In the midst of a merger with a major Pennsylvania healthcare organization, Tim Schoener is wholly focused on EHR transition. He outlines Susquennaha’s plan for each aspect of transition, offering innovative and unique approaches to each. In addition, Schoener provides cogent insights regarding the intricacies involved with a multi-database system, the expenses associated with archival solutions, and the challenges associated with migrating records. This interview touches on many of the considerations necessary for a successful EHR transition as Schoener discusses minimizing surprises during a transition; why migrating a year’s worth of results is optimal; and how their document management system fulfills archival needs.
CHIME Fall CIO Forum provides valuable education programming, tailored specifically to meet the needs of CIOs and other healthcare IT executives. Justin Campbell, of Galen Healthcare Solutions, had the opportunity to attend this year’s forum and interview CIOs from all over the country. You can view the complete series here.
Absolutely, we have problem lists that can’t be reconciled; there’s a problem list in the Soarian world and a problem list in the NextGen world, and they’re not the same thing right now, not at all.
We’re being told, if you think you’re going to migrate and move all this data to some sort of other archiving solution, get ready for a sticker shock.
Our intent is to take it to each physician specialty to establish a good comfort level, so when the transition occurs, I don’t have physicians’ saying to me ‘no one ever asked me…’ or not be able to provide excellent patient care. It’s going to be critical to the success of our EMR transition to keep our physicians engaged and involved.
Let’s face it, no staff member has the desire to support the legacy application when all of their coworkers are learning the new application. That’s a career limiting move.
It used to be something that struggling organizations were forced to pursue, but now very successful organizations are starting to affiliate and merge with other organizations because it’s just the state of healthcare.
CHIME is a great way to challenge yourself as a CIO and in your leadership. It pushes me in my leadership skills and helps to focus me back to what’s critical in the industry.
Campbell: Tell me a little about yourself and your organization’s initiatives
Schoener: I’m Tim Schoener, the VP/CIO of, originally Susquehanna Health, which, as of October 1st, is now a part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and re-named to UPMC Susquehanna. We’re located in central Pennsylvania, four hours away from Pittsburgh.
A major IT initiative for us is that we’re swapping out our EMR over the next couple of years. We are currently a Cerner Soarian customer. In fact, we were the initial Soarian beta site for Financials and second for Clinicals. We determined we eventually need to migrate to something else – that’s an Epic or Cerner decision for us at this point. UPMC’s enterprise model is Cerner and Epic, Cerner on the acute care side and Epic on the ambulatory side. As of this writing, we’ve made the decision to migrate to the UPMC blended model. Over the past nine months we’ve been focused on an EMR governance process, trying to get our team aligned on the journey that we’re about to take and by late next year we will likely be starting an implementation.
We currently leverage NextGen on the Ambulatory side, with approximately 300 providers that use that software product. We’re a four hospital system: two of which are critical access, one which is predominately outpatient, and the other a predominately inpatient facility. We were about a $600MM organization prior to our UPMC acquisition.
Campbell: Related to your current implementation, tell me a little bit about your data governance strategy and dictionary mapping that may occur between NextGen and Soarian.
Schoener: We definitely have a lot of interfaces, a lot of integration between the two core systems. From an integration perspective, we have context sharing, so physicians can contextually launch and interoperate from NextGen to Soarian, and vice-versa. We do pass some data back and forth—allergies and meds can be shared through a reconciliation process—but we certainly aren’t integrated. It’s the state of healthcare.
Campbell: That’s why you anticipate moving to a single platform, single database?
Schoener: Absolutely, we have problem lists that are not reconciled. There’s a problem list in the Soarian world and a problem list in the NextGen world, and they’re not the same thing right now, not at all. Meds and allergies are pretty much all we get in terms of outpatient to inpatient clinical data sharing today.
Campbell: Do you leverage an archival solution for any legacy data?
Schoener: We use EMC and have large data storage with them. I wouldn’t call it archival, but we have an electronic document management system – Soarian’s eHIM.
There’s a huge amount of data out there and I know you have some questions related to our thinking with respect to migration. I have some thoughts around that related to levering our document management system versus archiving into a separate system. I’m pretty certain we would be thinking ‘why not use eHIM as our archival process, and just put other data in that repository as necessary?’ For results data, for instance, what we’re thinking of migrating, or what our providers are requesting, is a years’ worth of results. ‘Give me a year’s worth of results, and then make sure everything else is available in eHIM.’
Campbell: As such, your default is to migrate a year’s worth of data?
Schoener: Yes. We would presume that the provider is probably not going to refer back to lab results or radiology results beyond a year, other than for health maintenance kind of things such as mammograms, pap smears, PSAs; those types of things.
Campbell: What expectations have you set with physicians when they go live on the new EMR?
Schoener: From an ambulatory perspective, we’re thinking that it would be nice to have the most recent note from the EMR available. All of the other notes for that patient would be consolidated into one note via a single pdf attachment. The note that’s the separate most recent note, we envision that being in a folder for that particular date. That note would reside in the appropriate folder location just like it would in the current EMR. Our goal is to bring the clinical data forward to the new EMR, taking all the other notes and placing them in a “previous notes” folder.
Campbell: Can you elaborate on your consideration of PAMI (Problems, Allergies, Medications, Immunizations) as part of the data migration?
Schoener: Sure. The disaster scenario would be the physician sits down with patient for first time with new EMR, and there are no meds, no allergies, and no problems! They’ll spend 25 minutes just gathering information, that would not work.
We’re thinking of deploying a group of nurses to assist with the data conversion and migration process. Our intent is to have them to retrieve CCDAs to populate those things I mentioned by consuming them right into the medical record, based on the physicians’ input. We expect there to be a reconciliation process to clean-up potential duplicates. Or, to be candid, we’ve talked about automating the CCDA process, consuming discrete clinical items from it by writing scripts and importing into the new EMR. I think we’re leaning towards having some staff involved in the process though.
Now if you share the same database between your acute and ambulatory EMR, and the patient was in ambulatory setting but now they’ve been admitted, it’s the same database: the meds are there, the problems are there, the allergies are there; it’s beautiful, right? If they weren’t, then the admission nurse is going to have to follow the same CCDA consume process that the ambulatory nurse followed. Or you start from scratch. On the acute side, we start from scratch a lot. Patients come in and we basically just start asking questions in the ER or in an acute care setting. We start asking for their meds, allergies, or problems – whatever they may have available.
Campbell: We’ve discussed notes, results and PAMI. Are there other clinical data elements that you’ve examined? How will you handle those?
Schoener: From an acute care perspective, our physicians are very interested in seeing the last H & P (History & Physical Examination) and the last operative note, so we’re going to consider two different ideas. One would be that all of that data would still reside in document management, which has the ability to be sorted. It’s currently very chart-centric. For instance, you can easily pull the patient’s last acute care stay. There is the ability, however, to sort by H & P, operative note, or discharge summary—something along those lines for the separate buckets of information. Therefore, a physician could view the most recent H & P or view all sorted chronologically. In addition, they’ll be able to seamlessly launch directly from the new EMR to the old EMR, bypassing authentication, which is important to mitigate context switching.
One of the areas we’re struggling with is the growth chart. A physician would love the ability to see a child’s information from start to finish, not just from the time of the EMR transition. So that means some sort of birth height/weight data that we would want to retrieve and import into the new system so a growth chart could be generated. The other option is to somehow generate some sort of PDF of a growth chart up until the place where we transitioned to the new EMR. The latter however, would result in multiple growth charts, and a physician’s not going to be happy with that. So we’re trying to figure that one out.
Another area of concern is blood pressure data. We’re struggling with what to do with a patient we’re monitoring for blood pressure. We’d like to see more than one blood pressure reading and have some history on that.
Campbell: Thank you for elaborating on those items. What about data that is not migrated. How will that be addressed and persisted going forward?
Schoener: For the most part, everything else would be available in the document management system. We can generate that data from document our document management system and make it available to be queried by OIG or whoever else requires that data from a quality perspective. We are aware that an archival solution is very expensive. We’re being told, ‘if you think you’re going to migrate and move all this data to some sort of other archiving solution, get ready for a sticker shock.’ If that’s what the advisers and consultants are saying, then our thought is that probably isn’t going to be the direction we’re going to go. We’re likely going to stick with some type of document management system for archival.
Campbell: Very good. How are you gathering feedback from different specialties and departments? Do you have a governance process in place?
Schoener: So as you may have gathered, we’re getting ready. I don’t want surprises. I want physicians to be prepared and to set expectations for what’s going to be available. What I just described to you, we’ve vetted that out with our primary care docs. Now we’re going to take that to our cardiologists and ask them what they think. Then on to our urologists to allow them to weigh in. Our intent is to take it to each physician specialty to establish a good comfort level, so when the transition occurs, I don’t have physicians’ saying to me ‘no one ever asked me…’ or not be able to provide excellent patient care. It’s going to be critical to the success of our EMR transition to keep our physicians engaged and involved.
There will definitely be a learning curve with the new EMR, but we want to be clear and set expectations with respect to data migration and conversion, so that when the physician does use the new EMR they’re not saying ‘that darn Cerner or Epic.’ It’s more ‘that’s a part of the data migration process and we weren’t able to accomplish that.’
Campbell: What about legacy applications support. Will all of your staff be dedicated to the new project?
Schoener: I mean, let’s face it, no staff member has the desire to support the legacy application when all of their coworkers are learning the new application. That’s a career limiting move. We still haven’t decided what to do.
Campbell: I agree that no staff member wants to be left behind. I’ve talked to organizations where they use folks for both and it just doesn’t end well. You can’t expect them to do both, learning the new system while supporting the old one.
Schoener: I guess it depends on the capacity and the expectation of that particular project they’re working on. Maybe there is a person who has less involvement with the new EMR and they have availability where they can support both, although it’s unlikely. Sometimes you end up having someone who wants to retire within the time period. In that case, they can almost work their way to retirement and then not ever support the new EMR, although that situation is also unlikely.
It’s a great question, and one we’re going to have to have folks help us determine.
Campbell: Shifting gears a little bit, what are your thoughts on health data retention requirements? Too loose? Too stringent? As you know, it varies state-to-state, from 7-10 years, but I feel like there’s a huge responsibility that is placed on organizations to be the custodians of that data. Do you agree?
Schoener: I think that’s just healthcare. A lot of it is legal considerations and our need to protect ourselves. That’s why do we do a lot of the things we do. We’re protecting ourselves from lawsuits and litigation. I think it’s expected; it’s just the nature of the business. Just think of what we had in a paper world. We used to have rooms and rooms full of charts and now that’s all gone. With our current process, any paper that comes in is scanned in within the first 24 hours. So it’s not something I worry about. My focus now is making sure our providers can perform excellent patient care on the new EMR.
Campbell: Could you provide some advice, insight or wisdom for healthcare organizations pursuing EMR/EHR replacement & transition?
Schoener: Get ready for some fun! Affiliations and acquisitions are greatly impacting these decisions. It used to be something that struggling organizations were forced to pursue, but now very successful organizations are starting to affiliate and merge with other organizations because it’s just the state of healthcare. One bit of wisdom for anyone is: if you’re not interested in that type of transition and change occurring, healthcare’s not for you. That’s the nature of the business we’re in.
I would say from an EHR transition process, I found that having an adviser is extremely beneficial to help me think outside of my day-to-day operations. They’re able to look outside of your organization and ask the right questions. If you pick the right adviser, they’ll protect you and protect your organization. I think it’s been very healthy for us to have someone from the outside give us counsel and advice because it’s a tough process. It’s extremely expensive, and extremely polarizing.
Campbell: Outside of the networking, what did you come to CHIME focused on this year?
Schoener: CHIME is a great way to challenge yourself as a CIO and in your leadership, it pushes me in my leadership skills and helps to focus me back to what’s critical in the industry. It helps me to think more strategic and broad, not to get too engaged in one particular topic. I think it’s just great for professional development. CHIME’s the best out there with respect to what I do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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