Acquisitions and general consolidation are happening quickly and often in healthcare, yet health systems are largely failing to take advantage of a potential benefit by not aligning their acquisitions with their electronic health records, finds a new Health Affairs analysis.
A total of 88 hospitals were acquired from 2012 to 2014, and just 31 of them -- 35 percent -- switched to the acquiring systems' EHR vendor following the consolidation.
Eighteen of the other 57 hospitals were already using the acquiring system's EHR vendor, while 39 kept using a different vendor following completion of the deal.
Of the 31 hospitals that switched EHRs following acquisition, six did so in the first year, 13 after two years and one after three years. Epic and Cerner were the most common vendors used.
In fact, nearly 75 percent of hospitals that switched EHR vendors opted for Epic or Cerner, implying that these deals could be increasing market concentration among such vendors.
The reason hospitals that don't switch EHR systems may be missing out is that a merger or acquisition can lead to cost savings through economies of scale, reduced duplication and better care quality owing to increased ease in data sharing.
So far, that's the exception rather than the norm, meaning hospitals may not be delivering on their promised post-consolidation benefits, the authors said. They added that claims of EHR integration should be taken with skepticism, particularly as policy makers decide how much more horizontal consolidation to allow in the industry.
Getting every stakeholder in a system to switch to the same EHR vendor can have a positive impact in the workforce as well, especially when it comes to alleviating physician stress.
Electronic health records can contribute to burnout largely because each system is different. With disparate electronic health record systems comes an added hardship for physicians, affecting their work -- and their reimbursement.
Compounding the issue is that many physicians are no longer limited to just one facility. Many handle rounds at multiple hospitals hospitals and/or practices, and if each has its own EHR system that doesn't necessarily communicate with the others, it can be a growing headache.