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Ditching Your EHR Just Isn’t Practical Regardless of Practice Model

Posted on May 12, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Tom Giannulli, MS, MD and CMO at Kareo.
Tom Giannulli - Kareo EHR
A recent piece by Anne Zieger on EMR & EHR opened up the discussion regarding whether or not direct primary care (DPC) physicians can or should ditch their electronic health record (EHR). And, this isn’t the first time the topic has surfaced. Other blogs have suggested that since EHRs are really just a means to gather documentation for insurance claims, DPC doctors don’t need them. Further, they offer other arguments against EHRs—like poor workflow and patient experience—however, the focus was really around insurance.

Yet, this is not a reason in and of itself for why DPC physicians should give up their EHRs. One role of an EHR is to improve documentation and coding to ensure physicians get paid. This is a good thing for DPC physicians, as well as traditional practices. The majority of DPC physicians use more than one payment model within their practice, meaning many also bill insurance for at least some patients.

A study conducted in 2015 showed that only 28% of physicians who used a DPC, concierge or other membership model in their practice had their entire patient panel on that model. The rest used it for some, but not all, patients. In fact, the largest group—37%—had 25% or less of their patients on a membership payment model. That said, insurance billing continues to be a challenge that those practices must navigate. An EHR can help them get paid correctly. It can also help them report for quality initiatives, like Meaningful Use and PQRS, prepare for the newly proposed MACRA ruling, and allow them to bill for chronic care management (CCM) services, while also improving patient experience and outcomes.

Independent practices understand that as we move forward in healthcare, a single payment model won’t do the trick. They need to be nimble and open to many options from fee-for-service to DPC to Virtual ACOs and other value-based reimbursement programs. The agile medical practices will be the ones that thrive in the long term. They are looking both at reimbursement models and industry changes, as well as increasing patient demands, such as increased connectivity, price transparency and improved patient access.

Using the EHR, Regardless of Practice Model

This is why even for those DPC practices that do go all in and don’t bill insurance, an EHR is essential. Many DPC practices offer largely primary care services with a focus on prevention and wellness. The right EHR can enable not only visit documentation but preventive care alerts and quick access to patient education. With a truly mobile EHR, physicians can engage patients face-to-face and share information in real time.

With the addition of integrated patient engagement features, such as telemedicine, self-care instructions and videos, tracking of wearable devices, and secure messaging through a portal, patients and their caregivers can stay in sync with their providers. This is an added level of convenience that DPC practices should support. Moreover, patient engagement components can be a critical part of managing wellness when studies show that most patients forget what their physician said after they leave the office. Keeping patients well means keeping the lines of communication open and a portal can play an important role.

Not only have patients expressed that they are more loyal to a physician who offers a portal (for the reasons stated above), but they have also said they like features like electronic prescribing. In fact, over 75% of patients have said they prefer an EHR to paper charts. Beyond the desire of patients, many states are beginning to mandate not just standard ePrescribing but also electronic prescribing for controlled substances. DPC physicians will not be exempt from rules like these.

There’s no other option but the EHR

It’s true that you can piece together just the technology features you want for your practice by combining several systems. However, the blog post referenced above seemed to suggest you could use an alternate system to an EHR. If you pick and choose features here and there, wouldn’t that mean more work entering data into a bunch of disparate systems? Or, logging into several different platforms translating to added time and less secure environments. One for ePrescribing, one for scheduling and reminders, one for the patient portal and maybe another one for patient collections?

There are cloud-based EHRs today that can offer most, if not all, of this in a single platform. One platform means one patient database, one login, and one easy-to-access system for all employees. And for DPC practices with small staff, no duplicate data entry or tedious jumping from system to system. In addition, a single end-to-end system that can support all the needs of a practice also means the practice can be positioned for flexibility. For example, if a DPC practice decides to accept insurance again or try another payment model, you’ll have the solutions you need without making significant changes to your workflow.

EHRs may not be perfect, but they are improving in their ability to meet increasing consumer demands and changing government regulation. Moving forward, more progressive EHR platforms will continue to offer add-on partners or native capabilities to solve consumer-centric needs. As the types of practice models change and evolve, the need for a core EHR should remain a constant, while additional features will vary. Thus, the flexibility and configurability of the EHR platform is critical to enabling long term success.

Full Disclosure: Kareo is an advertiser on this site.

Direct Primary Care Docs And EMRs

Posted on April 14, 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 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.

For those that haven’t stumbled upon it, direct primary care is an emerging model for changing the relationship between primary care docs and their patients. Under this model, patients pay primary care practices a flat fee per month which covers all services they use during that month. From what I’ve seen, fees are typically between $50 and $100 per month, depending on the patient’s age.

The key to this model — which borrows from but is emphatically not a concierge set-up — is taking insurance companies out of the relationship. And investors seem to be excited about this approach, with VC money flowing into DPC companies and startups like Turntable Health, which is backed by CEO Tony Hsieh.

I bring this up because I wanted to lay out a theory and see what you folks think. The theory doesn’t come from me; it was tossed out in a blog item by Twine Health, which makes a collaborative care platform. In the item, Twine blogger Chris Storer argues that the DPC movement is enabling doctors to junk their EMRs, which he suggests have been put in place to handle insurance documentation.

While the notion is self-serving, given that Twine seemingly wants to replace EMRs in the healthcare continuum, I thought it gave rise to an interesting thought experiment. Are EMRs mostly a tool to placate insurance companies? It’s worth considering. While Twine may or may not offer a solution, it’s hard to argue that existing EMRs “have empowered both physicians and patients in developing relationships that result in better healthcare outcomes.”

In the blog item, Storer argues that primary care practices largely use EMRs as a means of capturing data, and by doing so meeting insurance claims requirements. Though he offers no evidence to this effect, Storer suggests that DPC practices are dumping EMRs to focus better on patient care. There’s actually at least one direct-primary-care oriented EMR on the market (, which is backed by a DPC practice in Wichita, KS), but that doesn’t prove the blogger wrong.

For Twine and its ilk, the question seems to be whether switching from EMRs to another care management model would actually improve the patient experience in and of itself. I’m sure that Twine (and others who consider themselves competitors) believe that it will.

As I see it, though, they’re talking around some key issues. no matter how user-friendly a platform is, No how laudable its goals are, I doubt that even a direct primary care practice unfettered by insurance requirements could seamlessly shift their practice to a platform such this. And no matter how good next-gen collaborative tools are — and I’m optimistic about them, as a category — the workflow issues which have alienated patients in the EMR age won’t go away entirely.

So while I’ll believe that DPC practices want to pitch their EMR, my guess is that the odds of their replacing it with an alternative platform are slim. Now, if collaborative care players catch practices when they’re being formed, that may be a different story. But for now my guess is that any practice that has an EMR in place is unlikely to dump it for the time being. The alternatives (including going back to paper charts) are unlikely to make sense.

The Move to Direct Primary Care Medicine – Niche or Mainstream?

Posted on October 6, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and 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’m seeing a lot of companies that are going after the direct primary care market. There are a lot of tech solutions that can benefit the direct primary care market. It’s amazing how the relationship between a patient and doctor changes when they have a direct care relationship. A whole new wave of technology possibilities come into play that are really exciting. I see a number of companies trying to capitalize on this.

There’s also a lot of interest in direct primary care from doctors. Many have sold out to hospitals and are now looking at a way to get back out on their own. Even more are tired of the ridiculously complex and often messed up insurance reimbursement system and they’re looking for a way to get out from under it. As one doctor friend of mine recently said, “Insurance Company A is the worst reimbursement out there. They don’t pay enough to cover the cost for me to be there.” While we could argue the details of this statement, this is the sentiment that so many doctors feel about insurance.

While I see these trends that seem in favor of the direct primary care model, I still can’t figure out how they’ll actually scale. Certainly I can see plenty of situations (mostly in affluent areas) where the direct primary care model can really work for a doctor and the patient. However, I don’t see how that model can scale across all of healthcare. Is there something I’m missing? Are high deductible plans going to become so big that direct primary care is cheaper?

Let’s hear your thoughts and ideas on direct primary care. Will it become the de facto standard for healthcare or is it just a niche movement? What role does technology play in that movement?

Do We Want a Relationship With Our Doctor?

Posted on June 22, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As is often the case, this weekend I was browsing Twitter. Many of the people and hashtags I follow are healthcare and health IT related. Many of the tweets related to the need to change the healthcare system. You know the usual themes: We pay too much for healthcare. We deserve better quality healthcare. We need to change the current healthcare system to be focused on the patient. Etc etc etc.

This wave of tweets ended with one that said “It’s all about the relationships.” I actually think the tweet had more to do with how a company was run, but in the beautiful world of Twitter you get to mesh ideas from multiple disciplines in the same Twitter stream (assuming you follow a good mix of people). I took the tweet and asked the question, “Do We Want a Relationship With Our Doctor?

If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said, no! Why would I want a relationship with my doctor? I don’t want any relationship with my doctor, because that means that I’m sick and need him to fix something that’s wrong with me. I hope to never see my doctor. Doctor = Bad. Don’t even get me started with hospitals. If Doctor = Bad then Hospital > Doctor.

I’m personally still battling through a change in mindset. It’s not an easy change. It’s really hard to change culture. We have a hard core culture in America of healthcare being sick care. We all want to be healthy, but none of us want to be sick. Going to the doctor admits that we are sick and we don’t want anything to do with that. If we have an actual relationship with our doctor, then we must be really sick.

From the other perspective, do doctors want relationships with their patients? I’ve met some really jaded doctors who probably don’t, but most of the doctors I’ve met would love an actual, deep relationship with their patients. However, they all are asking the question, “How?” They still have to pay the bills, pay off their debts, etc. I don’t know many doctors who have reconciled these practical needs with the desire to have a relationship with their patients.

The closest I’ve seen is the direct primary care and concierge models. It’s still not clear to me that these options will scale across healthcare. Plus, what’s the solution for specialists? Will ACOs and Value Based Reimbursement get us there. I hear a lot of talk in this regard which scares me. Lots of talk without a clear path to results really scares me in healthcare.

What do you think? Do you want a relationship with your doctor? Do doctors want a relationship with their patients? What’s the path to making this a practical reality? Are you already practicing medicine where you have a deep, meaningful relationship with your patient? We’d love to hear your experience.

Is the Concierge Model A Real Option for Providers?

Posted on February 25, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and 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 article last month in Crain’s New York Business talks about the pressures that primary care doctors are facing and how those financial pressures are getting many of them to try cash-only or concierge practices. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

To stave off the pressures prompting many physicians to sell their practices to hospital systems, Manhattan internist Peter Bruno has tried a number of creative solutions. They have ranged from forming a now-disbanded group practice with 60 colleagues to his ongoing strategy of working at a nursing home one day a week to supplement his income in his current solo practice.

With reimbursements dropping, Dr. Bruno made the bold move in July of converting his six-employee private practice on East 59th Street in Manhattan to a hybrid concierge model. In concierge care, patients pay an annual fee or retainer to get more immediate, customized care. Hybrid practices treat both concierge and traditional patients. He worked with SignatureMD, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based network that assists physicians in doing so.

I don’t think we need to cover the financial realities of being a solo physician here. You’re all to aware of the challenges. However, I’m interested to hear what you think about the potential for the concierge model of medicine for primary care doctors? Is that an option for most primary care doctors?

I ask this because I’ve seen concierge medicine work in the rich areas (the above case is Manhattan for example), but I have yet to see it really work in poorer areas. If we’re shifting to concierge medicine, what does that mean for the poorer areas of the country?

Here in Las Vegas, they have an interesting hybrid model that they’re trying where concierge medicine is part of the insurance plan. In fact, it could be part of the insurance plan your employer provides. I just signed up for the plan, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m also watching how the EHR market is adapting to this trend as well. Over on EMR and HIPAA I wrote an article titled “An EHR Focused On Customer Requests, Not MU” which talks about what an EHR would look like that was just focused on patient care and how Amazing Charts was offering that product.

Just today SRSsoft announced their new SRS Essentials product that’s a non-MU EHR as well. Although, they offer an interesting wrinkle that allows their SRS Essentials customers to move up to an meaningful use certified EHR should they decide they later want to take part in meaningful use (or whatever that program eventually becomes).

Of course, SRSsoft focuses mostly on the specialty market and not general medicine. Although, maybe this physician focused EHR product will be of interest to the emerging concierge and direct primary care doctors as well.

What do you think of these new models of medicine? What’s their place in the healthcare world? Where are they going in the future? Will their technology needs be different than other doctors?

Remote Patient Monitoring and Small Practices

Posted on February 18, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the 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 and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’ve started to see the proliferation of wireless health devices that can track a wide variety of health data and more of these devices are becoming common place in the home. Here’s a great tweet that contains an image of some of the popular devices:

While many of these devices are being purchased by the patients and used in the home, there are a number of other programs where healthcare organizations (usually hospitals) are purchasing the devices for the patients who then use the device at home. These programs are designed for hospitals to remotely monitor a patient and identify potential health issues early in order to avoid a hospital readmission.

For those who work in hospitals, you know how important (financially and otherwise) it is for hospitals to reduce their readmissions. While this is great for hospitals, how does this apply to small practices and general and family practice doctors in particular. There’s no extra payment for a small practice doctor to help reduce the readmission of their patient to the hospital. At least I haven’t seen a hospital pay a doctor for their help in this service yet.

What then would motivate a small practice doctor to leverage these types of remote patient monitoring tools?

Sadly, I don’t think there is much motivation for the standard small practice office to use them. It’s easy to see where a concierge doctor might be interested in these technologies. As a concierge doctor or direct primary care doctor, it’s in their best interest to keep their patient population as healthy as possible. As this form of care becomes more popular, I think these types of technology will become incredibly important to their business model.

The other trend in play is the shift to value based reimbursement and ACOs. Will these types of remote patient monitoring technologies become important in this new reimbursement world? I think the jury is still out on this one, but you could see how they could work together.

I’ve recently had a number of doctors hammering me on Twitter and in the comments of blog posts about how technology is not the solution to the problems and that technology is just getting in the way of the personal face to face connection that doctors have been able to make in the office visit of the past. Their concern is real and those implementing the technology need to take this into account. The technology can get in the way if it’s implemented poorly.

However, these people who smack the technology down are usually speaking from a very narrow perspective. EHR and other technology can and does disrupt many office visits. We all know the common refrain that the doctor was looking at the computer not at me. This is a challenge that can be addressed.

While the above is true, how impersonal is a rushed 10-15 minute office visit with a doctor? How impersonal is it for the doctor to prescribe a medication to you and never know if you actually filed it? How impersonal is it for a doctor to prescribed a treatment and never follow up with you to know if the treatment worked? How impersonal is it for the doctor to never talk or interact with you and your health unless you proactively go to that doctor because you’re sick?

Technology is going to be the way that we bridge that gap and these remote patient monitoring technologies are one piece of that puzzle. I believe these technologies and others make healthcare so much more personal than it is today. It changes a short office visit to treat a chief complaint into actually caring for the patient.

This is what most doctors I know would rather be doing anyway. They don’t want to churn patients anymore than the patient wants to be churned, but that’s how they get paid. Hopefully the tide is changing and we’ll see more and more focus on paying providers for using technology that provides this type of personal care.