EHR Short Cuts

How able are you to conjure up your most brainless moment—don’t worry, we aren’t on the EHR part yet.

As I was running in San Diego I was passed by a harem of seals—Navy Seals.  Some of them were in better shape than me, I couldn’t judge the fitness of the others as they ran by me too fast.  That got me thinking.  For those who having been regular readers, you’ll know this is where I have a tendency to drive myself over a cliff.

Seeing the Seals took me back to my wistful days as a cadet at the US Air Force Academy.  Coincidentally, my hair looked then a lot like it looks now.  One of the many pastimes they tossed our way for their amusement and our survival was orienteering; sort of map reading on steroids.  One night they took us to the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, paired off the doolies, gave us a set of map coordinates, a compass, map, and flashlight.  The way training worked, those who proved to be the fastest at mastering skills fared better than those who weren’t.  Hence, there was plenty of incentive to outperform everyone; including getting yourself to believe you could do things better than you could, sort of a confidence building program.

We were deposited in a large copse—I’ve always liked that word—of trees—I don’t know, but it seems adding trees to the phrase is somewhat redundant.  We had to orient ourselves and then figure out how to get to five consecutive locations.  The sun had long since set as we made our way through the treed canyon and back up a steep ravine.  After some moments of searching we found the marker indicating we were at point Able.  The group started to examine the information that would direct our journey to point Bravo.

While they honed their skills, I was examining the map, taking some bearings with the compass, and trying to judge the terrain via the moonlight.  My roommate, a tall lanky kid from Dothan, Alabama asked why I didn’t appear to be helping.

“Look at this,” I replied.  “Do you see that light over there, just to the right of that bluff?  I think I’ve found us a shortcut.”

“What about it?”  Asked Dothan.

“If my calculations are correct, that light is about here,” I said and showed them on my map.  “It can’t be more than a hundred yards from point Delta.”


“So why go from Alpha to Bravo to Charlie to Delta, if we can go right to Delta from here?  That will knock off at least an hour.”  I had to show my calculations a few times to turn them into believers, but one by one they came aboard.  The moon disappeared behind an entire bank of thunderheads.  We were uniformly upbeat as we made our way in the growing blackness through the national forest.  Unlike the way most rains begin, that night the sky seemed to open upon us like a burst paper bag.

“Get our bearing,” I instructed Dothan.  As it was my idea, I was now the de facto leader.  As we were in a gully, getting our bearings required Dothan to climb a large evergreen.

“I don’t see it,” he hollered over the wind-swept rain squalls.  I scurried up, certain that he was either an idiot or blind.

“Do you see the light?”  They asked me.  I looked again.  Checked my map.  Checked my compass.  “It has to be there,” I yelled.

A voice floated up to me.  To me I thought it probably sounded a lot like the voice Moses heard from God as he was building the Ark.  (Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.)  “What if they turned off the light?”

I almost fell out of the tree like an apple testing the laws of gravity.  What if someone had turned off the light?  There was no ‘what if’ to consider.  That is exactly what happened.  Some inconsiderate homeowner had turned off their porch light and left us stranded.

Fast forward.  We were lost, real lost.  We didn’t finish last, but we did earn extra exercise the next day, penalized for being creative.  Who’da thunk it?

Short cuts.  When they work, you’re a headliner.  When they fail, chances are you’re also a headliner—writing the wrong kind of headlines.  I hate being redundant, but with EHR we may be dealing with the single largest expenditure in your organization.  It will cost twice as much to do it over as it will to do it right.  If you haven’t done this before—I won’t embarrass anyone by asking for a show of hands—every extra day you add to the planning process will come back to you several fold.  There may be short cuts you can take, but planning should not be one of them.  How much should we plan?  How long should it take?  Who should participate?  We will look at each of those questions in some detail.  For now, let’s answer those three questions with; more than you think, longer than you’ve planned for it to take, and different skills than you’re currently using.

Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

My profiles: LinkedInTwitter
My blog: Healthcare IT Strategy My thoughts on “One EMR Vendor’s View of Meaningful Use”

How does Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle affect EHR?

One of the great things about social media is its ability to infer attributes of both the readers and the writer.  When you finally meet your virtual pen pal the mind wanders—I thought he sounded taller.

There are those among us who when they picture me writing, see me sitting at my desk, wearing my baby seal-skin slippers, and supping on a bowl of loggerhead turtle soup.


According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (used in physics) certain pairs of physical properties cannot both be determined simultaneously.  That is, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other can be measured. For instance, the next time you are standing by the side of the road, and cars are whizzing by you, try to decipher the speed of the car, and its exact location.  If I remember my math correctly, the first derivative is its velocity, the second, its acceleration.  To know exactly where the car is at a precise moment in time, the car must be stationary—as in not moving.  Thus, to ascertain its position, the position must be fixed.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle requires that for someone to determine B, A must cease to be a variable.

The Uncertainty Principle can be represented as something like this:

One can see that as additional properties are tossed into the mix the probability of predicting any particular outcome goes to zero.

Thus follows Roemer’s EHR Uncertainty Principle—if you don’t know where you are going, you arrived a long time ago (A little like Pink Floyd’s, “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”).

The conflicting principles include;

·         Implementation date

·         Completion date

·         Final cost

·         Your functional requirements

·         The vendor’s capabilities

·         Acceptance testing

·         What should the EHR do

·         How do you know when you are done

·         Should you meet Meaningful Use

·         Will you receive the ARRA money

Here is the point of the allegory.  The chances of a physician group or hospital knowing the answer to all but one of the above principles are zero.

Permit me to throw a wrench into the loggerhead soup and let you know that not having the answers to all but one of the variables is okay.  That is the way projects work.

Since most of you implementing EHR have not ‘been-there, done-that’ with respect to implementing EHR, it is reasonable to expect there are more unknowns than knowns (spell-check indicates that it is not a word, but I know you are keeping up with me).

So, how can you use Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to your advantage?  It is actually rather simple.  Do not allow your implementation to be guided by the unknowns.

·         Do not set an arbitrary budget for something you have never purchased

·         Do not set an arbitrary implementation deadline

Do what you must to make sure you implement an ERH that does what you need it to do.  Do not let yourself be constrained by principles whose only possible effect will be to derail your project.

If you are willing to take that risk, the other principles become moot (the correct terms is moot, not mute—look it up—sorry about the preposition).

If all else fails, consider getting a pair of the seal-skin slippers.

Paul M. Roemer

Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335

+1 (484) 885-6942

My profiles: 

My blog: Healthcare IT Strategy How to Revive a Failed EHR Implementation

A little IT knowledge can kill you

It almost killed me.  Curious?  I lived in Colorado for a dozen years, and spent almost every other weekend in the mountains, fly-fishing, skiing, climbing, and painting—any excuse would do.  Colorado has 54 peaks above fourteen thousand feet.  In my twelve years I climbed most of them.  Some solo; some with friends.

I owned almost everything North Face made, including a down sleeping bag with thermal protection which would have made me sweat on the moon and a one-burner propane stove which cranked out enough BTUs to smelt aluminum.  Two of my friends and felt we needed a bigger challenge than what Colorado’s peaks offered.

The dot in the photo is me.

We decided on a pair of volcanoes in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba and Popocatépetl—both over 18,000’.  We trained hard because we knew that people who didn’t died.  We trained with ropes, ice axes, carabineers, and crampons.  One day in early May we arrived at the base ofPico de Orizaba.  The man who drove us to the mountain made us sign the log book, that way they’d know who they were burying.  After a six hour ride from a town with less people than a K-Mart, we were deposited at a cinder-block hut—four walls, tin roof, dirt floor.  Base camp.

Before the sun rose we were hiking up ankle-deep volcanic ash; gritty, coarse, black sand.  The sand soon turned in to thigh-deep snow.  We took turns breaking trail, stopping only long enough to refill our water bottles by hand-pumping glacier melt from the runoff in the bottom of cobalt blue ice caverns carved from solid glacier.

Ice Cave we used to collect drinking water

Throughout the trek we passed crude wooden crosses that were stuck into the ash and snow, serving as grim reminders of those who’d gone before us.

We knew the signs of pulmonary edema, but were reluctant to acknowledge them when we first saw it.  It was about one the following morning when we decided to make camp.  My roommate was having trouble concentrating, and his speech was slightly slurred.  When we asked him if he was ill, he responded much like one would expect an alcoholic would respond when asked if he was okay to drive.  “I’m fine.”

We were at about 16,000’.  The slope seemed to be at about forty-five degrees.  The sheet of ice upon which we stood glistened from what little light the stars emitted.  I removed my tent pole from my pack and placed it on the ground—we were going to camp for the night.  We watched in awe as the pole gained speed and hurtled down the side of the volcano, quickly lost in the darkness.

Realizing my friend wasn’t doing well, and that I was now feeling somewhat punkish, we made the difficult decision to turn back.  The only survival for edema is to lose enough altitude until you reach an altitude where there is enough air pressure to force the oxygen into the blood.  Eighteen hours of climbing.  Pitch black.  And then it started to snow.  Any other time the view would have been awesome.  We headed down, me carrying my pack and his, he with our friend.

We arrived at the block hut around four that morning.  By then I was no longer making any sense.  My roommate had recovered, but I had become somewhat delirious—at least that’s what they told me later.  Not knowing right from left or wrong, I was determined to keep walking.  The two of them took turns laying on me to prevent me from sneaking out during the night.

A little knowledge almost killed us.  The scary thing is that we knew what we were doing.  We had trained at altitude, had a plan, worked the plan.  The plan shifted.  Sometimes shift happens.

It happens more with IT.  Much more.  Do you know what the chances are of any IT project ‘working’ that costs more than$7-10 million?  (Working is defined as having a positive ROI, a project that was delivered on time, withing the budget, and delivered the expected results.) (IT includes workflows, change management, training, etc.)  Two in ten.  Twenty percent.  That’s below the Mendosa Line—non baseball fans may have to look up that one.  Remember the last industry conference you attended?  Was it about EHR?  Pretty scary knowing most of them were planning for a failure.

Put your best efforts, your brightest people on planning the EHR.  Make them plan it, then make them plan it again, and then make them defend it, every piece of it.  If they don’t convince you they can do it in their sleep, you had better redo it.  Do they know what they’re planning to do?  Do they know why they’re planning to do it that way?  If they haven’t done it before, this may not be the best time for them to practice.  EHR is not a good project for stretching someone’s capabilities.

Planning is difficult to defend twice during the life of a large program.  First, at the beginning of the program when the C-Suite is in a hurry to see people doing things and signing contracts.  The second time planning is difficult to defend is the moment the C-I-Told-You-Sos are calling for your head for having such an inadequate plan.

How would I approach planning an EHR program for a hospital?  If we started in September, my goal would be to;

  • Have a dedicated and qualified PMO in place in four weeks
  • Begin defining workflows and requirements by October (I’m curious.  For those who have done or are doing this piece, how many FTE’s participated?  I ask because i think chances are good that your number is far fewer than I think would be needed.)
  • Issue a requirements document by mid-January.
  • Be able to recommend a vendor by the end of March.

That seems like a lot of time.  There are plenty who will tell you they can do ‘it’ quicker.  Good for them.  The best factor in your favor right now is time.

Reread this in a year and see where you are…

…See, I told you so.  Anyone want to go hiking?

Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

Can HIT solve the healthcare cost problem?

The following is my new post in

What do you think about the idea?

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

My profiles: LinkedInWordPressTwitterMeetupBlog RSS
Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

The large provider business model–The Sky is Falling

This link takes you to my newest post on Anthony Guerra’s site.  I welcome your thoughts.

My best – Paul

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

My profiles: LinkedInWordPressTwitterMeetupBlog RSS
Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

Does it come in blue?

The store for audiophile wannabe’s. Denver, Colorado. The first store I hit after blowing an entire paycheck at REI when I moved to Colorado. 

The first thing I noticed was the lack of clutter, the lack of inventory. There were no amplifiers, because amplifiers were down market. There were a dozen or so each of the pre-amps, tuners, turntables, reel to reel tape decks, and these things called CD players. They also had dozens of speakers. At the back of the store was an enclosed 10 x 10 foot sound proof room with a leather chair positioned dead center.

When the ponytailed salesperson asked about my budget, like a rube I told him I didn’t have one. He beamed and took that to mean it was unlimited. It really meant I hadn’t thought of one. He asked me what I liked to listen to.

“Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.”

Within a few seconds I was seated in Captain Kirk’s chair, and Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage filled the room in pure digital quadraphonic sound. I was in love.

I lived a block and a half away. Since the equipment wouldn’t fit in my Triumph, I made several trips carrying home my new toys—gold plated monster cable, solid maple speakers that rested on nails so as to minimize distortion, a pre-amp, tuner, receiver, turntable, and stylus.

It wasn’t that I deliberately bought stuff I didn’t need. I walked in uneducated. I had never bought what I was looking at. I didn’t know how much to spend, nor what it would do for me. Looking back at that purchase decision, I bought specs I didn’t need. I didn’t realize it was possible to build audio technology that would meet performance specs beyond what I person could hear, heck beyond what anything could hear. Not understanding that possibility, I bought specs I couldn’t hear. I spent hundreds of dollars on features from which I would never receive value. You too?

It happens all the time. Stereos. Cars. Computers. Applications. Technology. Having bought it doesn’t mean it was needed, that it was the right thing to do, that it has an ROI, or that it meets the mission.

My remarks to Brian Ahier’s insightful interview of Dr. Blumenthal

I encourage those who have not read Brian’s interview of Dr. Blumenthal on to make time to read it.

Brian also has a link to the audio.

Brian asked me to comment, and I was pleased to do so.  Here is what I wrote.

I enjoyed reading your interview with Dr. Blumenthal. Clearly he and the members of his team are working very hard on a number of difficult and rather diverse issues.

I have been wondering, how does one tell the story of EHR to someone who has no understanding of EHR? Not the story about the EHR system in a physician’s office, or the ungainly one in a hospital. The story to which I refer is the story of the national rollout of EHR and the drive for interoperability.

For me, the question of how to tell the story in a way to make it understandable raises a number of other questions. Is there a story, or is it a collection of short stories written by different people, guided by different principles and goals? Is there a plot? Does the story come together in a natural manner?

Sticking with the story theme for a moment—who are the main characters, do they relate to one another? Does it come to a meaningful conclusion, in fact, does it conclude?

Look at the various antagonists—EMR, EHR, PRH, Meaningful Use, Certification, HIEs, RECs, the N-HIN, interoperability, the ONC, CMS, ARRA, standards, vendors, and PR. I am sure I missed several.

Imagine if Random House allocated millions of dollars to publish and market a book which had yet to be put to paper. No plot, no outline. What if they hired a dozen writers, each with their own areas of expertise—and lack of expertise—and crossed their fingers.

Would they be more successful if they offered penalties and incentives to the writers—a garrote and stick approach? What if they changed the rules after the writers started? What if they left undefined numerous areas of rules, rules which will impact the story, and told the writers to keep pushing ahead?

I do not see how the national EHR rollout story comes together. Now or some distant tomorrow—at least not under this approach. Is the approach viable? Having a few disparate successes does not make me a believer. Call me a cock-eyed nihilist.
Once every so often, an announcement is made that another single hospital reached Stage 7. One among thousands. Why do I view this from the vantage point of a glass half-empty? For me, the existing approach is one of guidance and facilitation. There are no long lines of providers trying to beat the others to the front of the EHR line. There have been several hundred million dollar do-overs.

If we circle back to the providers for a second, three of the largest causes of failure include the arbitrary setting of go-live dates without knowing what needs to be done or can be done in that time frame; second, letting IT and the vendor drive and manage the project; third, not getting users to define what they need and then having IT replicate those needs. IT does not need an EHR.

As I look at the government’s national rollout of EHR I see the same three problems. Who are the government’s users? Doctors, clinicians, and hospitals. There are fixed dates, many having undefined requirements. These are causing some providers to dash for the cash. Who is driving the rollout—the government’s users, or the government. They way the rollout is structured, the users have all of the responsibility and little of the authority. This is a government led IT project. Where are their users? They are running their practices and hospitals. They have one ear open towards, reform, another to the garrote and stick project rollout approach, another to EHR, and yet another to their business model. They have run out of ears.

Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

My profiles: WordPressLinkedInTwitterMeetupBlog RSS

How to raise healthcare IT costs without really trying

Like anyone needs my advice as to how to do that. Go ahead, have at it. Go shopping. Shop to you drop. How much do you need? Suppose we open the coffers. How much; another million? Ten Million? Twenty-five, fifty? $100,000,000? This is a one-time offer, so make sure you ask for everything you need

What if I told you this money is available provided you correctly answer a few basic questions. Reasonable? I’d hope so for a hundred million dollars.

1. What will you do with the money that you haven’t already done?

2. Has anyone else every done that?

3. If yes, did it work for them?

4. If no, why not, and what makes you think it will work for you?

5. Will these additional funds;

5a. Get you the ARRA money?

5b. Enable you to see more patients?

5c. Help you retain and attract physicians?

5d. Increase patient safety?

6. What is your mission?

7. Why isn’t your mission the KPIs listed in question 4?

8. Are other hospitals spending the amount you are requesting?

9. Did that amount of funding allow them to meet the criteria specified in question 5?

10. If no, what makes you think you can do it?

If your CFO asked these questions, would you think them reasonable? If not, prepare 3 envelopes (see Google)

If you don’t buy the right EHR and implement it correctly, you’ve just spend a hundred million dollars to scan charts.  Somebody will be held accountable for the money.

Upgrade the coffee to Starbucks-$5. New bedpan-$50. New plasma monitors-$1,200. Knowing what you are doing—Priceless.

What are the risks of HIT and EHR?

It is refreshing to know that the voices I am hearing need not be my own.  When I try to summarize the issues for my own edification, I always circle back to the same few issues.

• No single person is both responsible and in authority regarding HIT and EHR. Provider-world pauses with each new pronouncement from Washington as though the missing EHR Dead Sea Scrolls had just been discovered in the reflecting pool.
• Those who implemented EHR did so without any idea that rules would be imposed after the fact.
• EHR is expected to serve two business models:

o Washington’s N x M patient/doctor connectivity effort
o A provider’s unique business objectives, none of which have anything to do with a patient in Atlanta being able to connect to a doctor in Anchorage.
• What model would providers be following if there were no Meaningful Use
• If the current EHR national rollout model was any good, providers would be racing to the front of the line to implement EHR instead of having to be offered rebates.
• The national rollout plan lacks viability for several reasons:

o No standards
o HIEs are each being developed in their own vacuum
o A horde of vendors whose mission does not tie to the national rollout or the providers’ business model and who have no incentive to adopt standards
o The requirements and dates for Meaningful Use will probably change once providers have tailored their systems to meet Stage 1
o The requirements for Stages 2 & 3, which may cost providers six zeroes preceded by some number greater than five, don’t exist.
o An ROI can’t be calculated on meeting Meaningful Use
o Both the likelihood and the impact of healthcare reform on HIT and EHR, just got vaguer by some order of magnitude.

I firmly believe the right EHR and CPOE will be great for hospitals. Providers will be better served by finding answers to the question, “What’s in it for me,” rather than, “What do they want me to do?” Unless of course, providers want them running their business.

HIT/EHR: A little adult supervision can’t hurt

Among other things, EHR requires adult supervision like parenting.  My morning was moving along swimmingly.  Kids were almost out the door and I thought I’d get a batch of bread underway before heading out for my run.  I was at the step where you gradually add three cups of flour—I was in a hurry and dumped it all in at once.  This is when the eight-year-old hopped on the counter and turned on the mixer.  He didn’t just turn it on, he turned it ON—power level 10.

If you’ve ever been in a blizzard, you are probably familiar with the term whiteout.   On either side of the mixer sat two of my children, the dog was on the floor.  In an instant the three of them looked like they had been flocked—like the white stuff sprayed on Christmas trees—I guess we could call them evergreens—to make them look snow-covered.  (I just em-dashed and em-dash, wonder how the AP Style Book likes that.)  So, the point I was going for is that sometimes, adult supervision is required.

What exactly is Health IT, or HIT?  I may be easier asking what HIT isn’t.  One way to look at it is to consider the iPhone.  For the most part the iPhone is a phone, an email client, a camera, a web browser, and an MP3 player.  The other 85,000 things are other things that happen to interact with or reside on the device.

In order for us to implement correctly (it sounds better when you spilt the infinitive) HIT and EHR a little focus on blocking and tackling are in order.  Some write that EHR may be used to help with everything from preventing hip fractures to diagnosing the flu—you know what, so can doctor’s.  There are probably things EHR can be made to do, but that’s not what they were designed to do, not why you want one, and not why Washington wants you to want one.  No Meaningful Use bonus point will be awarded to providers who get ancillary benefits from their EHR especially if they don’t get it to do what it is supposed to do.

EHR, if done correctly, will be the most difficult, expensive, and far reaching project undertaken by a hospital.  It should prove to be at least as complicated as building a new hospital wing.  If it doesn’t, you’ve done something wrong.

EHR is not one of those efforts where one can apply tidbits of knowledge gleaned from bubblegum wrapper MBA advice like “Mongolian Horde Management” and “Everything I needed to know I learned playing dodge ball”.

There’s an expression in football that says when you pass the ball there are three possible outcomes and only one of them is good—a completion.  EHR sort of works the same, except the range of bad outcomes is much larger.