Electronic Medical Records Are Not a Cure-All

APR 30

We regularly work with clients that have developed innovative solutions to vexing, long-term problems confronting healthcare.  Some examples include:  enabling hospitals to quantify patient satisfaction, managing the release of patient chart information from the hospital, and providing meaningful drug and disease content to physicians in the course of their daily work.

In discussions with potential buyers and investors for these types of businesses, we regularly hear the following:  “Won’t widespread EMR adoption make this business obsolete?”   In the minds of many thinking about the HCIT industry:

Increased EMR Use = Fully Electronic Records = Integrated Data Whizzing Back and Forth

This is a welcome goal – and it’s theoretically possible that we could live in this world one day – but there are so many barriers to this future state that it’s very likely that none of us will be around to see it.

Consider the following:

  • CMS has been paying incentives for e-prescribing for the past two years.  In the framework of potential healthcare data described above, this is one of the most basic electronic transactions possible:  passing an error-free prescription from a provider’s EMR to a pharmacy.   As of the end of 2010, CMS reports that e-prescribing has grown tremendously – to where fewer than 12% of the nearly 700,000 eligible providers are now receiving incentive payments.

This is progress to be sure, and adoption is up significantly in the past few years.  However, EMR vendors still face a long road to achieving widespread adoption for basic functionality before they dive into the other challenges like data interoperability, clinical analytics, and payer-provider convergence.

In our view, new value-based reimbursement models via prospective population health management and coordination at the point of care simply have to run through the clinical data living in the EMR.   So, as stimulus dollars trail off in the coming years, we expect the more forward-thinking EMR vendors to start looking for tangential acquisitions outside of their core business that will help them make progress toward accelerating these reimbursement initiatives.

In other words, we expect that leading EMR vendors, in an effort to create differentiation in a still-crowded marketplace, will increasingly look to absorb – rather than displace – these innovative businesses that we see every day.  What is still an open question is whether the EMR vendors will be the buyers best positioned to reap the biggest benefits of owning these companies, or if other HCIT participants will put together the pieces that move us toward that future state where healthcare data moves around effortlessly.  In either case, we don’t see much evidence yet that EMRs are the standalone panacea that some seem to think they can be.

Conor Green
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