Electronic Medical Records - 3 Key Differentiators
Three days and 26,000 people later, the whirldwind is over - the HIMSS10 exhibition has just closed.
Without question the main theme of the conference, from presentations to e-sessions to exhibit booths was Meaningful Use, and how is it going to affect the industry and the electronic medical record products we see today. Every rep had an answer for their meaningful use plan. Whether to go after the CCHIT revised certification now or later, how long to wait compared to competitors. What level of certification they would achieve.
But one very basic question I asked at every booth seemed to stump everyone - "With so many major EMR competitors out there, what is your product's differentiator?" "What makes you stand out from the crowd?"
Let me give you 3 answers I heard a lot that are NOT differentiators, and 3 answers I heard a couple of times that I think everyone will agree are real differentiators.
EMR Vendors Take Note: 3 Differentiators That Aren't
"Our EMR has been an industry standard for 20 years"
You can't argue with that. This is certainly a major advantage and arguably one of the reasons they are relatively succesful and will remain relatively successful in the industry.
The problem is that there are at least two dozen other players that can make a comparable claim to having a long-standing history and brand name. So for me that in and of itself isn't enough of a differentiator, there needs to be more.
Another concern is that in software, being a "legacy" product that is 20 years old is not necessarily a good thing. New technologies and platforms are being leveraged - Silverlight, Flex, WPF, Hibernate, Velocity - and over time products using these technologies will have an edge.
"Our EMR is SaaS-based"
I heard this one a couple of times, and while this may be an advantage in some ways,
- just saying "SaaS-based" does not communicate any benefit to the customer. Your differentiator needs to be explained in terms of benefits, not just technology for technology's sake.
- being SaaS-based is arguably not better than other web or client/server models. Typically you want a differentiator which makes your product different and better.
"Our EMR is CCHIT certified"
Commendable. CCHIT is the standard and it speaks volumes if your organization is committed enough to attain this stringent certification and all of its required functionality.
BUT - there are at least two dozen or more CCHIT certified solutions out there, meaning this will only differentiate you so much.
Many account executives explained that not only were they CCHIT certified, but they were "one of the first to have been certified". Unfortunately, to a customer this doesn't mean much if 20 other competitors have caught up to you.
One more problem with CCHIT is that it requires a huge amount of feature functionality, so as you work to cram all those requirements into your system, the is a very real danger that your system's usability will suffer.
And Now... 3 Real EMR Differentiators
"Our EMR has excellent UI and usability"
If your product can back up this claim, if you put your EMR through the usability testing wringer and it came out with tight workflows and a visually stunning graphical presentation - then yes, this definitely is a differentiator.
As discussed in the previous post, the HIMSS usability task force has found that usability is a huge frustration among users and a widespread problem across most vendors. Even CCHIT, having recognized this issue, has started to incorporate usability qualifications as part of their certification.
As a side plug for my company - the investment in finding out how to improve your EMR's usability can actually be quite small. A 2-day expert evaluation from a usability specialist with experience in EMR products can be all you need to identify the real priorities that your team needs to investigate for its next release.
"Our EMR is designed for a particular specialty"
Talking with Varian Medical today, I was impressed when they explained that their product is specifically for oncology, with the workflows and information layout to suit exactly this specialty.
Of the hundreds of patient record products in the market today, there is an overwhelming number of "general practitioner" software and "one size fits all" software, which not only doesn't differentiate the product, but also inevitably frustrates any specialist who was sold on the idea that the product was designed for him.
"Our EMR's technology makes the user's life easier"
Technology can be a major differentiator if it results in something unique that improves the user's experience.
eClinicalWorks for example incorporates voice recognition and tablet based handwriting of progress notes. While I haven't tested the usability of these features, certainly the idea if well-executed will give them a significant advantage over traditional keyboard-and-mouse solutions.
Another example - our organization helped Cardinal Health with a touchscreen version of their patient monitoring software, which ultimately leveraged new touchscreen technology.
Product differentiation is not an easy thing, and it doesn't stop at the product manager. R&D managers, marketing, and sales all need to take a role in ensuring their product is successful. In a booming market like the EMR market, but which also has a tremendous competition for over 100 vendors, the key - whether you are a large player or small new entrant - is differentiating from the pack as soon as possible. Take note of these do's and don'ts and I look forward to congratulating you on your success at the next HIMSS.
About the Author
Didier Thizy has been a software professional for 13 years, holding a variety of positions in Software R&D and Product Management.
At Macadamian, Didier is Macadamian's VP Consulting, responsible for a cross-functional unit of design and development consultants specializing in healthcare software. His focus areas include healthcare software, usability of complex systems, and modern mobile and web technologies.
Didier is an active member of HIMSS, the Toronto Product Management Association, Silicon Valley Product Management Association, and the Ottawa OCRI association for technology.