Let’s flash back to 2010. It made so much sense that any healthcare reform act would include a mandate that required hospitals to aggressively implement electronic medical records (EMR) so patients could finally have access to their own personal health data.
There wasn’t much push-back from either side of the aisle on this condition known in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) as “meaningful use.” After all, the information age was upon us yet hospitals were still photocopying records, charging patients for the copies, and telling the patient they needed to come back in 72 hours to retrieve the records. Hospitals frowned upon the process as it usually symbolized a potential lawsuit on the horizon.
It seemed that Americans as a whole were united that meaningful use was a positive step to empower the patient to be involved and educated in their own health management. But one year went by and then three or four, and, despite the threat of penalties for missing implementation deadlines, the hospital industry lobbied successfully to limit these requirements to implementing components of the EMR that helped them maximize revenues.
The top three EMR vendors became so powerful, it was not uncommon for them to pass up on opportunities to work with small and midsized hospitals and health systems. I know, as I was one of the CEO’s who was told, “You’re not big enough for us to justify working with you.“ What about those big hospitals that did work with these top vendors? They were often boot-strapped for years and unable to fulfill other priorities as a result of the cost allocated to their EMR implementation. It was a highly publicized nationwide epidemic for many hospitals.
Despite great profitability for the vendors, little was done in regard to making a patient’s personal health record more accessible and most hospitals made almost no progress in the initial five years after PPACA passed. In 2016, as a handful or EMR vendors rose to the top and captured the majority of the core hospital market, Congress called several of their leaders back to Capitol Hill to address the lack of progress and implemented new, heightened expectations around implementation and compatibility.
It makes sense if you break it down into a timeline:
- Congress requires EMR implementation in PPACA in 2010. The EMR space explodes in 2011 as a result, and hospitals are the sole payer to EMR vendors
- Despite ObamaCare prioritizing patient access, population health, and staying healthy at home, hospitals had little financial incentive to enhance access or keep patients healthy at home into 2015.
- Prior to 2016, almost no hospital dollars were spent on EMR vendor software that supported access or population health, and therefore the EMR vendors had little incentive to prioritize these needs as well. Then Congress stepped in by 2016 and asked EMR companies and hospital leadership to focus more on compatibility and access.
But in early 2018, just as health systems started shifting their meaningful use priorities toward patient access, a strange thing happened. A few technology companies much larger and influential than those in the EMR space entered the electronic patient record discussion.
Have you ever heard of Apple? What about Amazon or Google?
These companies have a global reach that makes the EMR vendors’ footprint look almost irrelevant. In January 2018, Apple announced a partnership with several major health systems to make patient records accessible on their mobile phones. In that same month, Amazon announced it was partnering with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to rethink how healthcare benefits are offered to employees. Within a few short months, Google made a number of announcements and key hires as it moved into the healthcare delivery space as well.
While its unlikely Apple, Amazon, and Google will prioritize becoming major EMR providers in coming years, it’s not at all unlikely that this goal is within their long-term plans. More importantly, these global tech giants realize that the EMR is not the most critical information available in the healthcare process. Much more important than the EMR is the HIPPA-compliant, cloud-based parallel that allows patients and caregivers to converse and get educated from their mobile device. Think of a group text, or the Slack Application, specific to healthcare. There are already several effective patient management apps out there. These applications vary in scope, but Stellicare, MeUCare, and LoopdIn are all examples of applications currently available to the consumer that help manage a patient’s sensitive health information.
Remember, in the model of the future, when a patient is hospitalized, more often than not it will be a failure of the population health system. The focus of healthcare in the future is on being healthy at home, which requires self-management and caregiver education. These applications enhance those skill sets. I have lived this personally as my mom is currently in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. My family has used a group text to accomplish this, but these new applications not only allow us to opt-in any doctor, pharmacist, caregiver, or family member, they also allow us to download instructional videos and resources.
As a result of this excessive EMR spending, hospitals pass the expenses onto the consumer and businesses in the form of rate hikes and the cost of healthcare in America continues to skyrocket. The meaningful use requirement is no doubt one of the contributing factors to healthcare’s continued hyperinflation.
So here’s the good and the bad of President Obama’s meaningful use experiment: big EMR vendors built up power and influence and, just as it peaked, several companies with much greater influence entered the arena and forced the EMR vendor back to the table to re-prioritize. Depending on how quickly Apple, Amazon, Google, and others enter the arena, the success and livelihood of these top EMR vendors may be on the line. EMR vendors’ failure to prioritize population health software and applications may cost them in the long run.
If Apple, Amazon, Google, and others create more effective means of managing and making accessible patient information and records, will Obamacare’s meaningful use requirements prove to be the biggest waste of billions of dollars in the history of American business? Time will tell.
Dr. Josh Luke is an award-winning Futurist, hospital CEO, two-time Amazon #1 best-selling author, and a member of the faculty at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. He is a well-known public speaker on the topic of healthcare affordability and transformation and writes regularly for LinkedIn as The Healthcare Affordability Authority. Visit www.DrJoshLuke.com for more information.