EMR – What’s the race all about?

One of the most interesting things about health IT applications, especially Electronic Medical Records (EMR) is that ever since its inception there seems to be an upward trend in the product demand. Overtime healthcare providers have realized the potential advantages that EMR technology has provided and are likely to provide to the healthcare industry. Every now and then you would come across physicians discussing specialty focused EMRs, free EMR, and especially certified EMR.

More interestingly, given this increasing popularity of the certified EMRs, the product vendors have started experiencing cut throat competition. No wonder why over the past few years, health IT has been considered to be one of the most rapidly growing industry across the US. The availability of more than 700 vendors, intensively trying to capture the market share, is clear support for the aforementioned statement. While there are thousands of reasons behind the increasing competition, the government’s financial incentive program could be attributed as one of the vital ones.

Being part of the health IT industry, we are all aware that the government requires meaningful use of certified EMR on part of physicians to consider them eligible for the program. No doubt, this is one of the essential criteria to qualify for the incentive funds. Realizing that certification was becoming a crucial requirement for physicians, be it the one who charged a monthly subscription fee for its EMR or provided free EMR, the vendors made sure that their software fulfilled the certification criterion. The logic was simple; keeping pace with the industry requirements would help them influence the client’s choice.

“Be it any industry, competition amongst the vendors can never end. In fact, new regulations and opportunities are likely to increase the existing competition. This is what is happening in the EMR industry. While the existing renowned vendors are trying their best to retain their clientele and attract more potential clients, novice vendors are enthusiastically trying to keep up with the pace”, says a San Francisco based health IT consultant.

It would not be absurd to say that besides helping physicians with clinical procedures, EMRs are also becoming a marketing tool for the vendors. The reason is, if the EMR conforms to a physician’s requirements, even if it’s not a free EMR, the physician is likely to refer it to another colleague – eventually creating a chain of references. Of course, at the end of the day, it is the vendors whose product is being promoted. However, such a situation increases the burden on the vendor to maintain the reputation in the market.

Read more: Choosing an EMR Vendor


Meaningful Use of EMR – Where to next?

Meaningful Use EMRHealthcare professionals have now become accustomed to working with electronic medical records to perform their daily operations. These systems are no longer viewed as tools to record clinical information to be viewed at a later time. Thanks to the support and rules set forth by the CMS in the Meaningful Use initiative, providers and EMR vendors have all had to incorporate positive changes in existing workflows, system design, usage and development of these systems. This has meant that the industry has grown to hundreds of different vendors, offering one thing over another in attempts to beat their rivals.

The Meaningful Use initiative has now come a long way with an advisory committee working hard to finalize its most advanced phase – stage 3. The health IT policy committee’s Meaningful Use workgroup places much greater emphasis on clinical decision support and machine-readability of data among other things. They also propose greater usage of CPOE (Computerized Physician Order Entry) along with electronic referrals in this final stage of the EHR incentive program.

The proposed rules also require for providers to have at least 10% of their patients submit information such as medical history, demographics and even information captured from home-based medical devices, directly into the electronic health records through online portals. Care coordination is also highlighted, as providers are required to create and transmit care plans across multiple sites in case of patients moving from one location to another.

Similarly, the optional requirements under stage 2 will be considered as the fundamental measures under the stage 3 rules. Also, they would become obligatory subject to the provisions of the final rule in stage 2, which is expected any to be established any day now. In February this year, HHS announced the proposed rules for Meaningful Use stage 2, set to be implemented in FY2014. Considering the present timeline, Meaningful Use Stage 3 would commence two years after an eligible provider first satisfies the stage 2 requirements, which means no earlier than 2016.

Eligible providers will be required to record potentially confidential data such as gender information or identity. They also recommend eradication certain measures such as recording the patient smoking status. As for enhancing population health, the workgroup recommends physicians to use electronic health records for creating patient lists for particular conditions in order to establish a pattern. This will significantly reduce health disparities and research. Having said that, we may have to wait till May 2013, which is when HHS would propose its final stage 3 rules, to witness the real impact of the Meaningful Use criteria on the healthcare industry.