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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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EHR Sales Reached $31.5 Billion in 2018 Despite Concerns over Usability, Interoperability, and Ties to Medical Errors

Cerner and Epic are the industry’s revenue leaders, though smaller vendors remain popular with physician groups

Sales of electronic health record (EHR) systems and related hardware and services reached $31.5 billion in 2018. And those sales will increase, according to a 2019 market analysis from Kalorama Information. This is important information for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups that must interface with the EHRs of their physician clients to enable electronic transmission of lab orders and test results between doctor and lab.

The Kalorama report, titled, “EMR 2019: The Market for Electronic Medical Records,” ranks EHR companies based on revenue rather than market penetration. Kansas City-based Cerner holds the No.1 spot on the list. That may be due to Cerner’s securing one of the largest IT contracts in the federal government—a potential $10 billion deal over 10 years with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to replace the VA’s VistA medical record system.

Is Bigger Better?

Kalorama’s ranking includes familiar big EHR manufacturer names—Cerner (NASDAQ:CERN) and Epic—and includes a new name, Change Healthcare, which was born out of Change Healthcare Holding’s merger with McKesson. However, smaller EHR vendors remain popular with many independent physicians.

“We estimate that 40% of the market is not in the top 15 [in total revenue rankings],” said Bruce Carlson, Kalorama’s publisher, in an exclusive interview with Dark Daily. “There’s a lot of room. There are small vendors out there—Amazing Charts, e-MDs, Greenway, NextGen, Athena Health—that show up on a lot of physician surveys.”

“The EHR is really important,” noted Bruce Carlson (above), Publisher at Kalorama. “Since there are a variety of systems—sometimes different from the LIS [laboratory information management system]—you want to make sure you know the vendors and the space.” Carlson says opportunities remain for new entrants in the 700-plus competitor space, which is expected to see continued mergers and acquisitions that will affect clinical laboratories and their client physicians. (Photo copyright: Twitter.)

Interoperability a Key Challenge, as Most Medical Laboratories Know

Interoperability—or the lack thereof—remains one of the industry’s biggest challenges. For pathologists, that means seamless electronic communication between medical laboratories and provider hospitals can be elusive and can create a backlash against EHR vendors.

Kalorama notes a joint investigation by Fortune and Kaiser Health News (KHN), titled, “Death by a Thousand Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong.” The report details the growing number of medical errors tied to EHRs. One instance involved a California lawyer with herpes encephalitis who allegedly suffered irreversible brain damage due to a treatment delay caused by the failure of a critical lab test order to reach the hospital laboratory. The order was typed into the EHR, but the hospital’s software did not fully interface with the clinical laboratory’s software, so the lab did not receive the order.

“Many software vendors and LIS systems were in use prior to the real launching of EHRs—the [federal government] stimulus programs,” Carlson told Dark Daily. “There are a lot of legacy systems that aren’t compatible and don’t feed right into the EHR. It’s a work in progress.”

Though true interoperability isn’t on the immediate horizon, Carlson expects its arrival within the next five years as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ramps up pressure on vendors.

“I think it is going to be a simple matter eventually,” he said. “There’s going to be much more pressure from the federal government on this. They want patients to have access to their medical records. They want one record. That’s not going to happen without interoperability.”

Other common criticisms of EHRs include:

  • Wasted provider time: a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine notes providers now spend more time in indirect patient care than interacting with patients.
  • Physician burnout: EHRs have been shown to increase physician stress and burnout.
  • Not worth the trouble: The debate continues over whether EHRs are improving the quality of care.
  • Negative patient outcomes: Fortune’s investigation outlines patient safety risks tied to software glitches, user errors, or other flaws.

There’s No Going Back

Regardless of the challenges—and potential dangers—it appears EHRs are here to stay. “Any vendor resistance of a spirited nature is gone. Everyone is part of the CommonWell Health Alliance now,” noted Carlson.

Clinical laboratories and pathology groups should expect hospitals and health networks to continue moving forward with expansion of their EHRs and LIS integrations.

“Despite the intensity of attacks on EHRs, very few health systems are going back to paper,” Carlson said in a news release. “Hospital EHR systems are largely in place, and upgrades, consulting, and vendor switches will fuel the market.”

Thus, it behooves clinical laboratory managers and stakeholders to anticipate increased demand for interfaces to hospital-based healthcare providers, and even off-site medical settings, such as urgent care centers and retail health clinics.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

EMR 2019

EMR Market Tops $30 Billion, Despite Intensifying Criticism and Challenges

VA-Cerner $10B EHR Control Finally Gets Signed

McKesson and Change Healthcare Announce New Company Will be Named Change Healthcare

Assessment of Inpatient Time Allocation among First-Year Internal Medicine Students Using Time-Motion Observation

Kalorama Report Analyzes Global EMR/EHR Market as Tech Giants Apple, Google, and Microsoft Prepare to Launch Their Own Offerings. Will This Alter Current Conditions for Clinical Laboratories and Pathologists?

Text-based Appointment Reminder System Cuts Patient No-Show Rates by One-Third at California’s Largest Physician-Owned Medical Practice

Could clinical laboratories use texting to improving patient compliance with the medical laboratory test orders given to them by their doctors?

California’s largest physician-owned medical practice has employed text messaging to reduce patient no-shows. Just as other innovations such as same-day walk-in clinical laboratory testing and patient at-home self-testing made it easier for patients to comply with physicians’ lab test orders, text messaging appears to help get more patients through the doors and into doctors’ exam rooms.

At least that’s the experience at Riverside Medical Clinic (RMC) in Riverside, Calif. The multi-specialty practice has more than 170 providers who see more than 400,000 patients annually. After struggling to lower its 15% baseline no-show rate using a phone-only reminder system, RMC turned to a two-way texting appointment reminder system from Santa Barbara, Calif.-based WELL Health (WELL).

According to a case study, prior to the texting system implementation, no-shows were costing RMC more than $3 million per year. “The problem we were trying to resolve was getting a hold of our patients in an expedient manner without having to do redundant work,” Diego Galvez-Ramirez, Associate Vice President, Patient Business Services at Riverside Medical Clinic, told Healthcare IT News. “We wanted to give time back to our staff. A big frustration was not having enough time for staff to accomplish their duties.”

After RMC implemented WELL’s HIPAA-compliant text-based reminder system, front office efficiency and productivity improved, and the practice experienced a 33% decrease in appointment no-shows.


  • No-shows decreased from 15% to 10% within the first month of going live across the enterprise.
  • Confirmed appointments rose from 29.45% to 94.45%, translating to a savings of more than $40,000 in two months.
  • 91% of patients who confirmed via WELL presented for their visit.
  • Phone volume at RMC’s two call centers decreased by 4% to 6%.

Galvez-Ramirez suggests that healthcare providers—including clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups—keep pace with the realities of today’s connected world. “Most of the time, the cell phone is not used to make phone calls,” he told Healthcare IT News. “You have to adapt to the new ways that your patients want and are used to communicating.

“In our environment,” he continued, “you also have to be quick to respond to your patients. No patient wants to spend unnecessary time on a phone call. Being able to send them their appointment to their phone is not a new concept, it’s an expectation.”

Based on an Axway survey of 1,200 smartphone users aged 18-60, the graphic above supports the view that text messaging is now the preferred method of communications for most people. Could clinical laboratories employ text messaging to lower patient no-shows and increase the proportion of patients who actually show up at a patient service center to provide a specimen in response to the medical laboratory test orders given to them by their physicians? (Graphic copyright:

The WELL messaging app draws a patient’s information from the physician’s electronic health record (EHR) system to configure the appointment reminder. This includes appointment type, date/time, and location. Based on the patient’s preferred method, the system sends reminder messages via phone, text, or e-mail.

As Healthcare IT News noted, WELL’s competitors in the patient communication space include:

Texting Reduces No-Shows at Other Healthcare Networks

Other healthcare organizations also have replicated RMC’s success in reducing its no-show rates by moving away from telephone-based reminders.

An Athena Health study examined 54.3 million patient visits in 2015 and found no-show rates dropped to 4.4% when patients received a reminder text from their provider. By comparison:

  • Athena patients who received a phone call instead of a text failed to show up 9.4% of the time;
  • E-mail reminders resulted in a 5.9% no-show rate; and,
  • 10.5% of patients who received no form of reminder message missed their appointments. 

Is Texting Secure and HIPAA Compliant?

A 2018 poll conducted by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that 68% of healthcare organizations used text messaging to communicate with patients about appointments. But is it secure?

An MGMA article notes that according to HIPAA Journal, “Recent changes to HIPAA have introduced new rules relating to how Protected Health Information (PHI) should be communicated and many healthcare organizations and other covered entities are now at risk of financial sanctions and legal action should an avoidable breach of PHI occur.” The MGMA goes on to state that, “As text messaging is not typically a fully-secure channel for the communication of PHI, practices must be vigilant when sending information via text messages.”

With proper training and precautions, clinical laboratories and pathology groups might want to add text messaging to their patient outreach programs. Data indicate that doing so could improve patient compliance with the medical lab test orders given to them by their physicians. Industry experts estimate that for every 100 medical lab test requests written by providers, only about 60% of patients show up to provide the specimens needed for a lab to perform those tests. Improving on those numbers would help clinical laboratories and patients alike.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Text-based Tool Reduces Patient No-Shows by More Than Two-Thirds

Case Study: Largest Physician-Owned Practice in California Sees a 33% Reduction in No-Shows in One Month

MGMA Stat Poll Indicates Most Organizations Use Text Messaging to Communicate Appointments

Getting No-Shows to Show Up

Not Texting in Healthcare? Here’s Why You Should

Text Messaging Remains an Effective Tool for Patient Appointment Reminders

To Get Patients in the Door, Try Texting

5 Ways Home Healthcare Providers Grow by Texting Clients, Employees