eClinicalWorks fate in question, and it holds lessons for all hospital CIOs

While the EHR vendor’s clients face tough choices, and the company itself may emerge looking different than it does today, the quagmire reveals hard realities that all hospitals have to grapple with.
02:22 PM
eClinicalWorks lawsuit

With eClinicalWorks facing powerful turbulence with its customers, executives are asking stark questions about whether or not it can make it through. 

“I think they can survive,” said Justin Sleeper, a former eClinicalWorks employee and current HIT consultant. “They’ll retain most of their customer base, lose a few, but they have many conversions from other EHR vendors.”

Sleeper added that the biggest thing in the EHR maker’s favor right now is exactly how hard it is for any hospital to switch to a different electronic health records vendor. 

[Also: DOJ demands eClinicalWorks transfer data to rival EHRs]

eClinicalWorks agreed to pay $155 million to resolve a False Claims Act lawsuit that alleged it gave customers kickbacks for publicly promoting its products and falsely obtaining meaningful use certification.

That’s a hefty fine for a vendor that claimed annual revenue last year of $440 million. Add to that the financial strain of offering free upgrades or the challenge of transferring customers data to a rival EHR company, both conditions that the DOJ required as part of the settlement. 

[Also: eClinicalWorks whistleblower: NYC health department was indifferent to EHR flaws]

“Switching EHR vendors requires a significant amount of patience, planning, coordination and execution; more so perhaps than implementing a greenfield system,” said Vik Nagjee, chief technology officer at cloud vendor PureStorage and the former CTO of Epic Systems. 

Indeed, provider organizations that choose to move away from eClinicalWorks to another EHR vendor will face a raft of challenges. 

“While moving data from one EHR to another EHR is difficult enough, migrating workflows from one EHR to another EHR will be even more problematic,” said Charles Webster, MD, president of EHR Workflow. “Once users customize EHR workflows, or force themselves to adapt to EHR specific ways of operation, they are loath to move to another EHR, if only to avoid another painful training, configuration and go-live processes again.” 

Then again, whenever a vendor hits tough times there is usually the possibility of being acquired. 

“The damage to eClinicalWorks could put strong pressure on the company in the near term at a time when EHR sales are plateauing,” said John Moore, founder and managing partner of Chilmark Research. “That could end up leading to an eventual sale of the company.”

Whatever ultimately happens, eClinicalWorks will look much different than it does today. 

Sleeper, for instance, said that the company might push costs down to customers and to employees in the form of no or smaller annual salary increases. And because of the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s corporate integrity agreement that mandates the EHR vendor retain an Independent Software Quality Oversight Organization that sends report to both OIG and  eClinicalWorks, the vendor look like a like a state-run organization for the next five years. 

Associate Editor Jessica Davis contributed to this report. 

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