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MGMA Blames Rise in HIT Costs on Fed’s Regs

Posted on September 15, 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.

MGMA’s released a study of 850 member’s practices showing HIT costs up by more than 45 percent in the last six years. MGMA puts much of the blame on federal regulations. It’s concerned that:

Too much of a practice’s IT investment is tied directly to complying with the ever-increasing number of federal requirements, rather than to providing better patient care. Unless we see significant changes in the final MIPS/APM rule, practice IT costs will continue to rise without a corresponding improvement in the care delivery process.

There may be a good case that the HITECH act is responsible for the lion’s share of HIT growth for these and other providers, but MGMA study doesn’t make the case – not by far.

What the study does do is track the rise in HIT costs since 2011 for physician owned, multispecialty practices. For example, MGMA’s press release notes that IT costs have gone up by almost 47 percent since 2009.

In fairness, MGMA also notes that costs may have also gone up do to other costs, such as patient portals, etc. However, the release emphasizes that regulations are at great fault.

Here’s why MGMA’s case falls flat:

  • Seeing Behind the Paywall. If you want to examine the study, it’ll cost you $655 to read it. Many similar studies that charge, provide a good synopsis and spell out their methodology. MGMA doesn’t do either.
  • Identifying the Issue. It’s one thing to complain about regulations. It’s quite another to identify which ones specifically harm productivity without compensating benefit. MGMA cites regulations without so much as an example.
  • Lacking Comparables. MGMA’s press release notes that total HIT costs were $32,000 per practitioner. However, this does not look at non HIT support costs, nor does it address comparable support costs from other professions.
  • Breaking Down Costs. The study offers comparable information to practitioners by specialty types, etc. However, all IT costs are lumped together and called HIT.
  • Ignoring Backgrounds. MGMA notes that HIT costs rose most dramatically between 2010 and 2011, which marked MU1’s advent. It doesn’t address these practices’ IT state in 2009. It would be good to know how many were ready to install an EHR and how many had to make basic IT improvements?
  • Finessing Productivity. Other than mentioning patient portals, MGMA ignores any productivity changes due to HIT. For example, how long did it take and what did it cost to do a refill request before HIT and now? This and similar productivity measures could give a good view of HIT’s impact.

It’s popular to beat up on HITs in general and EHRs in general. Lord knows, EHRs have their problems, but many of the ills laid at their doorstep are just so much piling on. Or, as is this case, are used to make a connection for the sake of political argument.

Studies that want to get at the effect HIE and EHRs have had on the practice of medicine need to be carefully done. They need to look at how things were done, what they could accomplish and what costs were before and after HIT changes. Otherwise, the study’s data are fitted to the conclusions not the other way around.

MGMA’s a major and important player with a record of service to its members. In this case, it’s using its access to important practice information in support of an antiregulatory policy goal rather than to help determine HIT’s real status.

Health IT Costs, Health IT Adoption, HIE and CommonWell – Pre #HITsm Thoughts

Posted on June 28, 2013 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 I took the #HITsm Chat topics and created a blog post about Healthcare Unbound. I enjoyed creating the post so much that I decided to do it again this week. Not to mention I’ll be on the road to Utah during this week’s chat and won’t be able to participate. (Side Note: If you live in Utah and want to do lunch, I’d love to meet and talk EMR or health IT. I’ll be in Hawaii in July if you want to do the same.)

The chat topics make perfect discussion items. Plus, I love that I have more of an opportunity to really dig into the topics in a blog post. You can’t dig in quite as much in 140 characters.

Topic 1: Costs vs benefits. Will high costs always be the #1 barrier cited to #healthIT adoption?
We’ve seen an enormous shift in the cost of healthcare IT since I first started blogging about EMR 8 years ago. Cost use to be a much bigger issue when the cheapest EMR software you could find was about $30,000+ per doctor (in the ambulatory space). Plus, they expected you to pay the entire lump sum payment up front (many did offer financing). These days the cost of EMR software has dropped dramatically and fewer and fewer EHR vendors are using the lump sum payment model. This change means that costs are much more in line with a practice’s revenue.

These days, I’d say that those who use cost as the reason for not adopting health IT are really just using it as an excuse not to do it. There are a few rural providers where cost is more than just an excuse, but those are pretty few and far between. I’m not saying that cost isn’t an important part of any health IT project, but I’ve most often seen cost used as a mask for other reasons people don’t want to implement health IT. The most common reason is actually just a general resistance to change.

Topic 2: Why does ePrescribing have such widespread acceptance while #telehealth adoption is so low?
If providers could be reimbursed for telehealth, adoption would be high.

It is ironic that doctors don’t really get reimbursed for ePrescribing, but they do it at a high level. Although, the doctor does get reimbursed for the visit that generates the need for the prescription. A deeper investigation of why ePrescribing has had good adoption would be interesting. Certainly there are many doctors who miss their sig pad. However, once you have to record the prescription in the EHR, you might as well ePrescribe it.

Plus, there are some obvious reasons why ePrescribing is better. Whether it’s replacing the unreadable prescriptions or the drug to drug and allergy interaction checking that’s built into every ePrescribing platform, the benefits can be understood quickly.

The sad thing is that the benefits of Telehealth can be seen quickly as well, but you can’t get paid to do it.

Topic 3: #HIE as a noun or a verb? Does negative press for HIE org$ hinder health data exchange as a whole?
HIE is currently more of a noun than a verb. Verbs require action and we’re not seeing enough HIE action.

In some ways negative press could discourage healthcare organizations from participating in an HIE organization. However, negative press about HIE’s weaknesses can also put pressure on healthcare organizations to finally step up to the plate and have more HIE action and less HIE talk.

The biggest hindrance to HIE is business model, and good or bad press won’t do much to change that.

Topic 4: Is #CommonWell just a bully in a fairy godmother costume?
I love this question mostly because I sent the tweet that inspired it. Although, a smart health IT PR/marketer was the one who said it to me.

It’s a little too early to tell if the fairy godmother costume that CommonWell has on is real or fake. I think there path is paved with good intentions, but will the almighty dollar get in the way of them realizing these good intentions? I don’t know. I’m hopeful that it will be a success. I’m also glad that at least the conversations are happening. That’s a step forward from where we were before CommonWell.

Topic 5: Open forum: What #HealthIT topic had your attention this week?
There are so many topics that I discuss each week, but I think I’m most excited by the project announced this week to create a Common Notice of Privacy Practices. I hope their crowdfunding is successful and they get a lot of great healthcare organizations on board with what they’re doing. I also found the Vitera Healthcare acquisition of Success EHS quite interesting. EMR is slowly but surely consolidating.