EHR integration looks to be a major part of Aurora-Advocate merger that features 3 different platforms

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Aurora and Advocate will have to find a way to integrate three EHR systems, but one consultant doesn't expect a rip-and-replace. (Getty/Martin Barraud)

Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care have announced plans to form one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the country, and one of their biggest challenges will be how to integrate three different EHR systems.

Aurora completed its switch from Cerner to Epic in 2013. Advocate, meanwhile, uses a combination of Cerner and Allscripts.

In a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare, a spokesperson for Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Aurora Health Care said it was “too soon to say” whether the two systems would merge to a single EHR system.

“We’ll establish an integration team to look at opportunities to make us more effective and efficient, while leveraging the strengths of both organizations,” the statement read.

Downers Grove, Illinois-based Advocate Health Care, which appointed Barbara Byrne, M.D., as its new CIO in July, was similarly noncommittal on the future of its health IT platform but indicated it was interested in migrating to a single system.

“We’ve had a new CIO come on board and after months of evaluation have determined a single platform is ideal to further advance our safety, quality and consumer first strategies,” a spokesperson said in an email. “We are certainly aware Aurora uses Epic and while no decisions have been made, it’s an important area of consideration.”

Asked to clarify whether Advocate has plans to drop Cerner or Allscripts, the spokesperson said: "We are evaluating all platforms."

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The size of the merger, which would create a 27-hospital healthcare system with annual revenue of $11 billion, makes it unlike most smaller scale acquisitions in which a standalone hospital typically aligns its EHR platform with that of its new parent system.

Sue Schade, principal at StarBridge Advisors LLC, has gone through a number of acquisitions during her 30 years as a healthcare CIO but acknowledged that the Aurora-Advocate marriage “is a whole different situation,” and two systems with entrenched IT systems are more likely to find ways to share data than rip-and-replace.

“At this point in time, with so many organizations having made such a huge investment in their EHRs, I would be surprised if that combined entity says, 'We have to do a wholesale replacement,'” she says.

Schade added that the new system may be better off devoting its IT budget to population health analytics or telehealth while finding ways to seamlessly share data between the three EHR systems. It may also provide an opportunity to leverage their new size to motivate all three vendors to find an interoperability solution that meets their needs.

“I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they have to get to the same EHR,” she adds.