Making the most of a mercurial healthcare environment

Recently, healthcare IT systems have been behaving a lot like mercury.

Small drops of mercury—Hg on the periodic table of elements—inevitably combine to create larger blobs. Not too long ago, healthcare organizations were implementing a range of discrete HIT systems, each designed to address a specific departmental or functional need and each typically provided by a different vendor.

Lately, though, some healthcare organizations seem to be looking for unified solutions that can address a wide range of needs. Vendors are acquiring additional functionality to respond to this need: Allscripts and Eclipsys merged in 2010, for example; Aetna and Medicity later the same year.

For many healthcare organizations, it makes sense. It reduces the complexity of interfacing and integration. It often enables users to access greater volumes of data and to use information more effectively. And a single vendor solution makes upgrades and downloads easier to deploy and centralizes the service and support functionality—offering “one throat to choke,” so to say.

But, in reality, it’s unlikely there will ever be a one-size-fits-all solution. While healthcare information technology systems may become more singular, they still need to connect with administration, operational, claims and revenue cycle technologies.

Within this—shall we say, mercurial—environment, healthcare providers must select technology with an eye to the greater whole. They must consider how one discipline (e.g., Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) vs. Computer and Information Systems (CIS)) will interact, support and expand the value of the other. No one knows this better than Carol Plato, CHFP, CPAM, MBA, administrative director of corporate business services at Martin Health Systems. The Florida-based system recently made the difficult decision to overhaul its hospital information system. One key to the success of this transition was the ability of the new HIS to integrate with Martin’s existing revenue cycle technology.

The strength of this type of interconnectivity can’t be underestimated, says Plato. The top benefits she notes: the convenience of working with a single workflow and the simplification of what might otherwise be complex processes.  

The mercury effect—the need to be connected—will only continue to expand, thanks to emerging care and reimbursement models such as health information exchanges, accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes. Savvy healthcare organizations will consider their options and look to simplifying workflow and communications.

Steve Kilguss is Vice President of Product Management at Emdeon.