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.

The most relevant EHR/EMR piece you will ever read

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, somewhere north of fifty percent of EHR implementations fails.  Your odds of success are no greater than the flip of a coin.

What if there is a tool whose use can stop the failure of most EMR system implementations?  The purpose of this post is to let you know that there is a definitive solution to help small providers, clinics, IPAs, and hospitals.

What tasks of the EMR process is the primary cause for failure?  They are the tasks that are under budgeted, neglected, haphazardly addressed, or addressed by people who have no earthly idea how to perform them.

They are the same tasks that cause systems projects in other industries to fail.  If you do these tasks wrong, nothing else you do will make any difference—do-overs cost twice as much as your first failure.

The laundry list of those tasks is:

  • Defining your requirements—for physicians, nurses, staff—all of them.
  • Putting those requirements into an operable framework.
  • Ranking the requirements in a way to enable you to pick a good solution.
    • Technology Evaluation
    • Clinical Workflow Evaluation – Analysis of current clinical workflows.
    • Gap Analysis – Comparing current technical capabilities to desired capabilities.
    • EMR/Practice Management needs evaluation
    • ARRA Incentive Estimation
    • Qualified EMR vendor list
    • Vendor competitive bid assessment
    • Hardware requirements

I recently asked a hospital CEO, “What would you have done differently regarding your EHR selection?”

Here is a paraphrase of his response.

  • Invested much more time in understanding what system we should select and how we would use it.
  • My peers assumed someone else had already done all the up-front stuff (see the above list), and they selected their system solely on what others were using.  Alternatively, they picked a system based on a golf course conversation or something they saw at a trade show.

How many of your business and clinical requirements do you need to meet for your EHR selection to have any chance of succeeding?  The best answer is “All of them”.  How many requirements are needed to define your needs; one hundred, two hundred?  Not even close.

Try this exercise.  Search Google for “CRM RFP” or “ERP RFP”.  There are hundreds of useful responses.  Now search Google for “EHR RFP” or “EMR RFP”.  There are no useful responses.  (If you cannot find something on Google, it often means it does not exist.)  The healthcare industry is usually very good at sharing useful information.

I’ve been coaching executives for thirty years about how to get these tasks right.  In doing so, I developed something that made the software selection task winnable.  (This piece is not a Tony Robbins narrative, it is not about me; I am not selling anything.)

Here is what I did.  I built a Request for Proposal (RFP) for CRM and ERP.  I started with 1,000 requirements for each.  I license it to clients and work with them to edit it, to add new requirements, to delete requirements that did not apply to their organization.  They would use the result to select the application best suited to their firm.

This process never failed to benefit my clients.  I would take whatever new requirements they created and add them to my RFP.  My RFP became more robust.  Each time the RFP was issued I collected the responses from each of the vendors and built a database of what their applications could deliver.  I now have a few thousand functional and technical requirements, and up to date responses on what the applications vendors could deliver.

Why did I build this RFP?  The answer is simple.  I needed to create a reason for a firm to hire my firm instead of hiring one of the name-brand multi-national consulting firms.  The RFP served as a cost differentiator.  Instead of spending a million dollars to hire a name-brand firm to develop something from scratch, they could be months ahead, and at a lower cost by using a proven tool.

Therefore, here’s my point.  There is a firm that built a tool similar to mine, a tool to add to the probability of you selecting the best EMR/EHR for your firm.  It will not guarantee your success, but it will significantly reduce the chances of failure.

Clearly, even if you select the right system there are still many opportunities to fail.  The converse is that if you select the wrong EHR, it will fail.  That statement is not an opinion; it is a fact.

I’ve arranged a Go-to-meeting conference call with the CEO of that firm for the week of July 26.  This organization has built what I described; an RFP with more than a thousand unique requirements, an automated way to analyze the vendor responses, and a way to match your prioritized requirements to a short list of EHR vendors.  It will not be a sales pitch.  It is designed to be a question and answer session.  Who should participate?

  • Smaller providers whose only other option is to hire the person who set up their web site to manage their EMR selection
  • IPAs whose members are looking for advice about selecting a system to meet their specialization
  • Hospitals struggling with finding a defensible position for their selection.

If you are involved in the selection of an EMR/EHR, you should find an hour to assess the tool.  If you do not have the resources to make use of the tool, they do.  They can help you help yourselves.  I promise you, this will be the best use of sixty minutes you have had in a long time.  If you know someone who might benefit from this session, please forward this and have them contact me.  If you could benefit, simply respond to me.

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

EHR 2 a-days

It’s hot and muggy; a hazy pall seems to levitate before me.  We call it Pennsylvania in summer.  Chest pain yesterday, nitro in gym bag.  Intervals today.  I hate running intervals as much now as I did in high school, but they’re better for the heart than just running distance.  Twenty-four 110’s.  Did I mention it was hot?

I am on the high school track.  The football team is/are—where are all the English majors when you need them—going through their drills.  Running and thinking.  That’s a good combination for me.  After two laps I’m glistening, after three I’m soaked through.  That’s when it hits me.

Practice.  Offensive and defensive drills.  Blocking and tackling.  Run the option.  Block the punt.  Come back tomorrow and do it again.  Do it until you get it right.  Do it until you can get it right in the game.  Pretty neat idea all this practicing.

Know where this is headed?  See, that wasn’t too difficult—remember, the desk is hard, the task is difficult. (My one takeaway from eighth grade English.)  Who doesn’t get to practice, doesn’t even have a coach?  Bingo, the EHR Project Management Executive.  It would be better if they did.  Imagine this conversation:

“Sorry Charlie, hit the showers.”

“Why Coach?”

“Your change management isn’t working for you today.  You’re leaving processes untouched.”

“It was the docs’ fault.  They just toy with me.  Treat me like a wonk and tell IT jokes behind my back.”

“Your game plan is coming apart.”

“But I didn’t get to practice, we didn’t even get to warm up.  I’ll do better next time.”

“Which next time is that Charlie?  With whose money?  These are The Bigs, Charlie.  Only grownups play here.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to send you back down to Single A.”

“Private practice.?”

“Sorry Charlie”—sounds like the tuna commercial.

You’ve got one shot at this, no warmups, no practices; there are no do-overs, and you are gambling millions.  DIRT-FIT  Do It Right The FIrst Time

saintPaul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

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

The Easy Button

In Woody Allen’s movie Bananas, the dictator of the small country San Marcos declares that, “All the children under 16 years old are now 16 years old.” That was easy.

In the movie in my head, “The EHRs of Madison County,” I run customer service for a EHR vendor.  Customers kept calling to complain. I declared, “Tell the all the customers nothing’s wrong with our products.”

That was easy. Does that work for your implementation?

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 User’s Role in EHR–a PowerPoint presentation

This link will take you to a slideshare,net presentation that defines how healthcare providers can take control of the EHR project.  I welcome your comments.


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

Published on HealthSystemCIO.com–vendor darts

Below is the full article I submitted to HealthsystemCIO.com, Anthony Guerra’s outstanding site for healthcare leaders.  As always, I am flattered that he finds my contributions worthwhile.

Is there a best Electronic Health Records system? Perhaps Cerner, EPIC, GE, or McKesson?  For those who have followed my writing, you’re probably thinking my answer is “None of the above.”

I’ll do one better, and I write this with the utmost sincerity—it does not really matter which vendor you select.  As the EHR vendors reading this pull themselves off the floor, permit me to explain why.  Researching the question this is very little information to support the notion that any of the major hospital EHR systems quantitatively stands out from the others.

There are a few sites that offer user assessments across a range of functions, but those have at most three opinions—not enough to consider statically significant.  There are plenty of EHR scorecards and comparison tools, just not many scores.  The vendors’ sites do a poor job of differentiating themselves from their competitors.  Vendors use superlatives and qualifiers in an attempt to differentiate themselves.  When one considers the basic functions that make an EHR an EHR, the top vendors all have them.  No vendor highlights major clinical or business problems that their solution solves that another vendor does not solve.  Instead, they state they do something better, easier, more flexibly—none of which can be measured by prospective clients.

Imagine, if you were an EHR vendor, and you knew that your product did things to benefit a hospital better than the other vendors, wouldn’t you have an independent competitive assessment, some sort of “Consumer Report” chart and evidence to support why you are better?  Of course you would.  You would highlight your superlatives.  I have not seen one that would be very helpful.  The only information I found that might be worth a read comes from Klas Research, http://www.klasresearch.com/.  However, the names of the modules rated are vendor specific, and none of the vendors use the same names.  It will give you a feel for how a small sample rated features within a given vendor, but there is no data to suggest how those ratings compare among vendors.

Even if there was a good comparison, the other thing to learn from this is all the areas that aren’t listed imply that the vendor is either no better or perhaps worse than the competition.  Cream rises to the top—we are left to choose among brands of milk.

One vendor may have a better medical dictionary than another, yet that same vendor will lack rigor in decision support.  No single vendor seems to have their customers doing back flips in their testimonials.  Some score high in their ability to deliver a complete inpatient solution and fail in their ability to integrate with other vendors.  Others hurt themselves during the implementation, user support, response time, and the amount of navigation required to input data.  Some EHR vendors posit their systems as being better at meeting Meaningful Use or passing all of the Certification requirements.  Ask them to name a single installed client for which they have met these.

Why doesn’t matter which vendor a hospital selects?  The reasoning holds not because all hospitals are the same, rather, it holds because were one to perform a very detailed comparison of the leading EHR vendors with a Request for Proposal (RFP), they would prove to be quite similar.  You might find significant separation if you only compared ten functional requirements.  You would expect to find less separation by comparing several hundred, and quite a similarity if you compare a thousand or more requirements.  The more you look, the more they seem the same.

Although the vendors will differ with respect to individual requirements, when evaluated on their entire offering across a broad range of requirements I would expect each to score within one standard deviation of the other.

Reason 2.  It is possible to find hospitals who will give outstanding references for each of the leading vendors.  It is equally possible to find users in hospitals who have implemented one of the “leading” vendors’ systems who will readily tell you that the purchasing the system is the worst business decision they ever seen.  More to the point, every vendor A has probably had at least one of its implementations uprooted and replaced by vendors B, C, or D.  The same can be said for vendors B, C, and D.

If this is a fair assessment, what accounts for the difference?  How can we account for why one hospital loves a given EHR system and another one hates the same system?  Chances are they both needed about the same solution.  Chances are they received about the same solution.

Here’s the difference.  The hospital who thinks they made a good choice:

  • Had a detailed strategy and implementation plan
  • Paid as much or more attention to process alignment, change management, and training as they did to the implementation
  • Managed the vendor instead of being managed by the vendor.

Simply put—the problem is not the EHR system.

One other thought.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain—the Great Oz.”  Do not put your scarce capital into a solution just because it offers or promises either Certification or Meaningful Use.  Yes, there is much discussion about both of these.  The industry stops and holds its collective breath each time a new set of stone tablets are brought forth from the ONC or CMS.  You can meet Meaningful Use with a Certified system and still wind up with a system the users hate and that does not support your business model.

Here is something else I cannot explain.  For those hospitals replacing a one hundred million dollar EHR with another hundred million dollar EHR, why do they think the second system will be any better?  If the systems are not materially different, the only way to get a different result is by changing behavior, not changing systems.  Why make the same mistake twice?  What could be so wrong with the first implementation that an expenditure of far less than another hundred million could not solve?

What is the cost of EHR 2.0 not working?

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

Are you “The Hospital of Perpetual Implementations?”

“There is no use trying,” said Alice;
“one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.
“When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.
Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as
six impossible things before breakfast.”

There are a number of people who would have you believe impossible things.  I dare say some already have.  Such as?

“My EHR is certifiable.”

“They told me it will pass meaningful use.”

“We’re not responsible for Interoperability; that happens at the Rhio.”

“It doesn’t matter what comes out of the reform effort, this EHR will handle it.”

“We don’t have to worry about our workflow, this system has its own.”

Sometimes it’s best not to follow the crowd—scores of like-thinking individuals following the EHR direction they’ve been given by vendors and Washington.  Why did you select that package—because somebody at The Hospital of Perpetual Implementations did?

There is merit in asking, is your organization guilty of drinking the Kool Aid?  Please don’t mistake my purpose in writing.  There are many benefits available to those who implement an EHR.  My point is is that there will be many more benefits to those who select the right system, to those who know what business problems they expect to address, to those who eliminate redundant business functions, and those who implement proper change management controls.

Overcoming competency

Which is more difficult—overcoming competency or incompetency, or is this another example of rhetorical nonsense? Experience has taught me that some firms are ambidextrous when it comes to overcoming competency—they can overcome being competent with either hand or with both hands tied behind their back.

Let’s see. Competency without value is what? I think that’s incompetency. That’s what I call the Competency Gap—not even knowing that what’s being done isn’t delivering the value. The Competency Trap is the silly belief that trying harder and implementing technology somehow improves the problem. It’s sort of like, “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re making really good time.”

I’ll go out on a limb and guess there was a time in your hospital or clinic when you didn’t have to overcome the competency of those who claimed that EHR would make everything better, those who thought you needed help, thought they knew how to help, those who backed up the truck, dumped the EHR technology at your doorstep, and started you down healthcare’s Bataan death march.

Some EHR initiatives make me more paranoid than I already am.  How is it working out for you?  Are the clipboardists checking your every move to see how well the EHR is performing?  If in the midst of their competency they did not redesign all the processes affected by EHR, it is probably not working too well. It seems a little like planning a daisy and pulling it up every hour to check the roots and see how well it’s growing.

You tell me. Are the doctors and staff any happier? More satisfied? Has the EHR worked, has it improved productivity, or has it simply given the appearance of looking high-tech?  My guess is that everyone would be a lot more successful if people would leave the daisies alone.  

“Incompetency begets incompetency. The last thing a guy who isn’t sure of himself wants is a guy backing him up who is sure of himself.”

Lee Iacocca

A scathing rebuke of EHR

I encourage anyone with an EHR or thinking of getting an EHR to read this.  I do not think it is a unique story.

I recently spent an hour with my cardiologist.  He is employed by a very large teaching hospital.  After checking my vitals, listening to my heart, and asking a few questions, he moved from the exam table to the keyboard—where he remained.


The focus of our conversation quickly moved away from me and onto him—more accurately to his Hospital’s three-year-old EHR system.  I learned quickly from him that calling it a system was somewhat optimistic.

Here is what I learned from him about the hospital’s EHR:

  • It is possible to take your most expensive and most trained resource away from what they do and have them spend forty-five minutes of the hour performing a clerical task—data entry.
  • Productivity is down at least thirty percent.
  • He called EHR the “Silent intruder in the room.”
  • “What are the benefits?” I asked.  “It does a great job collecting data for those who may want to use it against us in a law suit.”
  • “What about interoperability?”  “Not in my lifetime,” he replied.
  • “It makes everyone’s job easier but mine and the nurses.”
  • “Did anyone speak to you about what you needed from an EHR?”  He is still laughing.
  • He needed his nurse to help him schedule my next appointment.
  • “How would you react if I asked if what the hospital implemented was nothing more than a hundred million dollar scanner?”  “I would not disagree with that assessment.”

The good news is that he is arranging a meeting for me with the hospital’s CEO to see what I can do to help.

My take?  I was the other intruder in the room.  

AN EHR introspective–my cardiologist and me

I apologize for the formatting, it got away from me and I could not fix it

The doc did not smile
Nor did I on that day.
So we sat in his office
Wondering each what to say
It was me and my Doctor.
We sat there, we two.
And he said, “How I wish
You had something to do!”

“You drove all this way                                                                                                                                                                                           Your one visit a year.
You sit there like a plant                                                                                                                                                                                            This must seem quite queer.”

So all we could do was to
Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit!
And we did not like it.
Not one little bit.

And then
something went WHIRR!
How that whirr made us stir!

We looked
Then we saw her step in through the door
We looked
And we saw her
And we waited for more
And Nurse said to us,
“Why do you sit there like that?
I know this is clerical
You don’t know how to type.
But they said this would work
That it wasn’t just hype.”

The vendor’s fibs fooled the Nurse,                                                                                                                                                                       The doc patted her head,                                                                                                                                                                                             “It isn’t your fault                                                                                                                                                                                                           We have all been mislead”

“I know some good games we could play,”
Said the Nurse.
“I know some new tricks,”
Said the Nurse as she stewed.
“A lot of good tricks.
I will show them to you.
Your Doctor
Will not mind at all if I do.”

Then Doctor and I
Did not know what to say.
My doctor was out of ideas
For this day.

“Have no fear!” said the Nurse.
“I will not let you fail.
For you see, here’s a pen                                                                                                                                                                                           And over here is some mail

With a pen in my hand!
I can write on this part                                                                                                                                                                                               And before anyone knows it                                                                                                                                                                                     This will look like your chart.

“Look at me!
Look at me now!” said the Nurse.
My doc was still typing                                                                                                                                                                                                     And he uttered a curse,

“We have had this dumb system                                                                                                                                                                                    We have had it three years                                                                                                                                                                                       And I like it less now                                                                                                                                                                                                         It still brings me to tears”

“And look,” said the Nurse!
“Your EKG is taped to the wall!
But that is not all!
Oh, no.
That is not all…”

“Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
Charting is a lost art                                                                                                                                                                                                     And you have to know how.
I can take your B P
The doc will listen to your heart!
And between the two of us                                                                                                                                                                                       We’ll annotate your chart.”

And I sat on the bed.
My shirt askew on the chair                                                                                                                                                                                             I asked, “Do I like this?”
“Oh, like you really care.”
“This is not a good deal,”
Is what I said to my doc.
“I came here to see you                                                                                                                                                                                               Not to stare at the clock.”

“You sit there and type                                                                                                                                                                                                      But you haven’t a clue                                                                                                                                                                                                 This is not the same work                                                                                                                                                                                                As you used to do.”

“There were times when I’d come here                                                                                                                                                                   And you’d take off your hat,                                                                                                                                                                                      Times when I’d come here                                                                                                                                                                                       And we’d sit here and chat”

“We’d talk how I feel                                                                                                                                                                                                         And things that would matter                                                                                                                                                                                    But now your sit there and type                                                                                                                                                                                  And I hear the keys clatter”

“You’d ask of my meds                                                                                                                                                                                               And inquire of my health                                                                                                                                                                                           And now with this system                                                                                                                                                                                             The conversation’s gone stealth.”

“I must use the system.
We’ve paid quite a lot!”
Even though I don’t care                                                                                                                                                                                               It can sit there and rot.”
“It will NOT go away.
I cannot make it work!
Did not ask what I wanted
Makes me look like a jerk.”

And my doc he ran out.
And, then, fast as a fox,
My doc in his Cole Haans
Came back in with a box.

A big EHR box.
And I gave it a look                                                                                                                                                                                                              “Now along with this box,
All we got was this book.”

Then he stood on his desk
And with a tip of his shoe                                                                                                                                                                                               “This time” he said                                                                                                                                                                                                           “I have something to do.”

“My productivity’s down,                                                                                                                                                                                     Thirty percent by my count,                                                                                                                                                                                         And the attributes of this system                                                                                                                                                                         They want me to flount.”

“It’s only good for two things
neither one is for me                                                                                                                                                                                                        It helps payors and auditors                                                                                                                                                                                       So to them it seems free.”

“They can get all our data                                                                                                                                                                                                  And use it to sue                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Yet for me it is useless                                                                                                                                                                                                       I have not a clue.”

“Oh dear!” said the Nurse,                                                                                                                                                                                                 I call this game…Make EHR Fly,
If I kick hard enough,                                                                                                                                                                                                      It will go to the sky.”

“You cannot play that game...
Oh dear.
What a shame!
What a shame!
What a shame!”

Then he shut off the System
Back in the box with the hook.
And the Nurse went away
With a sad kind of look.

“That is good,” said the doc.
“It has gone away. Yes.
But my boss will come in.
He will find this big mess!”
“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot clean it up.
There is no way at all!”

The CIO came in
And he said to us two,
“Did you have any fun?
Tell me. What did you do?”

And doctor and I did not know
What to say.
Should we tell him
The things that we did here today?

Should we tell him about it?
Now, what SHOULD we do?
What would YOU do
If your CIO asked YOU?