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Fixing the “Not My Problem” Culture in Healthcare – #KareoChat

Posted on August 17, 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.

It was pretty shocking to hear the news of the passing of Jess Jacobs, patient advocate and Aetna innovator. Life is certainly fragile and Jess’ passing was a reminder of that to me. While I certainly didn’t know her well, I’d had a chance to meet her a few times at HIMSS and Wen was nice enough to share a great picture of Jess having fun at the New Media Meetup which I organize. That made me smile.

As all the tributes to Jess Jacobs poured in, I admit that I didn’t know a good way that I could honor her memory until I was asked to host this week’s #KareoChat. Queued off of Ted Eytan, MD’s tribute to Jess, I thought it would be valuable to talk about what he calls the “Not My Problem” culture in healthcare and how we can change it in this week’s #KareoChat Twitter chat. My only regret is that we didn’t have this conversation while Jess was alive. I’m sure that she would have really added some depth (and likely a bit of snark) to the conversation. Instead, I’ll have to hope she’s smiling down on us trying to make the lives better for patients that are suffering in our health system like she did.

KareoChat - Not My Problem Culture in Healthcare - UnicornJess

You can follow along and participate in the #KareoChat on Thursday, August 18th at 9 AM PT (Noon ET). We’ll be discussing the following 6 questions:

  1. Have you seen the “Not My Problem” culture in healthcare?  Where and what impact did it have?
  2. How can small practices avoid the “Not My Problem” culture that sometimes exists?
  3. What can a small practice do to become more patient focused?
  4. Will becoming more patient focused be good or bad for a small practice’s business? Why or why not?
  5. What can we do to better help chronic patients who are suffering like #UnicornJess suffered?
  6. Do we see the “Not My Problem” issue in health IT towards doctors?  How?

As Dr. Eytan said in his post, I don’t think the people in healthcare are the problem. Most of the healthcare providers I know care deeply about the patient and want to be more patient focused. However, our system pushes a culture that often destroys the patient experience. Hopefully, in this chat we can talk about ways we can overcome or change that culture for the better of patients so that future patients don’t have to endure the painful patient experiences that Jess Jacobs had to endure.

If you want to learn more about Jess Jacobs, many people who knew her did this #UnicornJess Twitter chat where they told a lot of stories and memories about her. Also, the family has asked that donations be made in Jess’s honor to the Walking Gallery, a cause that was important to Jess.

Full Disclosure: Kareo is an advertiser on this blog.

What Do Med Students Need To Know About EMRs?

Posted on August 16, 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.

Recently, I was asked to write an introduction to EMRs, focusing on what medical students needed to know in preparation for their future careers. This actually turned out to be a very interesting exercise, as it called for balancing history with the future, challenges with benefits and predictable future developments with some very interesting possibilities. Put another way, the exercise reminded me that any attempt to “explain” EMR technology calls for some fancy dancing.

Here’s some of the questions I tackled:

  • Do future doctors need to know more about how EMRs function today, or how they should probably function to support increasingly important patient management approaches like population health?
  • Do med students need to understand major technical discussions – such as the benefits of FHIR or how to wrangle Big Data – to perform as doctors? If so, how much detail is helpful?
  • How important is it to prepare med students to understand the role of data generated outside of traditional patient care settings, such as wearables data, remote monitoring and telemedicine consults? What do they need to know to prepare for the gradual integration of such data?
  • What skills, attitudes and practices will help physician trainees make the best use of EMRs and ancillary systems? And how should they obtain that knowledge?

These questions are thornier than they may appear at first glance, in part because there no hard-and-fast standards in place as to how doctors who’ve never run a practice on paper charts should conduct themselves. While there have been endless discussions about how to help doctors adopt an EMR for the first time, or switch from one to the other, I’m not aware of a mature set of best practices available to med students on how next-gen, health IT-assisted practices should function.

Certainly, offering med school trainees a look at the history of EMRs makes sense, as understanding the reasons early innovators developed the first systems offers some interesting insights. And introducing soon-to-be physicians to the benefits of wearable or remote monitoring data makes sense. Physicians will almost certainly improve the care they deliver by understanding EMRs then, now and their near-term evolution as data sources.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it makes sense to indoctrinate med students in today’s take on evolving topics like population health management or interoperability via FHIR. These paradigms are evolving so rapidly that pinning down a set of teachable ideas may be a disservice to these students.

Morever, telling students how to think about EMRs, or articulating what skills are needed to manage them, might actually be a bad idea. I’m optimistic enough to think that now that the initial adoption frenzy funded by HITECH is over, EMRs will become far more usable and physician-shapeable over the next few years, allowing new docs to adapt the tool to them rather than adapt to the tool.

All that being said, educating med students on EMRs and health IT ancillary tools is a great idea. I just hope that such training encourages them to keep learning well after the training is over.

MIPS Overview – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 15, 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of MACRA.

The Merit-based Incentive Payment System or MIPS as we now know it is going to be a big part of most practices future. As we mentioned previously, most practices will be participating in the MIPS program as opposed to the APM program under MACRA. Here’s a quick overview of the MIPS program. Over the next months, we’ll be diving deeper and deeper into the details of MIPS.

MIPS replaces 3 programs that will likely be familiar to most readers: PQRS, the Medicare EHR Incentive Program (Better known as meaningful use), and the Value-Based Payment Modifier (VBM). The last one might not be as familiar to people, but PQRS and Meaningful Use are likely very familiar. In future posts, we’ll dive into the changes to these programs that come as they’re rolled into MIPS.

It’s worth noting that these programs will continue to run in their current from through 2018. Plus, the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program and the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for Hospitals will continue. Along with rolling the 3 current programs into MIPS, MACRA also adds a new program to MIPS called the Clinical Practice Improvement Activities (CPIA).

The first performance period for MIPS is 2017 with MIPS adjustments happening in 2019. At least that’s the way it’s listed in the proposed rule. Many are suggesting that there’s no way that MIPS will be for all of 2017. They argue that it has to be either delayed or moved to a 90 day reporting period (which is basically a 9 month delay). We’ll see what they finally decide when the MACRA final rule finally comes out.

The potential MIPS adjustments to your Medicare Part B payment are 4% in 2019 and grow to 9% in 2022. Remember that these adjustments can be both positive and negative based on how well you participate in the MIPS program. We’ll dive into the MIPS Composite Score that determines your MIPS payment adjustment in a future post. Here’s a charge which illustrates the MIPS timeline and incentives:
MIPS Incentives and Penalties
That’s all for our MIPS overview. Next up we’ll dive into who is eligible for MIPS and who is not eligible for MIPS.

You can see how if you’re already participating in PQRS, Meaningful Use, and the Value-Based Modifier, then you are well positioned to do well in MIPS. This will become even more clear when we discuss the weighted scoring that each of these pieces of MIPS receives. Of course, if you haven’t been participating in these programs, then MIPS will definitely be a pretty big hill to climb.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA program.

Are Devices Distracting Doctors the Same As Devices Distracting Children?

Posted on August 12, 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 came across this tweet from Howard Green, MD that really made me stop to think.

I like the juxtaposition of his comment because it makes you stop and think about the decisions we’re making. Although, I think that Dr. Green takes it too far since no one ever asked doctors to stop interacting. In fact, the chorus I’ve heard is that doctors need to interact more with patients. That said, I get his point that the EMR can get in between the patient and doctor if you let it. And many have let it get in the way.

We can certainly talk about how EHR software could be more usable. We can talk about how the onerous regulations and things like meaningful use and MACRA have made documenting in an EHR a clickfest that provides little to no value to patients. We can talk about how EHR software isn’t connected to other EHR software and we’re living in this world of healthcare data silos. All of these are a pain and a problem for doctors and we should do better. What is unfair to say is that EHRs tell doctors to stop interacting.

It’s always amazing to me how the EHR gets all sorts of undeserved blame. I’ve seen plenty of doctors who use an EHR and still spend plenty of time interacting with their patients. In fact, people like Dr. James Legan have integrated their EHR use into their patient interaction and made their patient interaction better. Yes, the EHR can be a distraction, but it doesn’t have to be. The same way devices can ruin my children, but they don’t have to ruin them. It’s how you choose to use it.

ONC’s Budget Performance Measure Dashboards Makes Goal Tracking Easy

Posted on August 9, 2016 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.

I recently wrote a post how it’s not easy to compare ONC’s spending plans with what it actually did. That’s not the case with ONC’s Budget Performance Measures. Its Performance Measure dashboard makes those comparisons easy and understandable. For example, you can look up EHR adoption among office based physicians.

Here’s how to use it. On the dashboard page, Figure I, select a general area using the radio buttons. Depending on your choice, the system will list specific issues. You select the one you want from the drop down menu on the right. You can also adjust the period covered. Right clicking a graph downloads it.

Figure I – ONC Dashboard Menu

ONC Dashboard Menu

It’s in the graph that the dashboard excels. It clearly shows targets and results. For example, Figure II shows that while office EHR adoption has grown over the years, it’s running below ONC’s goals. If you’d only saw the actual – which is the case with ONC’s budget — you’d only see adoption going up. You’d have no clue ONC’s goal wasn’t met.

Figure II – ONC Primary Care Adoption

Office Based Primary Care Doc Adoption

These dashboards give the public a way to understand what ONC wants to do and how well — or not so well — its done toward its goals. In doing so, ONC has given us a scoreboard that not only measures what it’s doing, but it also allows the public to focus on benchmarks. ONC’s fiscal reporting isn’t the clearest, but with these dashboards they’ve done themselves well.

Advanced APM Requirements and Incentives – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 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.

Last week we looked at the MIPS and APM programs within MACRA and who will be participating in which program. Today we’ll briefly cover some of the specific requirements to participate in the APM program and the incentives you’ll receive if you are qualified and participate as an APM.

As mentioned before, most people won’t participate in an APM, but will participate in MIPS. This is particularly true because even if you’re part of an ACO or other value based care program you may or may not qualify as what they call an Advanced APM. Last week we listed the various APM definitions for who could be an APM, but we didn’t include this other criteria that is required for an APM to be considered an Advanced APM.

  • Use Certified EHR
  • Base Payment on Quality
  • Bears Financial Risk or Medical Home Model

If you want to dig into the advanced APM criteria, you can do so in the APM webinars that CMS did. They dive into the nitty gritty details of each, but we’ll pass on covering them here since they’ve done a great job and it only applies to a small group of our readers.

If you do not qualify as an advanced APM, then you’ll need to participate in MIPS, but you’ll do so with some favorable MIPS scoring.

APM Incentives
For those organizations that qualify as an Advanced APM, starting in 2019 you’ll receive up to a 5% bonus. This bonus will continue through 2024. In 2026, the bonus will be replaced with a higher fee schedule update.

Worth noting is that the MACRA APM program creates extra incentives for those who are already participating in one of the value based reimbursement programs. The MACRA APM program does nothing to change the current APM functions or rewards values. The 5% bonus will be on top of what was already planned for APMs.

Plan of Action
If you think that you might be part of an organization or program that will qualify as an APM, you’ll need to figure out if you qualify as an advanced APM. You should be able to consult your ACO or other APM organization to find out if you’re considered an advanced APM or not. The key question you’ll want to ask is, Am I considered an Advanced APM or not? Only Advanced APMs are excluded from MIPS.

That’s the short overview of the APM program. Next week we’ll start talking about the MIPS program.

Be sure to check out all of our MACRA Monday blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA program.

The World is Going Remote and Mobile – Are You?

Posted on August 5, 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.

Anthony Guerra has a great post on his blog Health System CIO called “Cutting the Line.” If you’ve never read Anthony’s blog posts, he’s a great story teller and that post is a great example. Take a second to go and read the whole post, we’ll be here when you get back.

For those too lazy to click over to Anthony’s blog, here’s an excerpt of the full story which highlights the shift to remote and mobile that he’s been seeing happening in society:

And it isn’t just Starbucks that has gotten into the business of cutting out the personal touch (which nobody really wants anyway — think banking). A few days after my Starbucks experience, I got an email from my gym notifying members that those sitting poolside no longer had to trek to the outdoor café to grab their lunch (and that line really stinks). Now, you could order right from your lounge chair and have your salad and smoothie delivered without missing a ray of sunshine.

Oh, and as if everyone suddenly got a “go-remote” memo at once, the next day I saw this signat one of my favorite burrito places. I guess everyone realizes their customers get no pleasure from waiting on lines. What do customers want? The product, the result — so why not have it ready, or deliver it straight to them?

The world, as we know, is going remote and mobile, and it’s going there fast.

We’ve all seen this happening in one way or another. Ironically, I went into Dominos and had this very same experienced. I’d ordered it all online. I walked in, told them my name and walked out. There was a bit of a rush that they had it waiting for me while I saw two poor saps sitting there waiting for their orders. If I didn’t have kids, I could have literally done that order with a simple voice command to Alexa. Although, I haven’t enabled that feature since I don’t want my kids ordering pizza at their whim.

What’s interesting is that there are very few experiences in healthcare that are like this. A few pharmacies have made it almost this easy to pickup a refill. That’s the closest we’ve come. Shouldn’t we be able to do more?

I think the answer is that we could and we should. I think the reason we aren’t is that we’ve overburdened our doctors and practices as a whole. Between meaningful use, ICD-10, ACOs, MACRA, etc etc etc, when have practices had time to work on innovative interactions with their patients. Doctors are running as fast as they can on the treadmill that is healthcare and now we’ve asked them to become data entry clerks while running on that treadmill. It takes a pretty special doctor to find the time to start thinking of and implementing consumer centric interactions with their patients.

I guess this is why I’m so torn by the current state of our healthcare system. There are so many opportunities to improve the experience for both patients and doctors. However, we’re all too burdened with minutia that there’s no room to innovate. The question I keep asking is when will we break free of the chains of bureaucracy and be able to implement these type of consumer focused innovations? At what point will some healthcare organizations break through the barrier and essentially make it a standard of care for which all others will have to follow? I look forward to that day.

Mobile EHR Access Is Maturing

Posted on August 4, 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.

Today I read a story that surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. A clinician, writing for a publication called Diagnostic Imaging, suggests that a “mobile EHR” is emerging, a new entity which embraces mobile technology rather than treating it as an add-on. I wasn’t surprised that this was happening, but it is remarkable that it’s taken us so long to get to this point.

As Saroj Misra, DO, notes, healthcare organizations are rolling out infrastructure for clinicians to access EHR data via mobile devices, and EHR vendors are ramping up development of mobile interfaces for their systems. And physicians are responding. According to a recent Physicians Practice survey, 78% of physicians are now using mobile-accessible EHRs, and more than 85% of doctors and practices were using mobile devices to do their jobs.

As he sees it there were three big issues which previously held back the development of mobile EHRs:

  • Mobile device screens were too small, and battery life was inadequate.
  • EHR vendors hadn’t created interfaces which worked effectively with mobile devices
  • Healthcare organizations weren’t convinced that mobile EHR access protected health data sufficiently

Today, these problems have receded into the background. Screens have gotten larger, battery life has been extended, and while security is always an issue, standards for protecting mobile data are gradually emerging. Also, healthcare organizations are developing mobile device management policies which help to address BYOD issues.

In response, EHR developers are embracing mobile EHR access. There’s vendors like drchrono, which is a mobile-native EHR, but that’s not all.  Other ambulatory vendors, like athenahealth, describe themselves as a “provider of network-enabled services for electronic health records,” and MEDITECH’s Web Ambulatory app runs on a tablet.  Also, Cerner’s PowerChart Touch solution is built for the Apple iPad.

At this point, I truly wonder why all EHRs aren’t developed primarily with mobile deployment in mind. Physicians have been engaged mobile device users since smartphones and tablets first emerged, and the need for them to manage patients on the go has only increased over time. I know desktops still have their place, but the reality is that empowering physicians to take patient data with them is overwhelmingly sensible.

My sense, after researching this post, is that ongoing security worries are probably the biggest roadblock to further mobile EHR deployment. And I understand why, of course. After all, many of the major health data breaches occur thanks to a stolen laptop “walking away” when it’s left unattended, and mobile devices may be just as vulnerable.

That being said, the benefits of giving doctors an elegant mobile EHR solution are substantial. With the right targeted security policies in place, I believe the benefits of robust mobile EHR deployment – particularly giving clinicians on-the-spot data access and getting immediate data back — far outweigh these risks. I sincerely hope the HIT software industry agrees!

ONC’s Budget: A Closer Look

Posted on August 3, 2016 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.

When HHS released ONC’s proposed FY2017 budget last winter, almost all attention focused on one part, a $22 million increase for interoperability. While the increase is notable, I think ONC’s full $82 Million budget deserves some attention.

ONC’s FY2017 Spending Plan.

Table I, summarizes ONC’s plan for Fiscal Year 2017, which runs from October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017. The first thing to note is that ONC’s funding would change from general budget funds, known as Budget Authority or BA, to Public Health Service Evaluation funds. HHS’ Secretary may allocate up to 2.1 percent of HHS’ funds to these PHS funds. This change would not alter Congress’ funding role, but apparently signals HHS’s desire to put ONC fully in the public health sector.

Table I
ONC FY2017 Budget

fy2017-budget-justification-onc

What the ONC Budget Shows and What it Doesn’t

ONC’s budget follows the standard, federal government budget presentation format. That is, it lists, by program, how many people and how much money is allocated. In this table, each fiscal year, beginning with FY2015, shows the staffing level and then spending.

Staffing is shown in FTEs, that is, full time equivalent positions. For example, if two persons work 20 hours each, then they are equivalent to one full time person or FTE.

Spending definitions for each fiscal year is a little different. Here’s how that works:

  • FY2015 – What actually was spent or how many actually were hired
  • FY2016 – The spending and hiring Congress set for ONC for the current year.
  • FY2017 – The spending and hiring in the President’s request to Congress for next year.

If you’re looking to see how well or how poorly ONC does its planning, you won’t see it here. As with other federal and most other government budgets, you never see a comparison of plans v how they really did. For example, FY2015 was the last complete fiscal year. ONC’s budget doesn’t have a column showing its FY2015 budget and next to it, what it actually did. If it did, you could see how well or how poorly it did following its plan.

You can’t see the amount budgeted for FY2015 in ONC’s budget, except for its total budget. However, if you look at the FY2016 ONC budget, you can see what was budgeted for each of its four programs. While the budget total and the corresponding actual are identical -$60,367,000, the story at the division level is quite different.

                                   Table II
                    ONC FY2015 Budget v Actual
                                    000s

Division

FY2015 Budget $ FY2015 Actuals $ Diff
Policy Development and Coordination 12,474 13,112 638
Standards, Interoperability, and Certification 15,230 15,425 195
Adoption and Meaningful Use 11,139 10,524 (615)
Agency-wide Support 21,524 21,306 (218)
Total 60,367 60,367

 

Table II, shows this by comparing the FY2015 Enacted Budget from ONC’s FY2015 Actuals for its four major activities. While the total remained the same, it shows that there was a major shift of $638,000 from Meaningful Use to Policy. There was a lesser shift of $195,000 from Agency Support to Standards. These shifts could have been actual transfers or they could have been from under and over spending by the divisions.

Interestingly, Table III for staffing shows a different pattern. During FY2015, ONC dropped 25 FTEs, a dozen from Policy Development and the rest from Standards and Meaningful Use. That means, for example, that Policy Development had less people and more money during FY2015.

Table III
ONC FY2015
Budget v Actual Staffing FTEs
Division FY2015 Budget FTEs FY2015 Actuals FTEs Diff
Policy Development and Coordination 49 37 (12)
Standards, Interoperability, and Certification 32 26 (6)
Adoption and Meaningful Use 49 42 (7)
Agency-wide Support 55 55
Total 185 160 25

 

To try to make sense of this, I looked at the current and past year’s budgets, but to no avail. As best I can tell is ONC made great use of contracts and other non personnel services. For example, ONC spent $30 Million on purchase/contracts, which is $8 million more than it did on its payroll.

ONC’s budget, understandably, concentrates on its programs and plans. It puts little emphasis on measuring its hiring and spending abilities. It’s not alone, budgets government and otherwise, are forecast and request documents. However, if we could know how plans went – without having to dig in last year’s weeds  – it would let us know how well a program executed its plans as well as make them. That would be something worth knowing.

New ONC Scorecard Tool Grades C-CDA Documents

Posted on August 2, 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.

The ONC has released a new scorecard tool which helps providers and developers find and resolve interoperability problems with C-CDA documents. According to HealthDataManagement, C-CDA docs that score well are coded with appropriate structure and semantics under HL7, and so have a better chance of being parseable by different systems.

The scorecard tool, which can be found here, actually offers two different types of scores for C-CDA documents, which must be uploaded to the site to be analyzed. One score diagnoses whether the document meets the requirements of the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification for Transitions of Care, granting a pass/fail grade. The other score, which is awarded as a letter grade ranging from A+ to D, is based on a set of enhanced interoperability rules developed by HL7.

The C-CDA scorecard takes advantage of the work done to develop SMART (Substitutable Medical Apps Resusable Technologies). SMART leverages FHIR, which is intended to make it simpler for app developers to access data and for EMR vendors to develop an API for this purpose. The scorecard, which leverages open-source technology, focuses on C-CDA 2.1 documents.

The SMART C-CDA scorecard was designed to promote best practices in C-CDA implementation by helping creators figure out how well and how often they follow best practices. The idea is also to highlight improvements that can be made right away (a welcome approach in a world where improvement can be elusive and even hard to define).

As SMART backers note, existing C-CDA validation tools like the Transport Testing Tool provided by NIST and Mode-Driven Health Tools, offer a comprehensive analysis of syntactic conformance to C-CDA specs, but don’t promote higher-level best practices. The new scorecard is intended to close this gap.

In case developers and providers have HIPAA concerns, the ONC makes a point of letting users know that the scorecard tool doesn’t retain submitted C-CDA files, and actually deletes them from the server after the files have been processed. That being said, ONC leaders still suggest that submitters not include any PHI or personally-identifiable information in the scorecards they have analyzed.

Checking up on C-CDA validity is becoming increasingly important, as this format is being used far more often than one might expect. For example, according to a story appearing last year in Modern Healthcare:

  • Epic customers shared 10.2 million C-CDA documents in March 2015, including 1.3 million outside the Epic ecosystem (non-Epic EMRs, HIEs and the health systems for the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments)
  • Cerner customers sent 7.3 million C-CDA docs that month, more than half of which were consumed by non-Cerner systems.
  • Athenahealth customers sent about 117,000 C-CDA documents directly to other doctors during the first quarter of 2015.

Critics note that it’s still not clear how useful C-CDA information is to care, nor how often these documents are shared relative to the absolute number of patient visits. Still, even if the jury is still out on their benefits, it certainly makes sense to get C-CDA docs right if they’re going to be transmitted this often.