A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a vendor executive about the challenges EMR companies face. He said that in his mind, the big differentiator won’t be interfaces or even key features, but the extent to which the vendor has hooked up with key outside services.
According to this man — whose story, to be honest, I haven’t been able to verify — it can three months or more to link up with big laboratory providers like LabCorp or Quest. Partnering with payors is another nightmare, even for vendors that run a practice management system already handling billing issues. And what about synching up with radiology information systems
Now, don’t get me wrong: Service providers are getting wise to this problem. LabCorp, for example, now boasts about its EDI interface and touts its connections with 300+ EMR, practice management and laboratory information service vendors. It also offers eLabCorp, a Web-based solution for test ordering and test result retrieval.
Private software vendors are also in the mix. For example, I stumbled across one vendor offering bundles that connecting physicians, payors and radiology information systems.
But most of the interface development seems to be ad-hoc, with the costs borne by the healthcare provider rather than the EMR vendor. And it’s a costly problem.
As things stand, after all, creating flexible, functional interfaces between EMRs and key service providers is still largely a job for specialized experts, and they don’t come cheap. (As readers know, it’s not that your crack IT team can’t build the interfaces on its own, but where will staffers find the time?)
However, my guess is that as IT users get their bearings, they’ll demand a better range of connected partners from EMR vendors. Rating how connected vendors are to labs, payors and other transaction partners is likely to rise close to the top of RFPs and internal checklists.
Ultimately, even high-end EMR systems will begin to look similar as the hospital industry standardizes on Meaningful Use-driven features and functions. (You’d think a multi-million dollar system would have a unique footprint, but let’s face it, anything can get commoditized.)
Soon, to get hospital business, they’ll have to offer options which directly improve operations or generate profits. And it’s not a moment too soon.