The healthcare industry’s need to improve quality of care, manage costs, facilitate growth and meet tough industry regulations has resulted in the ubiquity of electronic health record (EHR) programs throughout all organizations, from small-town clinics to the biggest regional hospital networks. And this growing reliance on increasingly pervasive and complex EHRs has led to explosive growth in not only the infrastructure that supports it, but also the staff needed to implement, manage and maintain it all.
Whether your organization’s EHR strategy is based on Epic, Cerner or MEDITECH, the advantages and requirements are similar—and the challenges can be daunting.
It’s hard enough to select, implement and maintain an EHR solution, but the evolution of the industry, the threats organizations face, how data is used and even the programs themselves are putting unprecedented burdens on IT departments, business units and practitioners.
4 key trends driving EHR evolution
Here are four key trends and the effects they’re having on the evolution of EHRs.
1. More mergers and acquisitions
In the constantly evolving healthcare market, it’s very difficult for smaller, independent hospital systems to remain profitable or even keep the doors open. So, the industry is constantly undergoing consolidation as systems merge to serve an ever-larger patient base, to attain more purchasing and negotiating power with suppliers and insurance companies, and to build a larger group of professionals who can work together to serve a population of patients.
But mergers and acquisitions come with the added burden of integrating EHR systems, often from different vendors, which introduces more complexity, more security issues, and more time on the part of administrators to manage the disparate systems.
An acquiring network will typically already have a complex IT environment that includes at least two data centers with a dedicated disaster recovery (DR) site. Adding another hospital’s or hospital system’s EHR solution and infrastructure—as well as its users, which can typically run into the thousands—is a major undertaking that starts with assessing the assets in each organization before integrating IT resources, eliminating redundancies, and migrating systems and software.
2. More frequent updates
EHR vendors are increasingly moving to smaller, more frequent updates of their software to keep versions consistent across their customer bases and ensure that customers have the latest rights enhancements, patient safety features and quality improvements.
Some have moved to a quarterly software update cycle that requires their customers to implement every update promptly or risk losing valuable maintenance rebates. As a result, many organizations have gone so far as to establish teams committed full-time to focusing on these ongoing updates. That takes valuable resources away from projects that will move the organization forward such as new features, enhancements and workflows.
3. More security concerns
The security of patients’ protected health information (PHI) is top of mind for everybody, and nowhere is the need for security more absolute than around EHR systems.
Many health organizations see information security as a technology problem, but in reality, it’s a risk management problem. It’s essential to fully understand risk in the environment from an information security perspective, and then to implement administrative and technical controls to manage that risk. The more you understand your current risks and your organizational appetite for risk, the more you will understand how to manage the environment to lower your risk.
In a highly regulated environment like healthcare, a lot of people in IT focus on meeting compliance requirements. But if you focus instead on managing the risk, the compliance will take care of itself.
Director, Sirius Healthcare
4. More intensive—and extensive—data analytics
Leaders from every industry understand the value of using data effectively to create insights that can drive business decisions. In healthcare, when you apply analytics to quality data to reduce variation in the care process, you improve the quality of care and reduce costs. The challenge is in the governance of how you use that data, regardless of where it comes from. Even smaller hospital systems can have dozens or even hundreds of applications used by practitioners, as well as back-office systems such as ERP and supply chain management.
All EHR programs have some analytics features built into the platform, but other advanced data analytics platforms can help you make sense of data not only from the EHR programs, but also from applications across the organization. Choosing the right analytics platform to supplement the EHR program’s analytics features as needed requires advanced knowledge in both types of platforms to identify and implement the right options.
How do you manage all these challenges?
As the information technologies used by the healthcare industry have become more pervasive and complex, virtually every healthcare organization has come to the same conclusion: that they’re in the business of improving health and quality of care, and that managing IT is not a core part of their mission.
And yet the day-to-day burden of running the technology side of the business—including integrating operations from merged systems, performing application and system updates, preventing threats to PHI, and putting systems in place to analyze data—continues to occupy more staff and cost more money.
That’s precisely why more healthcare administrators are seeing the value of partnering with a managed services provider that can take over not only the day-to-day operations and routine maintenance of systems and software, but also large-scale projects such as the integration of new hospitals and the implementation of new, systemwide technologies. Outsourcing non-core activities like those can allow the organization to focus on its core mission of improving the quality of care, reaching new patient populations and reducing costs.
Reduce the complexity of EHR systems
All healthcare systems face challenges with the implementation of EHR solutions throughout their organizations. Sirius Director of Healthcare Ed Ricks is featured in an informative video about how Sirius Healthcare is working to reduce the complexity of EHR systems to enable a more natural way for caregivers and administrators to interact with this ubiquitous technology. Watch the video now.