Is the C-suite fiddling while EHR burns?

There is an adage in the military—different spanks for different ranks.  If speaks to a double standard, the less egregious their punishment for similar offenses, similar misjudgments.

We see that every day in business, and we see it a lot in healthcare, especially in hospitals.  Physicians are held accountable for medical errors.  Hospitals pay millions for malpractice insurance knowing that mistakes will be made and people will be held accountable for their mistakes.

But what about on the business side?  Who is held accountable for business mistakes?  An acquisition that failed to deliver.  An expensive new service offering that bled the company dry.  A decline in the number of patients. The failure of a major IT initiative to deliver results.

Take EHR.  Some of you are saying, “Yes, please take it.”

  • Around sixty percent of the large EHR projects have failed in one respect or another
  • Most will not receive ARRA incentives
  • A large number of hospitals are on their second implementation of EHR
  • Some have productivity losses of thirty percent

Who is going to be fired for the two hundred dollar misstep?  The board?  Never.  The CEO—no.  The COO or CFO?  Unlikely.  The CIO?  That is the safe bet.

Did the CIO authorize the expenditure?  Nope.  Did the CIO get all the dollars needed to be successful, all the user support?  Unlikely.

In most cases the CIO has all of the responsibility and only some of the authority.  There are a handful of people in each organization tasked with the oversight of the large project.  They are the ones who should be asking the right questions, the ones who should be demanding answers.

A failed project, a failed strategy should not come as a surprise.  The only people who will be wearing EHR 2.0 T-shirts are those who authorized EHR 1.0.  How come these individuals are not accountable?

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

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EHR: there’s a difference between finished and done


The phone rang last fall. It was the school nurse asking me if I would come pick up my seven year-old son. When I inquired as to the reason she informed me he exhibited the classic symptoms of the crud; tummy-ache, non-responsive, crying. She’s the nurse, so without better information, who was I to question her diagnosis?

We got into the car and the tears started to come again. “Do you feel like you’re going to be sick?” I asked as I looked at the leather upholstery. He didn’t answer me other than to whimper. He didn’t seem sick at breakfast. I remembered that he was crying last night, but that had nothing to do with his stomach. At first I thought it was related to the thunder. Nope. He was hugging his favorite dog, a five year-old Bichon.

We had learned a few weeks prior that the Bichon is ill and won’t ever be a six year-old Bichon. The person having the most difficulty with it is my youngest. I asked him if that was why he was crying in class and he confirmed that it was. Dads know everything, at least some times.

So, here’s the deal. The school nurse had done all the right things to diagnose my son’s problem, but she stopped short of determining what was wrong. Let’s try a more relevant situation from the perspective of an EHR implementation.  The word implementation sort of suggests that when you reach the point of having implemented that there’s nothing left to do.

There’s finished and then there’s complete.  Finished doesn’t mean the task is over until the system does what it was supposed to do.  If you didn’t do a good job of defining it up front you may never know the breadth of what was intended for the EHR.  In the case of EHR, done includes change management, work flow engineering, training, and user acceptance.
The point is, if it looks like you finished the EHR implementation, double check that you have before you take a bow. Technology alone will not an EHR implementation make, it is simply a part of the overall task.


EHR: How do you avoid failing?


I may have mentioned that I’m a runner. In high school and college I’d run anytime, anywhere. I ran cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, and AAU– kept my hair tied back in a ponytail—I miss the hair.

Those were the days. I was the captain of the cross-country team during my senior year. Behind the school was a long series of hills we used for training, and they were blocked from the coach’s view. I remember that one day I told the team it was okay to walk because we were out of the coach’s sight. I also remember when he took me aside after practice and said he didn’t think it was a good idea for the captain to tell the guys they could walk. He said he couldn’t see me but he sure could hear me. I also remember the time I had my mom dropped me off about half mile away from my girlfriend’s house so I could run, making it look like I ran the entire six miles.

My friends and I ran a few 50 mile races and a couple of marathons. But the strangest race we ever ran was one that lasted 24 hours. The event was a 24 hour mile relay. More than a dozen teams entered the event. Our team had seven runners. The idea behind the race was that each person would run around the track four times with a baton and then hand the baton to the next member of his team. If one member of the team was too tired to take his turn, that team was disqualified. The race started early on a Saturday morning. At the end of 24 hours, my team had run 234 miles. We were proud of what we had done. We were even prouder when we saw the article printed in our local paper the following week that we had set a world record for a seven-man team in a 24-hour relay.

I’d like to believe that the world record had something to do with the fact that we were a great group of runners. However, as I look back on it I tend to believe that the world record had more to do with the obscurity of the event than with the capability of the runners. I don’t know if that same event had been run before we ran it or was ever run afterwards. Who knows, we may still hold the record. I guess what I learned from that event, is that it is easier to be viewed as being excellent at something that isn’t done very often.  Obscure or not, it was a one-time event for us.

Doing something once makes it difficult if not impossible to prepare for the gotchas that lay in wait.  There are healthcare providers who are on their second and third attempt at implementing their electronic health records system (EHR).  This is not the type of event where practice makes perfect, far from it.  If you don’t get it right the first time, you’ve probably already laid waste to your most important stakeholders, the users.  They are difficult enough to get on board the first time.  The second time it becomes much more of a fool me once shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you.

How do you avoid second and third attempts of something as difficult as a full-blown EHR?  For some providers, it’s even worse in that they probably have multiple dissimilar instances of EHR already in place in parts of the hospital, instances that will have to be integrated to the corporate platform.  If you let the clinical side run the project, you run the risk of losing the IT side.  If you let the IT side run the project, you run the risk of losing the clinical side.

Who do you trust to run what could amount to a few hundred million dollar project, bring out the best skills of the team members, and make sure the vendor is operating in your best interest?  It’s a difficult question to answer.  The good news is that if you get it wrong you probably won’t have to worry about doing it over, that will probably be your one-time event.


What can be learned from a predecessor

advice1With all the efforts underway with EHR, it’s only natural that some efforts will have problems, and those leading the efforts may be replaced.

If you’re the new EHR lead, how do you know what to do tomorrow?  You walk in to your new office; a withered Ficus tree is leaning awkwardly against the far wall, vestiges of a spider’s web dangle from a dead leaf.

You place your yellowed coffee mug on the worn desk, change out of your sneakers, and after rubbing your feet, slip on a pair of black Bruno Magli pumps.  The feel of the supple leather relaxes you.

You spot the three envelopes that are stacked neatly on the credenza.  A hand-written note on Crane stationary reads, “If there is an emergency, open the first envelope”.  You place the three envelops in your YSL attaché case, and go about trying to salvage the implementation. 

Three weeks pass.  Things are not going well.  You are summoned to meet with the hospital’s COO.  After checking your makeup, you retrieve the first envelope and read it.  “Blame me,” it reads.  You were going to do that anyway.

Two more months.  The vendor has become a sepsis in the lifeblood of the organization—pretty good word for a math major.  You are summoned to meet with the CEO.  After checking your makeup, you bang you first on your desk, tipping over your coffee, and spilling it all over your Dolce & Gabbana suit.  You don’t have time to change.  You retrieve the second envelope and read it.  “Blame the budget,” it reads.  You were going to do that anyway.

Six months.  Deadlines missed.  Staff quit.  Vendor staff doubles.  Vendor output cut by half.

You are summoned before the board.  You no long check your makeup—you haven’t worn makeup since the day you publically went mano y mano with the head of the cardiology department inside the surgical theater, demanding to see his updated work flows.  You still haven’t been able to get the blood off of your Hermès scarf that he used as a towel.  You are dressed in a pair of faded jeans and your son’s black AC/DC T-shirt, the one with the skull on the back.  You don’t care.

As you reach in the desk drawer for the third envelope, you realize you haven’t had a manicure in four months.  You feel like a disenfranchised U.S Postal employee.  You have become the poster child for the human genome project run amuck.  Somebody is going to lose their DNA today.

You open the third envelope.  “Prepare three envelopes,” it reads.  You were going to do that anyway.

My Best – Paul

Austin Powers