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IBM acquiring Epic or Cerner? I dunno

The “unconfirmed rumor of a huge acquisition” that HIStalk (a.k.a. the National Inquirer of health IT) tweeted about on Wednesday apparently is that IBM was going to acquire Epic Systems. Mr. HIStalk on Thursday expressed some reservations.

 

 

So am I. The announcement was supposed to happen Friday morning, which is right now (10 am EDT as I write this). IBM is in the Eastern time zone and Epic is in the Central time zone; for that matter, Cerner also is on Central time, and when you think “huge” in health IT, really only Epic and Cerner come to mind. If there were to be an announcement not involving anyone on the west coast, it probably would have happened already.

In any case, I’m told that IBM has been rather quiet with analysts of late. I actually haven’t been able to find the ages of Epic honchos Judy Faulkner and Carl Dvorak, but they’ve been at this for some 35 years. Cerner CEO Neal Patterson is 65 and has an ownership interest in the Sporting KC soccer team. He’s also been in the health IT business for 35 years.You’d think any or all of the three have to be thinking of retirement, or, in Patterson’s case, moving on to the hobby of running a pro sports franchise. Except that Faulkner seems to love what she does.

Cerner’s stock price has dipped a bit in the last couple of months, but it has risen by 259 percent in the past five years, according to Yahoo! Finance. It still seems as if the health IT business has plenty of room to grow, especially among the biggest players, who promise to be the biggest beneficiaries of consolidation on the lower end of the market.

Until I hear something more substantive, I am not buying the IBM-Epic rumor. IBM-Cerner seems a tad more likely, but I still need to hear more.

May 2, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Athenahealth-EHRA news significant only that it shakes up the status quo

By now, you’ve likely heard the news that Athenahealth has decided to quit the HIMSS EHR Association. As Athenahealth’s Dan Haley put it in a blog post: “At the end of the day, athenahealth left the EHRA because we never really belonged there in the first place. The EHRA was founded in 2004 by a group of EHR software vendors. Today, a decade into the age of cloud technology, the EHRA is still dominated and governed by a group of EHR software vendors.”

Athenahealth long has billed itself as a services company, not a software vendor, going so far as to hold a jazz funeral for the “death of software” at HIMSS13 in New Orleans. Athenahealth didn’t join the EHRA until 2011 anyway. It sounded like a bad fit.

I contacted Athenahealth, and was told that the company remains “fully committed” to the CommonWell Health Alliance, a coalition of health IT companies — also including Allscripts, Cerner, CPSI, Greenway Health, McKesson and Sunquest Information Systems — that came together for the stated purpose of “developing, deploying and promoting interoperability for the common good.” (There’s also the unstated purpose of fighting the dominance of Epic Systems.)

Athenahealth is staying on the interoperability path, but as is befitting the corporate culture, is going rogue when it comes to EHRs. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last time, because it’s not like most of the other vendors/service providers, if for no other reason than CEO Jonathan Bush doesn’t fit the buttoned-down model of an executive. For that matter, neither did his co-founder, Todd Park, whom I often called an “anti-bureaucrat” during his time with the federal government. Park’s brother, Ed, is COO of Athenahealth, and also has unconventional tendencies.

I can relate to this mentality in a way. I quit the Association of Health Care Journalists years ago because it didn’t feel like a good fit for me. That group tried to include health IT in its programming, but it really was an organization for consumer and scientific reporters, not those of us in the business and trade press. Eight years later, I still don’t think the national media are doing such a great job covering health policy or explaining the nuances of this complicated industry. And, as I’ve said many times before about healthcare, the status quo is unacceptable.

 

April 23, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

CCHIT, KLAS might signal new era in EHRs

Two stories that have hit in the last 48 hours illustrate how the status quo in EHRs is being upset.

First off, as John Lynn broke late Tuesday night—first as a rumor and then as a confirmed fact—on his EMR and HIPAA blog, CCHIT, formerly known as the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, is getting out of the health IT certification business, thus making sense out of the name change. The organization will continue to offer preparatory courses for ONC-sanctioned testing and certification, but no more actual certification.

CCHIT recommended that vendors turn to another authorized testing and certification body, Verizon-owned ICSA Labs, though there are others that still do offer certification, including Drummond Group, SLI Global Solutions, InfoGard Laboratories, and, for e-prescribing technology, Surescripts. Interestingly, CCHIT also announced that it will partner with HIMSS to offer a series of health IT events for vendors and providers. This is interesting because HIMSS was one of the three founding organizations of CCHIT in 2004, and CCHIT was under fire five years ago for maintaining too close of a relationship with HIMSS (also see this link).

When Meaningful Use came along with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, CCHIT lost its exclusivity in certifying health IT products, as EHR certification essentially became commoditized. Other certifying bodies also have undercut CCHIT on price, so this move really does not surprise me.

The other big story, if you pay attention to things such as vendor rankings, is that Athenahealth just unseated Epic Systems as KLAS Research’s “Best in KLAS Overall Software Vendor” of 2013. Epic had held the top spot for eight years in a row. “The old guard of HIT leaders is finally being displaced by more nimble, innovative models designed for health care’s future—not for its past. The latest KLAS rankings show that closed-system, traditional software offerings are not robust or flexible enough to meet providers’ demands anymore,” Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush said in a statement.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, as Epic is still eating everyone else’s lunch in the enterprise market. But, to me, this shows that smaller physician practices that don’t have IT departments are adopting EHRs and want a cloud-based product that is easy to maintain. That certainly heralds a major shift in health IT.

January 30, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Comprehensive coverage of WTN Media’s Digital Health Conference

As you may know from at least one of my earlier posts, I was in Madison, Wis., last month for a great little health IT event called the Digital Health Conference, a production of the Wisconsin Technology Network and the affiliated WTN Media. In fact, WTN Media hired me to cover the conference for them, so I did, pretty comprehensively. In fact, I wrote eight stories over the last couple of weeks, seven of which have been published:

I still have an overview story that should go up this week.

Why do I say it’s a great little conference? The list of speakers was impressive for a meeting of its size, with about 200 attendees for the two-day main conference and 150 for a pre-conference day about startups and entrepreneurship.

Since it is practically in the backyard of Epic Systems, CEO Judy Faulkner is a fixture at this annual event, and this time she also sent the company’s vendor liaison. Informatics and process improvement guru Dr. Barry Chaiken came in from Boston to chair the conference and native Wisconsinite Judy Murphy, now deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at ONC, returned from Washington. Kaiser Permanente was represented, as was Gulfport (Miss.) Memorial Hospital. IBM’s chief medical scientist for care delivery systems, Dr. Marty Kohn, flew in from the West Coast, while Patient Privacy Rights Foundation founder Dr. Deborah Peel, made the trip from another great college town, Austin, Texas. (Too bad Peel and Faulkner weren’t part of the same session to discuss data control. That alone would be worth the price of admission.)

July 2, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Ode to EMRs, in song format

Two North Carolina physicians have decided to have a little musical fun with their EHR-related frustrations. Pediatrician Ken Roberts , M.D., and hematologist-oncologist Jim Granfortuna, M.D., at Moses Cone Health System in Greensboro, N.C., have produced this little ditty entitled, “Ode to Electronic Medical Records, or Our Song of Epic Proportions.” Cone Health just happens to have an Epic Systems EHR.

Roberts and Granfortuna don’t seem like they’re anti-EHR, just anti-EHR that makes their work more difficult. From the song: “Now we ain’t saying the EHR is bad/When all the bugs are fixed I know we’ll all be glad/It’s just by then us pioneers will all be dead.”

May 21, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Epic gets in the Halloween spirit

Have you seen Epic Systems’ home page today? It’s got quite the Halloween theme.

I have a screen grab in case you miss it, but it’s more fun to see the animations on the page itself. Read more..

October 31, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Vendors, this is your wake-up call

I just re-read a BusinessWeek story from about a month ago and was shocked to read the following passage:

Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., wanted all that when it spent $35 million to purchase and install software from Epic Systems, a large vendor in Verona, Wis. But in June 2005, during a pilot run of a computerized order-entry system at Geisinger’s flagship medical center, errors began appearing at a rate of several a week in the hospital’s psychiatric unit. “The pharmacy would interpret an order as one drug at one dosage, and the patients were ordered the wrong medications at different dosages,” recalls Jean Adams, a nurse in charge of the IT team. Fortunately, astute staffers discovered the problem after a few weeks and began verifying the computer drug orders using the phone. Full implementation of the Epic system was put on hold. Adams says Geisinger traced the trouble to incompatibility between a common pharmacy database and Epic’s system.

Epic CEO Judith Faulkner says the episode at Geisinger, and similar incidents at other hospitals, taught her company that physician orders and pharmacy records cannot use distinct technologies. “It doesn’t work when you mix and match vendors,” Faulkner says. “It has to be one system, or it can be dangerous for patients.”

Am I right in interpreting this to mean that Judy Faulkner believes that the inability to integrate systems is a risk to patient safety? Really?

This shouldn’t have to be a warning to customers that they should only buy from one vendor. This should be a wake-up call to vendors that they had better start cooperating with each other.

As an American taxpayer, I don’t want my money spent on systems that can’t interface and can’t interoperate. That’s not “meaningful use.” It sounds more like blackmail by a vendor.

May 23, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

More thoughts on Twitter

Though I’m still skeptical of Twitter and not ready to sign up for fear of having too many messages to read from anyone I decide to follow, I found something I might use it for. I’ve just learned that Children’s Hospital Omaha is getting ready to go live with EpicCare in orthopedics. That could have been handled in a single tweet, rather than a full blog post.

That said, I continue to fight a losing battle against e-mail. How in the world would I ever keep up with Twitter feeds?

Also, I don’t like the URL shorteners the Twitterati (did I just coin a new word?) like to use to conserve characters. With so many phishing scams out there, I’m wary of clicking on URLs that don’t make sense to me. Particularly alarming are the ones with country-specific top-level domain names. I’ve seen plenty of is.gd (Grenada) and bit.ly (Libya) and ow.ly (also Libya) links of late. With apologies to the legitimate sites out there, would you knowingly click on a cryptic URL from either an offshore tax haven or a country that formerly sponsored terrorism? What about Internet scam bases such as Russia (.ru) or Nigeria (.ng)? Just asking.

Again, Children’s Hospital Omaha is about to turn on EpicCare in orthopedics. Anyone want to tweet that for me?

UPDATE, 10:53 p.m. CDT: “Twitterati” already exists, but it’s a fairly new word. Urban Dictionary’s oldest definition related to Twitter is from Feb. 13. (There’s another, older usage that refers to Hollywood dingbats.)

April 15, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.