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Encouraged By Political Changes, Groups Question ONC Functions

Posted on March 21, 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.

Riding on an anti-regulation drive backed by the White House, groups unhappy with some actions by ONC are fighting to rein it in. President Trump has said that he would like to see two regulations killed for every new reg, and the groups seemingly see this as an opening.

One group challenging ONC activities is HealthIT Now, a coalition of providers, payers, employers and patient groups.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price, Health IT Now argues that ONC exceeded its authority last year, when it backed an oversight rule designed to boost the certification process by evaluating vendor interoperability capabilities.

The 2016 rule also holds health IT vendors accountable for technology flaws that could compromise patient safety, an approach which, HITN argues, steals a move from federal agencies such as the FDA. The group also contends that ONC has not been clear about its criteria for critiquing HIT solutions for safety problems.

Meanwhile, a group of medical societies and specialties is asking federal health officials to hold off on 2015 EHR certification requirements, which providers are expected to start using January 2018, for at least one year. The group notes that since ONC released its final 2015 Edition requirements, few vendors – in fact, just 54 of 3,700 products currently certified – have fully upgraded their systems.

Given this situation, rushing to deploy the latest certification requirements could create big problems, including a major disruption to medical practices’ business, the coalition argues.

If they’re forced to choose from the small number of systems which have upgraded their platforms, “physicians may be driven to switch vendors and utilize a system that is not suitable for their specialty or patient population,” the group said in a letter to CMS acting administrator Patrick Conway, MD, and acting ONC national coordinator Jon White, MD.

In addition to addressing certification concerns, there’s much the federal government can do to support health IT improvement, according to attendees at HIMSS17.

According to HITN, attendees would like policymakers to address interoperability, in part by reviewing Meaningful Use and the ONC Voluntary Certification programs; to focus on improving patient identification systems, and avoid imposing barriers to private market solutions; to clarify the role of the ONC in the marketplace; and to encourage the use of real-world evidence in healthcare and health IT deployment.

As I see it, these ideas veer between close-in detail and broad policy prescriptions, neither of which seem likely to have a big effect on their own.

On the one hand, while it might help to clarify ONC’s role, authority and process, the truth is that the health IT market isn’t living or dying on what it does. This is particularly the case given its revolving door leaders with too little time to do more than nudge the industry.

Meanwhile, it seems equally unlikely that the federal government will come up with generally-applicable policy prescriptions which can solve nasty problems like achieving health data interoperability and sorting out patient matching issues.

I’m not saying that government has no role in supporting the emergence of health IT solutions. In fact, I’m fairly confident that we won’t get anywhere without its assistance. However, until we have a more effective role for its involvement, government efforts aren’t likely to bear much fruit.

MACRA and MIPS Training and Resources – MACRA Monday

Posted on March 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

While we’ve covered a lot of ground in this MACRA Monday series, there are still a lot of details we haven’t covered. I’ve been debating how deep into the weeds of MACRA and MIPS we should go or not as part of this series. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

We’re partially reticent to go really deep, because there’s a lot of great resources out there to dive deeply into MACRA and MIPS. Plus, we don’t see many people doing higher level strategic decision making content that has opinions about what your organization should or shouldn’t do when it comes to MACRA.

If you’re looking for some deeper training on MACRA and MIPS, we’ll highlight a few courses and trainings out there that we know about.

4Med MIPS and MACRA Training
The people at 4Med have a whole series of training for MIPS and MACRA. They have a lot of past experience doing training for meaningful use and PQRS and they’re continuing that with their latest MACRA and MIPS Training. Here’s a look at some of the courses they have coming up (Note: each of these links automatically gives you a discount on each course):

MACRA-MIPS Quality Project Manager – Starts March 29 – A nice course focused on the quality portion of MIPS.

Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) Workshop – Starts May 3 – This goes beyond MIPS and MACRA, but is all part of the related trend.

HIPAA Compliance Officer – Starts April 19 – This isn’t really a MIPS and MACRA course, but they require you to do a HIPAA Risk Assessment, so this course could help you make sure you’re ready to fulfill that requirement. Plus, this is a good course given the importance of security in healthcare these days.

4 Med offers a number of other courses including an Advancing Care Information course as well, but it’s not scheduled right now. We’ll update you in the future as those courses are scheduled. Instead of the live training options above, you can also purchase the online version of these courses. If you use the promo code: HITC you’ll get 20% off those online versions.

MIPS Boot Camp
Another option to consider is this MIPS Boot Camp course offered by Jim Tate and Wayne Singer. The course is only 1.5 hours, but Jim is a true expert in this area and so it will be a great starter course. They obviously are trying to push their MyMipsScore™ App, but that might be something useful for readers as well.

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

What Do Doctors Need to Know About MACRA and MIPS? – MACRA Monday

Posted on March 13, 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

While at the HIMSS 2017 conference, I had a chance to do a video interview with MACRA expert, Alexandria (Alex) J. Goulding, Public Policy Manager at iHealth. We cover a broad range of MACRA topics focused on the practical things that doctors should know about MACRA and MIPS.

You can find the full MACRA video interview at the bottom or click any of the links below to skip to a specific answer:

Do you have other perspectives and insights that you’d add to what Alex Goulding offered above? Please share them in the comments.

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

A New MACRA Tools Market – MACRA Monday

Posted on March 6, 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

One thing we’ve realized writing MACRA Monday is that there’s an insatiable appetite for MACRA right now. Webinar signups are through the roof when it’s on the topic of MACRA and MIPS. MACRA and MIPS training courses are selling like hot cakes. Everyone is trying to get the information they need to deal with MACRA and MIPS.

After talking with many companies at HIMSS, there’s a whole new market being created for tools that help organizations track and attest for MACRA as well. Of course, every EHR vendor is creating a solution for their providers. However, there are a lot of other companies that are looking at this as a big opportunity for them to provide tools to make tracking and reporting MACRA and MIPS easy.

Two companies that I ran into recently in this space are SA Ignite and SPH Analytics.

Both of these companies are focusing on MACRA, APM, and MIPS reporting at the higher end. We’re talking about hospital systems that have 100 medical practices and so they have a few hundred doctors who need to do MACRA reporting. Can you imagine managing that many attestations on Excel or something? That’s why I think these tools are going to become so popular.

A part of me hates that entire companies are being created around government attestation. However, the realist in me understands that these tools are needed by large health systems that have to comply with government requirements or lost a lot of money.

What do you think of this trend? Is it a microcosm of our current healthcare system? Do you know of other tools that can help organizations trying to handle MACRA reporting?

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

Physicians Ask New HHS Head For Health IT Help

Posted on February 28, 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.

The American Academy of Family Practitioners has written to new HHS Secretary Tom Price with a list of areas in which health IT could use a helping hand.  In its letter, the group outlines issues with physician use of health IT that the new leadership could tackle.

According to the AAFP, the top issues policymakers need to tackle include:

  • Lack of healthcare data access undercuts care: Without interoperability, it will be hard for doctors to ensure continuity of care, care coordination and a learning and accountable health system, the group says. It names the Direct protocols as an example of progress on this front.
  • HIT functions are too business-oriented: According to the AAFP, the healthcare industry has spent too much time focused on automating the business of healthcare, particularly documentation. The letter argues that it’s time to flip the focus from business functions to delivery of appropriate care.
  • HIT reduces physician satisfaction: The group argues that current health IT solutions are “extinguishing the joy of practice” for physicians and contributing to physician burnout and frustration.
  • EHR certification standards are undercutting clinicians: The AAFP contends that existing standards for EHR certification are causing problems physicians, as they don’t do much to push vendors to meet user demands or improve their technology.

This is certainly a reasonable summary of issues in physician HIT adoption. And they deserve to be addressed Unfortunately, it’s not likely that that the AAFP will get much satisfaction from HHS, CMS or any other government entity. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that agencies like ONC aren’t going to get much more done.

I do have hope that current waves of technology will allow health IT issues to self-heal to some extent. In particular, as healthcare technology becomes more decentralized, connected and mobile, providers won’t have to manage clumsy, ugly EMR interfaces on the desktop. In part due to some chats with vendors, I’ve become convinced that next-gen HIT solutions will present data via lightweight clients (perhaps even lighter than existing apps) which create an EMR-on-the-fly. One example of a company working on this approach is Praxify which Healthcare Scene recently saw at HIMSS. This lightweight client approach could make existing concerns about HIT usability and architecture obsolete.

However, I’m realistic enough to know that no matter how nifty emerging HIT approaches are, we still have to get from here to there. And as long as clinicians remain something of an afterthought when EMRs are designed – something which despite vendor denials, remains a big issue – we’re likely to keep struggling with today’s HIT issues. Let’s hope the revolution comes before we’ve exhausted our issues fighting current health IT demons.

The Future of MACRA – MACRA Monday

Posted on February 27, 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

As mentioned in my previous MACRA Monday post, MACRA was a hot topic at the HIMSS 2017 conference. No doubt it was on pretty much everyone’s minds. A few people I talked to said that there’s an insatiable appetite for MACRA related content and they’re right. It’s amazing how many people still need to learn about MACRA and how many who know the basics still need to get into the nitty gritty. I loved one tweet from the conference that said that the line to the CMS booth was longer than the line for ice cream which is saying something.

Despite all this interest in MACRA, there is a growing rift in how organizations and doctors are approaching MACRA. There seems to be universal hatred of MACRA by doctors. I have yet to find a doctor out there that likes MACRA. The best I’ve found is doctors who don’t like it but don’t have a major issue with it either. If there’s a practicing doctor out there that likes MACRA, I’d love to meet you.

On the other hand, I don’t know a single large organization that is planning to opt out of MACRA. Every organization I’ve talked to is planning to participate in MACRA in some shape or form. They usually argue some mix of the following reasons for their participation:

  • We can’t take the penalties to our reimbursement.
  • The incentives are relatively small, but across 100s of providers that’s a big chunk of change.
  • What happens to our doctors when the MACRA results are put on the physician compare website? We don’t want to take the reputation hit.
  • This is just the start of these programs. If we opt out of them, we’ll just be behind in the future.

These large organizations are going to participate. I just don’t see them with any other options. Plus, if I were being really cynical I would say that a new administrative program from the government is great for administrators’ jobs.

One regular reader of this site, meltoots, makes this passionate plea from the doctor perspective:

You know me John,
CMS is completely unaware of how bad it is out here on the front lines. MACRA is dead. They can try to implement, but it will fail. The front liners that are left have had enough of the fraud of reporting “quality” as a measure of success. Does not work at all. Its a sham. ACOs failing left and right. Does CMS REALLY think that if i report a 100% preop antibiotic rate is quality? We do that 100% already. Do they really think that CPIA is “value” or is it just reporting “value”. Lets get real. All the small practice incentives are going to 11 companies, NOT the actual practices. For “education” and “training” on MACRA. Thanks. Right. There is a HUGE disconnect between CMS/HIT and front line MDs. Again this week 2 more people gave up medicine in our hospital. I’m telling you this is a crisis and cannot be ignored. Its time to unburden MDs from all these distractions, let EHR companies innovate without being shackled to cert requirements. Wash DC cannot solve this. They have set us back 10 years already. Time let go and get out of the way.

The problem is that I think he’s missing the point. CMS does think that MACRA will improve quality. Trying to illustrate that you disagree is likely going to fall on deaf ears.

The comment about MACRA being dead could be taken a lot of different ways. However, I can assure you that it is not dead and not even showing signs of death. Doctors can complain and moan all they want, but if they don’t get their large practice colleagues on board as well, then MACRA will not only survive, it will thrive when it comes to participation numbers.

I personally think that the battle to kill MACRA is a waste of effort since it will likely never happen. Instead, doctors should focus their energy on improving MACRA so that it’s simplified and focused on things that do improve healthcare. Sure, it will never get their 100%, but the all or nothing approach to trying to kill MACRA will likely lead to even worse results (ie. wasted energy and no changes).

What do you think about the future of MACRA? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.

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

#MACRA at #HIMSS17 – MACRA Monday

Posted on February 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

We’re taking this week kind of off from covering MACRA because we’re at the HIMSS 2017 Annual Conference. However, there’s been a lot of discussion about MACRA at the conference. It’s a hot topic and one of great concern for many organizations that stand to lose millions if they get it wrong. Here are just a few of the high level tweets about MACRA that I found interesting.


This is something we have written about before. Whether you like MACRA or don’t, I can’t imagine it’s going away. I think this is part of a long term change and it’s just the start. Where it will go will depend on a lot of factors. The factor we need most is more doctors to give input. And the input of just get rid of it is likely to fall on deaf ears. So, dive a little deeper and use the data to illustrate why and/or how it can be changed so it is effective.


I’m really happy that CMS added these MACRA APIs. I’m still interested to see how effective they are and how people use them, but I think they could streamline things for a lot of companies. What do you think?


This graphic is confusing to me, but I understood the output was improved patient experience and improved outcomes. Do you think MACRA will improve results? I think that’s a bit of stretch. It may get there eventually. Hopefully that’s the long term process that Andy Slavitt mentioned above.


I think we’re seeing a proliferation of tools. Will it be a whole market of tools for MACRA?


I need to chew on this one a bit more. What do you think?


Not really MACRA, but I know many are wondering about CMMI. I hope he’s right.

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

MIPS APMs and MACRA Small Practice Support – MACRA Monday

Posted on February 13, 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

As we mentioned previously, there are some benefits to practices that are participating in an APM, but don’t qualify as an advanced APM. These practices can’t participate in the APM program and they need to participate in the MIPS program or they’ll get the 4% penalty for not participating in MIPS. The good news is that there is a benefit to taking part in what is called a MIPS APM (ie. an APM that doesn’t qualify as an advanced APM).

Here’s the list of MIPS benefits for being in a MIPS APM:

MACRA also has a number of opportunities available to small practices. The first example is that many small practices were excluded from participating in MACRA because of their size. Second, the program itself made MACRA easier with Pick Your Pace and they also created more access to advanced APMs. Finally, they created what they call the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative.

The Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative seems quite similar to the REC program under meaningful use. This program is a network of support for those participating in MACRA and MIPS. You can see a full interactive chart that shows a view of the various support centers around the country for more details on what’s available in your area.

That’s all for this edition of MACRA Monday. Next week we’ll finish off our overview of MACRA Monday and discuss what we think is the right strategy when it comes to MACRA.

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

E-Patient Update: Hey Government, Train Patients Too!

Posted on February 10, 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.

Recently I got a most interesting email from the ONC and A-list healthcare educator Columbia University. In the message, it offered me a free online course taught by Columbia’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, apparently paid for by ONC funding. (Unfortunately, they aren’t giving away free toasters to students, or I definitely would have signed up. No wait, I’m sorry, I did register, but I would have done it faster for the toaster.)

The course, which is named Health Informatics For Innovation, Value and Enrichment) or HI-FIVE, is designed to serve just about anyone in healthcare, including administrators, managers, physicians, nurses, social workers an care coordinators. Subjects covered by the course include all of the usual favorites, including healthcare data analytics, population health, care coordination and interoperability, value-based care and patient-centered care.

If I seem somewhat flippant, it’s just because the marketing material seemed a little…uh…breathlessly cheery and cute given the subject. I can certainly see the benefits of offering such a course at no cost, especially for those professionals (such as social workers) unlikely to be offered a broader look at health IT issues.

On the other hand, I’d argue that there’s another group which needs this kind of training more – and that’s consumers like myself. While I might be well-informed on these subjects, due to my geeky HIT obsession, my friends and family aren’t. And while most of the professionals served by the course will get at least some exposure to these topics on the job, my mother, my sister and my best girlfriend have essentially zero chance of finding consumer-friendly information on using health IT.

Go where the need is

As those who follow this column know, I’ve previously argued hard for hospitals and medical groups to offer patients training on health IT basics, particularly on how to take advantage of their portal. But given that my advice seems to be falling on deaf ears – imagine that! – it occurs to me that a government agency like ONC should step in and help. If closing important knowledge gaps is important to our industry, why not this particular gap. Hey, go where the need is greatest.

After all, as I’ve noted time and again, we do want patients to understand consumer health IT and how to reap its benefits, as this may help them improve their health. But if you want engagement, folks, people have to understand what you’re talking about and why it matters. As things stand, my sense is that few people outside the #healthit bubble have the faintest idea of what we’re talking about (and wouldn’t really want to know either).

What would a consumer-oriented ONC course cover? Well, I’m sure the authorities can figure that out, but I’m sure education on portal use, reading medical data, telemedicine, remote monitoring, mobile apps and wearables wouldn’t come amiss. Honestly, it almost doesn’t matter how much the course would cover – the key here would be to get people interested and comfortable.

The biggest problem I can see here is getting consumers to actually show up for these courses, which will probably seem threatening to some. It may not be easy to provoke their interest, particularly if they’re technophobic generally. But there’s plenty of consumer marketing techniques that course creators could use to get the job done, particularly if you’re giving your product away. (If all else fails, the toaster giveaway might work.)

If providers don’t feel equipped to educate patients, I hope that someone does, sometime soon, preferably a neutral body like ONC rather than a self-interested vendor. It’s more than time.

Advancing Care Information (ACI) Category – MACRA Monday

Posted on February 6, 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 post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Time to continue our journey through the MIPS performance categories. For today’s MACRA Monday we’re going to start talking about the Advancing Care Information (ACI) category. Most of you will know this category better as meaningful use. However, it does have some significant changes to what existed in meaningful use.

Some of the major changes include a shift from the “All or Nothing” approach to the EHR meaningful use program. CPOE and CDS objectives were also eliminated along with some redundant measures. ACI also reduces the number of required public health registries.

As we mentioned previously, ACI makes up 25% of your MIPS Composite Scoring. There is a significant hardship exemption available that will change the ACI weighting to zero and apply the 25% weight to other categories. Here’s a look at how the ACI score will be calculated:

The biggest piece of ACI scoring is the 5 required measures that make up the base score as follows:

Much like meaningful use, in advancing care information (ACI) clinicians are required to use a certified EHR. Which EHR certification you use will determine which ACI objectives and measures you will need to use as follows:

That’s the quick overview of the Advancing Care Information (ACI) category. Next week we’ll take a look at the MIPS APM benefits and MACRA small practice support.

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