Health care providers battling to stay on top of meaningful use implementation while juggling other technology-driven initiatives are generating plenty of business for resellers, integrators and other IT service providers these days.
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Hospitals and medical practices are now into the second year of pursuing the government's meaningful use stage 1 criteria for effective use of electronic health record (EHR) technology. While many facilities are still coming to grips with the first set of directives, the second wave surfaced in February, setting up another series of tasks for providers. And to add insult to multi-tasking misery, providers also find themselves juggling ICD-10 implementation, even if the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline has been delayed.
"They...have project plans that would make your head spin with all the things they have to do concurrently," noted Karen Burton, U.S. health care business development manager with Logicalis Inc., an IT solutions and managed services provider.
As a consequence, service providers report strong demand for offerings related to meaningful use implementation. EHR deployments -- the bread-and-butter work of 2011 -- still keep service providers busy. This year, though, health care organizations are also asking for assistance with tasks ranging from systems integration to disaster recovery planning. This broader band of services will further expand as contractors help customers gear up for proposed meaningful use stage 2 criteria.
Meaningful use implementation: More than just EHR use
As many providers aim to apply for meaningful use money in the months ahead, solution providers continue to report EHR installations as a continuing source of projects.
"There’s definitely going to be a lot more attestation this year," noted Patrick Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Vital Signs Technology Inc., a San Ramon, Calif.-based IT services provider that focuses on the health field.
Wilson noted that his company's work is not strictly confined to EHR implementation. Customers also seek to link EHR systems to ancillary systems. Hospitals have dozens of third-party applications -- labor and delivery, pharmacy, and lab systems, among others -- that need to integrate with EHR software. Wilson cited one customer with 66 third-party vendors in the mix. "It's not just implementing the one system," he said.
Solution providers' EHR business involves both on-premises software and Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings. In situations where the EHR replaces an existing system, some service providers also work with customers on the transition.
Another source of demand has been providers -- especially hospitals with 300 or more beds -- that have fully implemented EHRs and now want to verify meaningful use compliance, said Jim Bindon, director of HealthPath at Avnet Technology Solutions, Americas.
Avnet Inc., an IT distributor based in Tempe, Ariz., is now building ties with companies that provide testing and certification for EHR deployments. The idea is to offer a validation solution that Avnet resellers can market to their health care customers. "I think it’s going to be a big opportunity," Bindon said. "I didn't see it last year, but I definitely see it this year."
Planning assistance can ease meaningful use implementation
VARs and integrators also cited considerable interest in planning services -- an unsurprising demand given the number of technology initiatives in play.
We are beginning to take our partners up the technology stack.
Jim Bindon, director, Avnet HealthPath
In some cases, health care organizations call on contractors to help manage meaningful use and ICD-10 projects. A practice may find itself with one internal group planning for ICD-10 and a separate group overseeing meaningful use. However, said Marla Roberts, Ph.D., senior delivery manager at CTG Health Solutions, a business unit of service provider Computer Task Group Inc., those projects involve the same resources and touch points -- clinical documentation, for example.
"It makes sense to coordinate and plan those [projects] and implement them together," she said, adding that tackling such jobs sequentially results in doing things twice.
Working with customers on disaster recovery procedures represents another form of planning currently in demand. Taking steps to protect personal health information (PHI) ranks among the meaningful use program's core criteria.
"A lot of hospitals have antiquated data centers in basements that are prone to flooding, and little or no disaster recovery planning," Burton said. "We've been working with a lot of clients on, 'Let's look at the data center and make sure you have a disaster recovery plan.'"
Looking ahead to meaningful use stage 2 criteria
Meaningful use stage 2 remains a work in progress, with a 60-day public comment period ending May 6 and a final rule slated to surface around midyear. The regulations won't go into effect until 2014, but service providers already are thinking about what customers may need.
Bindon said stage 2, coupled with the emergence of the accountable care organization (ACO) model, has compelled Avnet to evaluate what solutions to cultivate for its reseller customers.
"We are beginning to take our partners up the technology stack, up into more complex solutions like health care analytics, health information exchange, vendor neutral archiving, and enterprise master patient index," he said.
As Avnet readies resellers for stage 2, Bindon said it might take a year or two for the right mix of partnerships and skill sets to congeal.
Roberts, meanwhile, pointed to expanded reporting requirements under stage 2 as another source of emerging demand. "We are just getting a trickle of interest in that area."
Hospitals and practices employ manual methods when it comes to reporting, Roberts said, noting that EHR vendors don't necessarily provide a lot of business intelligence capability as a standard feature of their products. EHR vendors, however, may have add-on products available, she added.
In general, health care organizations need a more sophisticated type of technology for tasks such as day-to-day performance monitoring, Roberts said.
Roberts said she also anticipates a greater emphasis on process improvement, systems optimization, data management and analytics as meaningful use stage 2 unfolds.
"We will see a shift in demand," she said. "Our engagements will be a little bit different."
John Moore is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based freelance writer covering health IT, managed services and cloud computing. Let us know what you think about the story; email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.