5 Reasons Why EHR RECs Will Fail

This article by Software Advice about the RECs offers 5 reasons why the RECs are going to fail in their mission of helping providers become meaningful users of an EMR:

  • Doctor’s aren’t moving as fast as the money is flowing
  • The market already delivers on what RECs promise
  • “Preferred vendor lists” limit choice and free markets
  • RECs won’t get doctors to “meaningful use” fast enough
  • The REC model leads to under-staffed, ephemeral entities

It’s a pretty damaging list of flaws. I’m not so sure about the second item actually working. Although, I don’t think the RECs are going to be able to do better than the market, so it still stands as a decent point.

I personally think the real problem with most of the RECs is that they’re too worried about their future business model than they are about really fulfilling the mission of helping doctors. Sadly, it’s kind of a feature of the requirements that have been imposed upon them.

Reminds me of the phrase, what you incentivize you will get. Unfortunately, the incentives are tied to numbers and not actual usefulness and quality.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • “It’s a pretty damaging list of flaws.”

    A list replete with broad-brush red herrings and other non sequiturs, written by someone with no experience in HIT.

    Not that RECs are above critique, by any means.

  • They may be broad and from a non HIT person, but most seem pretty accurate to me. There are certainly exceptions, but sadly they seem right to me.

  • I think Kim Slocum said it pretty well, w/respect to one of the Houston Neal assertions:

    “It’s important to note that the market does NOT deliver what REC’s promise–at least not to small ambulatory care practices. The fact that there’s no profit in doing so has been a significant contributing factor to the “digital divide” in US medicine. The RECs are tasked to go after this particular sector–one where most private vendors have little or no interest.”

    John, can you provide any data on the typical current private commercial HIT consulting rates?

  • BobbyG,
    EMR vendors have generally took on the task instead of outside consultants. Although, I’ve done some smaller implementations at a very cost effective level. I work fast.

    I guess the key thought for me though is that adoption of EMR hasn’t been slow because of the lack of EMR implementation help. So, the money spent on RECs is trying to solve something that’s not one of the core challenges to broad EMR adoption.

    I’m not sure data on the consulting rates. I’m sure you can find rates across the board.

  • John,
    Let me pick this up where we left it at another blog, and let’s look at those 5 reasons, one by one:

    1) Doctor’s aren’t moving as fast as the money is flowing
    The money is NOT flowing independent of the docs’ movement. The money only flows AFTER a particular doc decides to “move”. RECs are operating on a P4P model.

    2) The market already delivers on what RECs promise
    The REC promises to touch every single small practice in rural and underserved areas. The market was never able to do so because the cost of selling to these docs was way to high. The RECs also promise to deliver about $5000 in consulting services to each provider practically for free and no strings attached. The market never in its wildest dreams offered anything like that.

    3) “Preferred vendor lists” limit choice and free markets
    Every consultant employed by a practice usually narrows the choices down based on research and knowledge of the market (some do it for kick-back). The RECs are going through a process to establish vendors capabilities and willingness to serve a particular State needs. The “free market” is just fine. The RECs are operating within that market. Not to mention that RECs only make recommendations. They will work with any vendor that a particular provider chooses.

    4) RECs won’t get doctors to “meaningful use” fast enough
    Fast enough for what? Incentives? I thought doing a good job at selecting and implementing a proper EHR is more important than a few thousand dollars handout. The goal is for the use to be meaningful to the practice. The rest will take care of itself.

    5) The REC model leads to under-staffed, ephemeral entities
    How so? Every start-up starts small. Some grow bigger and some die. This is exactly what will happen to these 62 start-ups. I’ve seen RECs hire and train pretty talented folks in rural areas. Salaries expectations are lower and with the current unemployment, it doesn’t seem to be such a monumental task to find good talent if you know where to look. I actually think that RECs are in a better position to find talent than national vendors.

    Nothing is ever perfect, and as you know, I have been critical of many other “initiatives”, but I think that the REC concept is a valiant attempt to reduce disparities and bring technology and better health care to traditionally neglected populations and their equally neglected doctors. This is the #1 reason I want to see the RECs succeed.

  • 1. So, it’s poorly worded. The fact doctors are too slow to implement EMR means the RECs won’t be able to “perform” and won’t see money flowing.

    2. Where did you get that RECs are touching “every single small practice in rural and underserved areas.” I’ve seen them mostly operating in big cities. Is there part of their mandate that I’m not remembering? $5000 in biased consulting is not a benefit to the market. Sure, some RECs are providing quality service, but many are playing the numbers game.

    3. Another one that’s poorly worded. Of course the free market can still work. In fact, it will continue to work even if doctors select a bunch of unusable EMR. It will just take a long while for it to correct that mistake. The idea of a preferred vendor list is messed up though. Why would a doctor ever leave it up to another organization to go through the EMR vendor selection process for them. It’s an impossible task to try and have a preferred vendor list when you’re representing such a diverse population. There were much better options than what most have done. Props to the RECs who have indeed stayed vendor neutral and avoided even the appearance of impropriety.

    4. If RECs focus too much on providing something meaningful to the practice they’ll miss their P4P goals and then they’ll end up leaving the doctors who they were trying to help all alone with no where to turn. Or doctors will have to start paying for the service they were told was going to be free.

    5. Scaling up quality staff is an incredibly hard job in any industry. Getting quality staff to come and work at a REC that may or may not exist and therefore you may or may not have a job in a year is a challenge. It’s not impossible, but is a HUGE barrier to overcome.

    Of course, I’m playing devil’s advocate above. I don’t think that EVERYTHING that the RECs are doing is terrible. In fact, there are some really sincere and smart people that I’ve met that are working at the RECs. BobbyG on this thread being one of them.

    Maybe one of the bright spots of the RECs is that it’s at training ground for smart people like BobbyG to get experience and connections that will allow them to be some of the future leaders in really pushing forward EHR adoption. It just seems like the money could have accomplished the same thing and better spent other ways.

  • Thank you. I will continue 🙂

    1) If the docs don’t adopt and the RECs don’t get money, the tax payers get to keep the funds. That is as it should be.

    2) Part of the RECs mandate is to service underserved and rural populations. There are plenty underserved in big cities I guess, but the intent was not to serve Cardiologists in Beverly Hills. It is exclusively about Priority Primary Care Providers (small practice & underserved). If the RECs don’t go where they were directed to go, that’s a completely different story.
    Why are you assuming that the consulting is biased? What possible incentive could a REC have to be biased? Unlike many “consultants”, they don’t make more money based on a physician’s EHR choice.

    3) The population served is not as diverse as you may think. Primary Care docs in small practice – that’s all the RECs currently represent. I think you know as well as I do that the main reason for EHR failure is not really the software, but the lack of planning and change management and here is where the $5000 should be spent. There are happy users for any given EHR and there are miserable failures for the same software in the exact same type of clinic. This is what needs to be addressed.

    4) Most RECs are signing docs on a yearly subscription basis. We all know that a PCP small practice can be successfully implemented and brought to Meaningful Use in 3 to 4 months start to end. I don’t see a problem here. MU is really not anything too terribly onerous for Stage 1.

    5) Yes, scaling up with good talent is hard. But remember, John, some of the REC grants went to entities that were already staffed (NY is a good example), other went to Universities and others to Quality Improvement organizations. Very few are starting from scratch.

    All that said, I don’t think this REC business is a walk in the park and I fully expect a big chunk of RECs to disappear after 2012. But the ones that survive will be very strong and very useful public resources.

    As to the EHR vendor market, there are many benefits to the docs and their patients in areas where one EHR has a large presence, particularly if it is a decent product (see eCW in NY). To be honest, I am not too terribly concerned with how vendors fare. I am more concerned with enabling information exchange and quality improvements on behalf of patients. It is easier to accomplish that with a handful of vendors instead of a gazillion disparate systems, some of which will surely go under.
    Yes, we could wait for the perfect EHR to come along, but I have a funny feeling it never will, so why not do the best we can with whatever is available now? We can always make adjustments as technology grows and improves.
    Right now, if we are to put a dent in the 17% GDP consumed by health care, clinical information exchange is imperative, even if it’s not perfect.

  • My take on the bias of RECs is that if they have a preferred EHR vendor then by its very nature it’s biased. Plus, it’s creating a bias in what I consider to be the most important part of an EMR implementation process: the EMR software selection.

    So, while I do agree with you that poor planning leads to some failures, I don’t think it’s the main cause of failure. I actually think selecting the right EMR and the process that’s used to select the right EMR is the key to a successful implementation.

    Part of my reasoning for this is that selecting the right EMR and having the right process for selecting an EMR creates a clinical buy in that pays off in spades when you get into the dirty details of implementing an EMR. I think lack of clinical buy in is what leads to most EMR implementation failures and that’s often directly related to the EMR selection process.

    I guess that’s why I get my pantyhose all bunched up when I see the EMR selection process tainted.

    Certainly a doctor could get up and running and show meaningful use in 3-4 months, but that’s going to be the rare exception. Life and their practice gets in the way and makes it take much longer. Plus, these time frames start once the providers have firmly decided to make the jump. It’s that decision that slows the process more than anything.

    I don’t care about the EHR vendor market either, but I do care that the best software is implemented by doctors since that is what will lead to the best patient care and patient outcomes. I don’t want the EMR vendors to be implemented just because they have great marketers.

    Health information exchange is great, but until we have them using EMR’s it’s not even a possibility. A bunch of doctors implementing unusable EMR software which they hate will do more to hamper the widespread adoption of EMR software than anything else. This is why I’m so passionate about the best EMR software being implemented. Otherwise, it will take a lot longer to reach the health information exchange nirvana.

  • This is a great conversation; I had negative experience trying to work with RECs; Margalit has a point.

    Still, as an up and coming EHR vendor with a good product/platform it has been difficult to break through with these RECs. Finally I had to tell them that these are the installation that have been done by us in their neighborhood; can they take credit for those installs and also provide the same support to the provider; or is it that they provide the consulting support only to the Providers who are using the ‘Chosen’ systems. That’s the question I have; I understand they have the right to chose their preferred vendors through their selection process; but will the consult with the Physicians who have chosen to go with a vendor who is not in their preferred vendor list?

  • Good comments. As John knows, I am a proponent of RECs and work with several. Not to make money as much as I have a deep belief that REC’s success is critical to HITECH Act succeeding. Regarding Anthony’s comment. Yes, most RECs will have a “preferred” EHR vendor list BUT if your product is ONC certified and is being used by physicians, it will be received well by any REC. Being on the preferred list does give you an advantage but what’s more important is that the EHR is ONC certified. For now, if you are a small vendor with little history (and small client base), you are most likely out of luck with the RECs. As with any business decisions, RECs are taking the safe path with vendors. I would recommend getting the list of your clients and if you have more than 100, my guess is the REC will pay attention to you.

  • John,
    I think both Anthony and David have provided great insight here.
    The REC recommended list should be created through a stringent screening process which includes RFPs, demos and I’ve heard of one very large REC which has a usability lab just for this purpose. I would hardly call this process “tainted”, particularly since the screenings seem to be performed by practicing physicians.

    To David’s point, the recommended list is just the beginning. Each individual practice is then expected to go through the usual vendor selection process and any and all certified EHRs will be considered. As David noted, RECs are obligated to work with any ONC certified EHR and the particular brand will not in any way affect their payments.

    I think the RECs bring to the table resources for screening vendors that a solo practitioner does not have. They are also bringing with them certain strength in negotiating favorable contractual terms with recommended vendors. This must be a good thing for the docs.
    Will this change the vendor landscape to a certain degree? Yes, I believe it will, but I also believe that the vendor landscape is in dire need of some changing.

  • “The REC recommended list should be created through a stringent screening process”[emphasis mine]

    The problem is that many of them haven’t been stringent.

    Another “should” is the RECs working with a doctor that has any certified EHR. Of course they will work with them. They need their numbers. The question is what value will they provide that physician? Physicians who don’t use their preferred EHR vendor list won’t be motivated to work with the RECs. Not to mention the overall distrust of the RECs that I’ve seen from physicians.

    I agree that they could have used the group buying power for some real good in negotiating favorable contract terms with an EHR vendor. I just wish that they’d actually asked the doctors whom they represent which EHR vendors they should negotiate with. This would have dramatically changed my view of RECs and what they could have offered.

    Just remember that change doesn’t always mean a change for good. It could be a change to something worse. I learned that very early on when I had a boss who was less than favorable. Turned out he had his weaknesses, but his future replacement had even more. Fine lesson learned.

  • John,
    I certainly haven’t checked out all the RECs, but I have seen a few and my impression is that practicing physicians have a distinct voice in REC decisions.
    I find it very sad if indeed physicians are suspicious of RECs, and I would suggest that they overcome that suspicion and make a phone call to their local REC. It cannot hurt and they may be pleasantly surprised.

    As to the assistance a REC can provide for non recommended, or rather non screened, EHRs, it is pretty much the same as for the recommended list, minus the pre-negotiated discounts and favorable contractual terms.
    The RECs are not there to replace the vendor. They are there to supplement the vendor and make sure the doctor gets good service and is properly prepared for this major change. The RECs are supposed to function as the physician advocate.

    My advice to doctors would be this:
    1) If after obtaining all pertinent information and after thorough research, you are totally and completely certain that you want to stay on paper – don’t call the REC and don’t call any EHR vendor.
    2) If you feel you don’t have all information necessary to make a decision – call the REC. Most have significant outreach and education materials which are vendor neutral. It won’t cost you a penny and it may help you decide what to do next.
    3) If you think you may want an EHR, but not sure where to start, or which one – call the REC. They can provide you their recommended list. Ask how the list was compiled. Ask who decided to put these vendors on the list and why and what the process looked like. If you like the answers, you may continue the relationship. If you don’t, you can always hang up the phone.
    4) If you think you may want an EHR and have one, or a few, in mind – call the REC. Your favorite one may be on the list. If it’s not, ask if it was considered and if so why was it not selected. If you want to look at your favorite EHRs even if they are not on the list, the REC will help you with that and will help you with the entire selection and contracting process, if you decide to buy. They will help you with implementation too and will also assist with obtaining stimulus incentives.
    5) If you already have an EHR and are wondering about how to obtain incentives, or are generally unhappy with the EHR – call the REC. They can walk you through the incentives maze and they can help assess your situation and perhaps suggest some workflow changes to make things better.
    6) If you have an ONC certified version of an EHR already installed and your vendor is on top of things, and you are certain that the meaningful use process is under control and you are happy with your situation – don’t call the REC. Congratulations on being one of the lucky few!

  • John,

    I have the following conversation almost weekly.
    “AXEO, your system is just what we have been looking for. Are you endorsed, supported and recommended by RECs? Do you have many thousands of happy users over the past decade we can talk to?”

    Then they laugh and realize the proverbial inherent contradictions.

    The REC system is just cementing the dinosaurs, stifling innovation, and saddling the marketplace with systems that no one (practically speaking) would buy or use prior to ARRA.

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