Why bother with an RFP for EHR?

HIT Strategy; without one, do not take out your checkbook.  Buying what your neighbor bought, and assuming they did their homework, is not a strategy.  Buying something because the sales-rep told you they had an amazing list of client references is not a strategy.  These are shortcuts.  Have you noticed none of the EHR providers were not wearing “I love my EHR” T-shirts at the last HFMA meeting?

My rule of thumb about Google is that if I cannot find something it is because it does not exist.  There are no good EHR RFPs available on Google.  Here are a few thoughts on RFPs in case you want to use one—by the way, a good RFP makes a great addition to a vendor contract as it provides a written audit trail of what they contracted to do.

  1. The RFP should have an exhaustive list of requirements.  It is designed to separate one vendor from another, not make them all appear to be equally capable.
  2. The requirements should be addressed in a way to help a provider know what business capabilities the vendor offers, not to show how pretty their screens are.
  3. The RFP should not mirror your current business.  Your goal is not to simply automate what you do, but to do it better.  That means change.  Without change your EHR will simply be an expensive scanner.
  4. Along that same thinking, I have yet to see an RFP that mentions a single requirement about making the provider’s business more efficient or more effective.  Here’s why.  if each provider tells you their system can perform the same tasks as the other systems, you have not learned anything to cause you to pick one vendor over another.  If they say their system is efficient, make them supply you with details about the number of clicks, screen navigations, and times needed to do the ten tasks you do most often.  If they say they are twice as fast as Vendor A, make them prove it, make them prove it in your office.  Contact vendor A and find out who is telling the truth.  If they each have the same functionality, and one vendor takes half the time to perform a task, that fact should be included in your decision.  How important is 30 seconds?  How many 30-second improvements are there with each patient?  If there are four, and you see 30 patients a day, and your practice has eight doctors, you’ve either just saved a total of eight hours a day to spend more time talking to your patients, or to add patients.
  5. The other important part of the RFP that is often either overlooked or under assessed is the specialization of the EHR.  Warning: A large vendor has probably has at least one implementation covering each specialty; cardiology, orthopedics, urology.  Having one or a few clients in a specialty does not mean their product was designed to serve that market.  It may mean their clients did not do a very good job selecting tem as their vendor.
  6. That brings us to references.  A large vendor may have a thousand or more providers installed.  When you ask to check their references, which ones are they likely to parade in front of you—the ones who like their product.  The other 990 are kept in their lock-box.  Whoever they give you to talk to will be those who they feel are least likely to say something negative.
  7. How should you check references?  Most vendors will give you as a contact either a top administrator or someone in IT.  That will tell you very little.  Once you learn the name of the organization, call them.  “This is doctor so-and-so, and I am calling to speak with one of your physicians.”  Whatever this person tells you will be of much more value than having someone who not use the system tell you how much they like it.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.  There are a range of savings available if you have a good EHR strategy, pick a good system, and implement it correctly.  If you pick the wrong one, you do not need to worry about calculating your ROI—there won’t be one.

We made it to the bigs

Somehow, my social media article healthsystemcio.com made the top story of Chime Healthcare CIO SmartBrief.  http://ow.ly/2snrU

Not bad for a metaphorical tomato thrower.

Thanks for playing along.

Expert: Providers must make IT investments on their own, have new implementation strategies

Here is the link to an article in HealthcareITNews that quotes a few of the things we have been discussing on this site.


Will the ARRA money be worth the effort?

According to the just released McKinsey study, the time has come for healthcare providers to set up a lemonade stand. Why? Because their findings indicate that the incentive money available to doctors may only offset about twenty percent of the costs of implementing EHR. You can read their analysis here:


I disagree with a few of the comments in the McKinsey paper. First, the paper begins with two comments, neither of which is accurate; “Mandated upgrades to healthcare IT…”, and “New regulations require…” Lest we forget, having an EHR is optional—choosing not to have one is probably not a smart business decision, but the decision is yours, not Washington’s. Meeting Meaningful Use is also optional. Regarding Meaningful Use, I think an argument can be made that providers are better off without it—you can read my reasoning in some of my prior posts.

So, ARRA money will only meet 20% of your EHR costs. This should not be a news flash. In fact, I think that for more than half of the providers, the ARRA money will not even cover the additional costs of meeting Meaningful Use, let alone the costs of implementing the EHR.

So, if you are seeking an ROI over the total cost of the EHR, and not simply an incentive payment to cover the cost of a gross of “EHR—Yes we can” t-shirts, what can you do?

Sometimes the simple answer is the best answer. I think the answer to this question is quite simple, and its simplicity is what makes it achievable. It is not an answer being looked at by many providers. Approach your EHR implementation as though Meaningful Use did not exist.

Too many providers set the goal of their EHR as completing the implementation. “They wanted an EHR and we gave them an EHR.” This passes neither the test of being necessary or sufficient.

What are your business goals for your EHR? I suggest two:

• Be more efficient

• Be more effective

If your EHR can help you do these two things, you will meet the other goals, goals like providing better care, reducing the number of errors, saving time, and eliminating processes that add not value. Therein lays the all too elusive ROI.

There is actually another way to get money for an EHR that functions well. Once the EHR is running, there is a huge volume of digital data throughout the organization that can be aggregated. The Blues (Cross and Shield, not Belushi and Aykroyd) offer money back to healthcare providers who are able to demonstrate that they have saved the Blues money. If providers prescribe generic medications, naturally it costs the Blues less money. The Blues will share their savings with the providers. The way a provider can capture those funds is to have an EHR that is capable of reporting the generic meds it prescribes to the payor.

It is worth a phone call to your EHR vendor to find out if your system can do that. If not, the best fall-back position could be the lemonade stand.

Should you meet Meaningful Use?

Here are links to two presentations I wrote on the topic.  Please let me know what you think.



Best – Paul

Failed EHRs: Maybe it’s the jeans

There I was listening to NPR while driving home from the airport.  Their lead story was about Levis’ announcement of a new line of custom-fit jeans for women.  They developed the line after studying the shapes of more than 60,000 women—I guess that is good work if you can get it.  Levis somehow determined that 80 percent of all the women on the planet fall into three distinct categories, Curve IDs.  (Does that mean the other twenty percent fall into roughly 3,752,841 body types?)

Why did Levis go through all this effort?  Apparently 87 percent of women say they can’t find a pair of jeans that fits them.  Fifty-four percent stated they try on at least ten pairs of jeans before deciding on a pair.  I concluded from a few of the things I read on Google that for those whom believe the jeans don’t fit—must be a lot of bad jeans out there.

There are a lot of failed EHR implementations out there.  How do I know that to be true?  I studied the shapes of more than 60,000 failed EHR implementations and, guess what?  They fall into three failure categories—EHR Failure IDs—lack of due planning, lack of process change, and lack of user involvement.  I guess it’s difficult to get an EHR to fit…Kind of like finding a good pair of jeans.

Here’s my take on the matter.  Chances are that whatever EHR does not seem to fit in Provider A is fitting just fine at Provider B.  How could that be?  Same system.  Same code.  The functionality of the system has not changed in the time since it was selected.  Maybe the reason the EHR does not fit is not the fault of the EHR.

That said, there are those of you who think I may tie this discussion back to the discussion of the jeans, and write something like, “Maybe the reason the jeans do not fit is not the fault of the jeans.”  I may be dumb, but I am not that dumb.
Kind Regards,


Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, 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

EHR: when you are in a hole, stop digging

I was thinking about the time I was teaching rappelling in the Rockies during the summer between my two years of graduate school.  The camp was for high school students of varying backgrounds and their counselors.  On more than one occasion, the person on the other end of my rope would freeze and I would have to talk them down safely.

Late in the day, a thunderstorm broke quickly over the mountain, causing the counselor on my rope to panic.  No amount of talking was going to get her to move either up or down, so it was up to me to rescue her.  I may have mentioned in a prior post that my total amount of rappelling experience was probably no more than a few more hours than hers.  Nonetheless, I went off belay, and within seconds, I was shoulder to shoulder with her.

The sky blackened, and the wind howled, raining bits of rock on us.  I remember that only after I locked her harness to mine did she begin to relax.  She needed to know that she didn’t have to go this alone, and she took comfort knowing someone was willing to help her.

That episode reminds me of a story I heard about a man who fell in a hole—if you know how this turns out, don’t tell the others.  He continues to struggle but can’t find a way out.  A CFO walks by.  When the man pleads for help the CFO writes a check and drops it in the hole.  A while later the vendor walks by—I know this isn’t the real story, but it’s my blog and I’ll tell it any way I want.  Where were we?  The vendor.  The man pleads for help and the vendor pulls out the contract, reads it, circles some obscure item in the fine print, tosses it in the hole, and walks on.

I walk by and see the man in the hole.  “What are you doing there?”  I asked.

“I fell in the hole and don’t know how to get out.”

I felt sorry for the man—I’m naturally empathetic—so I hopped into the hole.  “Why did you do that?  Now we’re both stuck.”

“I’ve been down here before” I said, “And I know the way out.”

I know that’s a little sappy and self-serving.  However, before you decide it’s more comfortable to stay in the hole and hope nobody notices, why not see if there’s someone who knows the way out?

Merely appointing someone to run your EHR effort doesn’t do anything other than add a name to an org char
Kind Regards,


Paul M. Roemer
Managing Partner, 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

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

Finally, an EMR worthy of a T-shirt

Those who are regular readers know I’ve commented on more than one occasion that you never see anyone at the HIMSS convention walking around wearing a T-shirt imprinted with the slogan, “I love my EPIC”, or one stating, “McKesson forever”–unless they were talking about the implementation plan.

Today, my perspective changed–I’m going to start selling T-shirts printed with the phrase, “SRS-Soft Rocks my Docs.”

You may ask, ‘Who is SRSSoft’?  Fair question.  I could not have given an adequate response to that question prior to today.

I spent some time with them, ran their demo–I played doctor but they stopped me before I was able to insert a chest tube.  I ran the demo.  Why is that important?  It went like this.

“So, if you were a doctor, what would you do?”

With enthusiastic anticipation, I searched for my scalpel–that wasn’t what he meant.  “I’d see who my next patient is.”

“Do it.”  (Mind you, all of what I am doing happens on one screen faster than a sneeze.)  I clicked the schedule and up popped all the patient’s information.


“I’d probably want to review their chart.”

“Do it.”  (Don’t try this at home unless you are a devotee of Scrubs or other medical training.

Same screen, up pops the chart.


I click on the notes from their last visit, compare their labs by pulling up a comparison chart–new versus old; scan the X-RAY, and review their list of medications.  I did this all on one page and figured out in less time than it took you to read this.  We did the demo using two screens.  That way, if I am describing what I am seeing to the patient on their X-RAY, instead of holding the film up at the ceiling and hoping my patient understand what I am talking about, I point to it with my mouse and let the patient see it one their screen.

Tomorrow I was going to issue an EHR RFP for a small clinic.  Not any more.  No point in having them pay me to hunt down a solution when I’ve already found one.  Did I mention you can also get it with a world-class practice management system?

So what makes me think this EMR can handle a practice size of up to a few hundred doctors?  Let me try to summarize its benefits with the following.  If we separate healthcare into two arenas–the business of healthcare (the business side) and the healthcare business (the clinical side)–this EMR is so well designed, it makes the mundane business tasks almost invisible to the doctor.  Instead of spending twenty percent of each day moving charts, filling out forms, sending faxes, dictating and transcribing notes, the clinical team can either spend more time with their patients or see more patients.

Now, let me tell you about their secret sauce, part of what makes it so special.  You are going to think I’ve lost my mind when you read this.

One of the first questions most doctors are going to ask a vendor is whether or not the system is certified.  (Do not repeat this to anyone–that is why I am writing in parentheses–this system is not certified.  They have no plans to get it certified.)  Why?  Because certification is as relevant to the value of an EMR as agriculture is to bull fighting.  Certification will not improve care, will not enhance the doctor patient relationship, it will not improve the patient experience, it will not increase productivity.  Certification does one thing.  It enables you to get a check provided that your EMR implementation does not fail, provided that you pass the Meaningful Use audit, and provided you are willing to upgrade your existing system to your vendor’s new and improved certifiable version.  That certifiably makes little to no business sense.

Anyway, if you want a system that makes the stuff you hate doing go away, take a look at this.

I’ve also written about way hospital EHRs fail.  A big reason for their failure is the drop in productivity they experience, and a lack of acceptance from the doctors.  Sort of makes me wonder if they could use this tool as a front-end for those big pricey EHRs.

Me, I printing T-shirts.  PayPal accepted.

How can you solve the EHR puzzle?

Seth Godin wrote about the “Perfect Problem.”

A perfect problem, in its existing state, is unsolvable.  The way most of us handle it is to click our heels together three times and hope it goes away.  We tend to work on imperfect problems, those that can be solved.

What is the difference between the two?  The first step is the ability to understand what makes the perfect problem uniquely unfixable.  Perhaps a few examples would help.

  • The CEO imposed a deadline for the implementation of EHR.
  • CMS Meaningful Use rules do not fit with our operational strategy.
  • If we do not implement EHR by this date, we do not get the money.
  • We must meet Meaningful Use
  • We do not have enough resources from the EHR users to understand their processes.
  • We cannot continue to support these low-margin services
  • We do not have enough time to define our requirements
  • We cannot afford to spend the time required to assess our processes before we bring in the EHR vendor.

What can be done?  The easy answer is to plan for failure and do your best to minimize it.

What is another way to describe the above examples?  They are constraints.  They can all be rewritten using the word “can’t”.  Rewritten, we might say, “We had a chance to succeed, but because of X, Y, and Z we can’t.”  If that assessment is correct, you will fail, or at least under-deliver at a level that will be remembered for years to come.  That’s a legacy none of us wants.

There are a few solutions to this scenario.  You can eliminate the seemingly intractable constraints; the organization can determine to re-implement EHR and hope for different results; or they can simply find someone else to solve the perfect problem.

Experience teaches good leaders really want reasoned advice.  They want the members of the C-suite to tell them what must be done to be successful.  Good leaders do not accept “can’t”—not on the receiving end, not on the delivering end.

Some will argue, “This is the way our organization works.”  Even if that is true one must consider what is needed to make an exception to the constraint.  Would you accept this logic from a subordinate?  Of course not.  You’d demand a viable solution.  If you are being constrained in your efforts to solve a perfect problem, perhaps it is time to restate the constraints.

One of my college professors—way back when we still had inkwells on our desks—told me that if you cannot solve the problem the way it is stated, it is to your advantage to restate the problem.  Maybe the solution to the perfect problem is to restate it in a manner that makes it imperfect—solvable.

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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