Top 10 stories of 2017 so far: Epic, eClinicalWorks, ransomware, AI and more
At the year's halfway point, we look back on Healthcare IT News' most popular stories, exploring major vendor announcements, general EHR dissatisfaction, rampant ransomware, innovative (potentially transformative?) technologies and more.
Summer is often a time of slow news, but that's not the case so far this year: Three of our top five stories have been published since Memorial Day.
At HIMSS17 in Orlando, Healthcare IT News got a scoop that piqued the interest of our readers in a big way. "There's going to be three versions of Epic," longtime CEO Judy Faulkner told Editor-at-Large Bernie Monegain. In addition to the full bells-and-whistles version of the EHR, the Verona, Wisconsin vendor would soon unveil a mid-range "utility" version, and a system called Sonnet whose scaled-back features and lower price point could make it appealing to smaller providers. "We’re finding that people need different things," Faulkner said. "If you are a critical access hospital, you don’t need the full Epic."
EHR vendor eClinicalWorks agreed to pay a settlement of $155 million to resolve a charge that it had falsely obtained meaningful use certification for its software. Following a whistleblower lawsuit, the DOJ alleged that eCW added the 16 drug codes necessary for certification into its software rather than enabling the EHR to access those from a complete database, failed to accurately record user actions with audit log functionality, didn't always accurately record diagnostic imaging orders or conduct drug-drug interaction checks and did not meet data portability requirements designed to enable physicians to transfer patient data to over vendors' systems.
Given its sheer size and vast market share, Epic stories are perennially popular with HITN readers. When the EHR behemoth announced its entry into a new line of business, people took notice -- including, we're guessing, more than a few curious potential job-seekers in the greater Madison area.
As the virulent Petya ransomware strain made itself felt around the world in most unwelcome ways, one of the largest providers of voice recognition software was a high-profile victim. Nuance Communications saw portions of its network affected, with many healthcare customers experiencing challenges with its transcription services and the Dragon Medical 360 medical dictation tool. Service disruptions continued as recently as this week.
"If somebody could explain to me why veterans benefit from VA being a good software developer, then maybe I'd change my mind," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, MD, explaining why the agency would soon pick an off-the-shelf EHR to replace its self-developed VistA system. "But right now we should focus on the things veterans need us to focus on and work with companies who know how to do this better than we do." In June, to the surprise of few, it was announced that that company would be Cerner.
What once sounded futuristic, perhaps even sci-fi, is now becoming commonplace at hospitals across the U.S. Artificial intelligence is set to become the new normal, enabling big strides in care improvement. "I've never in my career seen the acceleration of technology as fast as what we've witnessed in machine learning during the last two years," said Dale Sanders, executive vice president at Health Catalyst.
Humble old EHR systems also have some evolving of their own to do. And three of the leading vendors promised to embrace innovation and openness, most immediately by embracing open APIs, enabling third-parties to write software and apps to run on their platforms. Allscripts, for instance, already has some 5,000 developers certified to do that, and about 2 billion API exchanges have occurred on its platform since 2013.
The improvements wouldn't be a moment too soon. After years of complaints about poor usability, alert fatigue, workflow impediments and more Physicians' patience with the systems is wearing thin, and calls for big improvement -- sooner, not later -- are growing louder. “They need a tremendous makeover,” said Robert Wachter, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
In June, the HHS Office of the Inspector General revealed that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it had inadvertently overpaid more than $729 million in EHR incentive payments to providers who hadn't actually met meaningful use requirements. That's hardly a rounding error -- the number represents about 12 percent of the total incentive payments for federal EHR Incentive Programs.
The next big thing, or just another over-promised fad? Blockchain is intriguing everyone in healthcare, and at HIMSS17, IEEE Computer Society and the Personal Connected Health Alliance sought to put digital ledger technology's potential into perspective, exploring real-world uses cases focused on security, interoperability, claims adjudication, clinical trials, master patient index, supply chain and more.