News roundup: FCC RPM/telehealth push, NHS EHR coding breach, unstructured data in geriatric diagnosis, Cerner-Lumeris, NHS funds social care, hospital RFID uses

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]FCC backs post-discharge RPM plan. The “Connected Care Pilot Program” proposed by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr would provide $100 million for subsidies to hospitals or wireless providers running post-discharge remote monitoring programs for low-income and rural Americans such as those run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The goal is to lower readmissions and improve patient outcomes. The proposal still needs to be formalized so it would be 2019 at earliest. POLITICO Morning eHealth, Clarion-Ledger, Mobihealthnews

NHS Digital’s 150,000 patient data breach originated in a coding error in the SystmOne EHR used by GPs. Through the error by TPP, SystmOne did not recognize the “type 2 opt-out” for use of individual data in clinical research and planning purposes. This affected records after 31 March 2015. This breach also affects vendors which received the data, albeit unknowingly, but the duration of the breach makes it hard to put the genie back in the bottle, which NHS Digital would like to do. Inforisktoday, NHS Digital release

Unstructured data in EHRs more valuable than structured data in older adult patient health. A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society compared the number of geriatric syndrome cases identified using structured claims and structured and unstructured EHR data, finding that the unstructured data was needed to properly identify geriatric syndrome. Over 18,000 patients’ unstructured EHR notes were analyzed using a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm.

Cerner buying a share in population health/value-based care management company Lumeris through purchasing $266 million in stock in Lumeris parent Essence Group Holdings. The angle is data crunching to improve outcomes for patients in Medicare Advantage and other value-based plans. Lumeris also operates Essence Healthcare, a Medicare Advantage plan with 65,000 beneficiaries in Missouri. Fierce Healthcare

NHS Digital awarding £240,000 for investigating social care transformation through technology. The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme in 12 councils will be managed by both NHS and the Local Government Association (LGA). Projects to be funded span from assistive technologies to predictive analytics. Six winners from the original group of 12 after three months will be awarded up to a further £80,000 each to design and implement their solutions. New Statesman

Curious about RFID in use in healthcare, other than in asset management, access, and log in? Contactless payments is one area. As this is the first of four articles, you’ll have to follow up in Healthcare IT News

VA moves closer to doing Cerner EHR deal, real Choice for veterans (updated)

The Cerner EHR deal with the VA edges closer to closing. Another VA contractor, MITRE, reviewed the agreement and recommended 50 changes that, according to POLITICO Morning eHealth’s source, address many of the interoperability-related usability features “that irritate EHR users” such as reconciling data coming from outside sources (Home Telehealth, perhaps?–Ed.). VA officially updated the status with Congressional Veterans Affairs staff on Tuesday. The deal could be inked as early as next week, but never bet on this when the Secretary seems doubtful of the agreement date. In any case, it will be a decade before VA is fully transitioned from VistA. Speaking of the Secretary, Dr. Shulkin’s crisis of last week seems to have passed with a White House vote of confidence. He can ‘cashier’ his critics and according to him, everyone’s on board with a clear direction. We’ll see. 

Updated. Well, it’s 2 March and still no word on closing the Cerner contract. Meanwhile, the VA ‘revolt’ continues, with either true or false reports of demands for Dr. Shulkin’s resignation. It’s exhausting, and meanwhile who pays? Staff and veterans. See POLITICO from 1 March here.

Modern Healthcare reported that important reforms in the VA Choice legislation are closer to reality with the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. They are proposing changes, supported by the White House, that would open up VA Choice eligibility to nearly all veterans by “making VA facilities responsible for meeting access standards set by the VA secretary. If a facility can’t, the patient can seek out a community provider if both patient and a VA provider or an authorized provider in the community working closely with VA deem that a better option than a VA facility.” This is a step beyond the earlier proposed access standards which would have given the VA Secretary discretion to relax restrictions to community care provision. Currently the VA Choice program is used by only 1 million veterans who have to prove that they are facing wait times of 30 days or more, or 40-mile travel time to a VA clinic. While the tone in the article is slightly disparaging, firm standards and opening the VA to limited market pressures to this Editor is a good thing–and getting effective care faster to veterans, many of whom live in exurban or rural areas, is beyond all considerations, absolutely necessary. How this affects veterans monitored by telehealth programs–and interoperability of their records–are open questions.

EHR action: Allscripts acquires Practice Fusion, expands footprint in small/ambulatory practices

A significant EHR acquisition kicks off an action-packed week. Announced today by leading EHR Allscripts is their acquisition for $100 million of independent practice EHR Practice Fusion. Allscripts, which has been usually in the top five US EHRs (Kalorama April 2017 survey), vastly expanded its hospital market share with August’s acquisition of #2 McKesson‘s health IT business and with this would be ranked just behind EHR leader Cerner. In acute care settings, Epic and Cerner dominate with 25 percent of the market each with Allscripts/McKesson far behind #3 Meditech (KLAS April 2017). 

Practice Fusion, one of the pioneers in the small practice/ambulatory EHR starting with a basic free, ad-paid model in 2005, has 30,000 ambulatory sites serving about 5 million patients each month. In the Allscripts view, they will now be able to offer “last mile” reach to the under-served clinicians in small and individual practices” and close gaps in care. Allscripts President Rick Poulton noted in the statement that “We believe this transaction will directly benefit Practice Fusion clients, who will now have access to Allscripts solutions and services. We look forward to welcoming Practice Fusion team members to our family.” which leads one to believe that the Practice Fusion name will be sunsetted. Allscripts release and Healthcare IT News

From being the leader in small practice EHRs, Practice Fusion found the last few years difficult as competition expanded into their segment, from eClinical Works, drchrono, athenahealth, and NextGen to small practice packages from Epic and Cerner.

It should be noted that Practice Fusion in 12 years went through 13 funding rounds, raising almost $158 million from a long list of VC luminaries such as Kleiner Perkins, Artis Ventures, Founders Fund, and Qualcomm Ventures (Crunchbase). However, it disappointed its investors and Wall Street, which expected two years ago a $1.5 billion IPO. The $100 million from Allscripts is all cash and the price is “subject to adjustment for working capital and net debt”–an exit which was surely not the sugarplum in the eyes of its 2014 and prior  investors. CNBC

A basket of reflections, considerations on CVS-Aetna: Epic, Cerner, the model, and hospitals’ role

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]With the holidays and the end of the year coming in a little over two short weeks, there’s plenty of room for thoughts, reasoned speculation, and some unusual takes on the CVS-Aetna merger. This Editor remains in her belief that among us, there’s a bit of exhaustion and an attitude of ‘wait and see’ around the topic among us. The canaries have a case of the vapors….

Let’s sort through some of the more interesting POVs expressed of late by our fellow pressies, which Readers can consider in between cups of good cheer and bites of All That Food. Bear in mind that this merger has a long road to go on a hard road, with potholes marked DOJ and (in this Editor’s opinion) HHS, before it’s a done deal in 2018.

  • A big win for Epic. Currently the EHR for CVS’ MinuteClinics and most recently the care management programs of CVS Specialty, Epic is bullish on the opportunities in what their VP of population health termed the ‘gray space’ in the patient experience outside of the traditional sites of care. In October, CVS added Epic’s Healthy Planet population health analytics platform to learn more about drug dispensing patterns and medication adherence–this Editor believes in preparation for merger talks. The open question this Editor has after all the glow in this article is how Aetna’s varied systems (e.g. ActiveHealth, Medicity, and others) would integrate into Epic, and the price of poker, because with Epic it’s never free. Ask any hospital. Healthcare IT News.
    • Certainly, their main competitor Cerner is feeling the heat after a slowdown in its VA plans, the single largest EHR implementation ever. Congress has held up initial funding making the contract effective (Washington Technology). It is geometrically more complicated than their simultaneous DoD implementation, with $10 billion estimated over 10 years (FCW). Other wrenches in the works: a fresh CliniComp lawsuit against Cerner based on infringement against their 2003 patent on remote hosting, and their appeal of the no-bid award to Cerner [TTA 23 Aug] against VA. Kansas City Business Journal, Healthcare IT News
  • Is it going to increase cost? It might. And what about info sharing with providers? A Harvard Medical School professor opined to Marketplace that instead of self-treatment at home for a cold, the patient might actually traipse to a MinuteClinic for care, thus driving up healthcare costs. This resembles the RAND logic around telemedicine consult expense we deflated in a series of articles back in the spring. Information sharing with regular providers is a bigger issue which urgent cares, telemedicine, and clinics already are dealing with. The paradox is that integration with a payer, with a retailer’s ability to track ancillary purchases such as OTC meds and DME purchases, might actually help that issue. But will it? Will a combined CVS-Aetna share information or hoard it, further disempowering patients? This Stat article calls on Mark Bertolini to promote shared information, engagement, and accountability to balance the scales.
  • Do we really need hospitals? If they don’t change, we might need a lot less of them except for highly specialized treatment. And this is likely a good thing. The HBR points out that CVS-Aetna is hardly the only threat to the traditional hospital–there’s Johns Hopkins’ Hospital at Home program for older adults, UnitedHealthcare’s growing network of providers under OptumCare, including the recent deal for DaVita dialysis centers, and free-standing, low-cost “neighborhood” hospitals, almost like pop-up stores. The article doesn’t mention ‘consult stations’ like Europe’s H4D, which is proving that the kiosk idea isn’t dead. 

The reality is that we won’t know what this merger entails until it actually happens, if it happens–and its final shape will take years to mold. Related: CVS-Aetna: the canary says that DOJ likely to review mergerAnalysis of the CVS-Aetna merger: a new era, a canary in a mine–or both?CVS’ bid for Aetna–will it happen, and kick off a trend? (what will Amazon and other retailers, including supermarkets, do?)

VA EHR award to Cerner contested by CliniComp (updated)

See update below. CliniComp International, a current specialized EHR vendor to some Department of Veterans Affairs locations and to the Department of Defense for clinical documentation since 2009, has filed a bid protest in the US Court of Federal Claims on Friday 18 Aug, saying that VA improperly awarded a contract to Cerner in June [TTA 7 June] without a competitive bidding process.

At the time, VA Secretary David Shulkin moved the award via a “Determination and Findings” (D&F) which provides for a public health exception to the bidding process. Without this, competitive bidding could take six to eight months, as Dr. Shulkin stated to a Congressional committee after the award–or two years, as DoD’s did–and would have further slowed down the already slow adoption process. Even if all goes well, the transition from VistA to Cerner will not begin at earliest until mid-2019 [TTA 14 Aug]. The Cerner MHS Genesis choice was also logical, given the Federal demand for interoperability with DoD. In June, the House Appropriations Committee approved $65 million for the transition, provided that VA provides detailed reports to Congress on the transition process and its interoperability not only with DoD’s but also private healthcare systems.

CliniComp objected to all that, saying in the protest that VA had enough time for an open bidding procedure, that the failure to do so was “predicated on a lack of advance planning,” and that awarding it to Cerner without it was “unreasonable”. “As shown by the nine counts set forth below, the VA’s decision to award a sole-source contract to Cerner is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and violates the CICA and Federal Acquisition Regulations,” according to the suit.

According to Healthcare IT News, “CliniComp said it filed an agency-level protest to contest the sole source award shortly after the announcement, according to the complaint. But the VA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition denied the protest on Aug. 7. In doing so, the VA violated the Competition in Contracting Act of 1978, the company claims.”

This is not CliniComp’s first bid protest. Before one dismisses the bid protest as sour grapes picked by a minor vendor, this Editor discovered via Law360 that CliniComp was successful in a VA bid protest in August 2014. In this case, VA had a $4.5 million contract for computer systems at several intensive care units for saving patient waveform biometrics. The VA’s award to Picis in October 2013 was overturned because the Court of Federal Claims found that in clarifying the CliniComp bid, VA never had official discussions with CliniComp, only informal requests for clarifications. The court found that the two bids were not evaluated the same way–and that likely both were acceptable, with CliniComp’s bid preferable because it was lower. (More on CliniComp and its 30-year history here)

Update. Arthur Allen in POLITICO Morning e-Health also did his homework and found the same Law360 article on CliniComp’s 2014 bid protest win, adding the following:

  • DoD and VA officials have complained that CliniComp’s software is not compatible with legacy systems. However, some IT experts have noted that neither DoD nor VA can provide platforms which can be interoperable with Cerner. (Circular firing squad?)
  • Oral arguments are set for 2 October, if necessary, after motions are filed next month. Cerner joined in the defense against the protest as of Monday. 

Will the brakes be put on Cerner’s work while the protest wends its weary way through the Federal Claims Court? The bid protest is high-profile embarrassing for VA, though the D&F is completely legal. Stay tuned. Also Modern Healthcare, KCUR, Healthcare Dive

VA’s Shulkin: Cerner rollout start by mid-2019?

An interesting short (free) article on POLITICO Morning eHealth today was an interview with VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD on the Cerner transition, stating that if all went well with negotiations later this year, VA clinicians could be using the Cerner system by mid-2019. “There’s a lot of understandable concern about whether the Cerner EHR will have the same functionality as VistA, which has evolved to the physician’s needs over the past 35 years.” One of the problems with VistA was that it wasn’t one system, it was 130 systems, which is echoed in many EHRs. POLITICO goes on to quote Dr. Shulkin: “I don’t hear as many concerns about that as I do relief about finally making a decision because people felt this was the slow death of a system that they have poured their hearts and souls into. Knowing we’re committed to doing a transition as well as we can is reassuring to people.” Sadly, the rest of the interview is paywalled on POLITICO PRO. Earlier analysis: VA says goodbye to VistA, hello to Cerner. We wonder what the involvement and engagement of the four Home Telehealth winners of the 5-year contract will be.

Cerner DoD deployment on time; Coast Guard EHR shopping; Air Force, VA sharing teleICU

The US Department of Defense announced that the deployment of Cerner’s EHR MHS Genesis at the Naval Hospital in Oak Harbor, Washington is on time for later this month. It’s a little unusual that anything this big and in the government is actually on time. It’s also meaningful for VA, as they are adopting MHS Genesis in an equally, if not longer, rollout [TTA 7 June]. Healthcare IT News

Less well known is the Coast Guard‘s dropping its costly six-year deployment of the Epic EHR last year and reverting to paper. They are not in the MHS Genesis rollout because the CG is part of the Department of Homeland Security, despite its service roots and structure similar to the US Navy. This has led to much speculation that their final choice will be DoD’s Cerner platform, although the OpenEMR Consortium has already answered their April RFI.

And even less noticed was the late June announcement that the US Air Force Medical Operations Agency and the VA are implementing a tele-ICU sharing arrangement, giving the USAF access to the VA’s capabilities at five AF locations: Las Vegas; Hampton, Virginia; Biloxi, Mississippi; Dayton, Ohio; and Anchorage, Alaska. The VA central tele-ICU facility is in Minneapolis. Doctors there can remotely consult, prescribe medications, order procedures and make diagnoses through live electronic monitoring. Becker’s Hospital Review, VA press release

VA says goodbye to VistA, hello to Cerner for new EHR–and possible impacts (updated)

The new sheriff just turned the town upside down. Veterans Affairs’ new Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, as expected moved quickly on the VA’s EHR modernization before the July 1 deadline, and moved to the same vendor that the Department of Defense (DoD) chose in 2015 for the Military Health System, Cerner. VA will adapt MHS GENESIS, based on Cerner Millenium. The rationale is seamless interoperability both with DoD and with private sector community providers and vendors, which base their services on commercial EHRs. The goal is to have one record for a service member through his or her lifetime and to eliminate the transition gap after discharge or retirement. (Transition gaps are also repeated when reservists or National Guard are called up for active duty then returned to their former status.) Another priority for VA is preventing the high rate of suicide among vulnerable veterans.

Updates: VA confirmed that Epic and Leidos will keep the development of the online medical appointment scheduling program, awarded in 2015 and currently in pilot, to be completed in 18 months. The contract is worth $624 million over five years. Wisconsin State Journal  The House Appropriations subcommittee on Veterans Affairs likes the Cerner EHR change. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is meeting Wednesday to discuss the VA budget sans the EHR transition. The EHR numbers are expected to be sooner rather than later. POLITICO Morning eHealth 

Dr. Shulkin is well acquainted with the extreme need for a modernized, interoperable system serving the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), having been on the US Senate Hot Grill for some years as Undersecretary of Health for VA. The foundation for the move from homegrown VistA to Cerner was laid last year during the prior Administration through an August RFI for a COTS (commercial off the shelf) EHR [TTA 12 Aug 16] and in later hearings. “Software development is not a core competency of VA” and it has been obvious in system breakdowns like scheduling, maintaining cybersecurity and the complex interoperability between two different systems. To move to Cerner immediately without a competition, which took DoD over two years, Dr. Shulkin used his authority to sign a “Determination and Findings” (D&F) which provides for a public health exception to the bidding process. The value of the Cerner contract will not be determined for several months.

For those sentimental about VistA, he acknowledged the pioneering role of the EHR back in the 1970s, but that calls for modernization started in 2000 with seven ‘blue ribbon’ commissions and innumerable Congressional hearings since. He understated the cost in the failed efforts on interoperability with DoD’s own AHLTA system, VA’s own effort at a new architecture, and modernizing the outpatient system. This Editor tallied these three alone at $3 billion in GAO’s reckoning [‘Pondering the Squandering’, TTA 27 July 13]. 

It is still going to take years to implement–no quick fixes in something this massive, despite the urgency.

  • Both MHS and VA will be running two systems at once for years (more…)

Cerner’s takeoff delayed on DOD’s new EHR, MHS Genesis

The new $4.3 billion US Department of Defense EHR, jointly developed by Cerner and Leidos, has taken another delay from the aggressive rollout schedule set in April.  The original test start date was 6 December at the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital in Spokane, Washington (state) and the Oak Harbor Naval Hospital on Washington’s Whidbey Island. Back in early September, it was reported that it would be delayed by at least a few months for technical reasons (Federal News Radio and Healthcare IT News). The rara avis in the latter is a mention of major dental supplier Henry Schein–along with Accenture, they were part of the award, but very much a junior partner in providing the dental EHR. (Leidos release)

The latest update on the start of MHS Genesis is February 2017 for Fairchild AFB and June for Oak Harbor. Healthcare IT News

VA’s moves spell the end of the homegrown EHR

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is formally reaching out to the private sector to explore switching from its current, pioneering EHR system, VistA (also referred to as CPRS, Computerized Patient Record System) to a commercial system. Their ‘feeler’ is an August 5 and 8 notice in FedBizOpps.gov titled 99–TAC-16-37877 * RFI – VHA supporting COTS EHR REQUEST FOR INFORMATION (RFI), Solicitation Number: VA11816N1486. This requests information on business support for transitioning to a commercial-off-the-shelf system (COTS–don’t governments love acronyms?–Ed.) and closes 26 August, which is not a lot of time even for an RFI.

VHA has been under extreme pressure from Congress to modernize its EHR, lately in July hearings before the Senate Appropriations Committee. EHR replacement is also in line with the Congressionally-mandated, now concluded Commission on Care’s recently published recommendations on a total, top-down reorganization of VHA, including a sweeping reorg of their HIT management. The VHA strategy appears to be that while they are walking down the road to replace VistA and have already spent to assess where they are with KLAS and other EHR consultancies (spending $160,000+ on surveys), they are essentially ‘kicking the can down the road’ to the next administration (POLITICO’s Morning eHealth, 14 July).

Current state is to continue to upgrade VistA through late 2018, though the closely related Department of Defense’s Military Health System is in the long process of cutting its homegrown AHLTA over to Cerner-Leidos as MHS Genesis, awarded last August, with a first trial in the Pacific Northwest later this year (HealthcareITNews, Ed. emphasis). Of course, it will take the VHA years to roll it out; there are close to 9 million veterans enrolled in the closed system that is the VHA.  FCW, Morning eHealth 10 August

Love EHRs or hate them, the sheer size of the VHA and its growing concession that VistA won’t do in caring for American veterans makes it clear that the future of EHRs is in private systems from major developers–a field which is winnowing out to The Few (take that, GE).  (more…)

Paper beats the EHR rock, docs in British Columbia conclude

“Moving to an electronic system should enhance the care we provide, rather than jeopardize it.” “We do not want a catastrophic event to occur in order to have our concerns heard.” “We do not feel that it is ethical to put patients at risk using a system that makes it difficult to ‘do the right thing’ and much easier to make a significant error.”

Nine weeks into the launch of a C$174 million Cerner EHR in March, emergency room and intensive care unit doctors Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in British Columbia, Canada reverted to paper orders and instructions out of concern for patient safety. Internists and others wanted to do the same. They formed a 250-member Medical Staff Association, which had enough concerns to go on the record with a report that included the above. One example: the lack of confidence in the electronic ordering system module for diagnostic tests, drugs and patient instructions was enough for sixty-one Association members to vote unanimously on a  “no confidence” motion in the system and a return to paper orders. The report also detailed “a multitude of physician-reported major safety issues from every department that deals with acute patient care.”

The B.C. provincial health authority, which in Canada’s system can overrule doctors and parent companies (Island Health), won’t remove the offending module, but is concerned enough to order additional resources and ongoing refinements, based on physician concerns and recommendations from a recent internal investigation. Island Health’s board also asked the health authority to: address fatigue in clinical staff and medical professionals; adjust resources to alleviate workload burden; Improve trust in the electronic health record and associated clinical care processes; work collaboratively with clinicians and medical staff to evaluate improvements in the electronic health record for quality and safe patient care. Times Colonist (BC)

Our wrapup of news and tart takes on HIMSS 16 (updated redux)

Lions Lie Down With Lambs, and Other Miracles!

HIMSS 16’s main ‘breaking news’ centered on HIT interoperability. The lead was US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s announcement on how Lions Will Lie Down With Lambs, Or Else. 17 EHRs that cover 90 percent of electronic health records used by U.S. hospitals–including the bitterest of rivals, Epic (the EHR everyone likes to hate) and Cerner, 16 providers including the nation’s five largest private healthcare systems, and more than a dozen leading professional associations and stakeholder groups (including HIMSS) pledged to implement three core commitments that allegedly will improve the flow of health information to consumers and healthcare providers. They are consumer access, no information blocking and standards. When? Where? How? Strictly TBD. HHS release, MedCityNews, Modern Healthcare, which dubbed it ‘another year, another promise’.

Innovate or Die. For companies and providers, it’s not about compliance anymore but about improving patient outcomes due to value-based care and incentives. Providers will increasingly be responsible for patient care throughout the community to make their numbers. Having made this sound point, Dr John Halamka then proposes they will need a ‘care traffic control’ system through data aggregation, with a laundry list of ‘enablers’, directories and connectors surrounding the EHR. How this all will work together, and who will buy in already challenged practices and ACOs, plus how those 17 notoriously territorial EHRs will work with said ‘enablers’ — or complicators — is a mystery to this Editor. Pass the Advil, please. MedCityNews

Read on for more Top 10s, roundups, DOD and VA EHR news, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback tackles the closing keynote, and 10 ways you can become a HIMSS speaker! (more…)

Defense, VA EHR interoperability off the tracks again: GAO

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Thomas.jpg” thumb_width=”175″ /] According to the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO), the birddog of All Things Budget, the Department of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) missed the 1 Oct 2014 deadline established in the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to certify that all health data in their systems met national standards and were interoperable. Modernization of software–a new Cerner EHR for DOD, modernization of VistA– is also behind the curve with a due date now beyond the 31 Dec 2016 deadline until after 2018. Finally the DOD-VA Interagency Program Office (IPO), which shares health data between the departments, has not yet produced or created a time frame nor “specified outcome-oriented metrics and established related goals that are important to gauging the impact that interoperability capabilities have on improving health care services for shared patients.” iHealthBeat, GAO report

Cerner win at Defense a crossroads for interoperability (US)

Modern Healthcare’s analysis of the Cerner/Leidos/Accenture win of the Department of Defense (DoD) EHR contract focuses on its effect on interoperability. In their view, it’s positive in three points for active military, retirees and their dependents.

* EHR interoperability with the civilian sector is needed because 60-70 percent of the 9.6 million Military Health System beneficiaries—active duty military personnel, retirees and their families—is delivered by providers in the US private sector through Tricare, the military health insurance program.

* A major criticism by Congress and veterans’ groups of both DoD and VA is the lack of interoperability between these systems as well as civilian. Many military members change their status several times during service, and can cycle within a few years as active, Reserve, National Guard and inactive reserve. Records famously get lost, sometimes disastrously.

* It’s a boost to state health information exchanges (HIE) in states with large military bases and also for the CommonWell Health Alliance, an industry group which is establishing EHR interoperability standards.

Less optimistic are some industry observers who see the DoD contract as sidelining resources demanded by Cerner’s civilian hospital clients, and whether realistically they can develop a system to exchange data with every EHR, including dental, and e-prescribing system in the US (and probably foreign as well). Modern Healthcare

US Department of Defense picks Cerner/Leidos/Accenture for $4.3 bn EHR

Breaking News Updated  The winner of the massive, potentially ten year contract for the Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization program is defense computer contractor Leidos, which brought in Cerner and Accenture Federal Systems.The DOD announcement mentions only lead contractor Leidos, interestingly under the US Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, California. The announcement was released just after 5pm EDT today.

This combination beat the Epic/IBM and the Allscripts/Computer Sciences/HP bids. According to the DOD announcement, “This contract has a two-year initial ordering period, with two 3-year option periods, and a potential two-year award term, which, if awarded, would bring the total ordering period to 10 years. Work will be performed at locations throughout the United States and overseas. If all options are exercised, work is expected to be completed by September 2025. Fiscal 2015 Defense Health Program Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds in the amount of $35,000,000 will be obligated at the time of award.” Modern Healthcare attended the embargoed press conference this morning and adds in its article that only one-third is fixed cost, with the remainder as ‘cost plus’, which could conceivably run the contract to the $4.33 bn ceiling over the 10 years. The system will be used in 55 military hospitals and 600 clinics, with an initial operational test as early as 2016 (Washington Post) and full rollout by 2023.  Interoperability with private EHR systems was a key requirement (Healthcare IT News).Over the 18 year life cycle, the contract value could be up to $9 bn, according to the WaPo.

The race to replace DOD’s AHLTA accelerated with the final failure to launch a plan to create a joint DOD-VA EHR in March 2013 [TTA 27 July 13], though hopes revived in Congress occasionally during the past two years [TTA 31 Mar].

It is also widely interpreted as a blow to Epic, which has been defensive of late about its willingness to play in the HIT Interoperability sandbox with other EHRs; certainly it cannot make Big Blue, which would undoubtedly have found some way to sell Watson into this, happy.

POLITICO’s Morning eHealth had many tart observations today, mostly pertaining to the belief of some observers that Cerner will be strapped in meeting this Federal commitment and would find it increasingly difficult to innovate in the private sector.

Example–From Micky Tripathi, CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative: “My biggest worry isn’t that Cerner won’t deliver, it’s that DOD will suck the lifeblood out of the company by running its management ragged with endless overhead and dulling the innovative edge of its development teams. There is a tremendous amount of innovation going on in health IT right now. We need a well-performing Cerner in the private sector to keep pushing the innovation frontier. It’s not a coincidence that defense contractors don’t compete well in the private sector, and companies who do both shield their commercial business from their defense business to protect the former from the latter.”

Unnerving mergers (US-UK); DoD’s EHR picked; EHRs & AMA

Blues feeling Blue about…The Anthem-Cigna merger, finalized last week (but yet to be approved by the US and likely the UK Governments as Cigna issues policies there), gives them bragging rights over the Aetna-Humana merger and Optum/United Healthcare in their covering of 53 million US lives as the largest US health insurer. Unnerved is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, of which Anthem is a part of with the Anthem and Empire Blue Cross plans plus others in a total of 14 states. But Anthem also competes with ‘the Blues’ in 19 additional states where it markets under a non-Blue brand, Amerigroup, primarily for Medicare and Medicaid (state low-income coverage). Many of the Blues are non-profit or mutual insurers; many are partial or single-state, like Independence, Capital and Highmark (PA/DE/WV) in Pennsylvania and Horizon Blue Cross of New Jersey. Their stand-alone future, not bright since the ACA, now seem ever dimmer in this Editor’s long-time consideration and that of Bruce Japsen writing in Forbes. Also Morningstar considers Anthem’s overpaying and the LA Times overviews.

Walgreens Boots Alliance, another recent merger of quintessentially American and British drug store institutions, named as its interim CEO Stefano Pessina. He previously ran Alliance Boots prior to the merger and is the largest individual shareholder of WBA stock with approximately 140 million shares, so one cannot call it a surprise. At a youthful 73 (see video), one assumes he also takes plenty of Walgreens vitamins and uses Boots No 7 skin care. Forbes.

Updated: The big EHR news is the US Department of Defense announcing the award of its Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract this week. At 10 years and $11 billion, even giant EHRs went phalanxed with other giant government contractors to face DOD: Epic with IBM; Cerner with Leidos, Accenture and Intermountain Healthcare; Allscripts with Computer Sciences Corp. and Hewlett Packard. Certainly there will be ‘gravitational pull’ that affects healthcare organizations, but the open and unanswered question is if that pull will include the far nearer and immediately critical lack of interoperability with the Veterans Health Administration’s (VA) VistA EHR. The Magic 8 Ball reads: Hazy, try again later.  Leidos/Cerner announced as winners close of business Wednesday 29 July. 

In other EHR news, US doctors vented last week on how much they hate the @#$%^&* things to the American Medical Association‘s ‘town hall’ in Atlanta. Bloat, diminished effectiveness, error, getting in the way of care due to design by those without medical background presently prevail. The AMA’s Break the Red Tape campaign asks CMS to “postpone” finalizing Stage 3 Meaningful Use (MU) rules so that it can align with new payment/delivery models. Better yet, they should buy thousands of copies of Dr Robert Wachter’s book [TTA 16 Apr] and drop them on every policymaker’s desk there, with a thud. Health Data Management