According to new data from HIMSS, almost 80% of freestanding outpatient facilities have an EHR in place, a figure which has shot up 30% over the past five years. This is no big surprise, given that the growth tracks neatly with the Meaningful Use program run. What seems to take HIMSS analysts aback, on the other hand, is that only a scant 15% of outpatient facilities surveyed seem ready to replace or purchase an EHR,
Why are learned minds at HIMSS taken aback by this data? Well, for one thing, hospitals have set their expectations. And over the last couple of years, hospitals have been dumping their existing EHRs at a rapid pace, with many large hospitals switching to newer systems with population health capabilities.
A recent Black Book study suggests that many hospitals weren’t thrilled with the results of even their lastest EHR investment, with some even considering yet another switch. In other words, 2,300 hospital executives and IT staff interviewed weren’t seeing much benefit from their ongoing, massive investment of time and money.
What’s more, HIMSS analysts don’t seem to have taken a close look at how EHR purchasing patterns vary between the inpatient and outpatient setting. And that’s worth doing. After all, if outpatient buyers and inpatient buyers are making strikingly different decisions about how to spend on IT, the reasons for this disparity probably matter.
I don’t have any statistical data to back this up, but I do have a fairly straightforward theory on why hospitals seemingly do worse at investing in EHRs than outpatient facilities. I believe that EHRs are collapsing under the weight of trying to manage entire enterprises.
My sense is that outpatient EHR buyers aren’t just clinging to their existing systems due to inertia or lack of capital (though these factors doubtless come into play). Rather, they’re in a better position to take advantage of the systems they acquire than hospital IT departments.
For most medical groups, their mission is more straightforward and their management structure flatter than that of hospitals, which are having to be all things to all people of late. And this allows them to leverage an EHR more effectively.
To me, this suggests the following takeaways:
- Hospitals might benefit from an EHR that’s focused more on supporting individual departments/service lines (including outpatient services) than a master enterprise system
- If EHRs supported individual departments in a modular fashion, and the modules could be switched out between vendors, hospitals could update only the modules they needed to update
- Hospitals could learn something from how their independent practice partners choose and integrate EHRs
Industry activity clearly suggests that CIOs back a more modular approach to solving clinical problems, and this could help them build a more flexible infrastructure that doesn’t get outmoded as quickly. And if outpatient buying patterns offer additional insights into decentralizing EHRs, it’d be smart to leverage them.