I was on the phone yesterday with a client from Rhode Island who was taking the time to tell me about his practice's search for an EHR. To my surprise, they had flown down to visit another customer of ours in Tennessee to see what they thought of an installation with one of our EHR partners. They gave him some interesting advice: take your time. Even though the TN practice is happy and up-and-running with the EHR, they realized that it has taken them a year or more to figure out what, exactly, they want and expect from it. And that has cost them time and money. [Note: the EHR company in question has served them well; this is a classic practice management issue.]
Which makes me feel that I know what I'm talking about sometimes.
You see, a few weeks ago, I was honored to give a presentation at the VT AAP fall meeting. My discussion was entitled "Choosing a Pediatric Electronic Health Record". Perhaps it was "Preparing for..." In fact, I think I can use Wordpress to post the presentation. In any event, the fundamental point from the entire presentation is:
The single biggest and most common mistake practices make when choosing an EHR is to learn what they need after they purchase the system.
Look at that!
Now, many of you read this blog have heard me speak, but there are plenty of you who haven't. Although common sense and not false modesty tells me that I'm far from the world's greatest speaker, I think I'm often better in person than I am in writing. My brain seems to enjoy the challenge of making things up on-the-fly, which means I sometimes end up saying things in a presentation that I would have never thought to communicate in writing. So, there, in the middle of my talk, I blurted out:
Purchasing an EHR before organizing your practice and knowing exactly what to expect is like having kids to save a marriage. Sometimes it works, but it usually doesn't. And it's always more expensive.
Now, maybe that doesn't ring as true in the middle of a blog as it did 45 minutes into a lecture about the subject, but I saw the lightbulbs turn on in the eyes all around the room, so I thought I'd record that analogy before I forget it. And extend it poorly with some comment about birth control.
So, if you're shopping for an EHR - take your time and prepare. Want some suggestions? Just ask.
Over the past year or so, we have had a lot of questions here at PCC about CCHIT certification. "Will PCC's EHR be certified? Is a non-CCHIT certified EHR bad? Do we need a CCHIT certified EHR?"
What is CCHIT? For those who aren't dealing with every day, it a certification process by which an EMR/EHR is reviewed by a third party (known as CCHIT) for certification that particular features exist in the EHR.
If only it were only that simple...unfortunately, there are many in our business who have ascribed far more to CCHIT certification than it covers. This is particularly deadly for pediatricians (as I'll discuss below). Worse, CCHIT certification doesn't even certify that the EHR has the features it certifies!
Combine this with the growing feeling of a grand conspiracy theory in the making, and we're having fun.
So, just as I got another call about it this morning, I happened to read three consecutive pieces that begin to question a lot of the FUD spread in our industry about CCHIT. I'm in a list making mood, so...here are links to the articles I read:
Required Reading Start
What IS CCHIT?
What IS NOT CCHIT?
Why Does This Matter to Pediatricians?
I make all these comments outside the context of what we plan to do with the EHR. We don't have a choice: we'll be CCHIT certified, just like everyone else, when we complete those features. But it will cost us valuable time and money to jump through a hoop just to get a little logo we can stick on our WWW page. CCHIT certification won't make PCC's EHR any better.
Back in March, I reacted to a piece from softwareadvice.com about CCHIT certification and even though I ripped through it honestly, I think they were appreciative of the coverage and sent me a reference to a new piece:
I'm on vacation this week, so I don't have the time to go through it like I did the other piece, but I think it does a decent job of touching on most of the big ROI features of an EHR. However, I think it's missing a few much more important items:
Still, I wouldn't toss up this reference if it weren't a helpful, quick read, especially knowing that softwareadvice.com supports many of our competitors!
In a week or two, I am going to rip through their piece about ASPs!
I have been critical of the CCHIT certification process before. My position hasn't changed: CCHIT certification is misused and misunderstood by too many people in this business and it is driving up development costs, especially for private practice pediatricians. I don't think this is directly the fault of the organization itself, per se, but it is the practical result. I might have some input on this matter in the future, but for now, I will take a few minutes to examine some of the problems I see with the new child health criteria.
First, needs outside of pediatrics being pushed into our realm. In 2008, EHR vendors will need the following functionality:
The system shall capture patient growth parameters:
including weight, height or length, head circumference;
and vital signs including: blood pressure, temperature,
heart rate, respiratory rate, and severity of pain as
discrete elements of structured data.
That sounds great...until the last item. Severity of pain? Is that really necessary as a requirement for a pediatric office? You can't even begin to measure this subjective vital, as a practical matter, until the children reach a particular age (6? 8?) without using things like the FLACC scale (which, and forgive me if I'm wrong, I've never actually seen in regular use in a private pediatric practice). According to CCHIT itself, this is because of JCAHO requirements.
You'll note that other folks in my shoes have similar questions (look at line 7).
Is it a big deal? No, it's not the end of the world. But now, any EHR vendor who wants to focus on pediatrics is going to be forced to add the "Pain" vital when I don't know a single pediatric office that has asked for it. It will take up important space on the screen, it's another data element to track, and resources are spent on something whose impact on improved or more efficient is minimal, at best.
How about this item:
The system shall synchronize immunization histories with a
public health immunization registry according to applicable
laws and regulations.
Now, note that it says "a" public health immunization registry. So, all PCC would have to do is interface with, say, Vermont's registry, and we'd be certified? Forget that VT serves a handful of pediatricians when compared to NY or TX or CA? Don't get me wrong - CCHIT has its hands tied on this one. The state of immunization registries in this country is an absolute disaster (believe me, PCC interfaces with more of them than anyone). To make this a requirement when there is no standard among them is a mistake. As much as we want to have our registries integrated with EHRs, I think CCHIT should have chosen a standard and pointed to it instead of leaving it helplessly defined.
Finally - for now - I see some big gaps in the understanding of improved pediatric care. Where are the demands for tracking preventive care? Chronic care? Instead of ensuring that the system can indicate that the gender of each patient is unknown (<sarcasm>now THAT feature is long overdue</sarcsasm>), why not have an EHR tell you when a child is overdue for a physical? Or for a recheck? Why not interface with the Bright Futures schedule?
Why will CCHIT require, in 2009, that "The system shall capture the breast milk aliquot identifying data, amount, route, expiration date and date/time of administration" and not have any proper understanding of family mechanics (it only requires custodial information; it has no linking of siblings or families)? Talk about features missing from just about any non-pediatric system now, and we're forcing vendors to track breast milk data?