High demand for health IT consulting

By Bernie Monegain
04:09 PM
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Meaningful use, HIEs and ICD-10 drive the market

The added work anticipated from meaningful use requirements, the pressure to achieve data sharing and the clock ticking toward the 2014 deadline for conversion of diagnostic and medical billing codes from ICD-9 to ICD-10 code sets has driven the demand for consultants, creating what some call a boom.

"Demand for meaningful use help has exploded, increasing competition between third-party consulting firms  -  most of whom are excelling in MU-related work," according to a new report from Orem, Utah-based research firm KLAS.

Most providers have not attested for meaningful use Stage 1, most frequently citing quality measures and reporting as their biggest challenges, the report notes. That has them increasingly reaching out to consultants for assistance, according to the report "Rapid Growth of Meaningful Use Consulting: Why Providers Are Reaching Out."

"User adoption, software upgrades and updates also rank high among the challenges providers cite for implementing electronic medical records," wrote Erik Westerlind, senior research director and author of the report.

One CFO said, "We were struggling to do the implementation ourselves, and I ultimately bit the bullet and hired [a consulting firm] to come in and help us get our act together. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my professional career."

KLAS identifies a total of 51 firms that have conducted at least one MU-related project, engaging in everything from strategic advisory services and lead roles in implementations to supporting implementation engagements and to implementation and staff augmentation projects. Most firms are performing well and are satisfying healthcare provider expectations, according to Westerlind. More than half (61 percent) of the ranked firms in the KLAS report achieved a score of 89 out of 100 or above. 

Beyond attesting for Stage 1, healthcare providers are looking to consulting firms to partner with as they navigate years of upcoming regulations and potential policy changes, according to the report, Westerlind said.

Another recent report from KLAS focused on the demand for health information exchange (HIE) consultants, noting that providers were increasingly hiring consultants to help them join an HIE, usually tapping a firm they had worked with in the past. 

"HIE consulting firms are being chosen based primarily on providers' prior relationships with the firms, the firms' reputation for having high healthcare and regulatory expertise, or the HIE vendors' recommendations," said Westerlind.

ICD-9 to ICD-10

Tori Sullivan, manager for Capgemini Government Solutions in Washington D.C., says business is strong, especially in her area of expertise  -  the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 coding. The scope of this change is so pervasive, it's intimidating to many providers, she told Healthcare IT News recently.

"This isn't just a coding update, it is truly an organizational change," said Sullivan. "There is a lot of misunderstanding about the complexity of it and how it interacts with other regulations." The coding transition has created a cottage industry, she said.

Staffing up

In August, Burlington, Mass.-based Arcadia Solutions, which provides data-driven health IT services, announced it had partnered with Harvard University and University of Washington to launch an internship program.

"With this program, we're able to engage with long-term clients and help them evaluate what is and isn't working, while giving them visibility into how their progress compares to the rest of the industry, said Eric Zerneke, Arcadia's vice president of marketing and business development. "Furthermore, the interns spearheading this program will be able to use this experience as they start their own careers in healthcare IT."

Pittsburgh-based Stoltenberg Consulting started a junior consultant program to augment its workforce. The firm also recently launched a program called ACHIEVE, which stands for Accelerated Community Hospital Implementation, Evidenced-based, Effective. The program is designed to reach small, community hospitals. 

"Community hospitals across the nation are struggling to meet meaningful use requirements, and many are facing substantial business challenges that prohibit them from investing in the necessary resources and technologies," said Sheri Stoltenberg, CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting. "The ACHIEVE program was created specifically to support the IT initiatives of small and rural hospitals by removing their risk, streamlining the process and minimizing obstacles."