Tuesday, GE Healthcare unveiled Centricity, a Software as a Service (SaaS) electronic health record (EHR) for ambulatory practices. Only 15% of these solo primary care docs, small group practices and specialists have implemented EHRs, according to GE’s count.
Meaning, 85% of the market is up for grabs by someone, be it GE, eClinicalWorks, Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions, Practice Fusion — which just inked a deal with Dell last week to partner for software for Dell’s hardware and consulting services — or any of a number of other vendors out there.
For the Centricity unveiling, GE trotted out none other than Newt Gingrich, former House speaker and head of the Center for Healthcare Transformation, to preach the virtues of Centricity. Politics — and lack of nuts-and-bolts IT knowledge — aside, he made some fair points, such as these:
- The average doctor doesn’t have much nuts-and-bolts IT knowledge either.
- SaaS EHRs untether docs from their offices, making it more convenient to practice with their laptops wherever they are: That could very well increase quality of care in and of itself.
- Ten years from now, at least some doctors who set up and supported their own client/server EHR implementations will look back and be kicking themselves for not trusting SaaS vendors.
After that, however, his arguments got a little fuzzy: Gingrich intimated that GE and its deep pockets might be better able to support a hosted EHR system than a smaller vendor, but that’s hindsight stuff we’ll be able to gauge better 10 years down the road, after we’ve filled out our scorecards. As a free-market advocate who has seen the likes of Microsoft, eBay and Toyota rise to dominate their respective sectors driven by sheer product innovation — Gingrich, of all people, should know that. Whom will doctors trust? They’ll let us know, and the market will sort itself out.
Another thing Gingrich said was that government is “the fourth bubble,” following information technology (I think he’s referring to the dot-com e-commerce economy that collapsed back in 2000), housing and Wall Street. And it’s about to burst. Whether that forecast is right or wrong, what that has to do with EHRs, especially SaaS EHRs, was pretty unclear.
Gingrich did offer this clarification: “The combination of government crashing — in terms of what money’s available — and the pressure economically from China and India is going to require people to learn how to be more effective, more efficient, deliver more for less, just as a survival function,” he said. “Doctors who can find a way to handle the flow of information flow efficiently and accurately … are going to have a huge advantage.”
Fair enough. But the government will always have tax revenue, no matter what the doom-and-gloom-ers say. Listening to Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and state government leaders, some health care insiders seem pretty convinced that health care itself is the real bubble, on the verge of collapse (resulting in many — or even most — primary care physicians closing their doors) unless there are sweeping — and fast — changes in how providers get reimbursed.
Others add to that point by saying that the HITECH Act funding of health IT is just stimulus meant to prime the pump, not a bailout designed to make up for the bad decisions providers made to keep their paper processes when the rest of the business world was digitizing. With or without government intervention, EHRs and interoperable health data exchange need to happen.
As hundreds of thousands of ambulatory physicians, like gamblers at a roulette wheel, decide on which EHR vendor to place their bets, the stakes are high. The HITECH Act gave them a fistful of chips. With all due respect to GE Healthcare, with any luck these physicians will listen to leaders other than Newt Gingrich and his talking points to help guide them in finding the best fit for their practices.