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Increasingly, Physician Practices Paying Fees To Receive Electronic Payments

Posted on October 13, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Virtually no one would argue that health plan reimbursement levels are particularly high. Adding a fee if they want to get paid electronically seems like adding insult to injury, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, one in six medical practices report being hit with these charges, according to research by the Medical Group Management Association. Its recent survey found that some practices are paying a meaningful percentage of total medical services payments to get paid via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT).

Under rules created by the Affordable Care Act, designed to decrease healthcare administrative overhead, CMS created a standard for EFT transactions. Health plans have been required to offer EFT payments if providers request it since 2014.

Health plans’ payment policies seem to vary, however. A recent MGMA Stat poll, which generated responses from more than 900 medical practice leaders, found that while 50% of practices were not paying fees for receiving payments via EFT, others are absorbing big surcharges.

For one thing, health plans are increasingly offering practices a “virtual credit card” they can use to receive payments. While 32% of MGMA respondents said they weren’t sure whether they paid an electronic payments fee or not, other research suggests that many practices end up using virtual credit cards without knowing they would be charged 3-5% per payment received.

Meanwhile, 17% of respondents told MGMA they were definitely paying transaction fees, and of that group, almost 60% said that the health plans in question used a third-party payment vendor.

MGMA sees this as little short of highway robbery. “Some bad actors are fleecing physician groups by charging them to simply receive an electronic paycheck,” said Anders Gilberg, MGMA’s senior vice president for government affairs.

The MGMA is asking CMS to issue guidance preventing health plans and payment vendors from charging EFT-related fees. The group argues that such fees are counter to the goal of reducing healthcare administrative complexity, the stated purpose of requiring health plans to offer EFT payments.

Also, the American Hospital Association and NACHA, the electronic payments association, are asking CMS to set standards on when and how health plans can implement virtual cards, as well as making it easy for practices to move to EFT.

The imposition of fees is particularly unfair given that health plans benefit significantly from issuing EFT payments, the group says. For one thing, health insurers save millions of dollars by sending payments via EFT, MGMA notes. Not only that, sending payments via EFT allows health plans to automate the re-association of electronic payments with the Electronic Remittance Advice.

While it’s true that physician practices used to save time staff would’ve used to manually process and deposit paper checks, that doesn’t make the fees okay, the group argues. “Beyond the material administrative time savings for all sides, the time and resources that physician practices spend on billing and related tasks are better spent delivering healthcare to patients,” it said in a prepared statement.

There’s a New Medicare ID Coming in April – CMS Dumps SSN

Posted on September 26, 2017 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn’t rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Following a 2015 Congressional directive, CMS is abandoning its Social Security based Medicare ID for a new randomly generated one. The new card will be hitting beneficiary’s mailboxes in April with everyone covered by a year later.

The old ID is a SSN plus one letter. The letter says if you are a beneficiary, child, widow, etc. The new will have both letters and numbers. It is wholly random and drops the coding for beneficiary, etc. Fortunately, it will exclude S, L, O, I, B and Z, which can look like numbers. You can see the new ID’s details here.

                           New Medicare ID Card

Claimants will have until 2020 to adopt the new IDs, but that’s not the half of it. For the HIT world, this means many difficult, expensive and time consuming changes. CMS sees this as a change in how it tracks claims. However, its impact may make HIT managers wish for the calm and quiet days of Y2K. That’s because adopting the new number for claims is just the start. Their systems use the Medicare ID as a key field for just about everything they do involving Medicare. This means they’ll not only have to cross walk to the new number, but also their systems will have to look back at what was done under the old.

Ideally, beneficiaries will only have to know their new number. Realistically, every practice they see over the next several years will want both IDs. This will add one more iteration to patient matching, which is daunting enough.

With MACRA Congress made a strong case for Medicare no longer relying on SSNs for both privacy and security reasons. Where it failed was seeing it only as a CMS problem and not as a HIT problem with many twists and turns.

Very Little Manual Entry in EHR

Posted on September 20, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This is some fascinating data on how much of a doctor’s EHR note is entered manually versus some other automated method. I honestly wouldn’t have guessed that only 18% of the doctor’s EHR note was being entered manually. Although, from the doctor’s perspective, they still see a copied section of note as something they largely entered manually since a good doctor that copies something into the note generally also reviews it to make sure that it’s accurate for the patient they’re seeing.

What’s ironic is that every doctor I know would love for their note to be 100% automated so that they didn’t have to create any clinical note. In fact, that’s kind of what I outline in the perfect EHR workflow – Video EHR. Doctors would love to just see and interact with patients and have the EHR documentation be completely automated so they could just reference it as needed. Sadly, we’re not there yet. Not even close.

Plus, the critics of this type of automation would argue that automatic note creation will take (many aptly argue that it already has taken) the life and soul out of a note. They appropriately suggest that these auto-generated EHR notes are impossible to effectively read and have ruined patient notes. What used to be an elegantly written (although often illegible) note has now become an auto-generated mess of a note which makes it hard to find the relevant findings, issues, and treatment plan.

Except for a few rare exceptions, these critics are spot on in their analysis of the EHR note. The problem with these criticisms is that it’s not the automation which is making these notes useless. It was the automation’s focus on billing which has made these notes useless. In order to satisfy higher levels of billing, the Jabba the Hutt EHR note was created and is still thriving in healthcare today. Now we’re seeing organizations doing machine learning on this ugly billing notes to try and make the notes useful for patient care.

The difference between a note designed around patient care and one designed for billing is shocking.

What we need to realize is that automated notes don’t have to mean lower quality notes. However, improved patient care has to be the goal of the automated notes and not billing if we want to achieve that vision.

It’s not clear to me if many EHR vendors can achieve both visions of a quality billing note and a note designed around patient care or if it will require a new approach to documenting patient visits to achieve both goals. I have no doubt EHR vendors are going to try to do both. The problem is that most of them already tell themselves that they have a great clinical note that improves care. That attitude is preventing changes to the note that would make them more effective clinically.

I’m all for more automation in healthcare and particularly in doctor’s note creation. Every doctor I know wants to stop being a data entry clerk and spend more time being a doctor. However, we need to rethink our approach to automated note creation so it does more than effectively bill for services. Seems obvious, but I assure you that’s a dramatic change in mindset for many EHR organizations.

Medical Groups Struggling To Collect Payments Promptly

Posted on August 18, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Particularly as patients assume responsibility for more of the costs of care, it’s getting harder for providers to collect on outstanding bills.

My recent look at a dashboard created by the Medical Group Management Association certainly underscores the point. The story it tells is a grim one. Despite their best efforts, few practices are succeeding at meeting RCM challenges.

The MGMA intends the dashboard, which focuses on the number of days bills spend in Accounts Receivable, to give medical groups some benchmark RCM data. It relies on data from the group’s 2016 DataDive Cost and Revenue study, and allows users to view (at no cost):

  • Mean percentages of accounts receivable aged 0-30 days, 31-60 days, 61-90 days, 91-120 days and over 120 days
  • Mean days gross fee-for-service charges in A/R
  • Meeting days adjusted fee-for-service charges in A/R

It also allows users to select a specialty group type, including primary care, nonsurgical, surgical and multispecialty practices and look at their specific profile.

For example, the dashboard reveals that roughly 50% of accounts held by primary care practices spent a mean of 0-30 days in A/R, 11.2% of accounts were aged 31-60 days, 6.9% were at 61-90 days, 6.2% stayed in A/R for 91-120 days and 25.4% for 120+ days in A/R.

The MGMA page also stated that primary-care groups had an overall average of 61.86 adjusted days in A/R and 35.60 gross days in A/R.

Does that sound depressing? Well, it should. What’s more, other specialties’ performance was nearly as bad in some categories and even worse in others.

Look at the performance of nonsurgical groups. Only 44.7% of nonsurgical groups’ revenue came in within 30 days in A/R or less, almost 13% of accounts averaged 31-60 days before being paid, and almost 15% of accounts spent between 61 and 120 days in A/R. Twenty-eight percent of accounts had a mean 120+ days in A/R before being satisfied.

The other stats were even worse. For example, nonsurgical groups’ accounts spent a mean of 88 days in A/R and 46.2 gross days in A/R. Not very encouraging.

Even well-paid surgeons weren’t exempt from this problem. Most of the account aging stats were distributed similarly to the other specialty areas, and only 28.2% of accounts in this area spent more than 120 days in A/R. However, adjusted days in A/R came in at 136.7 and gross days in A/R at 54.

Meanwhile, the tally for multispecialty groups was a bit better, but not much. Account aging benchmarks were very similar to primary care practices, and adjusted days in A/R came in at 69.4.

Most of you probably had an idea that medical groups were facing these kind of collection problems, even if you didn’t have these benchmark numbers in hand. The thing is, they were even worse than I feared. (An acquaintance working in medical billing called the results “comical.”)

I don’t know what percentage of the accounts in question were self-pay, but given that self-pay is becoming a steadily higher proportion of medical practice revenue, these stats are pretty bad news. Something’s gotta give eventually. Plus, we’ll have to keep tracking how this data trends over time.

Few Providers Are Covering All Bases In Patient Collection Efforts

Posted on July 27, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

If the following is any indication, providers have a pretty good idea of what they need to do if they want to collect more from patients. The thing is, many providers aren’t doing it, or least not doing enough. I find this a bit surprising, given that while putting all of them into place may be intimidating, there’s many smaller things they can do to make progress. For whatever reason, though, even the smaller things aren’t happening.

That at least, is the conclusion that leapt out at me when I looked at data from a recent survey on the subject of patient collections. I could be missing something, but it looks as though providers are blowing many opportunities to collect a higher percentage of what patients owe.

The study, which was sponsored by Navicure and conducted by HIMSS Analytics, draws on data from two groups, patients and providers, including 1,000 patients and 553 healthcare industry respondents with revenue cycle management or RCM technology knowledge.

In formulating the survey, researchers sought to compare patient attitudes about provider billing with the providers’ actual behavior.  If the results are any indication, patients are considerably more cutting-edge than providers when it comes to getting the bills paid.

One thing I took away from the survey results was that while patients seem fairly willing to adopt provider-friendly billing options, many providers aren’t accommodating them.

For example, while 52% of patients told researchers that they’d prefer electronic billing over paper statements, and 79% of patients say they are comfortable being billed via email, 89% of providers said they still send out statements via postal mail. I know rethinking billing procedures is hard and all, but making this change seems like it’s worth the effort.

Another striking example of where providers could step up is the use of “credit card on file” programs. Medical practices who seem to be getting a lot of results from CCOF programs, under which patients allow the practice to bill the card for smaller charges.

Despite patient acceptance levels, only a minority of providers said they had gotten on board with CCOF as of yet. In fact, though 78% of patients said they were comfortable with CCOF payments, only 20% of providers said that they such a program in place. That’s another big gap between patient attitudes and provider willingness to follow through.

Then there’s patient concerns about preparing for bills. Admittedly, providers are ahead of patients on this one. Seventy-five percent reported being able to provide a cost estimate, but only 25% of patients said they had requested an estimate on the last visit.

Still, consumers  are catching up with providers quickly, with 56% reporting that they expect to ask for cost of care estimates in the future. Even better, the estimates don’t have to be perfect. In fact, more than two thirds of patients said they would find either any estimate or an estimate that came in within 10% or less of their actual costs to be helpful.

Yes, getting all of these strategies into place together is clearly easier said than done. But given what’s at stake for providers, anything short of impossible is worth a try.

Reinventing Claims Management for the Value-Based Era

Posted on February 16, 2017 I Written By

Provider claims management as we once knew it is not enough to thrive in a value-based era. Here’s what you need to know about taking claims management to a higher level.

The following is a guest blog post by Carmen Deguzman Sessoms, FHFMA, AVP of Product Management at RelayAssurance Plus RelayHealth Financial.

Provider claims management as we know it can no longer exist as a silo. With the rapid transformation from fee-for-service to value-based models, denial rates remain high–nearly 1 in 5 claims–despite advances in technology and automation. The complexity of value-based payment models almost guarantees an increase in denials, simply because there’s so much to get wrong.

For provider CFOs and their organizations to be effective–and thrive–in this environment, the touchpoints across the revenue cycle continuum must be re-examined to see if there are opportunities for improvement that have not presented themselves in the fee-for-service era. One such area is claims management, which is ripe to be elevated into an integral part of a denials management strategy.

What are the implications for providers? Well, for perspective, consider the savings realized through electronic claims submission.  CAQH research reveals that submitting a claim manually costs $1.98, compared to just $0.44 per electronic transaction. Likewise, a manual claims status inquiry costs $7.20 versus $0.94 for processing electronically.

This paper outlines the features and benefits of a technology platform that is geared toward elevating traditional claims management into the realm of strategic denial prevention and management, along with some recommended denial management best practices.

From Claim Scrubbing to Strategic Denial Management

Simple claims management as we know it is becoming obsolete. By “simple” we mean a claims process with a basic set of capabilities: creating claims, making limited edits, and ensuring that procedures are medically necessary. Today, a new class of integrated claim and denials management solutions augment this traditional approach to include pre- and post-filing activities that help automate and streamline claim submission, proactively monitor status, and expedite the appeals process for those that are denied.

In its simplest form, denials management can be defined as a process that leads to cleaner submitted claims and fewer denials from payers. But there are a lot of interim steps and variables that lead to “clean” claims, and a growing number of factors that influence denials. With the shift to alternative payment models and increasing consumerism, it’s more important than ever for providers to process claims properly the first time and to keep staff intervention to a minimum.

A big part of denials management is to improve the quality of patient data at registration, the source of many errors that lead to denials. Nonetheless, integrated claim and denial management processes span the entire revenue cycle, and technology brings new opportunities to manage costs and improve efficiencies. For example, having the ability to manage claims within a unified platform that can share and integrate data with the organization’s EHR prevents the need to toggle back and forth between systems to determine the status of a patient encounter.

A comprehensive claims management platform that advances denials management efforts integrates the following capabilities:

  • Eligibility verification prior to claim submission. It sounds pretty basic, but eligibility and registration errors on claims continue to be the top reason for denials. Automating the real-time verification of eligibility data helps identify avoidable denials and alert staff to claims needing attention before submission.
  • Maintenance of and compliance with oftenchanging payer business rules and regulatory requirements, including Medicare and state-specific updates, so that claims go out as cleanly as possible on the front end. With multiple payers and a growing roster of alternative payment models, manual in-house maintenance of edits is becoming an overwhelming task.
  • Digitization of attachments for Medicare pre- and post-payment audits, commercial claims adjudication and integrity audits, and workers compensation billing support. Integrating digital data exchange into the claims management workflow can help providers better control administrative costs, ensure regulatory compliance, and help automate and streamline claims processing and reimbursement.
  • Visibility into claim status lifecycle, with guidance for proactive follow-up. This lets providers only focus on those potential “problem” claims, and address any issues, before they are denied or delayed.
  • Automation of repetitive and labor-intensive tasks such as checking payer portals or placing phone calls to determine the status of pended or denied claims. This helps drastically reduce the amount of staff time spent perusing payer sites, and sitting on the phone on hold when an answer can’t be found.
  • Predictive intelligence to determine timing of payer acknowledgements and requests for additional information, as well as when payment will be provided. Analytics-driven claims management provides insight into how long responses should take, alerting providers when follow-up is required.
  • Management of remittances from all sources. Automated management of transaction formats, adjudication information, remittance translation and posting can help reduce A/R days, boost staff productivity, and accelerate cash flow.
  • Denial management and data analysis to guide corrective action and prevent future denials. Revenue cycle analytics can monitor the number of claims per physician, payer, or facility, enabling the health system to be proactive in interventions.
  • Creation and tracking of appeals for denied claims, including pre-population and assembly of appropriate forms. This not only helps cut down on resource-intensive manual work and paper attachments, but streamlines the appeals process.

Tying these capabilities together within an exception-based workflow helps address the challenge by providing visibility into problem claims. At-a-glance access to claim status helps cut down on the back-and-forth between billing departments and payers, and allows staff to focus only on those claims that require attention.

Pulling it all Together

Once you’ve integrated these capabilities, what are some of the claims management best practices to improve denial management and prevention? Consider the following actions:

  • Embed denial management within the entire workflow–Strong edits lead to clean claims, whether they pertain to Medicare, commercial payers or state-specific regulations. Edits should be constantly refined and seamlessly implemented, and pushed out to providers as often as possible–at minimum on a twice-weekly basis.
  • Adopt analytics-driven claims management–Claims management systems and connectivity channels to payers (i.e. clearinghouse) produce a wealth of operational information, most importantly data evidencing the speed of the payment path and claim status. Analyzed and served up in meaningful formats, this data becomes targeted business intelligence that can help providers better see obstacles and identify the root cause of denials and payment slowdowns.
  • Resolve issues before they result in denials–Providers should know claims location and status at all times. For example, has the claim been released by the EHR system? Has it been received and approved by the payer—or does a problem need to be addressed? Has a problem been rectified? Has the claim been released to a clearinghouse? Historical trends establish guidelines for the timing of events (e.g., whether claim status or payment should have been received from a particular payer by a certain date).
  • Be ready to identify claims denials and submit appeals. Nationwide revenue cycle statistics show that 1 in 5 claims are denied / delayed and can be avoided with the right software and better business processes.  In addition 67% of these denied claims are recoverable Identifying denials and submitting appeals to supply information not included on the initial claim can recoup lost revenue. To help streamline the process, additional claims information, such as medical records or lab results, should be supported by structured electronic attachments rather than faxed paper records or uploaded files to payer portals.

An Ounce of Prevention = Big Returns

Reducing and managing denials will have a significant impact on any healthcare organization’s bottom line. First, it costs $25 to rework a claim, and success rates vary widely. Additionally, when denials must be written off, the drop in patient revenue may total several million dollars for a medium-sized hospital, according to Advisory Board estimates.

The new look and feel of claims management is moving quickly toward analytics-driven, exception-based processing. By implementing and leveraging these capabilities and best practices in a cloud environment, providers can look forward to accelerated cash flow, reduced denials, increased automation with less staff involvement, and lower IT overhead.

About Carmen Sessoms
With over 20 years of progressive strategic leadership and healthcare experience in product management, business development, strategic planning and consulting, Carmen Sessoms has worked with all organizational levels in the ambulatory and acute care markets for patient access and reimbursement.

Prior to joining RelayHealth, Carmen was the regional vice president of operations for an outsourcing firm, where she led the eligibility side of the business and was instrumental in many process improvements that brought efficiencies to the company, its provider customers and their patients. Additionally, she has 10 years’ previous experience with McKesson in Product Management roles in which she directed projects related to the design and development of revenue cycle solutions, including initiatives with internal and external partners.

Carmen is a past president of the Georgia HFMA chapter, a recipient of HFMA’s Medal of Honor, and holds the designations of CHFP (Certified Healthcare Financial Professional) and FHFMA (Fellow in HFMA).

Practice Management Market To Hit $17.6B Within Seven Years

Posted on February 1, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A new research report has concluded that the global practice management systems market should hit $17.6 billion by 2024, fueled in part by the growth of value-adds like integration with other healthcare IT solutions.

The report, by London-based Grand View Research, includes a list of what it regards as key players in this industry. These include Henry Schein MicroMD, Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, AdvantEdge Healthcare Solutions, athenahealth, MediTouch, GE Healthcare, Practice Fusion, Greenway Medical, McKesson Corp, Accumedic Computer Systems and NextGen Healthcare.

The report argues that as PM systems are integrated with external systems EMRs, CPOE and laboratory information systems, practice management tools will increase in popularity. It says that this is happening because the complexity of medical billing and payment has grown over the last several years.

This is particularly the case in North America, where fast economic development, plus the presence of advanced research centers, hospitals, universities and medical device manufacturers keep up the flow of new product development and commercialization, researchers suggest.

In addition, researchers concluded that while PM software has accounted for the larger share of the market a couple of years ago, that’s changing. They predict that the services side of the business should grow substantially as practices demand training, support and system upgrades.

The report also says that cloud-based delivery of PM technology should grow rapidly in coming years. As Grand View reminds us, most PM systems historically have been based on-premise, but the move to cloud-based solutions is the future. This trend took off in 2015, researchers said.

This report, while worthwhile, probably doesn’t tell the whole story. Along with growing demand for PM systems,I’d contend that vendor sales strategies are playing a role here. After all, integration of PM systems with EMRs is part of a successful effort by many vendors to capture this parallel market along with their initial sale.

This may or may not be good for providers. I don’t have any information on how the various integrated practice management systems compare, but my sense is that generally, they’re a bit underpowered compared with their standalone competitors.

Grand View doesn’t take a stand on the comparative benefits of these two models, but it does concede that emerging integrated practice management systems linking EMRs, e-prescribing, patient engagement and other software with billing are actually different than standalone systems, which focus solely on scheduling, billing and administration. That does leave room to consider the possibility that the two models aren’t equal.

Meanwhile, one thing the report doesn’t – and probably can’t – address is how these systems will evolve under value-based care in the US. While appointment scheduling and administration will probably be much the same, it’s not clear to me how billing will evolve in such models. But we’ll need to wait and see on that. The question of how PM systems will work under value-based care probably won’t be critically important for a few years yet.

(Side note:  You may want to check out John’s post from a few years ago on practice management systems trends. It seems that the industry goes back and forth as to whether independent PM systems serve groups better than integrated ones.)

Providers Often Choose Low-Tech Collection Solutions

Posted on October 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As most providers know, it’s harder to collect money from the patient once they’ve walked out the door. This has always been an issue, but is particularly important today given that patients are being asked to bear an increasingly larger percentage of their healthcare bill.

In some cases, providers solve this problem by having their staff reach out directly via phone, rather than relying entirely on paper billing. Others address these issues with technology solutions such as offering payment options via a web portal. And of course, some providers do both.

But the question remains, which combination is most likely to boost collections efficiently without losing patients in the process? And it’s this question, which underlies all those other considerations, which a new study hopes to address. When reading the results, it’s good to bear in mind that the sponsor, BillingTree, is a payment technology firm and therefore has a bias, but the survey data was interesting nonetheless.

First, a look at providers’ collections challenges. Respondents told BillingTree that compliance and collecting payments once the patient has left the building were concerns, along with knowing the correct amount to bill after insurance and addressing the client’s ability to pay. Perhaps the biggest issues were a lack of payment channels – be they staffers, interactive voice response or website tech — and disputes over the amount billed.

According to BillingTree researchers, few respondents were using Web or automated phone payment collection technologies to bring in these missing dollars. While 93.9% accepted online and mail payments, and 86.7% said they accepted payments over the phone via a live agent, only 66.7% provided a web portal payment option, and just 6.7% offered the ability to pay via an interactive voice response system. Rather than add new technologies, respondents largely said that they intended to improve collections by adding staff members or outsourcing part of their collection operations.

On the other hand, technology plays a somewhat bigger part in providers’ future plans for collections. Over the next 12 months, 20% said they planned to begin accepting payments via a web portal, and 13.3% intend to add an IVR system to accept payments. Meanwhile, the 26.7% of providers who are planning to outsource some or all of their collections are likely to benefit indirectly from these technologies, which are common among payment outsourcers, BillingTree noted.

Among those providers that did offer phone or web-based payment options, one-fifth chose to add a convenience fee to the transaction. BillingTree researchers noted that given the low adoption of such technologies, and concerns about regulatory compliance, such fees might be unwise. Nonetheless, the data suggest that collection of such fees increase over time.

All this being said, the BillingTree study doesn’t look at perhaps the most critical technology issue providers are struggling to address. As a recent American Medical Association survey recently concluded, providers are quite interested in tools that link to their EMR and help them improve their billing and reimbursement processes.

Focusing on revenue cycle management issues at the front end of the process makes sense. After all, while patients are being forced to take on larger shares of their medical costs, insurers are still more reliable sources of income. So while it makes sense for providers to track down patients who leave without having paid their share of costs, focusing the bulk of their technology dollars on improving the claims process seems like a good idea.

In The Trenches: Primary Care Practice Saves With EMR Transition

Posted on September 13, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

This is the first in an occasional series of stories I’m writing on how medical practices – particularly smaller groups – are handling their health IT challenges. If you have suggestions for future columns please feel free to write to me at anne@ziegerhealthcare.com.

It only took six months for Clem Surak to realize that his current EMR system wasn’t going to cut it. Surak, who bought Wilmington, NC-based primary care practice Health Partners in 2011 with his wife, didn’t originally come from the healthcare business, but he quickly saw that his IT platforms weren’t cost-effective.

The systems he inherited to run the practice, an Allscripts EHR sprawling across three servers and a companion practice management platform called Tiger, were “very proprietary” and tech support wasn’t easy to access. And they cost $20K per year to support two doctors.

Worse, the product wasn’t very current. “Meaningful Use had to be downloaded as a separate module,” said Surak.

Not surprisingly, Surak began looking for other options. After consulting with his local Regional Extension Center, he went with a new system from Amazing Charts (full disclosure: a former client of your editor). The new system, which went live in June 2012, offered some important benefits, including:

* Savings:  It cost Health Partners $5,400/year to license the integrated Amazing Charts EHR, a $14,600 savings over the Allscripts systems.

* Maintenance: Because the new solution is cloud-based, the practice doesn’t need to maintain the software or cope with technical breakdowns directly.

* Rollout: Implemented over the course of three months, with no slowdown or reduction in physician hours needed. “We kept our normal pace,” Surak says.

* Data transfer: To bring patient demographic data over from Allscripts to the new system, all the practice had to do was export Allscripts data into an Excel spreadsheet, then run an Amazing Charts wizard which imported it.

Of course, the practice faced some challenges as well, largely around adjusting workflow and phasing out the old system:

* Running in parallel:  For the first few years after the transition to Amazing Charts, Health Partners had to keep the Allscripts system running alongside the new system.

* Practice management lag:  Amazing Charts didn’t offer a practice management module at the time Health Partners acquired the EMR. Until mid-2015, when a practice management module became available, it had to keep doing patient scheduling and accounting in the Allscripts system.

Ultimately, despite some transitional hassles, Surak is glad he made the shift to a set of systems that work effectively in tandem. Putting a new EMR and practice management system in place hasn’t just saved money, it’s helped Surak keep efficiency high, running the practice with just a couple of support staffers.

“Most offices this size would have five to seven support staffers, but we don’t have to,” he says. “And keeping overhead down is the key to remaining independent.”

ICD-10 Deja Vu – End of Grace Period

Posted on June 8, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently came across this article by Aiden Spencer about the possibility that ICD-10 could still cause issues for healthcare organizations once the grace period ends. Here’s what he suggests:

The CMS grace period was a welcomed relief because it meant practices would still be reimbursed under Medicare Part B for claims that at least had a valid ICD-10 diagnosis code. This meant physicians and their staff could get up to speed without worrying about taking a huge hit to their revenue stream.

With only five months left until the grace period ends, industry experts are predicting that an ICD-10 crisis might still be coming for some providers. Will you be one of them? Are you currently implementing quality medical billing software, or will the system you’re using fail come October 1st?

This certainly feels like what we were talking about last October when ICD-10 went live. A bunch of fuss and very little impact on healthcare. Are we heading for another round of fear and anxiety over the end of the ICD-10 grace period?

My gut tells me that it won’t be a bit deal for most healthcare organizations. They’ve had a year to improve their ICD-10 coding and so it won’t likely be an issue for most. This is particularly true for organizations who have quality HIM staff that’s gone through and done audits of their ICD-10 coding practices to ensure that they were doing so accurately.

I saw one stat from KPMG that only 11 percent of healthcare organizations described the ICD-10 implementation as a “failure to operate in an ICD-10 environment” with 80% finding the move to ICD-10 to be smooth. I imagine we’ll have a similar breakout when the ICD-10 grace period ends. Just make sure you’re not part of the 11 percent.