Are EHR vendors restricting the flow of your data?

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Becker’s recently wrote about healthcare providers starting to reevaluate their contracts with EHR vendors, or looking to find new vendors because they’re unhappy with the systems’ functionality or organizational fit. These kinds of transitions can take years and millions of dollars.

If healthcare executives are going to make that kind of investment, they need to be strategic about making sure their EHR vendor is aligned with their team’s current, and more importantly future, analytic strategy.

​In this post, I’ll alert you to a couple pitfalls we’ve seen healthcare providers encounter with their EHR vendors. Specifically, watch out for vendors who prevent you from maximizing analytic progress by restricting the flow of YOUR data.

The non-cooperative EHR vendor

At Mimir we’ve been working with a non-profit community clinic, helping them develop a robust analytic and reporting program. The clinic does incredible work for the community, preventing costly hospital admissions and helping patients through a fre  chronic conditions clinic. The goal of our analytic project was two-fold:

  1. Demonstrate their financial successes to donors and community stakeholders.
  2. Help them use advanced health intelligence to improve patient care.

One of the first steps in our analytic process is evaluation of the data sources available, so naturally discussion quickly turned to the clinic’s use of Electronic Health Records systems (EHRs). In addition to manually tracking key metrics on a local database (i.e. Microsoft Access), the clinic had been using a free cloud-based EHR vendor to collect their health data. While they enjoyed the EHR’s ease of use, its reporting features didn’t meet their needs– a common theme I’ve written about in the past.

When we spoke with a senior executive at the client’s EHR vendor to figure out how we could get access to the clinic’s data (we already had a signed Business Associate Agreement), we were told that accessing the client’s data through the vendor would be “a non-starter”. Their paraphrased explanation:

[The EHR vendor] has no plans to make client data accessible from their cloud servers because doing so isn’t in their business interest, they already offer reports. They would only make the bulk data available to the client if they ended the contract and were transitioning to another EHR.

Health data governance regulations have a ways to go, clearly.

Unable to access their own EHR data for analysis to improve patient care, the clinic decided to transition away from the non-cooperative vendor to another, more cooperative system.Before signing with any EHR vendor, I strongly recommend clients make sure their data access rights are in line with their analytic strategy.

Expensive EHR data access

Speaking of more cooperative EHR vendors, just because they’ll cooperate with you to get your data doesn’t mean they’ll make it cheap. While planning an implementation of our Practice Essentials analytic solution for a mid-size medical group we ran into an obstacle with one of the more “cooperative” vendors.

The medical group CEO had been doing reports manually for years, wasting valuable time that could otherwise be spent growing the practice, another common problem I run across in healthcare. After seeing how our software could automate business intelligence reporting processes and save up to a half-work day each week, the CEO was understandably excited to get started.

One problem. The medical group’s EHR vendor said it would charge the group $1,000 every month to set up a data feed from their cloud-based EHR to our data warehouse. They cited heavy server strain as justification for exorbitant recurring price tag. Valid excuse? I don’t know.

For executives working with limited IT budgets who are still unsure about the full ROI potential from analytics, this presents a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Can providers realize ROI from analytics before investing in them? Can providers invest in analytics before realizing ROI?

​Even though the fee is a relatively small amount when compared with the overall value presented by automated analytics, it demonstrates how fine-print language in EHR vendor contracts can lead to unexpected costs down the road. When renegotiating their EHR contract in the future, this group will likely pay attention to data access clauses, as should all healthcare providers.

Why does data access matter?

If we are going to fix our broken and expensive healthcare system, we need data analytics to chart the path, and getting access to health data is a prerequisite to those analytics. Yet some EHR vendor contracts prevent healthcare providers the ability to freely analyze their own data to achieve the “Triple Aim” of healthcare improvement.

What kinds of challenges have you faced while trying to access data from an EHR vendor? Or has your relationship with EHR vendors been smooth sailing? Share your thoughts with us.​

One Reply to “Are EHR vendors restricting the flow of your data?”

  1. Excellent comments! With such a major investment as EHR, it is wise to have the contract reviewed by a third party expert such as Mimir.

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