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Better Performing Practices More Efficient with IT Spending According to MGMA

Posted on October 23, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) recently released its 2017 MGMA DataDive Better Performers data, a report that provided a glimpse into the health of US medical practices across four key performance categories:

  1. Operations
  2. Profitability
  3. Productivity
  4. Value

Of the 2,941 physician practices that provided their performance data for the report, only 32 were found to be “better-performing” than their peers in three of the four categories. No practice was considered better-performing on all four categories.

For a deeper dive into the report, check out this post from Anne Zieger.

The report’s most surprising results were in the Operations – Information Technology category:

  • Physician-owned practices spent more than 2x on IT Per FTE Physician than their hospital-owned practices
  • Better performing physician-owned practices spent LESS on IT than their peers
  • Better performing hospital-owned practices spent MORE on IT than their peers

At first glance these results run counter to what many would expect. How could independent physician practices be spending more than 2x hospital-owned practices on IT – especially when you consider that a hospital has many more IT systems and applications.

To help make sense of the results, we sat down with David N Gans, MSHA, FACMPE – Senior Fellow, Industry Affairs at MGMA.

Why are hospital-owned practices spending less overall on HealthIT?

Gans: The raw numbers that we received from the practices was a bit deceiving. What we found was that not all IT costs borne by the hospital are filtering down to the practices owned by that hospital. Server costs, IT department salaries, support costs and network infrastructure costs, for example, did not appear as line item costs for the practices. Only equipment and the EHR licenses used by the practice’s staff were considered IT costs. Independently owned practices, however, bear all the costs associated with IT including licensing, servers, support and ongoing maintenance. Thus, it only appears that hospital owned practices are spending less than their counterparts. It is a quirk of the way costs are allocated in a hospital setting.

Why are better performing physician-owned practices spending less on HealthIT than their peers?

Gans: The scoring system we used for this report rewards efficiency. The more efficient you are in any category, the higher you will score. Using that lens, practices that were more judicious with their IT spending achieved higher efficiency scores. What you are seeing in the report results is an associative effect – the more effective you are with IT, the more efficient your practice is considered.

Gans was quick to point out that the survey did not measure the impact of or the outcomes achieved from the implementation of HealthIT. There was also not linkage between overall IT spend and practice profitability.

Why is it important that practices strive to be efficient. Isn’t that an antiquated notion?

Gans: It’s actually more important than ever for practices to focus on being efficient. If you go back to 2001 and look at three key economic indices it becomes painfully obvious why efficiency is the key to practice survival. Just look at this chart we have compiled:

The red line is the % increase in practice operating costs per FTE Physician relative to what it was in 2001. By 2020, costs will be 116.7% of what they were in 2001. The blue line is the consumer price index. The green line is the rise in Medicare reimbursements. There is no way a physician practice can stay in the black without taking a serious look at their operational efficiency. If you do nothing, costs will eat up your practice.

Gans is hopeful that new technologies and changes to the reimbursement mechanisms will help reduce the performance gap for practices. According to Gans, Artificial Intelligence, like IBM’s Watson, could make practices exponentially more efficient. It can crunch numbers much faster than a human ever could, which would allow physicians to offer more personalized care or care via less expensive channels (ie: telehealth).

“One thing is clear,” says Todd Evenson, Chief Operating Officer at MGMA. “As we change from volume to value, the financial metrics we track in this report will have to change. We will need to de-emphasize the production-style metrics we have used in the past to more value based ones. We will also need to find a way to measure the quality of care provided by practices. This will make this report even more important and relevant in the years to come.”

Patient Generated Data, Workflow and Usability Coming Into Focus for EHR Vendors

Posted on October 16, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

At the recent Medical Group Management Association annual conference (MGMA17), I made a point of visiting as many of the EHR vendors in the exhibit hall as I could so that I could ask them two questions:

  1. What are you working on right now, given that there is a bit of a lull between ONC requirements?
  2. How do EHRs and EHR vendors need to evolve over the next 5 years?

Below are some of the best responses I received.

Steve Dart, Senior Director of Product Management at AdvancedMD believes that both EHRs and EHR companies need to fundamentally change their paradigms in order to thrive over the next five years. “EHRs should facilitate the job that needs to get done rather than serve as a documentation repository,” says Dart. “What is that job? Helping patients live healthier lives while at the same helping physicians be happier at work. We really missed the boat during the Meaningful Use (MU) gold rush. We neither helped patients be healthier nor did we make physician lives easier. In fact, as an industry we generally made things more difficult for doctors.”

AdvancedMD is charting a new path forward, instead of just fixing their user interface (UI), they are rethinking their entire approach to their EHR. The company is taking full advantage of the lull in MU requirements by using the time to bring together designers, UI experts, physicians and office managers to design a brand new EHR. Dubbed the “connect the dots” strategy, AdvancedMD is centering their next generation on clinical and administrative workflows.

“When you think about it, healthcare is really just a journey of sequential workflows,” Dart explains. “A patient starts by experiencing symptoms, then moves to research physicians online, schedules an appointment, comes in for their visit, goes to get lab tests done, comes back to discuss the results and fills a prescription. What EHR companies have done is create whole bunch of point solutions for each one of these situations. What we haven’t done well is connect these all together with technology. We siloed everything. Instead what we need to realize is that each situation is actually a complex workflow and we journey from one workflow to another as patients. What we need now, and what AdvancedMD believes, is that we should build technology that enables these workflows – make them easier and more seamless for patients and physicians. Data collection, for example, should happen on devices that both doctors and patients already use and in a way that doesn’t detract from the visit.”

To illustrate that AdvancedMD is doing more than just giving their theory lip-service, Dart showed an early design prototype of an EHR interface that provides a longitudinal view of a practice. Instead of clicking down into one patient to order labs or renew prescriptions and then clicking down into the next patient to do the same, the new interface groups all lab orders together and all the prescriptions together. One click and the physician can see all that they need to do and clicks once to push the orders ahead. The new interface is highly intuitive and functional.

Juan Molina, VP of Strategy and Business Development at CareCloud also believes that EHRs need to radically change. “EHRs need to allow doctors and their staff to do their jobs better,” says Molina. “We have to stop asking doctors to be data entry clerks and documentation specialists. They need to go back to being 100% focused on the patient and providing care. As an industry we have focused too much on checking the box. We need to move beyond that through better use of technology – especially modern cloud-based architectures.”

Mollna is most excited about the potential of real-time analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the point of care. He feels that the promise of precision medicine and true personalized care will only be possible if “massive amounts of health data is crunched and context from that data delivered to the doctor at the time when they are seeing a patient.” CareCloud is using the freedom from compliance requirements to work on new partnerships for deep analytics, AI and patient experience (read about their partnership with First Data here).

It is refreshing to hear EHR companies talk about collaboration. Over the past several years it was frustrating to see vendors attempt to build everything themselves only to end up with inferior solutions to what was readily available in other industries from other vendors. Partnership and collaboration are a welcome shift in EHR strategy.

athenahealth is actively pursuing partnerships as part of their More Disruption Please (MDP) program. “We are constantly expanding and improving our cloud-based platform to align with our vision,” says Stephanie Zaremba, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at athenahealth. “We want to see a healthcare industry free from administrative burden, enabled to care for diverse and disparate populations, and one that ultimately lets doctors be doctors. We believe that the current paradigm of federal regulations hinders, rather than helps, our industry from making this vision a reality. The innovation we so desperately need can’t flourish in the confines of check-the-box requirements that do not grow and evolve with technological advances. But even if we’re stuck with the regulatory status quo, in the next five years, we hope that vendors will continue to embrace their collective potential, shifting from competitors to collaborators in an effort to create a more provider-friendly, patient-facing, and connective tech landscape that captures the full continuum of care.”

The announcement of the partnership between Pulse Systems and InteliChart at MGMA17 is a prime example of this newfound collaborative spirit. For years Pulse offered a perfectly serviceable patient portal, yet they recognized that they would never pour as much time and effort into that area of their solution versus a company like InteliChart.

“We are pursuing an open-EHR strategy,” explains Chris Walls, President & CEO of Pulse Systems. “Although we provide a comprehensive solution, we recognize that clients may not want every component from our stack. They may want to keep a best-of-breed solution that they already have in place. Rather than force our clients to change, we are working to ensure we can integrate and play nice with others.”

Pulse arrived at this open approach by listening closely to clients and prospects. What they found was an under-current of a best-of-breed approach. Physician offices wanted to use different tools and applications from different vendors but the lack of integration and internal IT resources forced them to go with a single monolithic solution instead.

Through this listening exercise, Pulse also realized that it was more than an EHR vendor to its clients. Many of their clients are smaller practices which do not have ready access to technical support. Rather than deflect their client’s calls for help with mundane things like anti-virus updates, internet connection issues and printer failures, they leaned into it. They created a dedicated IT Field Support team that handles calls for routine IT issues and will even fly out to help a client if needed.

By proactively helping their clients in this manner, Pulse has found that they reduce EHR issues down the road and they engender tremendous loyalty. When you think about it Pulse is essentially applying a Population Health approach to their own clients – offering preventative maintenance to avoid more costly support calls in the future.

Most impressive is how Greenway Health is using this lull in compliance requirements. “Now that we are freed from working on ONC compliance work, we are putting focus on customer requested enhancements” says Mark Janiszewski, EVP of Product Managmeent & Corporate Development at Greenway. “Much to the delight of our customers, we can now apply resources to the enhancements that they have asked for, but that were lower in priority compared to what was needed to comply with regulations and the Meaningful Use program.”

Greenway is also using their “found time” to take a serious look at EHR usability. They recognize that there is tension between physicians and EHR makers caused by the endless clicking and confusing user interfaces. Greenway is hoping to relieve that tension by collaborating with clients to improve their system. According to Janiszewski, the company has planned a series of customer visits where a team of designers and engineers can observe how people interact with their system over a 2-3 day period.

The team has already identified several areas of improvement after observing how admin staff were copying down ID numbers from one screen onto post-it notes in order to key it in on a different screen to bypass a lengthy click-path. The team is hard at work to ensure data is transferred across the system more seamlessly.

Over the next five years, Janiszewski believes that EHR companies will have to embrace the concept of multiple care settings and multiple data sources: “EHRs will need to have a higher degree of interoperability as patients move between care settings – from acute care to rehab to home care or from acute care to elder care. EHRs will also need to solve for Patient Generated Data. We are all wearing fitness trackers and using apps to track our health. This data needs to be incorporated in a meaningful way into the EHR. “

The responses from MGMA17 demonstrates that companies are well aware of the negative feelings healthcare providers have towards EHRs. What is very encouraging is that fixing the user interface is only one of many different solutions being pursued by EHR companies. Rather than myopically focusing on the shiny object in front of them, companies like Greenway, Pulse, athenahealth, CareCloud and AdvancedMD are taking a step back and looking at healthcare with a broader perspective in order to identify opportunities for improvement. It will be interesting to circle back with them a year from now to see what progress has been made.

MGMA17 Day 2 – The Future of Patient Engagement Looks Bright

Posted on October 10, 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.

Day 2 at MGMA17 started very early for exhibitors when the doors to the exhibit hall opened sharply at 6:30am Pacific Time. It was clear that MGMA organizers were catering to the early-rising-east-coast contingent of attendees. Thankfully there was a warm breakfast with plenty of caffeine options available.

The early exhibit hours provided a unique opportunity to slowly browse the floor and read booth signage fully without being blocked by fellow attendees walking in the aisles…and in some cases without being blocked by company representatives in the booth itself.

As I walked around the exhibits I began to notice that the words “Patient Engagement” appeared frequently. EHR companies, revenue cycle management companies, call center providers and even HR consultants had this nebulous term emblazoned on their booth properties. I thought it would be interesting to ask a few of these companies how they interpreted patient engagement and how they saw it evolving over the next three years.

Josh Weiner, Chief Operating Officer at SolutionReach, was quick to say “Patient Engagement is more than having a portal on your EHR”. He believed that the key to engaging patients was communicating with them in an easy, convenient manner. “For SolutionReach, this means texting. Everyone knows how to text and it’s just so simple to use. A few years ago texting patients was just one-way. Doctors would send a text to a patient and that would be it. More recently companies like SolutionReach introduced the ability for healthcare providers to conduct one-to-one conversations with patients via text. We call it SR Conversations and we have over 4,000 clients using it.”

In the future, Weiner predicted that providers and patients would continue to use SMS texting as the primary means of patient engagement. The key difference is that instead of just sending text messages back and forth we would be sending mini-text-applications back and forth. He cited the example of the latest iOS upgrade which now featured the ability to send a map, a Starbucks gift card and other such applications within an SMS message. He foresaw a day when we will have the ability to send a prescription, a lab test, a referral and an appointment schedule to a patient via SMS.

At BinaryFountain, a company that makes a platform that consolidate patient feedback from multiple social media sources as well as from HCAHPS surveys and allows providers to publish positive comments made in those medium as online reviews, they define patient engagement through the lens of reputation management. Engaged patients mean they are more likely to provide a positive comment and if they provide a positive comment, they are more likely to rate the doctor/practice/hospital highly. That, in turn, leads to a better reputation which attracts patients who are more likely to be engaged in their care. In the future, the company believes that quantitative measures for patient engagement will be developed and that these measures will be used in a similar way that the 5-star rating system is used today.

West Communications is a provider of telephony solutions to a broad range of industries. In healthcare, West offers a number of patient communication tools that engage patients via phone, email, and text. They define patient engagement as the degree to which a patient is active in and adherent to their care plan. They saw a bright future for patient engagement – especially as technologies from other industries are adapted to healthcare. The West team, for example, has been working on adding AI-based intelligent IVR capabilities to their healthcare IVR solutions so that inbound calls from patients can be automatically triaged quickly based on needs.

At Stericycle Communication Solutions, Sarah Bennight, Healthcare Strategist, defined patient engagement as getting patients to be active throughout their care journey. “Patient engagement creates trust between patients and providers. It’s more than just pushing information out to patients, it’s true two-way conversations that are relevant to where the patients are in that moment. It means providing patients with useful calls to action – clicking on a button to book their next appointment, download information or connect with the right clinician.”

Bennight sees a patient engagement future that includes new forms of communication through platforms like Snapchat and iMessage. “The younger generation communicates in different ways. They’ve gone beyond voice, text, and email. Healthcare will need to adapt to these new forms of communication. We may even need to develop a healthcare nomenclature for communicating information via emoji’s and giphies.”

Finally, Varun Hippalgaonkar, Senior Vice President of Growth at HealthGrid suggested that patient engagement is the sum total of all the interactions that a patient has with their healthcare providers including face-to-face visits, phone calls, text messages, telemedicine, and emails. The key for Hippalgaonkar was not to try and engage patients across all channels, but rather to zero in on the communication modalities that each individual patient preferred.

“HealthGrid is striving to be the single communication platform for all pre-, day of and post- visit patient interactions. Our platform will provide a consistent patient experience in the communication channel or channels that patients prefer to use. We mine our own interaction data to determine the best way to interact with patients. For example, the analysis of past interactions may reveal that John Smith responds better during weekday mornings via text message and seems to prefer phone calls at night. When a hospital or a practice has the information they want to share with John, they simply put the content in our system and we handle how it will be delivered to him based on his known response patterns.”

Down the road, Hippalgaonkar saw patients interacting with AI-powered chat bots that were so sophisticated that patients would feel they were interacting with a person. These bots would work across the different communication channels providing a consistent experience no matter what modality the patient elected to use.

Hippalgaonkar summed up by saying: “In the end it’s all about motivating patients to make changes to their health or put another way, to engage in their health. We can only achieve this if we communicate with patients in a way that compels them to take action. As an industry, we need to build technologies and processes that takes things down to the individual patient level. We need to use AI, machine learning, personalization and deliver meaningful information to patients so that they are compelled to make a change.”

From these conversations, it was clear that patient engagement meant different things to different people. Yet everyone agreed healthcare needed more engagement and more involvement from patients in order to deliver on the promise of better health at lower cost. Motivating patients to become more involved is not going to be easy, but if the MGMA17 exhibit hall is representative of HealthIT overall, the future is certainly bright for patient engagement.

Full Disclosure: Solution Reach and Stericycle Communication Solutions are both sponsors of Healthcare Scene.