EHR: What’s in it for me?

Field of Dreams.  Best guy movie of all times?  Forgive me, but I don’t usually start my day being PC.  (I don’t end it that way either.)  Pardon me as I wipe a tear.  Want to have a catch Dad?  For those of you whose minds don’t immediately shift to the shooting of Old Yellar, you’re on the wrong blog.

First there’s the field.  It’s green.  The same green God made when he made green.  There’s a cross-hatched pattern to the cut, the white lines brilliantly juxtaposed.  The air smells of peanuts and dogs.

Baseball, as spoken by James Earl Jones:

“Ray. People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack…And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines where they sat when they were children, and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces… People will come, Ray…The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers; it has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come…”

This is the twelve step nightmare for anyone who had a father.  At the end of the movie there is a dialog between Ray Kinsella and Shoeless Joe Jackson:

Ray Kinsella: I did it all. I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what’s in it for me.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: What are you saying, Ray?
Ray Kinsella: I’m saying? What’s in it for me?

Amidst all the confusion, amidst all the regulation, where does that leave you?  Ask, “What’s in it for me?”  What’s in it is whatever you put into it.  Drive this process to your benefit.  Build an EHR because it benefits you, not because it’s forced upon you.

How to Revive a Failed EHR Implementation

My latest post on  Here’s an idea I think merits consideration.

What do you think?

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

Why do you think projects fail?

Again on the project failure?  Yes.  Why?  Trying to head it off at the pass.  Source, The Bull Report.


Fifty-seven percent of failures are due to bad communication.  What’s that?  Poor grammar?  No.  Not enough meetings?  Doubtful.

It’s about PMO.  A hired gun?  Perhaps.  An advocate who will manage the vendor on your behalf.  What’s the rest of the hired gun’s job description?  All the blue stuff in the graph..

The good news is that being a bad dresser will not hurt the project.

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

What must the ONC do to make EHR a success?

The following is my second reply to Brain Ahier’s interview of Dr. Blumenthal.  The purpose of this post was to outline some steps the ONC could take to retrofit its EHR strategy.  PLease let me know what you think.

Grab a soft-drink—this one is rather long. Please forgive any formatting mistakes–it looked good in Word.

I have never been one who thinks hit-and-run critiquing is fair. It is too easy to throw metaphorical tomatoes at an idea with which you disagree. As such, perhaps instead of just being critical of the national EHR rollout plan, here are a few ideas which may be worth exploring in more detail.

It just occurred to me that the ONC’s role, the Office of the National Coordinator, is just that—coordination. Who or what is the ONC supposed to be coordinating—among its various functions, or the providers? There are the coordinators, and its constituents—the uncoordinated. I know at least one provider who already spent $400 million on its EHR. They didn’t get coordinated. I asked one of their executives who played a major oversight role in the implementation, with whom they worked at the ONC. She was not even familiar with the acronym.

I don’t think providers are looking to be coordinated—they are looking to be led. I also think they are looking to be asked and to be heard. They are looking for answers to basic questions like; why should we do this, what is in it for me—this has nothing to do with incentive dollars?

It often seems like the ONC has developed many solutions seeking a problem, filling their tool bag in the hope they brought along the right one. This is where I think we see a good portion of the disconnect. It is better to say we know where we are going, but getting there slowly, instead of, we don’t know where we are going but we are making really good time.

People don’t buy drills because they need a drill—they buy them because they need—say it with me—holes. Providers need holes, not HIEs and RECs.

You understand the pressures you face much better than do I. Has anyone from the ONC asked you if they should reconsider their plan, their approach, their timing? Chances are good that you are not implementing EHR and CPOE because you have a vision or a business imperative of someday being able to connect your EHR to Our Lady of Perpetual Interoperability. CIOs and their peers are not spending eight or nine figures because you want a virtual national healthcare infrastructure. The C-team is investing its scarce resources to make its operation better, to reap the rewards of the promise of EHR.

The ONC is spending its resources towards a different goal, a virtual national healthcare infrastructure. The two goals do not necessarily overlap. I am reminded of the photo showing the driving of the Golden Spike—the connecting of the Union Pacific Railroad to the Central Pacific Railroad—the final link of the Transcontinental Railroad that in the 1870’s allowed Americans to cross the US by rail. What would have happened had the two railroads worked independently of each other? They would have built very nice railroads whose tracks would never have met, tracks dead ending in the middle of nowhere. Even if they almost met, say got within a few feet of each other, they would have failed.

There are those who see the work of the ONC as a real value-add. I dare say that most of those are not hospital CIOs or physicians. Both groups define value-add and success differently.

This is not to say that providers would not accept all the help they can get. However, providers want the help to be…what is the word I am searching for—helpful—to them, to their issues. The ONC’s mission will not work until the providers successfully deliver what the ONC needs from them. How many providers must be Stage 7, Meaningful Use, Certified compliant for the virtual national healthcare infrastructure to work? Fifty percent? Eighty? Who knows.

So, the providers own the critical path. It is all about the providers, bringing fully functional EHR systems to hospitals and physicians. The numbers I have seen do not paint a promising picture. The critical path is in critical condition. Ten percent hospital acceptance and a sixty percent failure rate. Let’s say those numbers are wrong by a factor of three—thirty percent acceptance, and a twenty percent failure rate. Even those numbers do not bode well for ever achieving a virtual national healthcare infrastructure under the current plan. Subtract from those figures—supply your own if you would like—the churn figures—those hospitals that are on their second or third installation of EHR. Something is amiss.

In a more perfect world the ONC might consider shifting course to something aligned with the following:

• Segment its mission into two parts; one to build a virtual national healthcare infrastructure, and two, provide hands-on support individual hospitals’ and providers’ EHR initiatives.
• Standards
• Standards—I wrote that twice because it is important to both missions
o Let us be honest, the largest EHR vendors do not want standards. Why? Because if all else fails, their standards become the standards. They don’t phrase it this way, but one can assume, their business model calls for them to do what is best for them.
o The vendors do not want to open their APIs to the HIEs
• Do not set dates for providers which to be met require meeting rules which do not yet exist. If the government wants providers to meet its dates, the government must first meet some of its critical success factors—standards, for example.
• Mandate vendor standards for however many vendors make up ninety percent of the EHR install base for hospitals. Give vendors 18-24 months to agree to a set of standards and have them retrofit their applications.
• Use a garrote and stick approach on the vendors. Create a standards incentive program, heck, underwrite it. Pay the vendors to develop and get on a single set of standards—this will have a much more positive impact than REC and PR money. Many will say, especially those who have an incentive for this not to happen, this cannot be done. Of course it can.
• Processes. EHRs are failing in part due to not enough user involvement, not enough user authority and governance. There is no usable decompositionable process map of how a hospital functions. No Level Zero through Level Whatever You Need. No industry standard, mega-diagram, boxes and arrows, which can be laid on a table or hung on a wall that shows, “This is what we do. This is how it all ties together.”
• I am building this process map, along with a colleague. Why isn’t the ONC? It will not match you hospital. It may not match anyone’s hospital. What it will do is give someone a great base from which they can edit it. Why is this important? Because it will enable the users, IT, and the vendor to overlay the EHR application to show:

o which business and clinical areas are impacted
o the process interfaces
o duplicated processes
o processes with no value-add
o which other facilities have similar and differing processes
o where change management resources must be focused
o what needs to happen if an acquisition is made

The ONC must move from coordinating to leading. To do that they need the authority to mandate the execution of some of the items listed above.

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

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

What is the future of the EHR/N-HIN landscape?

One may argue it is possible to build the real Brooklyn Bridge with nothing but toothpicks, and a lake filled with Elmer’s Glue.  Difficult yes; prudent, no.   Urban legend is when the United States first started sending astronauts into space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity.  To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 million to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300C.

The Russians used a pencil.

The ability to do something is not justification for doing it.  Nor is that fact that someone has put it forth as an idea.  The willingness to do something merely because everyone is doing it or because someone instructed it be done probably has nothing to do with a business strategy, or if it does, it shouldn’t.

In the next five to seven years the business of healthcare at the provider level will have the opportunity to change markedly—the unanswered question is, will it have the ability?  To answer that at the provider level—primarily hospitals and clinics—I believe one must distinguish between the business of healthcare (how the business is run) and the healthcare business (how the care is delivered).

In many respects, the business of healthcare and the strategy surrounding it is pinned to a 0.2 business model.  Certainly there are exceptions to any aphorism, but taken as a whole, there is plenty of room for improvement.  As one hospital CEO told me, “What we really lack is adult supervision.”

So, how exactly does the toothpick bridge apply to healthcare?   Here’s my take on the situation.

  1. It may be possible to build and roll out a national network of EMRs through EHRs connected by HIEs to an N-HIN—I don’t think will happen in the next five to seven years, especially if to be effective the network requires a minimal participation of somewhere between 70 to 80 percent of healthcare providers.
  2. Even if I am wrong, why would anyone build a national EHR network out of toothpicks?  Could they possibly have devised a more complex and costly approach?
  3. The government arrived late for the party, has only limited authority, and chose to provide cash incentives instead of direction or leadership.  They passed the responsibility of the success of the national EHR roll out to hundreds of thousands of healthcare providers.
  4. The providers are burdened by having no experience in the sector, hundreds of EHR systems from which to select, no standards, hundreds of HIEs, no viable plan, no one with singular authority, a timeline that cannot be meet, and an unwritten set of Meaningful Use requirements.

The plan sounds like something designed by Rube Goldberg.  Could it be done this way?  I do not think we will ever know.  Not necessarily because it will fail, but because I think the plan will be supplanted by a more realistic one from the private sector.

The government’s plan relies on a top-down approach—albeit with a missing top; from the government, to the providers, to the patients.

The private sector plan will come from firms like Apple, Google, and Microsoft.  It will work because it will be built from the bottom up; from the patients, to the providers, and back.  Personal Health Records (PHRs) will become EMRs.  This approach will allow them to flip their PHR users to EMR users, and will be adopted quickly by millions of customers (patients).  Their approach will have a small handful of decision makers calling the shots instead of hundreds.

This model’s other component will be driven from another direction, by large hospitals and clinics that connect to small hospitals, small practices, and ambulatory physicians via a SAAS model.  Something like this is underway today at the Cleveland Clinic using their offering, DrConnect.

I believe the approach will be refined even further as the distinction between PHRs and EMRs erodes.  Instead of requiring remote care providers to have their own mini-EHR integrated with their practice management system, they will be able to use the EHR of a large hospital.  I anticipate that they will be able to log on to the system to access their patients’ EMRs as though they were actually resident in the large hospital.  This will all but eliminate the role of Health Information Exchanges (HIEs).  It will also extend the reach of those large hospitals, and aid in the retention and recruiting of physicians.

Why is this important?  Because the federal plan, which won’t be viable for several years, is designed to use software solutions which address a current business issue.  By the time their networked solution is fully functional it will be well on its way to obsolescence.  The government is forcing the expenditure of more than a hundred billion dollars on a static offering to address a non-static issue.  Their approach will not be able to keep pace with the changes demanded by market forces.  It reminds me off building a plan to go to the moon based on where the moon was instead of where it will be.  

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942

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