How’s the national EHR roll-out going?

I just fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. But lest I get ahead of myself, let us begin at the beginning. It started with homework–not mine–theirs. Among the three children of which I had oversight; coloring, spelling, reading, and exponents. How do parents without a math degree help their children with sixth-grade math?

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” Hedley Lamar (Blazing Saddles). Unfortunately, mine, as I was soon to learn was merely flooded. Homework, answering the phone, running baths, drying hair, stories, prayers. The quality of my efforts seemed to be inversely proportional to the number of efforts undertaken. Eight-thirty–all three children tucked into bed.

Eight-thirty-one. The eleven-year-old enters the room complaining about his skinned knee. Without a moment’s hesitation, Super Dad springs into action, returning moments later with a band aid and a tube of salve. Thirty seconds later I was beaming–problem solved. At which point he asked me why I put Orajel on his cut. My wife gave me one of her patented “I told you so” smiles, and from the corner of my eye, I happened to see my last viable neuron scamper across the floor.

One must tread carefully as one toys with the upper limits of the Peter Principle. There seems to be another postulate overlooked in the Principia Mathematica, which states that the number of spectators will grow exponentially as one approaches their limit of ineptitude.

Another frequently missed postulate is that committees are capable of accelerating the time required to reach their individual ineptitude limit. They circumvent the planning process to get quickly to doing, forgetting to ask if what they are doing will work. They then compound the problem by ignoring questions of feasibility, questions for which the committee is even less interested in answering. If we were discussing particle theory we would be describing a cataclysmic chain reaction, the breakdown of all matter. Here we are merely describing the breakdown of a national EHR roll out.

What is your point?  Fair question.  How will we get EHR to work?  I know “Duh” is not considered a term of art in any profession, however, it is exactly the word needed.  It appears they  are deciding that this—“this” being the current plan that will enable point-to-point connection of an individual record—will not work, and 2014 may be in jeopardy—not the actual year, interoperability.  Thanks for riding along with us, now return your seat back and tray table to their upright and most uncomfortable position.

Even as those who are they throw away their membership in the flat earth society, those same they’s continue to press forward in Lemming-lock-step as though nothing is wrong.

It is a failed plan.  It can’t be tweaked.  We can’t simply revisit RHIOs and HIEs.  We have reached the do-over moment, not necessarily at the provider level, although marching along without standards will cause a great deal of rework for healthcare providers.  Having reached that moment, let us do something.  Focusing on certification, ARRA, and meaningful use will prove to be nothing more than a smoke screen.

The functionality of most installed EHRs ends at the front door.  We have been discussing that point for a few months.  When you reach the fork in the road, take it.  Each dollar spent from this moment forth going down the wrong EHR tine will cost two dollars to overcome.  To those providers who are implementing EHR I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you stop and reconsider your approach.

Kind Regards,

Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

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Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

The Swarm theory of failure

According to National Geographic, a single ant or bee isn’t smart, but their colonies are. The study of swarm intelligence is providing insights that can help humans manage complex systems. The ability of animal groups—such as this flock of starlings—to shift shape as one, even when they have no leader, reflects the genius of collective behavior—something scientists are now tapping to solve human problems.  Two monumental achievements happened this week; someone from MIT developed a mathematical model that mimics the seemingly random behavior of a flight of starlings, and I reached the halfway point in counting backwards from infinity–the number–infinity/2.

Swarm theory. The wisdom of crowds. Contrast that with the ignorance of many to listen to those crowds. In the eighties it took Coca-Cola many months before they heard what the crowd was saying about New Coke. Where does healthcare EHR fit with all of this? I’ll argue that the authors of the public option felt that wisdom.  If you remember the movie Network, towards the end of the movie the anchorman–in this case it was a man, not an anchor person–besides, in the eighties, nobody felt the need it add he/she or it as some morphed politically correct collection of pronouns.  Whoops, I digress.  Where were we?  Oh yes, the anchor-person.  He/she or it went to the window and exhorted everyone to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  Pretty soon, his entire audience had followed his lead.

So, starting today, I begin my search for starlings.  A group whose collective wisdom may be able to help shape the healthcare EHR debate.  The requirements for membership is a willingness to leave the path shaped by so few and trodden by so many, to come to a fork in the road and take it. Fly in a new flock.  A flock that says before we get five years down the road and discover that we have created such an unbelievable mess that not only can we not use it, but that we have to write-off the entire effort and redo it, let us at least evaluate whether a strategic change is warranted.  The mess does not lie at the provider level.  It lies in the belief that hundreds of sets of different standards can be married to hundreds of different applications, and then to hundreds of different Rhios.

Where are the starlings headed?  Great question, as it is not sufficient simply to say, “you’re going the wrong way”.  I will write about some of my ideas on that later today.  Please share yours.

Now, when somebody asks you why you strayed from the pack, it would be good to offer a reasoned response.  It’s important to be able to stay on message.  Reform couldn’t do that and look where it is. Here’s a bullet points you can write on a little card, print, laminate, and keep in your wallet if you are challenged.

  • Different standards
  • Different vendors
  • Different Rhios
  • No EHR Czar

Different Standards + Different Vendors + Different Rhios + No Decider = Failure

You know this, I know this.

To know whether your ready to fly in a new direction, ask yourself this question.  Do you believe that under the present framework you will be able to walk into any ER in the country and know with certainty that they can quickly and accurately retrieve all the medical information they need about you?  If you do, keep drinking the Kool Aid.  If you are a starling, come fly with us and get the word out.  Now return your seat backs and tray tables to their upright and most uncomfortable positions.

saint Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

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Contact me: Google Talk/paulroemer Skype/paulroemer Google Wave/paulroemer

The RHIO Answer

It may be helpful as you read this to use your highlighter on the screen to accentuate the important parts or some white-out for the parts you don’t favor.

Do you ever kick an idea around, speaking about it, writing about it, until at some point you finally capture it in a way that makes sense to you?  That’s how I reason things through.  I write like I’m talking aloud and sometimes it lands in my lap.

That just happened to me as I was trying to get my arms around what it is about the concept of the RHIOs that has been bothering me.  Bear with me.  I was on LinkedIn emailing someone using the ‘send a message’ feature.  I was returning an email which she was returning which I had initiated.  The process works like this.  I get an email from LinkedIn telling me I have a message.  I go to LinkedInm read the message and send a reply via LinkedIn.  She receives an email indicating she has a message, goes to LinkedIn, and so forth and so on.

Do you see it?  In this scenario, what is the added value provided by LinkedIn?  Nothing.  It’s all hat and no cowboy.  LinkedIn serves simply as a pass through, contributing nothing.  I wrote in my message to her, “Send me your email address, I feel like I’m in my own RHIO.”

When is a RHIO not aRHIO?  When there’s no need for it.  Is there any functionality intended for the hundreds of RHIOs which couldn’t be dealt with at the N-HIN?  What do you think?

What should you think about HIEs

Part of the problem I have with HIEs is similar to the old Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef.” Only in this case the question becomes, “Where’s the value add?”

There are hundreds of them, HIEs that is. Each one developed autonomously. Some are built within a hospital which has more than one EHR. Others are being built to serve among a hospital group, and others are geographical. Which of the HIEs is being built by a team of people who have ever built one? To my knowledge, none.

Hundreds of HIEs being built independently from one another by people who’ve never before built an HIE. Hundreds being built to transport the electronic medical records of providers using a few hundred different EHRs, each EHR operating with different standards, none of which benefits from interacting with another.

What is the purpose of the HIE? It reminds me of this children’s’ icebreaker game where the children sit in a circle. The first child starts by whispering a phrase into the ear of the person sitting next to her. She can only say the phrase once. The child she whispers it to must then whisper it to the child next to her. This continues until it goes all the way around the circle. Usually, by the time the phrase gets back around to the original person, it is completely different.

Like shuffling an EMR from one place to the next through a series of intermediaries. What does it look like when it comes out the back end?

After all, what is the purpose of the HIE? It should act like a handoff, like a mini N-HIN. It does not modify the data, at least not intentionally. If there is a more complex way to get a person’s health record from point A to point B, I have not seen it. HIEs are healthcare’s Rube Goldberg mechanism.

I think that when all is said and done, HIEs will have faded away. Until then providers should keep their focus on developing an EHR which actually serves their business model.

Interoperability-this is the problem

How does one depict the complexity of the mess being presented as the national roll out plan of electronic health records (EHR) via the national health information network (N-HIN) using Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) designed by Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs), with the help of regional extension centers (RECs) without Standards (Standards) and with N too many vendors?

Class?  Ideas?  Class?

If this looks dumb, undo-able, unimplementable, uninteroperable–it’s because it is.  your vision is fine.

Remember the idea behind all this is to get your health record from point A to point B, any point B.  It’s that little word ‘any’ that turns the problem into a bit of a bugger.

Find yourself in the picture below, pic a dot, any dot (Point A).  Now, find your doctor, any doctor (Point B).  Now figure out how to get from A to B–it’s okay to use a pen on your monitor the help plot your course.   That was difficult. Now do it for every patient and every doctor in the country.

Now, do you really think the DC RHIO-NHIN plan will work?  If EHR were a Disney park, who’s playing the Mouse?

Is EHR as difficult as everyone says it is?

Yes, and then some.  EHR is at the beginning of a national rollout .
• Studies suggest that 200,000 healthcare IT professionals are needed for EHR. The total number it healthcare IT professionals today is 100,000
• It’s not known which EHRs qualify for incentives under ARRA
• Less than 8% of non-VA hospitals have EHR in even a single department (this does not mean these pass meaningful use test)
• Only 1.5% have them in all departments
• Studies state that 1/3 to 2/3’s of implementations fail
• Implementation by small practices has been almost non-existent
• Small and individual practices will need a full service “wrap around” solution encompassing the following services:
o Project management
o Selection
o Implementation
o Adapting work flows
o Training
o Support
• Major reasons for not doing EHR are
o Up-front costs
o Lack of IT skills
o Ongoing support costs
• Hospitals and large providers usually use their own IT departments for EHR, none of which has ever implemented EHR. Hence for the most important project undertaken by a provider, they elect to do it with people with no experience, relying on the vendor
• Where will the EHR vendors find the IT expertise and project management resources to staff a national roll out?