mentioned that Clinton described the Lewinski episode as a distraction.  I also employed several descriptors of that series of affairs—of course, the pun is intentional—but I must have overlooked calling it a distraction.  People on both sides of the dialog call the episode a stupid thing.  Here’s how I look at it—doing long division and forgetting to carry the one is ‘a stupid thing’; mixing a red sock with a load of whites is ‘a stupid thing’.  Sometimes politics can have us all screaming infidelities.

When I share my thoughts about these things, some look at me like they are staring at an unlabeled can of food.  I guess objectivity is only for the truly unimaginative.

So all of that thinking about presidents got me to thinking about Mr. Obama, reform, and EHR.  Remember that a lot of the original economic reform discussion had to do with TARP monies being almost tossed at the banks.  It was almost like a reverse bank holdup, making the banks take money.

Which now takes us to healthcare reform and EHR.  ARRA money and states like New York providing a stimulus to the stimulus.  What would make governments offer money for EHR?  How might we illustrate this?

Let’s say I offer my children a choice of two things to eat; broccoli and chocolate cake.  They make a bee-line for the cake.  The broccoli requires an incentive to get any takers.  I ask a few questions—they are prepared to suffer untold penalties instead of eating the broccoli.  There may be some financial incentive which will entice them to eat broccoli, but it will be pricey.  Telling them it’s good for them, or that they have to eat it makes no difference to short people—they want to be bribed.

Telling healthcare providers EHR is good for them, or that they have to do it makes no difference to tall people—they want to be bribed.  What does this signify?  What is it about EHR that requires incentives and some foreign force majeure to get the discussion underway?  It’s not as though the healthcare providers don’t want to do things that will improve their business.  What is it they know that we don’t?  What would make them run towards EHR rather than away from it?

You don’t suppose it has something to do with broccoli, do you?

For those who enjoy Dana Carvey, here’s a link to his song about chopping broccoli.


At what point do we decide this will not work?

We haven't tried this approach yet

We haven't tried this approach yet

What is your natural reaction when you are faced with something that you know doesn’t make sense?  Most people respond with silence, or they join the majority, whatever the issue.  I’ve never been good at being most people–the shoes are too tight.

For your edification and consideration.

State CIOs Get ‘To-Do’ List

HDM Breaking News, August 25, 2009

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers has published a report giving guidance to CIOs as their states implement health information technology provisions of the HITECH Act within American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The act requires state leadership in two primary areas: oversight for the planning and deployment of health information exchanges and management of the Medicaid incentive payments for meaningful use of electronic health records, the report notes.

“The passage of the HITECH Act essentially merged health policy with technology policy across state government and state CIOs must play a key role in HIE development and implementation,” according to the report.

The report includes a list of upcoming deadlines for specific federal regulatory actions, including those most affecting states and their CIOs. The report also details four broad areas where CIOs can have a major impact on HIE initiatives: planning, governance, financing/sustainability and policy.

“The HITECH Act placed a significant amount of new responsibilities on states in regards to state oversight for HIE and the planning and implementation grants for preparing for HIE,” the report states. “During this initial planning period, state CIOs must secure a seat at the table to establish themselves as key stakeholders and also to recognize strengths and identify weaker points that require resolution within their own offices relating to statewide HIT/HIE planning. They must ask themselves what they, with their unique enterprise view, can do to support and contribute to each of these areas.”

That was simple.  I’m thinking that if we can tie the IRS into this system of HIE, HITECH, ARRA, Rhoi, CIO, MOUSE we may be on to something useful.  Did you ever think that acronyms are used as a means of obfuscation, or to hide the identities of the people making these decisions?  I am much more likly to lend my avatar to a group of State This & Thats than I am to have someone write, Paul Roemer is the brainchild behind this I^(*&^%%!.  I like committees of three, especially when the other two don’t know for what time I scheduled the meeting.

English 101.  The desk is hard, the task is difficult, and the task described above is impossible or at least out of the realm of mortals.  Does someone think checking off the items on the list will easily allow my doctor to follow me on business or vacation across the country?  We are all smarter than that and we need to stand up and lead.  The time to follow has ended.